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Richard Davison looks at the phenomenon of the "destination toilet".
Destination toilets, panoramic privies, location lavatories, and loos with a view ... spending a penny on holiday has never been so much fun.
The precise origins of the "destination toilet" are difficult to trace, but it’s fair to say the phenomenon of pulling people into a town or tourist attraction to relieve themselves luxuriously has exploded globally during the past decade.
The idea is simple. People need loos. Businesses need people. Make your civic loos more attractive, or even a feature in themselves, and they shall come (... and, quite possibly, go.)
It’s a trend that’s not gone unnoticed by industry innovators; this June the second International Toilet Tourism Awards was hosted in Sydney.
Inspiration for the awards had been both personal and professional.
"A lot of people thought we were crazy. But only for a millisecond. Our immediate families recognise we’re a little different but, as someone who has a diabetic mum, and dad with mobility issues, we also realise how serious this is for all families, who generally rely on good public toilets."
Accessible tourism today was a major driver of travel and destination choice worldwide, underpinning annual markets worth about $9billion in Australia, $28billion in the UK, and $580billion in Europe.
Numerical evidence for "trickle down" economic benefits from individual toilets was harder to pin down, although anecdotal reports were universally glowing, Carolyn said.
"There isn’t a published figure yet, but we’re sharing stories and building the evidence base. There are some examples, like Southern Highlands Welcome Centre in Mittagong, New South Wales, where they saw a 20% increase in sales through the shop when they did up their loos. It’s also interesting that when we talked to last year’s entries about entering again they all said they were too busy dealing with the extra business generated as a result of the award."
Other benefits were less tangible, centring on marketing, positive word of mouth and social media buzz, she said.
Once the twin obstacles of mild embarrassment and inherent toilet humour could be overcome, luxury longdrops started to make a lot of sense, Clutha Development district marketing manager Toby Bennett said.
"Anything that enhances the visitor experience and their connection to or memories of a place is simply clever marketing."
He cited the example of the Hundertwasser toilets in Northland town Kawakawa, believed to be the most photographed toilets in New Zealand.
"Artist-designed, they’re built from recycled bits and bobs with wavy lines, ceramic tiles, small sculptures, coloured glass and even a live tree. They’ve become the major attraction for Kawakawa, with busloads turning up who aren’t even answering the call of nature."
An artistic approach was also taken by Central Otago town Roxburgh when it upgraded its down-at-heel dunnies to a widely-praised destination toilet in 2013.
Despite coming in at an eye-watering $583,000 — including a canopy, living wall and original artwork from Bill and Michelle Clarke totalling $113,000 — unconfirmed estimates have the installation delivering an additional $1 million per year in tourist revenues.
Although overseers Central Otago District Council were hesitant to talk dollars, a spokeswoman said the investment was amply justified by visitor growth, and had been well received.
"Public feedback from visitors to Roxburgh seems to be very positive, and the cafe across the road has reported many of the near 115,000 toilet users each year taking photos of the sculpture."
She said the council had since installed a further two destination toilets, in Cromwell and Tarras.
Inspired by their northern neighbours, Clutha District Council is now flush with plans for twin destination toilets, to be built in main towns Balclutha this financial year, and Milton in 2019-20.
Designs were likely to draw inspiration from the district’s nature, people and history, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said.
"For a wee while now Clutha has been considering how the location and standard of toilets play an important role in providing revenue and vitality to our town centres. When compared with near neighbours like Roxburgh, there is a long drop in standards and, after consultation with our communities, we hope to be flush with new ideas. The existing facilities do little to enhance visitor perception of the district, and destination toilets have the potential to be a feature for the likes of Milton’s main street upgrade."
A total of $1.1 million, split 50:50, was earmarked for the project, furnishing six seats at each site.
The ability to make your bladder gladder — with added glamour — was a mark of a civilised society, and conveyed an important message to visitors, Clutha Development’s Toby Bennett said.
"Cliches are cliches for a reason, and the old adage that you judge a place by the state of its toilets still stands. It gives visitors a palpable sense of a community’s civic pride, offering a window into the soul and character of an area. We’re confident Clutha’s new destination toilets will encourage more people to stop, play and stay — and even spend a penny or two.
"Toilet tourism works."
Awards founder Ms Childs agreed, and said New Zealand was well-placed to capitalise on the timely toilet trend.Although there were no New Zealand victors at the 2018 awards, Hahei Holiday Resort in the Coromandel was a joint winner for best design last year.
"It’s wonderful — a fabulous story of adaptive reuse, where the space was just a few old sheds, and a fantastic, on-brand design that’s sustainable and eco-friendly."
Entries for the 2019 awards would open in February next year, and she urged New Zealand’s towns, councils and visitor attractions to shake off any modesty, and put their porcelain in pride of place.
"Toilets come up in our tourism research again and again. We’ve seen destination toilets rally small communities, and demonstrate investment in infrastructure doesn’t have to be dull, but can be beautiful and support regional branding.
"Our winners show the close link between innovative, clean toilets with great design, and a successful local tourism economy."
Is there a number one in Otago’s future? Just hold on a little longer, folks.
1. Best design: The Saskatchewan Science Centre, Regina, Canada.
The experience: Forests of northern Saskatchewan with floor to ceiling visuals and audio of birdsong and woodland sounds.
Judges said: "Do your business amid the sights and sounds of nature, without having to worry about bears."
2. Best Location: Hotel La Jolla, California.
The experience: Breathtaking views of the coastal urban village of La Jolla and the Pacific Ocean off San Diego.
Judges said: "The view from the loo connects visitors to their beautiful surroundings, bathed in constantly changing ocean light."
3. Best Accessible Toilet: Brisbane Airport, Queensland.
The experience: Spacious, flexible design making travel accessible to thousands of people with disabilities and their carers, plus guide dogs.
Judges said: "A new standard in enabling accessible travel."
4. Quirkiest Experience: Bowl Plaza, Lucas, Kansas.
The experience: Meta mosaic toilets within a toilet-shaped building.
Judges said: "A quirky altar to creativity run riot. The restroom with bling!"
5. Best Economic Contributor: The Mosaic Loo, Cummins, South Australia.
The experience: Statues, mosaics and paintings reflecting a more genteel, bygone era from the early 20th century.
Judges said: "A must-see attraction generating income for local businesses."
6. Overall Winner: The James Bond Loos at Piz Gloria, Murren, Switzerland.
The experience: Shake, don’t drip, and aim like James at Blofeld’s 2970m-elevation lair with special effects galore.
Judges said: "A surprising humorous element to sightseeing in the one of the most dramatic locations in Europe."