Category Archives: Operations

Hazardous Materials

One of the major challenges with keeping pools safe and healthy is the need for hazardous materials to be on-site, manly chlorine and acid.  This creates two major concerns.  The first is the need to store these materials, the second is making sure operators handle them properly.

The amount of hazardous material that is allowed to be stored on site in unrated space is not enough to provide for the needs of most natatoriums.  For the most part, the Uniformed Building Code, International Building Code and the BOCA agree that most natatoriums are considered A-3 occupancy.  This distinction changes in institutional settings and health care facilities.  The adjacent mechanical spaces are required to have a 1 hour fire separation.  All three codes provide for the storage of “hazardous materials” within controlled areas. The problem is that many facilities have more than one body of water.  Therefore, the exempt amount does not provide for an adequate supply of chemicals.  An H-2 or H-3 occupancy rating does allow for larger quantities of chemical to be stored.  However an H-2 occupancy does not provide for the storage of calcium hypochlorite.  An H-3 rating becomes costly because it requires a 3 hour fire separation.   The codes to provide for this in the design of the storage rooms are classified as an M-type occupancy.  Not only does this occupancy provide for the storage of larger qualities of chemicals, the required fire separation is diminished from a 3 hour rating to a 2 hour rating.  The code goes so far as to eliminate the need for separation if the area is less than 1,000 square feet.  By classifying a storage area as an M-Class space, a whole series of mechanical issues that could arise in dealing with H-Class occupancies are eliminated.  Outside access for chemical storage rooms may minimize critical review concerns by the fire department and code officials.

When it comes to the handling of chemicals, the first step to keeping things safe is to ensure all chemicals are properly labeled and all MSDS are readily available.  The other key factor is ensuring that anyone handling these chemicals is wearing the appropriate protective gear.  Basic protective gear would include chemical rated gloves, goggles, boots, and an apron.  Operators should also consider using ventilation masks or respirators when dealing with chemicals that put off hazardous vapors and fumes.  The National Swimming Pool Foundation recommends the following protective measures:

  • Keep personal protective equipment (PPE) clean
  • Use PPE whenever dealing with hazardous materials
  • Use respirator when airborne chemical dust or mist may be present
  • Develop work practices to minimize accidental contact with pool chemicals
  • Provide means of ready access to water (i.e. eye wash station)
  • Post the numbers for local emergency responders
  • Consider appropriate first aid and coordinate with local first responders
  • Keep safety equipment tin a separate location from the stored chemicals

We all love pools and want to make them safe for patrons and guest, but we also need to make sure we keep our operators safe.  Proper storing and handling of hazardous materials is just one basic step operators can take to keep themselves safe.

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Guest Service

Maximizing the experience of your waterpark’s guests should be of primary importance to you and your team.  After all, waterpark operators exist to provide safe, clean, friendly and fun aquatic experiences for their guests of all ages.  Through the analysis of those three years’ worth of survey and reports, I found that waterpark guests typically complain about issues in one of five areas: facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage. While these categories are not hard and fast, they do give great insight into the mind of the waterpark guest and the expectations they have when they get to your park.

Facility issues guest complain about include the appearance and cleanliness of the park, park signage, and the amount of information posted and how consistently staff convey it.  Of course, the cleanliness of restrooms tops the list at any waterpark.  Any operator knows the challenges that come with keeping restrooms clean when you have constant soaking wet traffic coming in and out of them all day long. Restrooms should be checked every 20 minutes throughout the day, as well as have a scheduled deep clean and supply stock a few times per day.

Guests also want general park Information to be clearly conveyed a readily available, both at your park, as well as on your park’s website.  Park information such as hours of operation, admissions prices, rules and frequently asked questions should be easily accessible and clearly presented in order to avoid confusion by guests. Placing this information on your website will help provide guests with as much information as possible before their visit which helps to keep their expectations in line when they arrive.

Park rules (or lack thereof), coupons and discounts and weather related issues DSC00884top the list of why guests complain about policies and procedures. “That’s not a fair severe weather policy,” The coupon doesn’t say that it’s not good today,” and “Why can’t I bring in my own floatation device” frequently top the list of complaints heard regarding these three areas.  Waterpark operators must strive to communicate policies and procedures in a clear and consistent manner, while also ensuring these policies seem fair and reasonable to the guest. Now, that’s easier said than done, but operators need to be diligent in the development of park policies and procedures.

Guests complain about their in-park experience because of the different water features a park has (or doesn’t have), the number of amenities and the overall atmosphere.  Whether the sprayground looked bigger on the website, or more shade and tables need to be added, complaints in this category will really help waterpark operators see what areas of their operation need the most improvement. All comments should be documented so that park management can plan for the future in the areas where guests see their park lacking, whether it’s a lack of a water feature, or shade umbrellas.

