Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Elegant toilet culture to boost tourism

By Jack Sim & Sun Xi (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-20 07:36

First of all, public toilets have to be user-friendly to a wide variety of people of both genders, from mothers with babies to kids and adults, as well as the elderly and disabled. Architects and the facility owners need to be "toilet trained" so that they understand how to design for different types of buildings and the needs of different demographics.

However, behavior is the most critical part for success. It includes environmental conditioning inside the toilet that guides the user's behavior as well as the awareness of behavioral norms of society at large. To promote public education of toilet usage, both rational and aspirational approaches are needed. Past experience shows that rather than lecturing posters, motivating aspirations of personal elegance often proves most successful. When a toilet respects the users, the chances of reciprocal respect from the user are also higher.

Clean toilets also require the professionalization of cleaners, facility managers, and owners. Right training, equipment and supplies are critical success factors. In fact, many public toilets in China have been constructed according to high standards, but as the management is not up to the same standards, they become dirty and fall into disrepair quickly.

The ancient Chinese had a culture of recycling excreta into fertilizers and this practice created plenty of toilet designs that facilitated the manual collection of excreta especially in rural areas even today. As these designs were not focused on the enjoyment and privacy of the individuals, an elegant toilet culture did not develop in many parts of China.

Now, with the past 30 years of rapid economic growth, Chinese people enjoy quality lifestyles in almost every aspect. Yet an elegant toilet culture is still missing. It has caused major anomalies and incurred many complaints both inside and outside China. Therefore, promoting a better toilet culture will not only boost more in-bound tourists, it will also be welcome by the host countries receiving out-bound Chinese tourists.

Jack Sim is founder of the World Toilet Organization and visiting fellow at the Institute of Water Policy from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. Sun Xi is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore and alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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