We may be on the verge of a renaissance when it comes to toilets and the spaces they inhabit. Travel and tourism researchers Carolyn Childs and Bronwyn White conducted focus groups and quantitative research on the impact of public toilets in tourism destinations. And guess what? The quality of a restroom matters … a lot! Their research revealed that well-designed bathrooms—not the perfunctory standard stall types, but colorful, truly accessible, even entertaining loos—are revenue boosters for surrounding businesses. Thoughtfully designed bathrooms can even become destinations in their own right, encouraging repeat visits.
To spotlight their findings, the enterprising duo, whose company is My Travel Research, established the 2017 International Toilet Tourism Awards. With 30 entries from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, six winners were chosen. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan caught up with Carolyn Childs to chat about “how they do their business,” the awards and tourism trends. The 2018 International Toilet Tourism Awards are now open. The destinations with the best tourist toilets in the world will be invited to sit on the throne for a year.
Chet Cooper: What is your core business about?
Carolyn Childs: Our core business is about filling a gap that we saw in the market, which is that the tourism industry is composed of a very large number of small-to-medium enterprises. They either are not well informed about research or don’t have very large budgets to spend on research and good evidence-based approaches to marketing. Bronwyn (White), through her time both at Qantas and then at Destination New South Wales, one of the state DMOs (destination marketing organizations) here in Australia, and I, as a commercial research practitioner, found was when we took research out and talked about it in the right way, people found it a powerful tool. But their perception was that they often didn’t know how to use it, and they didn’t feel they could afford research.
In the Internet age, there’s an absolute mass of information out there. First, there’s a filtering job to look at it all and ask, “Which of this information is good?” Because there’s a lot of self-interested research published now. Some of that can still be great research because it stacks up. But second, to then bring it down and package it in a way that’s affordable. So the core of what we do involves our membership site. It’s a very similar model to Skift but slightly lower cost, and we’re both research practitioners of many years’ experience. So whereas Skift has broadened out to be more of a general news hub with a core of research on tourism, we’re still sitting in the heart of researching marketing and consulting. This is what we do. With a monthly membership fee, people can go in and use the content. So really what we do is, we’ll take themes, issues, topics, and we’ll pull together the research and put it together in very practical and user-friendly ways to say, “Here’s what this research is telling you, and just as importantly, here are the practical things you can apply to your business to get better results.”
We’ve also launched evidence-based products to help small-to-medium enterprises and smaller destinations with their marketing. We’ve created an off-the-shelf marketing plan where 80 percent of the work is done for you, so the framework is there, and then we coach you to do the rest of it. But we still found there were some businesses for whom even that was too much. So we’ve just created something where we’ve said, “Look, if you do these five things, your digital marketing will work better.” That’s the heart of what we do.
As I’d mentioned to Lia, we also create research products where we see a gap in the market. Again, it’s about finding and exploiting gaps in the market, so we syndicate research on topics. We’ve looked at things like senior travelers. Senior travelers have suddenly become fashionable, but when we did that research back in 2012, people still tended to look at them as wrinkly, old, conservative, grumpy, and with no money. We’ve demonstrated that’s actually not the case. Other research topics have been things like visiting friends and relatives. The final thing we do is take on customized research for clients like any other research agency, but we tend to focus on things where—we’ve got better and better at saying, “Look, we’re working with people who know us and know what we can bring, and we’re working on topics we think fit nicely with our business.” I mentioned that one of them was around the issue of accessible and inclusive tourism. We’re doing a project for the federal government here in Australia in two of Australia’s states on that topic. That’s us in a nutshell.
Cooper: That was not a nutshell.
Childs: I know it might have been a bit too long. We’re still trying to work out how to do the one-line version of that. (laughter)
Cooper: That’s going to take a little time.
Childs: If you have any ideas, let us know.
Cooper: I understand you have a membership and certain things are available to members. Can you give me an example of a typical member, if there is such a thing?
Childs: When we think of our customer personas, there are probably two core types of members. One would be smaller destinations, such as local government areas. You might talk about counties or smaller towns. That would be one of our core audiences. And what you tend to find are people who are in the tourism area who haven’t always been in tourism. Last week they might have been looking for schools and recycling and suddenly they’re put into this tourism. Or even if they’re in tourism, they’re probably trying to do everything on a very small budget. So that’s one type of member.