Food and beverage issues include the quality, timeliness and price of the food served, as well as the overall quality of service the F&B team members exhibit. Food and beverage can sometimes be the forgotten division within a waterpark operation while operators often get swamped with safety, risk management and “front of the park” admissions.  And, since most waterpark operators don’t have a strong F&B background, they need to ensure they bring on someone with intimate knowledge of food service and menu development to guarantee a successful operation. 2

Personnel issues tend to top the list when guests complain.  Through the surveys and shopper reports, complaints about park team members always came down to one of three areas, knowledge (what to do), efficiency (how to do it) and engagement (why it matters).  Whether a team member didn’t know the correct answer to a guest’s question, a guest had to stand in line too long to enter the park, or a guest did not receive a welcoming greeting from a park team member, these three areas will make or break your operation

By evaluating the five key areas in which waterpark guests complain, facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage, you can hopefully begin the journey of minimizing and eliminating guests’ complaints.  While eliminating complaints altogether might be a “pie in the sky” vision, it will be well worth your time to aim high in order to maximize the waterpark experience for your guests.

This article can be seen in its entirety in the February 2015 issue of World Waterpark Magazine at

Food & Beverage

There is nothing worse than going to a theme park where the rule is “no outside food,” and then the food you purchase onsite is overpriced and tastes terrible.  While as operators, our expertise is not typically centered around restaurant operations, here are a few things to consider when developing your Food and Beverage program:

Menu Matters There is a common belief that food sold at theme parks will be drastically overpriced.  While you want a decent markup to ensure you are covering your costs and generating additional revenue, gouging the custome1rs for their last pennies will not further your customer relationship.  Research the types of customers visiting your park and center your menu to meet their expectations.  If you have a medium to large size park, be sure to offer full, fresh meal options such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and salads.  If you are operating a smaller park, maybe a snack bar type of menu is more appropriate with nachos, snow cones, and soft pretzels.  Schedule a tasting session with your food provider, who will be more than willing to give you samples of product to ensure the quality meets your standards.  No matter the type of menu offerings, quality ingredients at a reasonable price will keep your customers happy and returning throughout the summer.

Service Matters Even if your food is delicious and reasonable in price, if the service is subpar, the guests will not return.  Design your labor schedule around lunch and afternoon snack rush times.  These times will be unique to your park and depend on your operating hours and menu offerings.  Always be sure to have enough staff available to fully execute your menu.  For example, if you scheduled enough grillers and cashiers, but not enough runners, the food may be cold by the time it reaches the guest. Designate at least one person to supervise the operations and be aware of the line to order, the line waiting for food pickup, and the cleanliness of the concessions area.  If the trash is overflowing, ketchup smeared on the counter, and frozen yogurt toppings all over the floor, the guest’s perception is that the back kitchen it just as dirty.  Spending extra effort or labor time dedicated to maintaining a clean concessions area can make or break the customer experience. While we devote hours and budget to consistently training lifeguard staff, the same care should be taken with concessions staff.  Lifeguards hold people’s lives in their hands while on stand, so they must follow protocol at all times. Similarly, if proper food handling procedures are not followed in the kitchen, food bourne illnesses are equally as dangerous. Focus training on food portions, presentation quality, and safe preparation practices.  Inevitably, there will be mistakes on orders.  Correcting the mistake, adding complimentary food, and/or giving them their food on the house are all reasonable ways to fix the issue.  34 Upsell Once you have a quality product and outstanding service, build in ways to upsell the customer to spend more in your food and beverage areas. For example, most guests come with between 3-5 family members or friends.  Offering a family 4 pack of cheeseburgers, chips, and drinks make ordering and execution easy, and also provides the opportunity to upsell the customers to french fries for an additional fee.  Offering a logo souvenir cup for your park with free refills on the day of purchase and $1.00 refills the rest of the season is an excellent way to increase your daily per cap and also satisfy the customer with a big discount.  Filling up the cup may only cost you $0.30, which leaves you a profit of approximately $0.70 per refill.  Other ways to upsell can include additional sauces, bacon, patties, or “add a dessert” options.  Including add-on options for party packages services by your food and beverage department can be the most lucrative upsell opportunity in your park.  These can include cupcakes, ice cream, churros, popcorn baskets, salads, etc. While the food and beverage options are not the primary reason to visit your park, offering great tasting food at a reasonable price, served with a smile can be the reason they return, the reason they book their birthday party at your facility, or the reason they decide to stay all day instead of eating their picnic lunch on the bed of their truck in your parking lot.


Enforcement, while sometimes not a fun aspect of being an aquatics professional, plays a key role in the overall safety and quality of any aquatic facility operation.  Several key areas exist for enforcement, primarily facility rules, policies and procedures. And, ensuring that enforcement occurs fairly and consistently can make or break the perception of your operation by your guests.  Proper enforcement of rules and policies will make your operation safer and more guest friendly.  While guests may not agree with every rule or policy in place, they will hopefully come to appreciate the “why” behind them and how they ultimately provide an atmosphere of safety and service at your facility.

The key areas of enforcement deal with making sure guests follow the facility’s rules created to keep them safe.  For rules and policies to keep your guests safe, they must be prominently displayed and consistently enforced by your team at the entrance to you park, as well as including them on all of your promotional literature.  DSC00884Aquatic facility staff need to be on the lookout for guests running, children wearing unapproved floatation devices, parents not staying within arm’s reach of their children and guests horseplaying in the water where the safety of them and the guests around them becomes compromised.  Guest services team members need to diligently check guest coolers and bags at your park’s entrance to make sure they aren’t bringing glass items, weapons or knives into the facility.

