BSPF Managing Director Chris Hayes gave Eurospapoolnews readers some thoughts on the UK wet leisure sector and explains that it is performing well, despite some uncertainties.
Let's get the 'elephant in the room' out of the way from the outset, namely 'BREXIT.' Since the 29th March 2017, the uncertainties of how BREXIT will affect UK businesses has been an ongoing key concern for many people, but in stoical fashion, the pool and spa industry has carried on making their plans and preparing contingencies, where applicable, such as stockpiling goods, etc. The relatively close Referendum result from BREXIT has left, the way in which the UK leaves the EU more uncertain than if there had been a landslide referendum result. The referendum came at an inopportune time for many businesses, and since the result, the main issue outstanding has been the uncertainty of whether a deal can be done with the EU to ensure that business is not adversely affected from any changes at a political and social level. Suppliers will have been grappling with how to finalise their price lists, some choosing to fix for a longer period than others, based on securing favourable exchange rates and others fixing prices for a shorter period and then reviewing them in the aftermath of BREXIT.
The initial impact seen in the UK in 2017 was a fall in the value of the pound (especially against the euro and the dollar), and as many goods in our industry are imported, the result meant higher prices in 2017 and 2018, even if some businesses decided to take a smaller margin to lessen the impact on their customers. The fluctuation of Sterling may continue for a while and longer term, it is hoped this may balance itself out, only time will tell!
After Brexit, there was a tendency for consumers to feel less confident about making large purchases. As the months have progressed, consumer confidence appears to have been cautiously returning, but it is a sensible strategy to plan that there may be some adverse effect on sales in 2019 but to have the capacity to cope with higher sales if this proves inaccurate. As the clock counts down to exit of the EU, the UK pool and spa industry remains upbeat that our alliances and partnerships with our colleagues in the EU, wider Europe and across the rest of the World will remain strong, and the UK Wet Leisure Industry will continue to make the best use of any opportunities that arise.
As we near the deadline in March this year for a withdrawal from the EU, there may be many more twists and turns regarding items such as tariffs, but at least there should be some clarity before the end of the year, this will be very welcome. Irrespective of whether people voted 'Leave' or 'Remain' back in 2017 and whether they are part of the 'People's Vote to have a second Referendum, or not, there will continue to be ongoing work by our industry to lessen any negative outcomes and to maximise any positive outcomes from no longer being in the EU.
In the UK, the market for pools, spas, hot tubs, sauna, steam, wellness and associated wet leisure products and services has continued to grow. Although accurate data is not easily available, the indications from the estimates provided by the industry, including feedback from the Wet Leisure Survey (undertaken by Golden Coast with help from the BSPF) is very optimistic. The Wet Leisure Survey provides a useful qualitative overview each year on the state of the market.
In recent years there has been more focus on the industry and individual businesses for Succession Management and Workforce Development. This is particularly true for pool businesses, which may have been established for many decades and are facing handing over from one family generation to another (or of finding a suitable management buyout, or sale to a third party). This focus has given businesses the strength of identifying and growing talent to fill leadership and business-critical positions for the future. Since the economic downturn in 2008, there is now also more interest from companies to take on new staff and apprenticeships are being considered in more depth by companies needing to cope with the increased demand from their clients.
The recovery in the domestic market is partly matched in the commercial sector, as Local Authorities may not be building pools in as great a volume as they were pre-2008, but some parts of the commercial sector are showing strong signs of recovery, such as the holiday park sector. Demand for pools and especially for hot tubs used exclusively by one family (or small group of friends) are in great demand and is a trend that should continue to develop for the foreseeable future over the next 12 months. Although the commercial pool work in some sectors is strong, there appear to be fewer companies that work predominantly in this area alone, favouring to work in both the commercial and domestic areas to benefit from the opportunities provided by both.
The role of products that can genuinely save energy helps consumers tick two very important boxes. Firstly, it helps satisfy the growing desire to be 'green', and more importantly, it can help to reduce running costs. If payback times can be accurately calculated, then this can give consumers confidence in spending more on capital purchases such as heat pumps, to make savings on running costs so that the extra cost is quickly paid back.