The second type of member is comprised of small-to-medium enterprises. They’re people who like research, but again they either can’t afford it or they don’t have time to work their way through it. Those are our two core personas.
Cooper: So one might be a tourism department within the city government or state, and that’s whom you’d target as your client?
Cooper: You mentioned having a new product that takes it off the shelf. What would a coming-off-the-shelf product look like?
Childs: To understand the marketing plan blueprint, here’s an example: let’s put this person in who last week was running recycling and this week has moved into the tourism role, and they’ve been told, “OK, you’re in tourism now, you have to create a marketing plan.” First, you’re new to tourism, and second, there aren’t a lot of marketing plans in recycling. And this is based on a real person. (laughs) When we met this person, we were like, “She’s so our persona!” Since it’s an online product, the client has a microsite. They log in, and there are steps involved.
The first thing we do is “on-board” them. There’s a series of on-boarding webinars where we introduce clients to all of the elements. Then all of the elements are there for them as PowerPoint documents with recordings of coaching calls. For example, we’ll do a coaching call on what’s a brand and how to populate your brand framework. We’ll do a coaching call on how to create customer personas of the type I’ve just talked about for our business and coaching calls on how to apply macro-trends to your business. We’ve got a data file that we created for 50 macro-trends that impact their businesses. But then, obviously again, there’s a filtering job there. We have a coaching call on how to figure out which trends they should be giving priority to in a plan. That’s how the product works.
Cooper: How do the coaching calls work?
Childs: They’re group coaching calls to make it cost-effective. We run them on a cycle, twice a year so far, but we’re ramping that up to be three times a year. So basically, the client has a series of webinars, and they can click in and join at any time. That product is $1,500 for members, but it’s for the lifetime of the company. As long as we’re around, and we’re offering the product, those calls will be there.
Cooper: What’s your health like? Just joking, it was a lifetime joke.
Childs: (laughs) My health’s pretty good. I plan long-term! We talk about being 2.25 people, but we don’t want to be a big company, but rather a big network. We have what we call a neural network of people we work with who are experts on particular topics. Having run a number of small companies, I’ve always got a succession plan for what I call the “bus theory.” There’s your good health, but there’s also the what-if-you’re-hit-by-a-bus theory. (laughs) So basically it’s a lifetime product. You can click in and you can listen. The plan’s been going for a couple of years, so clients have been asked to update it, and they’ll click in again. We also have a day once a year in Sydney where we put all of those things together, and this is free for clients. Obviously you have to get yourself to Sydney, so at the moment that benefit’s primarily for our Australian and New Zealand subscribers. In all those coaching calls we do a kind of immersion in marketing for a day. That’s usually lots of fun. We call it the Tourism Marketing Rock Star Day. Last year Bronwyn was dressed as Amy Winehouse, and I was dressed as Adam and the Ant. We try to make it fun for people, because small businesses and small cities can get a bit freaked out by marketing, so we try to make it fun.
Cooper: That’s what Sylvia and Lia are wearing right now, what they’re outfitted as. (laughter)
Childs: I wanted to do Abba, but neither of us wanted to wear the one-piece white suit. I wanted to do it the way it’s done in Muriel’s Wedding, but neither of us quite had the courage. (laughter)
Lia Martirosyan: My hair’s too curly for all of those costumes.
Childs: Bron had a wig on. (laughs). We’re doing it in September this year, so if any of you are around at that time and want to be part of it. It’s September 14th.
Cooper: We have to be in China, but I think it’s the 21st.
Childs: We’ll send you the invite.
Cooper: Not that China’s close.
Childs: Oh, it is. It’s only eight hours away.
Cooper: Oh, that’s better.
Childs: Sorry. Since I moved to Australia from the UK, I’ve gotten into that mindset of anywhere that’s less than 10 hours is close.
Cooper: (laughs) I know! Whenever I travel internationally, especially to places like the Middle East or China, I always think, “Oh, might as well stop over at so-and-so.” I still haven’t been to Australia. So tell me about how the Toilet Tourism Awards came about?
Childs: OK. Well, Bron and I have a history of creating things where we keep telling people they should do it and no one listens, so we get fed up and go off and do it. So what happened was through years of doing research, we kept talking to people about what influenced them to visit particular destinations, particularly on—and this would be very relevant in the US as well—long driving trips, or what made them enjoy a destination or stay longer in it. One of the things that consistently came up was the importance of toilets, knowing there’s somewhere to stop.