Weight and height restrictions on waterslides and how to enforce it top the list of hot topics in the aquatics industry these days.  Proactivity and consistency in informing guests of the restrictions before they get on a ride are the keys to success.  Facility staff should make announcements while guests wait in line, prominently display signage, requirements and rules at the entry to the ride, and install measuring sticks and scales to accurately measure and weigh guests.  If your park does install scales for use, they should not display the actual weight of your guests, instead using a red or green light to indicate whether they fall within the weight requirements for the ride. Using this three step process will improve the communication and enforcement of these restrictions with your guests, providing a better overall experience for everyone.

Enforcing the capacity in pools and on attractions also proves challenging for aquatic operators as they must maintain proper count of the number of guests in the park and at each attraction.  OpeBaytown (4)rators should carefully read all literature accompanying their attractions, as most have limits for the number of guests that can each attraction can hold at any given time, both on the ride itself, as well as the stairs leading up to the ride.  Park team members should be properly trained on capacity limits for each ride, as well as the facility as a whole, and have a plan in place in order to monitor the number of guests that have entered the park at any time.  Keeping track of capacity limits of your park, rides and attractions plays a major role in keeping your guests safe on a daily basis.

Enforcement won’t be the most glorious part of your aquatic operation, but it’s one of the most important areas for you and your staff to concentrate in order to ensure the safety of your guests on a daily basis.

Day Camps

Traditionally, day camps have chosen to visit waterparks or aquatic facilities for their field trips.  The additional lifeguard supervision and stress that result from day camp visits are not typically worth the revenue generated.  Building your own day camp program, hosted at your facility, is a different story.  After the initial work of creating the programs, procedures and initial marketing push, maintaining the day camp is well worth the extra revenue and positive community image it generates.

Use Your Unique Layout

Each facility has its own layout that can provide opportunities for unique activities and camp themes.  1Waterpark layouts can allow the campers to participate in fun activities in catch pools or rivers before the park opens to the public, provide lunch for the participants, and formulate the activities around the facility mascot.  Traditional aquatics programs have the opportunity to center the camp around water safety and swim lessons and typically have more access to inside classroom space (if it is attached to a community center). To begin, examine the eagle’s eye layout of your facility and find the perfect camp headquarters location for your program.


Find Your Niche

Day camp opportunities are abundant.  Parents need somewhere to send their children while they work during the summer.  Safety, convenience, and the child’s opinion are the biggest factors in selecting a day camp.  Spend some time researching the competition in your area and make note of the types of camps they are providing, the price, and what areas they are targeting.  Next, using your facilities unique attributes, develop a program that will set you apart from your competition.

While you may not be able to undercut them on price, demonstrating that your 2have a lower counselor to camper supervision ratio, offer flexible pickup times, or have a changing theme each week can help parents justify spending more of their hard earned dollars on your program.  Once you identify your niche, be sure to communicate your benefits in marketing materials and staff communication when describing your day camp program.




Make it Fun!

Aquatics facilities are fun on their own, but spending every single day of the summer in the same location can make the children antsy and bored. Centering the camp around a fun weekly theme keeps the campers engaged and excited to return each week.  When selecting themes, research what the children are excited about, which can be a result of a recent movie or television show.  Timeless themes such as pirates, dinosaurs, science exploration are always popular options.  Many parents select the weeks they register their children from camp based on the theme, so choose wisely!  Though it requires quite a bit of pre-planning, all activities, crafts and games should support the weekly theme.  Towards the end of the week, begin to drop hints about some of the next week’s activities, which will encourage the campers to ask their parents to register them for another week!

Make it Safe

Taking charge of children all day requires patience and a great deal of training.  Create policies and procedures that will protect the children and your staff from unsafe situations.  Start by identifying potential hazards at your facility, restroom and changing policies, and discipline procedures.  Clearly outline these policies for the parents in a handbook so they understand and agree to the policies before registering for the camp.  Look for ways to minimize risk, such as scheduling the swim lesson portion at the beginning of the day so the children come dressed for swimming are only changing in or out of their suits once during the day instead of twice.  Train your camp counselors to always follow pickup procedures, how to respond to basic medical emergencies (food allergies, bee stings, vomit), how to correct behavior, and how to facilitate activities.  The way your staff interact with the children is something the campers will always remember and what they share with their parents at the end of the day.


Increase Your Bottom Line

You will generate additional revenue through camp registrations, but the largest increase to your bottom line will be through add-on options for day camps.  Since convenience is one of the biggest selling point for parents, offering weekly lunch options, early drop-off/late pick-up, and other programming add-ons assist the parent in making your camp the easy choice.  Select add-on options that will require a low cost or staff commitment, but is valuable to the parent. For example, if your facility has a concessions area, offering daily lunch just means making a few extra hamburgers or chicken nuggets.  To ultimately increase your bottom line, your goal should be to offer a safe, fun program that children will beg their parents to register them for at a competitive price.