While it may be unavoidable that BREXIT has created short-term issues, the UK industry is more likely to be directly affected by poor weather; it is, therefore, vital that companies continue to "weather-proof" their business as much as possible. The task of "weather-proofing" is made easier for those companies building indoor pools and also where customers are at the top end of the market, as demand is strong in these sectors.
Renovations and refurbishment work are also healthy sectors to be in, and companies are reaping the dividends by contacting their existing database of customers to identify if any of them are thinking of refreshing their facilities or adding options to them. Those companies that have a proactive approach to following up on customers that have planning permission and who have not yet started work will also be best placed to win this business.
Maximising the use of company databases and optimising customer relationship management systems with up-to-date data will provide businesses with successful tools for contacting existing clients. Having this data in place provides a key element in encouraging repeat business by building on the customer relationships which have already been established and have taken time and money to initially obtain. But new customer growth can also come from using social media and enhancing company websites (style, content and reach). New audiences are savvy, they do their research online and need to see what is available, through the 'virtual showroom window' of your website. Providing a 24-7, view of your business, 365 days a year, so even when your business is not open in real-time your website should be open for business and working as a sales tool to bring you, new customers. Therefore, a key part of your business management should be regular monitoring of digital marketing to ensure your online business channels are providing optimum business performance.
In the UK, companies employing between 1 - 5 people are the most prevalent in our industry (with as many as 60% of the companies estimated to be in this category). The challenge for these SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) is how to grow their business when demand increases to find suitably skilled/qualified staff.
For SMEs, there is also the challenge of keeping up to date with the many changes that are happening with Regulations, Standards and Guidance that impacts the industry. Both of the Trade Associations (BISHTA and SPATA) and also the ISPE are working hard for their respective members (either companies or individuals, respectively) to ensure that knowledge is gained so that work is carried out to industry Standards. Information is available online and also via seminars and workshops available at specific times of the year to help businesses. SPATEX was also a great source of information for attendees, with two seminar areas providing a wealth of information.
The sign of a strong industry is one that sets standards to manage performance criteria and health & safety matters. There are many standards for public (commercial) and domestic (residential) pools in our industry, aimed to raise the quality of the work expected. So long as industry experts can devote the time needed to meet with other colleagues to discuss and agree what is appropriate to include in the various standards, this development of new standards and revision of existing standards should remain possible. There is also the need to cascade the information to the industry so that they are aware of the changes that are going on. Some standards are developed just in the UK, while others are European standards, and some are international standards (ISO or IEC).
The greater emphasis on recommending the provision of safety signs for domestic pool owners, as indicated in EN 16582-1, is just one example where the industry is evolving the expectations on the way it works.
The public pool standards EN 15288 (design and operation of swimming pools) and many of the EN 13451 series of swimming pool equipment standards for public pools have been revised this year. All around Europe, trade associations are liaising with their members about these changes and ensuring they are familiar with the key information.
In the UK, SPATA members have access to British Standards Online (BSOL) which provides a custom package of 25 standards to give online access 24/7 to check specific details stated in the Standards. The package only costs £75 + VAT per year, and so is fantastic value given that most standards cost on average at least £100 each! This service is of great benefit to all members working to industry standards, and the revision of SPATA Standards in 2017 (with some amendments in 2018) is also very important.
Standards for spas and hot tubs are also under scrutiny at the moment, as a European standard has just been published for domestic spas, whirlpool spas and hot tubs. The scope of the standard covers portable spas (including inflatable spas and exercise spas), to field engineered spas, and also Scandinavian hot tubs (without water filtration). This standard is a fantastic example of co-operation between different countries that wanted to share the costs and the expertise in writing the standard and BISHTA was not only represented on the expert panel, but the meetings were chaired by BISHTA, as the BSI's representatives.
The existing electrical standard for spas EN 60335-2-60 (which also has an International version) are being reviewed following some electric shock issues with one particular brand of inflatable spa, and it is hoped to make some further progress on revising this standard in 2019.
Based on the success of the domestic spa standard, a public spa standard is currently beginning to take shape, chaired by Mille Örnmark from Sweden. This standard will look at the existing public pool and domestic spa standards and identify what applies to be included from these sources and what else is needed to be added. The relevant committee dealing with this work is CEN TC 136 WG16, and there are plans to develop other standards for sauna and steam, etc.