For example, there’s a big northern migration that happens in Australia during the peak of our summer for Christmas and New Years where people would drive from Melbourne or Sydney up to Queensland. That’s a long drive. From Melbourne, it’s a day and a half of driving. So you do have to stop places. We found people would stop somewhere for a toilet, and if the toilet was good, they would stay and have a coffee there and maybe even have lunch. If it was the right place in the trip, and it was a nice town, and they could see there were places to stay, they might do an overnight stop on the way up. Gradually we saw that as bringing money into small regional communities.
Similarly, I was back in the UK, and when I’m traveling over there I’m traveling with my mother, who’s a type 2 diabetic. That means she’s not really relaxing and enjoying anywhere if she doesn’t feel like when she needs to go to the toilet, she needs to go. What we saw all the time was that the key to people getting the most out of destinations, and we know that people who get the most out of destinations spend more money, was toilets. And we kept talking to the various tourism bodies that give out awards and said, “We think there should be a toilet tourism award.” Everyone laughed, but no one ever did it.
So we had a sponsorship we were doing that came to an end. We were looking at whether to renew that sponsorship or do something different. We said, “Look, no one else has done this. Why don’t we just do it?” Because we think, to be honest, it’s quite interesting. I’ve had a few people from other awards contact us since this award came out, because we think that once we’ve got this going, other people will pick it up. The selfish business part of my brain says, “I want to keep this all for ourselves.” But we think the more people are talking about this issue and the more people are seeing there is a reward for having great or interesting toilets, the more that will raise the industry’s game on this issue.
Cooper: So it came to an end?
Childs: We were sponsoring an award for young tourism professionals here, and that contract came up for renewal. The direction they wanted to go in and we wanted to go in were different, so we said, “It’s time we created this tourism award from scratch.” So this is our property. We own this asset.
Cooper: But the pun was, it did come to an end. Never mind. Sorry.
Childs: (laughs) Oh, sorry! I haven’t had enough coffee for jokes like that yet! (laughs)
Childs: It’s almost impossible not to use puns when we start talking toilet tourism. The puns seem to—
Cooper: They just keep coming out!
Childs: Yeah, it’s completely incontinent.
Cooper: It’s gonna hit the fan for sure.
Childs: (laughs) Yes!
Cooper: I noticed you had an award specifically for accessibility.
Cooper: Tell us how you got people to submit. How did you make it all happen?
Childs: That was through our networks and our PR agency. One of the things we advise businesses to do through our database is to pay attention to PR. We’re a freemium model. There’s a paywall where most of the content is located, but we try to make sure that the reason people pay for that is because the content we offer, such as our newsletters, is lots of fun. So we’ve been building networks through that. So we put it out through our networks and through partners. We’re members of PATA, the Pacific Asian Travel Association, and we’re members of the Travel and Tourism Research Association, which I mentioned earlier. I am currently the chapter president of Asian Pacific, so we put it out through their networks. We put it out through our own databases. Although we no longer sponsor the Young Tourism Professional award, we put it out through their networks. We did a global PR campaign in conjunction with our PR agencies in Asia.
Cooper: Where did most of your first submissions come from?
Childs: It was quite interesting. Our first submissions all came from outside Australia. We assumed as an Australian-based business that would be where most of the applications would be, because that’s where we’re currently strongest. But initially we had applications come in from the US and New Zealand. But what we’ve learned is that all these were last-minute types, so suddenly on the last day the submissions were due back in June—we had about 10 or 15 beforehand, and very few from Australia, and then overnight we had another 25. (laughs) All from Australia overnight.
Childs: So that’s how it came about and how we put the word out. The accessible part came around in two ways. As an issue, this is dialing up in importance for all sorts of good reasons, and I probably don’t need to tell you what most of those reasons are.
Cooper: I love the fact that you’re tying commerce and fun into this. Our nonprofit has been trying to promote accessible toilets globally. As you know, when you travel in certain parts of the world, they don’t have sit-downs. It’s a huge problem for people who are trying to travel beyond the way they’re supported in their homes. It’s really, really difficult for someone who can’t use that facility.
