From Roman baths to modern water parks, from plunge pools of the early 20th century to the spray grounds of the early 21st, water has played a major role in civilization for well over 2,000 years. Here is a look at some future trends in the aquatic industry based on overall trends in American society:
• Water-based exercise is recognized as one of the most beneficial ways for those with physical disabilities. It is used to treat arthritis, chronic pain, poor circulation and weight problems, as well as for therapy and rehabilitation to expedite recovery from accidents, injuries and other physical traumas. Expect to see an increased demand for therapy and rehabilitation facilities as a higher percentage of the population lives longer.
• While the vast majority of competitive swimmers in America are Caucasian, minority populations are growing, and the demand for competitive water in a local setting may have to yield to recreation water, setting the stage for more regional competitive aquatic centers and multi-purpose local swim centers.
• Smaller groups, such as the growing Muslim and transgender populations, also will affect the future of American aquatics as religious beliefs and privacy concerns must be accounted for in designing new facilities or renovating existing ones.
America is easily the most litigious country in the world. The National Center for State Courts reports that there were over 15 million civil-court cases in 2000. In order to prevent lawsuits resulting from injuries, municipalities and private companies will need to over-design systems with redundancies and extra safety measures--all the while trying to provide an enjoyable and exciting aquatic experience that will keep patrons and their wallets coming back again and again.
Here are a few safety issues and trends to consider:
• Laws relating to safety, such as the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act (dealing with entrapment hazards), and health departments mandating ultraviolet systems (to prevent Cryptosporidium and other waterborne illnesses), are becoming the norm across the country. As more threats are analyzed and exposed, and better technology is developed, safety measures at pools will only become more stringent and numerous.
• Coinciding with the aforementioned need for more therapeutic water space will be the need for more disabled-friendly areas and devices in all public areas. These will include additional handicapped parking, non-slip floors and handrails in locker rooms and other support areas.
• Environmental concerns, such as sun exposure, air quality and contamination from fowl and insects, also are seen as areas that need increased attention in coming years. Thus, shade structures, air filters and treatment systems and sound-based mechanisms to deal with unwanted pests are seen as possibilities in the future. Indoor facilities that can be used year-round are already becoming more popular, and seen as a wise, long-term use of funds, even given the drastically higher initial capital costs associated with these projects.
America is an interconnected society, where people expect to stay in contact, even when exercising. The line between private time and company time has blurred considerably with e-mail, files and conversations always at our fingertips. According to a United Nations report, “Americans work 137 hours, or about three and one-half weeks more a year than Japanese workers, 260 hours (about six and one-half weeks) more a year than British workers and 499 hours (about 12 and one-half weeks) more a year than German workers… American workers are eager to make the best impression, to put in the most hours’'' (Greenhouse). With these factors in mind, let’s look at the ways society is changing, and how these changes will impact the future of American aquatics:
• Micro segmentation/value targeting of the marketplace. Gone are the days when children entertained themselves all summer long in the rectangular community swimming pool. Today’s families typically recreate together, and expect to enjoy individual areas catering to each age bracket. Thus, facilities will continue to respond in one of two ways:
1. Streamline operations to focus on a single demographic (such as The Wavehouse in San Diego, which caters to the teenage/young adult demographic, with a standing, surfable wave, surrounded by layers of seating, live music and food).
2. Build large-scale facilities that offer amenities for the entire family, including wet play elements for younger children; wave pools, slides and play structures for older children and teenagers; and continuous rivers and lap pools for adults (like the indoor water parks typically found in Wisconsin Dells).
• Increased demand for interconnectivity. Since people want to be constantly connected (cell phones, Internet access, etc.), water-safe touch-screens are making that possible while they work out, just as if they were sitting in front of a computer.
• Culture of amusement. Our culture demands fresh choices and alternatives, and the marketplace provides plenty of options. The mission for facilities of the future will be to find ways to change existing amenities to offer variety to patrons in an inexpensive manner. Examples of this can already be seen at several municipalities across the country, where wet play features, such as tumble buckets, water cannons and other elements, are switched annually between facilities, and projects are being phased to add new attractions, increasing and maintaining the customer base.
• Green movement. A relief to environmentalists, it appears the “green movement” is here to stay. Some examples of current changes in the industry include mandatory use of: thermal blankets to hold in heat and reduce evaporative loss; thermal solar-heating panels to take advantage of the sun’s energy in lieu of natural gas to heat pool water; LED lights, which are more energy-efficient than traditional pool lights; flooded suction pumps that consume less energy to circulate pool water; and regenerative DE Filters that require much less water to keep the pool clean.
• Increasing technology. Technological changes will continue to evolve over the coming years. Higher-efficiency heaters, pumps, filtration systems and new energy sources--in addition to alternative or new means of chemical treatment--will keep pool designers and builders busy and pool operators clamoring for upgrades to their facilities.
• Health-conscious consumers. In addition to therapy and rehabilitation needs, swimming and water-based exercises are low-impact and great for a full-body workout for all ages.
Aquatic exercise is one of the most in-demand recreational activities in communities striving to service their constituents. As the population continues to grow and age, well-designed swimming facilities will continue to be in demand.
• The ongoing financial crisis has made us all aware how quickly things can change, and recent information points to more fiscally responsible decisions made by American families. Once the economy recovers, we can look for a continuation of large-scale, “resort-style” theming and environments that many public-sector pools have focused on in an effort to attract more mature audiences, and create the type of ambiance one might expect at a four- or five-star resort.
• The influence of Title 9 (the landmark civil-rights law barring gender discrimination in education) has only begun to be felt. Aquatic sports, such as swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming, have all benefitted from Title 9 as more schools have added women’s teams. As American women who competed in collegiate athletics have children, and more American men become fans of women’s athletics, and more women continue to stay active in their sport of choice, the demand for facilities capable of hosting practices and competitions for all these activities will increase in the coming years.
Based on information available, and given past-performance indicators, the future for aquatics looks quite bright. While the landscape for pools and the rules with which they will operate are sure to change, the demand for facilities where families can splash together and individuals can recreate, recover, and/or pursue their dreams of Olympic stardom, is here to stay.
Greenhouse, Steven. “Americans’ International Lead in Hours Worked Grew in 90’s, Report Shows.” The New York Times. September 1, 2001.