There are some standards that are missing, such as an EN 13451 standard on pool covers, but there is no consensus on how the standard should be written, and so this remains incomplete. Now that there is domestic swimming pool water circulation, filtration and treatment standards (part of the EN 16713 series) it is more apparent that there is a need to have water hygiene management standards for public pools, as many European countries would benefit from such a standard being developed.
In addition to Standards, the UK has a wealth of guidance material that assists the pool and spa industry. The Health and Safety Executive have provided an updated version of Managing Health & Safety in Swimming Pools (HSG 179), and they have also produced HSG 282, 'The Control of Legionella and other infectious agents in spa pool systems'. Both of the guidance documents have elements of actions which are considered mandatory, while other guidance contained in the documents is seen as good practice to be followed.
The industry also has a number of multi-agency groups, some more established than others, but all aiming to work for the benefit of the industry. PWTAG has its Swimming Pool Water publication (and the associated free Code of Practice on its website (www.pwtag.org). It has also recently produced 'Hot Tubs for Business' as a publication focusing on HSG 282.
The Swimming Advisory Group is under the umbrella of the National Water Safety Forum and aims to bring together wet leisure organisations with interest in swimming participation, and that also focuses on swimming awareness and drowning prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths each year. On average, of the 600 people that drown in the UK, 200 are either caused by suicide or murder. Of the remaining 400 accidental drownings, in the region of 30 are swimming related, but most of these occur in open water such as canals, rivers, lakes and at the coast. On average, about six people drown in swimming pools each year, some of which may be domestic pools and therefore not lifeguarded. The pool industry is keen to back the Drowning Prevention strategy aim that drownings can be halved by 2026. Safety is a key discussion at the World Alliance of Pool and Spa Association (WAPSA) and more about this work later in the article.
Another relevant UK multi-agency group is the Swimming Pool Design Forum, an excellent initiative from Swim England and Sport England (and supported by a number of their colleagues in the other Home Nation National Governing Bodies and Sports Councils). SPATA is also one of the other members and this group look at various initiatives to see what design guidance needs updating or needs to be developed to help ensure that good practice is shared and any issues are not repeated.
Both SPATA and BISHTA maintain and update their Standards as a requirement for its own members to follow, and as there is guidance not necessarily included in some of the British and European standards, they are a useful industry resource.
Greater collaboration around the World
There has seen a growing trend for working together, not just in Europe, with the collaboration of EUSA (the European Union of Swimming Pool and Spa Associations - established in 2006), but there has also been an ongoing dialogue involving Associations from other Continents wishing to share ideas and learn from each other as part of the World Alliance of Pool and Spa Associations (WAPSA). There are currently 13 European countries that are members of EUSA and the UK as one of the founder associations is keen to play its role in the work, such as the European Pool and Spa Awards. Due to the strong links between the members, it was possible to help develop some of the domestic pool standards in a very collaborative way, due to many of the experts knowing each other from EUSA meetings and therefore having mutual respect. It is hoped to grow the number of pool and spa associations in Europe and for these to be strong enough to also participate as EUSA members.
At the World level, WAPSA met for the first time at Aquanale in November 2017, and it was agreed that a World Alliance could be very useful to promote the industry. At the first meeting, some of the key priorities were identified as data/statistics; education; and safety. Subgroups began working on these topics, and an update report was provided at the second meeting of WAPSA in November 2018. This meeting took place at Piscine Global Europe in Lyon, and the attendees from North & South America, Australia and Europe contributed to the discussions on how to progress more work on the original subgroups. There was also a request for a subgroup to be formed on sustainability, as this will continue to be a priority to save energy, water consumption, etc. As WAPSA grows in confidence, it is hoped that countries and other Continents such as Africa and Asia will be able to take part more actively. The next meeting is scheduled to take place later this year in Barcelona, and the subgroups will be hard at work discussing how to share good practice and what effective lobbying can be done around the World to publicise the benefits of our industry on the health and wellbeing of its respective citizens.