Childs: And that’s what we wanted to do, to inspire people. There is a good side to this as well. Instead of giving people money as a prize, we’re donating it to UN World Toilet Day so the prize is that everyone gets membership in all of our products. Each of the winners of the categories will all get that, so there’s a commercial angle for us. And we’re making a $2,000 donation in Australian dollars, probably about $1,600 or $1,700 in US dollars, that goes into promoting good, accessible toilets. That’s something we’re passionate about.
I think partly this arose from our point of view as sometimes fun and doing the right thing, but also a really good business opportunity. We’re seeing a movement of conscious capitalism. To me, this is an underexploited opportunity, and that’s why we tendered for and won this big project in Australia. We said, “We need to move people—.” Because even in economies where there are facilities for people with disabilities, we find that it’s very often seen as a clients’ mindset. It’s important we have that, because of the basic human rights of people with disabilities, but we also see a massive opportunity for businesses that prepare to go above and beyond and shift from a compliance mindset to a more commercial and lasting mindset.
Cooper: Are you familiar with the conference that was held in Montreal? It was considered the first world conference on accessible tourism.
Childs: We’re familiar with it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to go. but it’s very much on our radar. We’re working with a partner who specializes in accessible tourism gear. I’m almost certain you’ll know him, for he quotes you and your magazine quite a lot: Bill Forrester from Travelability. Do you know Bill?
Cooper: I get a lot of bills, but I’m not sure if I— (laughter). I’m not sure if I know him.
Childs: He’s a very widely admired spokesperson on accessible and inclusive tourism here in Australia. He runs a specialist travel agency for people with disabilities. He’s also very much about leading best practices and building the rest the inventory and working with people to develop products that meet the needs. We’ve partnered with him on the research. We met Bill at a conference here, and we’ve been talking to him and starting to raise awareness of this issue here. But yes, you’re right. It’s a huge problem internationally. So we’re familiar with the conference but have been focused initially more on working for it here.
For example, I spoke at a conference put on by the government of New South Wales that was not just about tourism, but work-play-live. It was about making sure people with a disabilities have full access, because what’s been driving that here is a change in the way we perceive people with disabilities. Our national disability insurance scheme has moved from a kind of expert provision model to a person-centered provision model. It looks at who you are as an individual and asks, “What are your needs?” And within the budget constraints, which I think will get more onerous, it tries to say, “Rather than you having to do it this way.”
For example, an occupational therapist I met said, “In the old days, if you had cerebral palsy, you went to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance, and they said, “Here are our providers. Here’s what we think you should do. You go and do it.” Whereas now you’ll have somebody who looks at your child with cerebral palsy and says, “OK, your specific needs are this, this, and this.” Anyone can register to be on that list, and as long as you’re on their list of providers, if you want to go to a particular provider, you get a budget to spend on that provider.
Cooper: It’s being driven by commerce, which you were saying is the key issue. The other thing they’re tying together is not only supporting some stats, but there are dollars behind travelers who happen to have disabilities, plus the tie-in with aging.
Cooper: You tie in the fact that more and more people will acquire more and more mobility issues as they age, and it makes more sense to have areas that have accessibility built in. And again, not just because it’s something required by certain local laws, but if it’s driving commerce, people will do it. If they’re going to make money on having more of an accessible bathroom, and if they could see that as a legitimate reason for putting some monies into it, they’ll do that. That’s why I was excited when I saw what you’re doing. You’re having fun. You’re putting it out there, and hopefully you tie it in with some statistics. You’re saying just in toilets alone, but if you could tie in some stats that say accessible toilets, accessibility in general moves the trust industry, that’s really important and close to what we’re trying to do.
Childs: At the moment, we’re in the process of developing a study that will look at the opportunities and where they are in Australia. As part of this, we are doing desk research. My favorite number from this, and it came from the UK, and I’m desperately trying to remember the source, they talk about the walk-away pound, which is money you don’t see, which is something I’m quite passionate about. People say they don’t see an opportunity, and I say, “You don’t see what walks away.” I’m drawn to technology. It came to me, an organization here called Ideas put it in front of me, a number from the UK. It’s 1.8 billion pounds a month.
Cooper: That is interesting. I’ve never heard of that concept. What an interesting concept to dangle in front of businesses to say, “Look at the walk-away!” I like that!
