Make Your Camp More Marketable

By Beth Morrow

The slowing economy has impacted the camp industry in a variety of ways. This shift has taken many forms--from reducing the workforce while asking others to increase their workloads to trying to keep the same standards and services with less revenue to booking fewer groups to use facilities because they cannot afford them. These are only a few examples of how this recession has become real.


As with any business, the key is to not let the state of the economy get you down. The times we face the greatest difficulties are also the times we grow, learn, connect, and reinvent ourselves to better meet future challenges. Turning hardships into opportunities for growth requires a special mindset. Instead of worrying about what’s wrong, how about adjusting the focus to take stock of where you are, discovering where you want to be, and developing a plan to get there? Are you ready for an adventure in reinvention? Let’s go!

Taking Stock
Where do you stand in terms of facilities and offerings to guests? It may be tempting to breeze through and not give it much thought, but you may discover more opportunities. For instance:

1. What types of facilities do you offer?
2. How are the facilities unique?
3. What groups benefit most/least from them?
4. Can facilities be booked on a smaller or larger scale? If so, how?
5. Which groups are favorites to work with? Why?

Even if you’re not looking to expand or change a conference/retreat center or camp, it’s important to consider these questions from time to time. Fine-tuning offerings to meet the needs of groups is crucial to keep business humming.

Forward Thinking
I’ve been involved with the same camp program for the past 16 years. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed fewer and fewer camps booked around the three weeks our organization uses the camp. This year, our group and the church group which owns the actual facilities were the only groups to use them.

Dwindling enrollment and cuts for organizations that used to rent the grounds sent the owners seeking ways to retool their offerings. Interested in attracting a broad range of potential clients, they added a small welcome center, upgraded the grounds and parking, and turned some of the buildings that had been a part of the entire camp into stand-alone facilities. This enables them to appeal to a wider demographic with facilities that meet the needs and budgets of groups that might not have previously considered them a viable option.

If camp or retreat/conference facilities are not performing as well as you’d like, or you think some upgrading and expanding may interest more groups in using the facilities, here are more questions to consider:

1. What types of groups do we most like to work with?
2. Do the current facilities appeal to this group/organization?
3. If not, what changes can be made to appeal to them?
4. Do these changes make sense in terms of time and cost-effectiveness?
5. What is the smallest change we can make to the grounds/conference center and see quantifiable results in attracting new/different clients?
6. Next year at this time, what will we classify as concrete examples of success in terms of growth through booking/usage/revenue? (e.g., add six more bookings for next summer, expand to add two new groups, increase revenue by 15 percent, etc.).

Broaden The Customer Base
If you’ve taken the time to evaluate the current facilities and examined how to move toward positive growth opportunities, you should have at least a few potential ideas to get you going. By the time you finish this section, you’ll have even more.

Deciding how to restructure facilities to appeal to a wider range of potential clients is only half the battle; now it’s time to make connections to find new clients. If you’ve been dealing with the same types of groups and clients over a number of years, expanding to offer new-and-improved services to an unfamiliar customer base can be somewhat daunting. How will you know whether the demographic or groups you target are interested in your services? How can you be sure these new clients will help you reach your goals? Is there a group you might overlook, or one you might target that isn’t receptive to the facilities?

This preliminary list will get you thinking in terms of what types of groups already exist in the area that might find value in your services. These are broad categories to use as a springboard for deeper discussion, and to research groups in the area. Starting locally has a number of benefits, including word-of-mouth advertising and a more meaningful connection to the community. Think about the following groups:

1. Service
2. Educational
3. Non-Profit (social services, medical, housing, financial)
4. Local businesses (as well as Chambers of Commerce)
5. Governmental
6. Social

There are no easy, solid answers here. You’ve taken the courageous first steps in evaluating the facilities and getting ideas on what small tweaks can make the most impact on your bottom line. The same applies to introducing the camp’s name into new circles. Again, reflective questions to help focus efforts:

1. With updated facilities and possible groups in mind, what types of groups will have a need for us?
2. Which of the facilities will they be most interested in using? Why?
3. Do we already have any established connections with these groups?
4. For groups we don’t currently work with, what are three ways we can tailor an approach to interest them?
5. What is a logical starting point for introducing the updated facilities and services into the community to gain maximum interest?

There are two ways to react when faced with adversity, economic or otherwise--bury your head in the proverbial sand and bemoan bad luck, or take inventory of the positive, and court future growth through reflection and action. Thoroughly evaluate your current situation to determine what small changes can make the biggest difference in your overall offerings. Then move forward with a solid plan that will quite possibly become the start of many new, meaningful relationships with limitless potential for growth.

Beth Morrow is a freelance author, educator and member of the Central Ohio Diabetes Association’s Youth Committee and CampLeadership teams. She has served for 16 years as Senior Week program director for CampHamwi, a residential, age-based, week-long residential camp for diabetic youth. Reach her via e-mail at: