A Canadian outhouse has been named "one of the world’s most memorable bathrooms" by USA Today in a Top 10 list that includes 24-karat gold toilets from Hong Kong and an International Space Station toilet that defies gravity.
The humble commode, situated outside the Terratima Lodge in Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, is a rustic A-frame wonder resembling a wooden teepee with no door. Privacy is granted only by the surrounding trees, leaving those who are "doing their business" free to take in the view of the valley below.
Though it may sound absurd, experts say experiential toilets such as the one at Terratima, near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., are an increasingly important part of any tourism infrastructure. According to a Temasek Polytechnic study out of Singapore, conducted in co-operation with the World Toilet Association (WTA), public restrooms not only influence visitors’ impression of a country, they also draw people to an area and support surrounding services.
You might think of it as the theory of toilet tourism: if you install them, travellers will come.
"What a Visitors Welcome Centre is, essentially, is a toilet stop surrounded by revenue-generating opportunities. That’s what makes them economically viable," says Richard Chisnell, founding member of the WTA. "We need to see these sorts of places become focal points."
Earlier this month, Victoria debuted "pop-up" night urinals designed to curb public urination on city streets between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Nocturinals, if you will. Vancouver city officials, meanwhile, are awaiting the arrival of eight fully automated, high-tech public toilets that self-sanitize as well as monitor the length of time a user is in the restroom to minimize crime.
The Australian government has funded a national toilet map that directs the full-bladdered to one of 14,000 public and private toilets across the country, with online users able to download the loo lowdown onto a Global Positioning System device.
And in Beijing, where more than 10 per cent of visitor complaints are related to restroom facilities, authorities are spending more than $50 million renovating and installing thousands of five-star "tourism toilets" in advance of the 2008 Olympics.
"Toilets have a big impact on tourism," says Chisnell, who notes that places known for having poor public restrooms often lack foot traffic as a result. "With a lot of the posh restaurants now, people go there to see the toilets — not just to sample the food."
If anyone has first-hand experience with toilet tourism it’s Sian James and Morna E. Gregory, the Canadian photographer-writer team who spent three years researching their new book Toilets of the World. The oddly compelling tome gives readers the poop on bathrooms in 27 countries on six continents, including entries from Nova Scotia, B.C., Alberta and Quebec.
"We don’t have a fetish or anything," says James, laughing. "It’s just that toilets really say a lot about different populations, different cultures, different attitudes toward this daily act. The state of the toilets of a particular country tends to reflect its economic status."
The outhouse at Terratima is among the toilets highlighted in the book; the design is "so cute, so Canadian," James enthuses.
Claire Kennedy, who has helmed the mountain lodge for more than 30 years, says she "can’t imagine" why anyone would want to document the best places to go when you have to go. But she’s tickled at the international interest being taken in Terratima’s outdoor throne room. "When they phoned from USA Today, I just couldn’t believe it," says Kennedy, chuckling loudly. "(The outhouse) isn’t such a wonderful thing, but a lot of people over the years have thought it to be quaint."