Childs: It gets people to think beyond where they are. One of the interesting things they’re saying—I’m not allowed to talk in too much detail about the research I’m doing for the government, because it’s embargoed until the tourism industry signs it off—
Childs: —but one of the things I’m hearing, and I’m sure you hear it all the time from the hotels, is, “There’s never any real demand for accessible rooms. We have to have them, but we can’t sell them for the same rate because there’s no interest in them.” I’m guessing you hear that.
Cooper: No, actually, we don’t hear much of that. We sometimes hear the opposite that the rooms have been taken. When we travel, we often ask for accessible rooms, and oftentimes they’re just not available. And there’s another issue, of course, if they’re not truly accessible. It’s amazing how so many of these hotels have been scammed into what they think is accessible. They stick these little wheelchair signs on all kinds of areas that aren’t accessible. There are bathrooms that have the little accessible sign, and you can’t even open the door because it’s too weighted.
Childs: Yeah. Interestingly, being a consultant and in places where people tend to view that you can’t sell the accessible room, very, very often I get put in the accessible room anyway. My father, when he was alive, was in a wheelchair, so I was at the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) conference in Guam, and I was in this room the hotel claimed was an accessible room. I’m sitting there saying, “You could get into this room. You could get into the bed, you could get into the bathroom and have a shower, but mostly you would have to be in a wheelchair to use the shower, because the floor was slippy because it didn’t drain. There wasn’t even the slightest slope to drain the water. But, secondly, there was no way you’d have been able to watch the television in the room and certainly no way you’d have been able to get onto the balcony in a wheelchair to enjoy the beautiful view, which __the point of being in a hotel in Guam rather than in your own home where everything’s adapted for you.
But that’s one thing we very frequently hear from the hotel industry in this part of the world, that there’s no money in it, and it’s something they have to do, and other people don’t like staying in those rooms. But one of the things that seems to be emerging from what we’ve seen is, who’s ever promoted those rooms? Who’s ever targeted people with a disability and said, “We have these rooms”? How do you know no one’s buying them? People don’t buy them because they don’t know you’ve got them. That’s why I liked the idea of the walk-away pound. And the interesting thing is, it’s not all travelers with disabilities. Some of it’s obviously from the people who travel with them who don’t want to be helping them in a situation where it’s more difficult than it has to be, but some of it’s also a reputation and brand issue.
Over the years, one thing I’ve discovered is that even the most affluent and apparently self-centered of people—premium business travelers—judge your genuine commitment to things by how you treat people who need a bit more help. That tells people what’s really important to you. Even if we’re giving people lots of dollars, we want to be loved for more than our dollars as a customer. One of the things the walk-away pound talks about is the business lost when people with disabilities find it’s not for them, and they tell other people who then don’t stay. Again, there’s still that, “Does he take sugar?” point of view, that people with disabilities don’t have friends, don’t have relatives who are passionately engaged on their behalf. Even from a brand and reputation point of view, it is really dumb not to do this thing well.
Cooper: And there’s this other area of people who might not be using a wheelchair but they definitely need grab bars in the bathroom, and some hotels don’t see that as a value. It always boggles my mind. You would think they’d have some slips and falls occurring more than normal, because they’re doing the least amount to help people, whether it’s aging or just the fact that you can’t bend your knee the way you used to, for whatever reason. There are certain levels of accessibility I think should be built into all areas, not just into the hotels.
Childs: I think that’s coming. The other thing is, you might have rooms that are better for somebody, where it’s not so many steps. If you’re somebody who is not in a wheelchair but struggles to walk a certain distance, putting that person in a room at the end of the corridor, when you could give them a room that’s three steps from the lift, those kinds of things. It’s an emerging topic our microtrends picked up. One of our business propositions is built around the idea of—and I’m never sure if I should be quoting George W. Bush, but there you go—”misunderestimated” opportunities. We think that’s one of the reasons this came to us. We think it’s a misunderestimated opportunity.
We can show there’s an advantage and give some PR and credit to people, like the winner of the Most Accessible Toilet at Arthurs Seat Park in Victoria, Australia. _It’s all part of the larger tourism development. They have a chairlift that’s fully accessible. It’s quite a steep slope to hike up in that part of the peninsula. They’ve a fully-accessible tourism experience. What we really loved about them was they’ve integrated it into that, and they’ve also made it so it’s not just for us. This is so the whole region can have an asset to offer. We love that, which is why they were our winner, because they really put it together. It’s a fantastic example of a facility that they’ve invested social capital in, but it’s also part of the experience, which is fabulous for people with disabilities.
