Swimming Pool Management Trends Report - 2021

Ever since the pandemic, businesses across the world have faced all sorts of challenges to their survival. With safety a top priority, the situation was no different for swimming pools last year. In fact, as per a survey by Community Associations Institute (CAI), only about 7% of community association pools opened on time last year, while 41% of pools decided against opening for the year altogether.
This year, the production and distribution of vaccines has made a clear difference so far in the minds of facility owners and managers across the country. In a similar survey on swimming pool opening statistics this year, CAI found that only 2% of community association pools are planning to keep their pools closed for the season, while only about 9% of owners are planning a delayed opening. This is a significant drop from last year, when about 30% of owners planned to open their pools at a later date.

What to expect as pools open this year 

Even with the vaccination drives taking place across the country, there is still a fair risk of COVID-19 infections that pools will need to watch out for. Public pools and other aquatic facilities will also need to be mindful of financial concerns after a difficult year. Facility managers and staff will need to work consciously to provide members with a better experience after the year that was.

With the pool season well underway, let us take a closer look at the industry trends that will influence aquatic facilities across the country in 2021.

A viral influence

COVID-19 had a major impact on swimming pool management in 2020

Practically every pool facility last year was affected by concerns over COVID-19 and the risks of infection. While pools were closed initially until there was a greater understanding of the virus and its spread, some pools opened around June and July with great caution and state-prescribed restrictions firmly in place.

Most states recommended restricted capacities to ease the burden on facilities and staff, while also ensuring a greater level of sanitization. The season saw an increased use of technology, safety equipment, and fewer staff to minimize the risk of infections. That said, there is positivity across the industry looking forward. A vast majority of pools expect to reopen in some form this year, as opposed to a higher number of closures last year. 

The use of booking software and technology made a significant impression on the industry as it helped facility owners and managers navigate during a period of serious uncertainty. Perhaps most importantly, these solutions helped staff collect COVID-related data on their members to protect pool visitors. Booking solutions like Omnify also helped the facilities protect themselves from liability with online waivers that needed to be signed by members before making any bookings.

Safety measures to stay

Pools will open in 2021 with safety still a priority

In spite of the fears pool owners held on liability and the risk of infections last year, it was found that the risk of getting infected inside a swimming pool was relatively lower. This is because the chlorine in the water can neutralize the virus and the risk of infections is mostly limited to spaces and common areas around the pool such as the showers, rest rooms, locker rooms, changing areas, and lobbies. 
Interestingly, the New Jersey Swim Safety Alliance conducted a study spanning 60 facilities in the state since they reopened around July last year to trace the spread at swimming pools. It was found that of the 327,316 people who used these facilities since then, 0 were reported to be infected following their visit to the pool. Their analysis offered some highly beneficial pointers for pools opening up this year:

  • The spread was contained mainly due to the implementation of strict safety guidelines, often stricter than the state’s recommended guidelines
  • Pools ensured strict wearing of masks by both staff and members outside the water
  • Managing capacity along with blocks of swim time to ensure limited numbers per session made it easier to mitigate risks
  • Indoor swimming was conducted in warm and humid environments, with chlorinated water

This year, more people will continue to get vaccinated, but with those fully vaccinated still below 50% of the total population, facility managers would be wise to keep restrictions in place if they are to have a safe season ahead.

The cost fact

Trends indicate a higher budget for pools in 2021

With the decline in visitors per session last year, most facilities found their budgets trimming down ever so slightly. According to a survey of over 600 aquatic facilities across the country by Recreation Management Magazine, indoor pools saw their average operating costs down by about 3.6%. While outdoor pools saw no change last year, this year could see their average operating costs go up by a whopping 50%. This is mainly down to potentially working on new constructions and expecting an increased inflow of visitors as states begin to ease restrictions on movement.

The continued importance of booking software

Pools will continue to benefit from booking software and technology

As the pandemic brought swimming pool operations to a brief halt last year, states began to work on guidelines that would help them open safely. One of the key recommendations made to facilities was to manage their capacities and operate with time slots that would allow them to maintain social distancing and keep their spaces sanitized at all times. The immediate and obvious solution was to use an online booking software that automated and simplified the process for them.

This year, while some pools may choose to return to their old systems, it is clear that online booking solutions are here to stay. The automated booking industry has been growing consistently over the last few years and is expected to continue its upward trajectory over the coming decade. By 2024, the market is estimated to be worth $360 million, while the value is expected to grow to $546.31 million in 2026. 

Over the last year, pools used booking software to simplify their booking operations, enable safer and faster check-ins, and maintain constant communication with their members. Booking solutions like Omnify also helped pool managers and staff minimize human error, accept secure payments online, optimize team communication, and manage memberships more effectively. As booking solutions continue to evolve beyond managing reservations, facility owners and managers will find a lot more value added to their operations and deliver a better experience to their members over time.

Tracking MAHC Implementation

MAHC implementation can help pools deliver a better experience

The Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) was introduced in 2014 to help government officials at state and local level in framing and updating their pool codes. The Council for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC), a nonprofit organization, contributes to the development of the MAHC by providing inputs to the CDC as it compiles and updates the latest scientific information and best practices into one uniform code.

The MAHC was first drafted in 2014, but as of 2021, awareness of these codes and their implementation remain relatively low. According to the 2021 Aquatic Trends Survey by Recreation Management Magazine, about 42.7% of the respondents were unaware of the code, while only 4.9% of the respondents said their local governing agency had fully implemented them. Since these codes are not binding by law, most agencies tend to implement them partially, factoring in local concerns. This can be seen by the 16.7% of respondents whose local agencies had implemented the MAHC in partial form. 

While awareness of the MAHC doesn't directly affect facility managers and staff, the code can keep one up to date with the latest recommendations for safety and quality through scientific data and industry-wide best practices and help pools deliver a better experience to their members. If you’re among those who are unaware of the code, it would be beneficial to update yourself and your staff at the earliest.

Industry-wide challenges

Financial concerns could continue to affect pools in 2021

The pandemic may have presented the most significant and obvious challenge to pool facilities last year, but our coverage would be incomplete without looking at the problems the industry has faced outside of the pandemic. According to the Aquatic Trends Survey, the biggest concern for pool owners in 2019 was staffing, followed by budget, maintenance, and safety.
In 2020, pool owners were most affected by financial concerns and with the decline in visitors, staffing wasn’t the primary concern. More respondents mentioned maintenance and safety as a concern in 2020 than the previous year and these are likely to continue in 2021. There is a greater demand for pool facilities this year, but this is accompanied by the same fear of infection as last year. Pools will have to maintain the same safety guidelines as last year, while paying closer attention to their members’ concerns and making changes to the experience accordingly.
As pools open this year, there may not be as much disruption as last year, but pools will certainly invite visitors back with a sense of caution. That said, there would be a greater desire to make up for the year that was and give everyone the summer experience they have been waiting for!

If you run a swimming pool facility and would like to deliver a quality member experience that goes beyond bookings, Omnify has helped over a thousand pools create a safe, simple, and smooth experience for their members during the pandemic, while our team is constantly working on improving our solutions for you. If you would like to know more about what Omnify has to offer, all you have to do is sign up for a demo today and our team will be there to help you!