One way of raising the profile of the industry is through award ceremonies, and many countries hold their annual event to 'kick-start' the season. The British Pool & Hot Tub Awards ceremony (hosted by BISHTA and SPATA) is part of the annual 'UK Wet Leisure Industry Gala Evening (29th January 2019), undoubtedly the biggest social event in the British industry calendar. The evening is open to the whole industry (pre-booking is essential) the night consists of a pre-dinner drinks reception, three-course meal, the re-presentation of the ISPE awards, the British Pool & Hot Tub Awards ceremony and a full evening of entertainment.
The Industry Gala evening was hosted during SPATEX, the UK's number one international wet leisure Exhibition. It represented all sectors of the Industry from pools, spas, saunas to hydrotherapy (yes, even animal hydrotherapy!), wellness, steam rooms and children's play equipment, in both the domestic and commercial arena. With well over one hundred Exhibitors, SPATEX brings together under one roof the country's largest showcase of new products and innovations, but it is so much more than just an Exhibition. With all this happening under one roof, providing exceptional opportunities to network, see new products, innovations, not forgetting the SPATEX Party and the fantastic education programme provided by the Institute of Swimming Pool Engineers (ISPE) and also supported by wet leisure organisations such as the STA and PWTAG, SPATEX is a 'must' for any wet leisure industry professional. The 2020's Gala Industry evening booking will open in November 2019, so please make sure you add this date to your diary if you would like to be part of the 2020 celebrations and contact email@example.com to book nearer the time.
My best wishes also go to the various award recipients in the UK and across the rest of Europe who won EUSA's European Pool, and Spa Awards 2018, recently hosted at Piscine Global Europe. Finally, I want to congratulate all of the British Pool & Hot Tub Award winners announced in Coventry during SPATEX 2019, and many of them will be eligible to enter the EUSA Awards being held later this year at Aquanale, in Cologne.
Educating the workforceThe ISPE, SPATA and BISHTA are all playing their part in promoting Continuing (Continuous) Professional Development (CPD) for the pool and spa industry. SPATA has been busy with a number of its members in producing a heat pump course thanks to the hard work of Calorex and Certikin International. Recently there has been a collaborative approach from Aquaflex, Certikin International and Plastica to produce a liner course that was well received (with another course already fully booked for March 2019). A sauna and steam course is also nearing completion, and it is planned to run a pilot course in late February 2019 at Golden Coast, who have produced the course syllabus.
BISHTA has been very busy in developing courses and qualifications for the hot tub industry. The water hygiene management course goes from strength to strength, with course provided by CPC, Pollet Pool Group and Pool and Spa Advice. Other tutors are joining the team to give even more opportunities for people to attend courses. Dangerous Goods course are being offered to update companies on their legal responsibilities when carrying 'Dangerous Goods' (any substance with a UN number). Electrical courses are being run with NICEIC tutors, and this is helping to improve the safety of the workforce and the hot tub users. BISHTA also has a partnership with APSP for the delivery of the Certified Hot Tub Technician (CHTT) course, and this is run in the UK with SpaTech Training. There are plans for other training courses, especially for holiday parks that will be rolled out this year and the Hot Tub Site Surveyor course is to be revamped.
Supporting the UK Industry
Because SPATEX is run 'By the Industry, for the Industry', the profits made are ploughed back into supporting the promotion of the industry, through the Pool (and Spa) Industry Promotion Committee, usually referred to as PIP. Funds are also provided for work on standards and also given to the ISPE to continue their work on education.
The SPATEX Foundation has been set up to utilise some of the profits made from SPATEX to ensure the industry can assist with funding items or initiatives to benefit the industry. There is an application form, and the categories covered by the Foundation are listed below.
There are four main categories for money to be claimed for, and some examples are given under each category:
This could be to fund some work on developing a suitable course for the industry or to apply for a training bursary to undertake a relevant course to become a tutor.
This might be to develop a course or to provide suitable materials that would benefit the industry.
The industry may wish to respond to multi-agency groups to contribute towards the cost of important research to benefit the industry.
- Sponsorship / Charitable donations
This would usually be for groups or individuals that can demonstrate the relevance of their application to the Foundation's committee.
The SPATEX Foundation is overseen by the SPATEX Directors, and it can receive applications using the official application form at any time of the year.
Subject to any agreement for awarding funds, the money may be released immediately, or there may be a delay while the funds are topped up from the profits of future SPATEX shows.
For more details, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and put the subject heading as 'SPATEX Foundation'.