Cooper: It’s such an important topic. We recently published an article on grad student Mei-Li Hey from UCSD who went to Uganda and created a portable accessible toilet seat for people who would need to use local latrines, which is basically a hole. Many people do not have the ability to squat over an open pit. So they designed a portable toilet seat that was made with materials local to the community.
When we travel, we’ve experienced it ourselves. In some places in the world you can’t find accessible restrooms. The first experience was in China, where we thought, “OK, we’ll go to a McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, an international brand, and there will be at least a sit-down toilet there.” Nothing. You have to really search if you’re looking for a sit-down toilet in certain parts of the world. That’s just not good for tourism—and of course it’s not good for the local people.
There are a lot of parts of the world that are wonderful and thrive on tourism, but I don’t think they’re thinking about the accessibility portion of toilets.
Childs: Probably not, although we had someone in India contact us who did not submit for the award in the end, and it’s not so much about accessibility, but it’s a very interesting idea and a great story.
He has one of those hotels you rent by the hour. He spotted an opportunity in the market. He’s targeting foreign tourists with the opportunity to have a room where, as he said, it’s clean, and it’s got its own bathroom with a toilet, so that you can pay for the room by the hour, and because it’s India, it’s not cheap, but even if you’re somebody who doesn’t have a disability, access to a clean toilet in India is a pretty valuable thing. And because it’s so hot, people can refresh and wash. He spotted a new market opportunity.
He dealt with Bron rather than me, and she’s traveling at the moment and not on the call. But we’d be happy to put you in touch with him. I don’t know if his toilets are fully accessible.
Cooper: So his idea is that if you want to come in, use the restroom and take a quick shower, there’s a market for that.
Childs: Over and above adulterous Indian couples, there is a market for foreign tourists. And because it’s all very discreet, you wouldn’t necessarily meet anyone else who’d have any problem with it. You’d just come in, use the room and be there for an hour or for as long as you wanted it. We thought that was a good piece of lateral thinking. And again, fun. It’s a quirky story. It’ll stick in people’s minds. Interesting, even though most of our entries tended to be from more advanced economies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, the pick-up for this has been very wide. We had press clippings last night picked up in Papua New Guinea, in the Pan-Asian press, and the Gulf news and the United Arab Emirates picked it up and did a big piece on it. Obviously they’re looking at the broad tourism area rather than just the accessible area. And the other thing, talking to people here, there are apps to tell you where toilets are.
Cooper: I was going to ask you if you knew about toilet apps.
Childs: Yeah. We’ve come across those. I’ve a picture on my phone of the app on someone’s phone. I’ve seen a number of people with a disability who travel, and that’s the number one app they upload. It’s logical. No one is going to have a good time if they know they need to go to the toilet, and they can’t. That’s kind of a core human need, pretty low down on the hierarchy of needs for human beings. Not for everyone, for there are people who don’t mind going behind a bush, but I don’t think that’s most people. That’s what we’re trying to do.
I suppose one of our inspirations for doing this is the Ig Nobel Prize. These are science awards that first make you laugh and then make you think. It’s sticky in marketing terms because it makes you think. These awards are done around the same time as the true Nobel Prize awards. They’re sponsored by the scientific community. They do it for projects they think will get people in the ordinary community talking about science. I personally love the Ig Nobel awards. If it’s fun and there’s money in it, it will get us a lot further. There’s a group of people you’ll convince with the worthy moral argument, and that remains vital because we’re talking about people’s human rights. We should never lose sight of that. But that’s not incompatible with saying, “If you’ve got really wacky, crazy toilets that are a fun place to visit, that will help.” I’m sure that will be a major boost to the economy, having accessible toilets, having the accessible tourism attractions.
Cooper: There was a company that was presenting in Montreal at the conference that had a self-cleaning, accessible public restroom. Quite expensive, but the whole thing would clean itself. You’d buy a unit and plop it down wherever, let’s say it’s in a park or wherever you might place it. I don’t know how the company’s doing, but the engineering was incredible. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of anything like that.
Childs: It’s ringing bells. It was interesting, because at the conference I spoke at here for New South Wales, a lot of the focus at the moment tends to be on doing this affordable rather than best practice, but I think something like that again becomes a destination. It’s one of the things where people will go to see it.
