Crisis point for poor toilets

28th of December 2017
Crisis point for poor toilets
Crisis point for poor toilets

A new study reveals that poor washroom provision in stadiums and other high-traffic venues is reaching a crisis point. Jenny Turner from Tork manufacturer Essity considers ways in which this situation can be improved.

Stadium washrooms are notorious for their poor standards. Anyone who has attended a large live music or sporting event will recognise the experience of having to steel oneself to visit the toilet.
Long queues for grubby toilets with no toilet tissue and inadequate hand hygiene facilities will be a familiar scenario for many. But the washroom is hardly the focal point of any outing, so a bad washroom visit is relatively unimportant in the great scheme of things. Or is it?

In fact a recent survey has revealed a startling picture of disgruntled visitors suffering in silence despite the fact a bad washroom visit has completely coloured their experience of an event. And it demonstrates how poor toilet provision can lead to other issues such as higher cleaning bills and lower profits for the venue.

The survey, commissioned by Tork and carried out online by IPSOS, polled 3,000 people from the UK, the US, Germany, France, Poland and Sweden – all of whom had visited a stadium or a similar high-traffic venue within the past nine months.

Each interviewee was asked to name their biggest gripe when visiting such a venue. A bad washroom experience emerged as the number one response in every European country – ranking even higher than disturbances, long queues at the entrance or poor quality of food and drinks.

Only in the US did unhygienic washrooms slip down to second place with 47 per cent of respondents citing them as a problem compared with 53 per cent who felt traffic congestion to and from the event to be a bigger issue.

French respondents were particularly disgusted at the state of the toilets in high-traffic venues with 91 per cent of surveyed guests complaining about unhygienic washrooms. Stadiums in Poland also appeared to be a major issue with 64 per cent visitors claiming them to be in a poor state.

Queues for washrooms was another common concern, again particularly in France and Poland. A total of 78 per cent of French stadium visitors and 55 per cent of those in Poland said they were unhappy with the overcrowded toilets in stadium. Nearly half (48 per cent) of UK and US respondents had the same gripe while figures in Sweden and Germany were 38 per cent and 35 per cent respectively.

The survey also revealed a negative washroom experience could colour one’s whole impression of an occasion. This was particularly true of American respondents with 53 per cent claiming that a poor washroom visit had had a negative effect on their overall enjoyment while 20 per cent said it had actually ruined their experience completely.

So why are stadium washrooms such as issue? Sports matches and musical events tend to attract large crowds of excited people and the long duration of such events means that drinking inevitably takes place. This leads to increased pressure on the washrooms since everyone will want to pay a visit at once, either before the event has begun or during the interval.

Supplies of toilet paper, hand towels and soaps will soon run out in a particularly busy washroom. This will lead to even longer queues as people wait in line for the few cubicles and sinks where supplies still remain. Tempers may fray in overcrowded toilets too, and when people are drinking alcohol this could potentially lead to vandalism. And facilities managers will face a major challenge in terms of cleaning, maintaining and restocking the washrooms during these busy periods.

It could be argued that providing spotlessly clean washrooms is not such a priority in a stadium as, say, in a hotel or restaurant. Visitors attend a stadium to watch a particular match or musical
event so they have no choice but to attend that venue, regardless of the washroom provision.

Much dissatisfaction

However our survey clearly shows a high level of dissatisfaction with this situation among stadium visitors. And it reveals some interesting insights into how they react after a poor washroom experience.

Almost 40 per cent of guests went on to tell a friend or family member about it while a few even posted on social media. Up to three per cent of European respondents claimed to have referred to their negative washroom experience online. American visitors were even more likely to “share” their experiences on the net with around 13 per cent of US respondents claiming to have posted about their washroom visit.

People seemed much less willing to take up their issues with the venue itself, however. Only 11 per cent of respondents who had had a bad experience complained to staff about it at the time while a mere five per cent contacted the organisers afterwards. So this means more than 80 per cent of all bad washroom experiences never come to the attention of the event staff or organisers. And those members of the public are still out there, silently seething.

A UK news story published this summer revealed two female football fans had become so frustrated at the state of the ladies’ toilets in the nation’s Premier League stadiums that they posted
their own “washroom league table” on social media.

Diane Marson and Melanie Riley ranked the football clubs’ toilets online and highlighted issues such as long queues, congestion, lack of toilet tissue, a shortage of cubicles and insufficient soap dispensers. Images of the offending washrooms appeared on the internet and were picked up by news channels all over the world. So it is clear that people are becoming increasingly willing to speak out and there is no longer any hiding place for the bad washroom.

Of course, people attending a music or sporting event are a captive audience and have no choice but to use the washrooms provided. But it turns out that some are, in fact, making a choice – and the results have alarming implications for the venue concerned.

More than a quarter of survey respondents claimed they avoided using stadium washrooms altogether due to concerns about queueing or fears of encountering dirty or unhygienic conditions. This practice is obviously not to be encouraged since it could lead to stress and discomfort on the part of guests as well as hygiene issues, since presumably anyone avoiding the washroom will not be using the hand washing facilities either.

While some of these respondents said they used the washroom at home before attending the event, nearly a third had another strategy: they deliberately limited their food and drink consumption at the stadium to make it easier to avoid using the toilet. This obviously has a significant effect on the venue’s bottom line since food and drink sales are a lucrative profit stream for stadiums. And at an open-air event on a hot day, avoiding having anything to drink could quickly cause dehydration.

Another worrying survey result was the fact that one in 10 people who avoided using the washrooms admitted to relieving themselves in non-designated areas. This practice potentially has several poor outcomes since it leads to unpleasant smells, extra cleaning and a poor impression on other visitors.
So a quiet revolution has been taking place against the stadium washroom. And this has led to the creation of “luxury washroom” firms that are increasingly springing up at music festivals.

Luxury toilets

People attending major UK events such as the Reading Festival, Glastonbury and Bestival can now pay for access to clean toilets with attendants, mirrors, hair straighteners and make-up zones. So it is clear that bad washrooms are no longer being tolerated and that people are willing to pay a premium for better ones – and will react angrily if subjected to poor conditions.

So, how can stadiums address this situation? At Essity we looked at the overcrowding issue and the reasons behind them and concluded that hand drying was a major hold-up in high-traffic venues.
If people have to queue to dry their hands – either because an air dryer takes too long or because a hand towel dispenser has jammed – it will quickly lead to a logjam. And if hand towel dispensers run out too quickly, queues will form around the other units which will again cause congestion and frustration.

There are other ways in which stadium washrooms can be improved, too. Well-thought out facilities with a sufficient number of cubicles and urinals, a good design and plenty of space to queue will help to relieve the pressure on the washrooms. All dispensers should be carefully positioned to allow a quick throughput of visitors: for example, soap dispenser should be situated above the sinks while the hand drying units should not protrude so far that they impede traffic in and out of the washrooms.

High-capacity dispensers that cater for large numbers of visitors between refills should be installed. And any run-outs should be addressed swiftly since this with lead to increased congestion with longer queues for fewer facilities.

Time is running out for the poor stadium washroom. People are staying away from them – opting instead to avoid the food and drink concessions or pay a premium for luxury alternatives. And those who resign themselves to lengthy queues for potentially unhygienic facilities are increasingly prepared to complain.

Every commercial venue needs the goodwill of customers in order to remain successful, and stadiums are no exception. So it is time the washrooms in such environments were equipped for maximum efficiency and with the comfort and wellbeing of the visitor kept firmly in mind.


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