So you’ve decided you’re ready to offer health and
programming at your leisure facility. Next you need practical ideas
to get you there. Here are five operator-tested strategies to pump
things up — for you and your facility.
1. Make things at your operation as convenient as
possible. Even in a recession Americans will pay for
convenience, and data shows that aquatics operators can capitalize.
Nearly 42 percent of the nearly 460 individuals who responded to a
December 2011 Aquatics International online survey
indicated that convenience is a top priority for patrons, and
facility users will pay for convenience.
Scheduling presents perhaps the biggest opportunity for
convenience, relative to programming. To determine what will make
things more convenient for potential patrons, spend time analyzing
your target audience. Be aware of school schedules and other
factors that might affect plans for a large percentage of your
community, suggests Terri Smith, designer, Water Design
Inc. in Salt Lake City. Surveys also are an ideal way to
discover other factors that might impact large numbers of your
You might consider increasing the number of times you offer some of
your most popular programs and implementing more programs at
nontraditional times (think early mornings, late nights and
Sundays). Also look for smart ways to pair programs together. For
example, schedule aqua yoga at the same time as youth swim lessons,
to give parents the opportunity to get a convenient workout
alongside their children.
Simply put, “if it’s not convenient for them,
they’re not going to participate,” says Tara Eggleston,
countywide aquatics coordinator for The
Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission’s
Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George’s
When it comes to registration, if you’re not already doing
so, make it a priority to use all available technology —
including mobile — to make sure the public can get
information and sign up for all programs 24-7. You’ll also
want to regularly evaluate your online experience to ensure
it’s as efficient and user-friendly as possible.
Remember to pay attention to your offline user experience as well.
The Bloomingdale (Ill.) Park District has successfully
retained more swim lesson students by setting up a poolside on-site
registration table on the day before the final swim lesson of every
session, says Carrie Haupert-Fullerton, executive director.
It allows parents to sign up for the next block immediately, while
they’re “in the moment,” she notes.
2. Develop classes and programs for new user groups.
According to the AI survey, 40 percent name children (ages
4 to 12) as their main demographic. That indicates there is room to
create revenue via programming for groups that may be underserved.
Family Fitness & Aquatics in Huntersville, N.C., operators
noticed that during the summer, a number of college students were
coming to use the facility and purchasing day passes. To make it
more cost-effective for the students to use the pool while home on
break, management created a special membership package just for
“By reaching out … we not only improved our performance
and utilization, but made an impact on keeping these kids healthy,
fit and out of trouble over the summer months,” says Brooks
Shelley, assistant director.
Another emerging group to consider may be adult nonswimmers. Nearly
20 percent of adults who reported plans to participate in water
activities during summer 2011 described their swimming skills as
limited, according to a 2011 Red Cross survey. Experts say
it’s time to break down those ingrained fears, stigmas and
preconceived notions. Programming aimed at doing this a great place
Francis Health and Wellness Center is one agency that has
developed a successful beginner adult swim lesson program, and it
comes down to finding good instructors who can tailor their
teaching to adults.
“You’re never too old to learn,” says Doug
Gannon, the assistant manager of the Cape Girardeau Mo.,
3. Remember, regular patrons are your most tried and true
revenue source. They value what you have to offer already,
and nearly 40 percent of the survey respondents indicated that a
significant percentage of their patrons would be interested in
trying a new aquatic program never before offered.
To encourage patrons to act, tap into their needs and wants by
finding ways to remind them that what you offer is part of a
Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatics has been able to do just
that. When it became clear that a large number of seniors use the
pool at a regular time, Shelley and his team established a social
hour for them to chat and enjoy refreshments. That has enabled the
group to bond, and knowing they will see friends when they come to
the pool gives the seniors another reason to keep returning, he
“We had one of our regular seniors have his 90th birthday
party here,” Shelley adds. “His son flew in from
Arizona and came straight to the club … since he knew his dad
would be here.”
“Sample” opportunities are another important tool to
entice patrons to try something new. It might be as basic as
offering a free “family day pass” to every child who
completes a session of swim lessons. Demos are another option.
Consider demonstrating programs that have great visibility such as
tai chi or aqua aerobics, suggests aquatics consultant Judith
Leblein-Josephs, president of JLJ Enterprises, LLC, in Wayne.
Ultimately, “any type of program where you can provide a
teaser to another program is a great opportunity,” adds
Jennifer White, director of operations and the swim school
specialist at Starfish Aquatics Institute.
That includes promotions and special events. Every new member at
Saint Francis Health and Wellness Center gets a new member
“bingo card” that includes several different activities
and classes. For every one tried, the new member receives a stamp
on their card.
4. Provide added value. Programming that provides more
than expected is essential to both attract and retain users.
That’s what the Glenview Park District, Glenview Ill., discovered when
supervisors decided to update the learn-to-swim lesson program.
Today, the revamped program is more well-rounded, with lessons
taught by highly qualified instructors. It includes water safety
education and instruction for parents, enabling the agency to
justify slightly higher prices. Looking forward the agency hopes to
continue to build on the success of the new program with more
one-on-one instruction opportunities.
“With the strong competition nearby, we want to give parents
another reason to stay with us,” says Jen Vernon, supervisor
of aquatic programming, Splash Landings Aquatic Complex, Glenview Park
District. “Our current parents love the thorough program we
offer to their children, but we hope the more individual
instruction will push their children to advance faster and feel
much more comfortable in the water.”
Safety has always been at the core of what aquatics facilities
provide, but it also can be an “added value.”
The Indy Parks & Recreation department has seen
attendance increases of more than five percent since implementing
free water safety clinics before Indianapolis city pools opened for
the day, notes Michelle Snyder, Indy Parks Aquatic Program manager.
Anyone who attends the clinics receives a free day pass for the
pool and the clinics are frequently filled to near capacity.
Small changes to your overall ambiance can make a big difference in
programming as well. You could consider adding appropriate music to
certain programs, or try blocking certain hours just for certain
user groups. Think ladies nights or senior/adult Sunday mornings,
suggests Leblein- Josephs.
“It’s an opportunity for adults who may feel
overwhelmed when [the pool] is filled with kids,” she
5. Look to the land to maximize your space.
“Anything you can do in a family community center you can do
on deck,” says Leblein-Josephs. The key is to get creative.
Ideas might include:
• Pool-side health and wellness workshops
• Games (mah jong, chess, bocce ball, etc.)
• Line dancing
• Walking clubs
• Story time.
Depending on planning and execution, these types of land-based
programs can serve as one of those “added value”
strategies, or as a stand-alone fee-based activity.
When developing new programming, land-based or in-water, be sure
that your plans have a clear focus, says White. That could be water
safety education, health and wellness, or even general fun and
Look to your community to find experienced, knowledgeable
individuals who can become partners to lead land-based activities,
and don’t overlook critical logistical and planning issues,
adds Leblein-Josephs. For example, patrons will not enjoy a speaker
presentation if they have to sitting for 45 minutes in the blazing
In the end, no matter which strategy might work best for your
organization, follow-up with careful evaluation. “Set goals
for programs … and be ready to make changes,” says