Cooper: (laughs) Yeah!
Childs: And that’s the case that we’ve had every time. We’ve done a few pieces on the subject of toilets in the past where we’ve talked about this. In fact, we got invited to UNESCO and had a brand partnership around the broader issue of toilets. They’ve made it a human rights issue for women, which is very interesting.
Childs: It’s not about accessibility, but it’s on that angle. And they’ve created a see-through toilet. They put it down on Bondi Beach here in Australia and invited a few of us who have written. Brom was due to go but couldn’t, so I went in her place. There’s a blog piece on our website about it. It was very interesting. It’s a great brand partnership. Unilever, who’s one of the big corporations who are really thinking about conscious capitalism—not perfect, of course, but thinking in that space—picked this connection between Domestos, the bleach product, and this connection to toilets. They’re sponsoring creating public toilets in places like schools and towns, because apparently it’s a reason why women aren’t allowed out of the home, because there’s nowhere for them to go to the toilet, and there’s a huge risk of sexual assault. They created this pop-up loo. It’s a fabulous, fabulous thing. It’s interesting, because they pop it up, and you get to go and sit in there. They ask you not to use it, of course. It’s a strange feeling. No one can see in, but you can see out. You can see people coming up and looking at you.
When they interviewed me about it, I made it into their Facebook commercial on the topic. There are all sorts of people coming up to me and saying, “I saw you in the pop-up loo!” It’s genuinely an issue that gets talkability.
Cooper: How could they see you? How did they know you were in there?
Childs: They’ve got a big display up of this toilet with mirrors telling people what it is. People are walking up to it, and you can see fully around, because it’s a one-way mirror. People are asking, “What is this? I wonder if you can really see it?” They press their faces against the glass. It really did give you a good sense of the invasiveness of not having access to a private space to go to the toilet. It was a great partnership because they used it to talk about a lot of the issues. They had a thing where you could spend a penny. I don’t know if that’s a term you use in North America, but in the old days there were slot toilets, and almost anywhere they used to use pounds as a currency, which includes Australia. We talk about spending a penny, meaning that’s money that you put in the slot to use the toilet. They had pennies, and you cast them in the vote for which you thought was the most motivating message about what was going on, whether it was about access to education or freedom from sexual violence. They had a whole series of topics, and they used that to recruit their message. It was a very, very smart piece of PR.
Cooper: Can you remember if the toilet had grab bars?
Childs: No, it didn’t. It would have been quite difficult, because it was slightly up on a pod. I’ve made a note of the Kenya example, that the toilet you can take with you so you can sit anywhere, I think that’s a really nice, practical solution to this issue.
Cooper: It’s one solution. If the problem is the people who are designing things aren’t thinking universal per se, they’re thinking what has been, not going beyond what can be.
Cooper: It’s getting to those designers and showing that it doesn’t have to cost any more if you design it properly, to build in something you can hold onto as you’re lowering yourself to the toilet. It’s a different model to think of. I’ve seen that box before with the mirrors, and you could see out but not in. I didn’t quite know what they were doing with it; I’ve just seen images of it. So it was all a marketing concept for the issues you just brought up?
Childs: Yeah, we were working on a list of key things the tourism industry could do that doesn’t cost a lot of money but would incredibly increase your idea. It’s the idea that it doesn’t always have to be expensive infrastructure. I’d be stealing the credit for this idea, because it was Bill’s. He said, “In the average tour company, what’s wrong with having a fridge on the bus, and if you’ve got a fridge on the bus, promoting it so people who have medication that needs to be kept cold, for example, such as injections, diabetics can know their medications are safe on your tour bus?” That’s a few hundred bucks. It’s a major benefit. It vastly increases your number of people. And to be honest, even a tour guide who’s got a bunch of sweets in his/her pocket. Relating it to a personal example, my mother has been a diabetic for a few years, and at first she was absolutely terrible in making sure she had something with her if her insulin level started to shift. Suddenly she’d say, “I need to eat something now,” if you just had something there. Or even relatively simple thing like a guide’s wearing a microphone with an induction loop hearing on them, so even if you’re somewhere where you’ve got no hard infrastructure, I think those costs would be under $100. These are some of the ideas we’re coming up with. That might be something to think about in the future when we’ve got the report together. We know people love lists editorially.