Selecting a sleepaway summer camp has become as sophisticated as choosing a college. Who would have thought this? Today’s consumer, whether it be with summer camps, schools, colleges or cars, is definitely more aware of available options. They no longer rely on a neighbor or best friend. “First hand experience” is today’s motto. “I want to see it and try it before I buy it.” Critical evaluation is commonplace. As a result, the phenomena of sophisticated marketing has become highlighted in the summer camp industry. Consumers have come to expect a videotape as part of a Director’s presentation. This gives the family a greater impression of action within a program and a truer representation of a facility as it would appear in session. This is not only delegated to just Sleepaway Camps, as many Day Camps have opted to select this medium in selling their programs in the off season. In marketing summer camps, this technique is very useful in giving a relatively true perspective of a facility. Prior to the videotape, most directors would come to the home with their slide presentation or photographs. In recent years, some have felt that this technique has become antiquated. This goes back to the consumer’s need for “action” when they do not have opportunity for on site visits. Decisions should not, however, be made solely on the basis of a videotape.
A relatively new and effective means of selection has been the onsite visit. The summer prior to a camper’s enrollment, families trek up to the mountains to experience first hand these facilities. It can be likened to test driving a car. There are certainly pros and cons to this experience. An onsite visit can last two hours. Can a family accurately assess a 56 day season in this short period of time? Many times, gross generalizations are made during this short visit, often accurately, but many times inaccurately, dependent upon the time of day of visit, the day of visit, weather conditions, etc. Families must be very open-minded when opting for this form of inquiry. Factors that should be kept in mind may include:
Who is taking you around camp? Each director has his own procedure. Some owners will personally escort families, but it is becoming more commonplace, for an experienced individual, specifically hired for this purpose, to do your tour. They have been chosen as a representative of the director to impart information regarding the camp. Some parents are disturbed that they have traveled the distance and do not have the opportunity to be escorted around by the owner. This is unrealistic, as the number of tours, especially on weekends, have increased dramatically. Be open-minded! Shouldn’t the director be available to run his camp for those who are currently in attendance? Isn’t that what he’s being paid for? Consider your child next year! Don’t you want that individual involved with your child’s experience? Certainly, you should be introduced and spend some time with the owner/director sometime during your tour if at all possible. If you feel that you need to meet further with the owner, he/she will certainly be available to meet with you at your home in the fall. Your visit should always be by appointment. The tour will usually be individual but if you come during a busy period, you may be toured with another family or two. It is advised that during your tour an awareness, appreciation of normalcy, be maintained, so that campers will feel no disruption to their day as the visit is conducted. This is important to the camp community. You’re only a visitor! Keep children with you and unless they are invited to participate in a camp activity, make sure that they are discreet in what they say and do. If your timing is right, you may even get invited for a meal.
Getting a first hand account of programs in action can certainly be beneficial. It should not, though, become a vocation. Try and limit the number of visits to no more than 4 or 5. It’s tiring, draining and potentially confusing, but it really is fun! It may appear difficult to screen out a handful of camps from potentially hundreds of available programs. The most effective way of cutting through this enormous challenge is to contact a professional camp consultant.
THE CAMP CONNECTION, a FREE Advisory service for summer programs for children 8 years old through completion of high school, has done onsite visits to and referenced over 600 summer programs. With over 25 years experience in camp consulting, our job is to profile a family, and match up a group of camps that fulfill the family’s criteria such as length of stay, child’s interests, expense, etc.