That’s the way we’ve always done it!” “It’s good enough for our little facility!” When it comes to technology, these are common attitudes among overworked, understaffed aquatics operators.
Though most commercial venues and large public agencies are
zooming down the techno-highway, many smaller and mid-sized
agencies remain stuck in the slow lane. These professionals know
the technology exists to take their aquatics facilities from good
to great, but many are hesitant when it comes to really embracing
tools such as the Internet and what they can do for productivity,
revenue generation and customer service. So there are seasonal and
year-round venues everywhere still handling admissions,
registrations and security with plastic pin-on badges, photo ID
cards and paper ticket guest pass coupon books.
What’s keeping these operators treading water?
Techno-savvy Gen-Y’ers likely find the reluctance to
“get wired” a bit irrational, but to well-seasoned
managers with small staffs and aging computer hardware, adopting
the new ways feels like a quantum leap into the future. The change
is simply too overwhelming.
But in today’s market, many “technophobes” are
finding that clinging to old ways is becoming more and more of a
hindrance. The generation now joining the work force has grown up
with computers, bar-code scanners and surfing the Web — and
today’s budget-conscious consumers expect the convenience of
things such as online registration, charge card payments and
Some operators might argue that technology is “too
expensive” or “too complicated,” but at this
stage in the game that’s no longer true.
The positive side of arriving late to the table is that
technology costs have come down and the aquatics industry now is
well-understood by those engineering today’s latest
In fact, by capitalizing on technology, you might even save some
money. Operators who embrace what’s now available can
streamline their jobs and boost patron satisfaction, thereby
increasing their bottom lines.
But once you’re there, it’s vital to keep looking
ahead. At many large aquatics venues, front-loaded season passes
and electronic wristbands that eliminate the need to carry cash now
are commonplace. New technology allowing visitors at large parks to
quickly locate lost children, play games with interactive
attractions and keep running scores are coming down the pike.
All told, the time has never been better to embrace technology,
and all aquatics operators need to dive into the future or risk
sinking into the past. Here’s a look at what you need to know
to bring your facility up to date.
Making sense of software
Where should operators with old systems start? First, realize
that technology should be consumed like fine chocolate: a little at
a time. Evaluate your needs and start slowly by addressing the most
You might start by considering your overall computer software
program. In the past two decades, many software developers have
tried to understand the nuances of the aquatics business, and there
isn’t a recreation director around who hasn’t purchased
at least one bad program. Only the strongest software has survived,
so there’s now a better chance of getting it right the first
To choose the best program for your operation, look at what
works at facilities in similar communities. Fully investigate all
the programs that potential providers have to offer. Prioritize the
areas that will benefit your facility and phase in each of these
Be wary of any programs with modules still under
The most critical choices you will likely have to make involve
your registration procedures, identification process and the
bookkeeping software programs that will need to be integrated. For
many, these three items must be the first priority, especially in
communities with small support staffs. Before purchasing anything,
work with your community’s finance officer and auditors to be
sure you meet all statutory requirements for handling finances.
Also consider that smaller communities have found success by
forming consortiums and sharing services. You could work with
software companies and bulk-purchase with neighboring communities
to share training, technical and support services. You also might
reach out to local colleges and universities to serve as the
technical support for the program.
You’ll be amazed at the potential increase in early revenue
dollars when charge cards are introduced to your registration
process — in some cases, more than 50 percent.
Some traditional finance officers may be concerned about handling
charges, but the savings in manpower, paper handling and interest
on early season earnings should help cover any associated expenses.
In addition, adding charge card capability will be a big plus in
the public perception of your agency.
To further allay the concerns of finance officers, it’s
possible to negotiate with your bankers. In the current financial
climate, bankers will likely be motivated to work with your team
when reminded that all of your agency’s money is deposited
If that doesn’t work, you should seriously consider
increasing memberships or daily admission slightly to cover the
Guests will form an opinion of your service within minutes, and if
they’re forced to stand in line while your admissions team
fumbles with lists, checks IDs and attempts to answer questions,
you’re already starting off negatively.
With photo identification and bar-code scanning, you can speed
transactions, place a true value on membership and season passes,
and improve customer service exponentially. In addition, the
savings on office personnel and identification cards that can be
electronically updated and last for years will certainly help the
Portable bar-code scanners allow for working with one admission
program in several locations. With portable scanners, season pass
holders can enter a second gate while still accessing one
registration program. During holidays and high attendance days,
this will enable you to open additional gates for fast-track
admission. Today’s scanners are more affordable and greatly
improved over earlier versions, and your members will love you for
With today’s shrinking budgets and smaller staffs, online
registration programs with 24/7 access have become a saving grace.
The latest user-friendly online registration programs can
accommodate waiting lists, age and residency restrictions, as well
as payment plans. In addition to the obvious advantages, enabling
residents to register or purchase tickets online eliminates the
need for late office hours or Saturday registrations and reduces
When it comes to setting up online registration capability, be
sure your software provider understands the nuances of your
programs and don’t let concerns about transition time scare
you. Most systems can be set up quickly and because users establish
their own data, gone are the days of data entry that were a part of
Once you have online registration in place, just set the timer
to allow enrollment to begin, sit back and watch. It’s
amazing how many people will be up all night, registering in their
Easy access to data on your customer base provides great
opportunities for marketing and promotion. With a few clicks of the
mouse, you can substantially cut your budget for newspaper ads,
fliers and similar marketing approaches. Things such as online
newsletters, target marketing, registration reminders and other
creative uses of e-mail enable you to easily provide savvy customer
service. And by cutting down on paper, you’ll be more
To optimize your use of e-marketing, do not purchase a computer
registration program that does not allow for e-commerce. And
remember, sending too many e-mail blasts makes you a pest, but the
right reminders to the right audience can make you a hero. Pick and
choose your e-mail blasts carefully.
Busy families are juggling lots of priorities, and cell phones,
BlackBerries and laptops probably are a way of life for many of
your patrons. For that reason, providing Wi-Fi access —
perhaps in your snack bar or lounge area — will not only make
your registration program hum in several locations of your
facility, but provide a fabulous, convenient service for your
guests. Parents will be able to work while waiting for their
children, and guests who usually work at home now can spend time at
the community pool and still get some business done.
When going Wi-Fi, remember to provide power outlets for cell phone
and computer charging. Market the service to promote membership and
paint a picture of an accommodating facility that understands its
members. Your staff will appreciate the Wi-Fi access as well, so
establish polices for use early.