Eliminating The Off-Season

After a fun-filled but exhausting summer, it’s pleasant to hear the sounds of nature again without the happy din of a full camp. But soon it can feel too quiet, and you’re ready to fill the cabins again. And, many camps simply can’t afford to be idle the rest of the year. As a result, camps are branching out into new types of off-season programs that generate income and introduce their properties to a new and appreciative audience.

The types of programs you can offer in fall, winter, and spring require a different approach to marketing, activities, and staffing than at a typical summer camp. Here are a few possibilities to help you begin or expand a strategy to increase off-season programs and rentals.

Family Camp And Camp Reunion Weekends

Because campers and their families are already your biggest fans, family-camp weekends are an easy way to get started with off-season programs. This camp lets kids have unstructured time with their family and friends without summer camp’s regimented schedules. And, kids are excited to share their knowledge of games, songs, and other activities with their siblings, parents, and friends.

Marketing family camp is comparatively easy, since you already have contact information. You can help ensure full capacity for autumn family events by offering early-bird discounts to families that register before the end of the summer. Make sure that families know that their non-camp family friends are invited! You might consider a “bring a friend” discount for referring a family that hasn’t attended your camp before.

Camp reunion weekends are also relatively easy to set up and manage. Because reunions are limited to kids, summer-camp rules, like a mandatory buddy system, are generally in effect, and higher staffing levels may be required.

Faith Community Retreats

The beauty and serenity of natural surroundings are a perfect fit for religious retreats. If your camp is affiliated with a religious organization, serving the faith communities in your region may already be part of your mission. If your camp doesn’t have a religious affiliation, you’ll need to reach out to churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples whose governing bodies don’t have their own camps or retreat facilities.

One of the benefits of hosting faith-based retreats is that activities are largely managed by the group renting the facilities, and typically deliver their own programming, religious services, and music. In addition, the renting group takes on the responsibility to sign up individual participants.

Work-Group Retreats And Picnics

With a natural setting free of distractions, camps are an excellent location for work-group retreats—a change of scenery can help participants break out of daily routines and think creatively about strategic planning. And, your camp’s recreational options can provide great team-building opportunities. Because attendees will expect to spend part of their visit working, you should be prepared to provide whiteboards, markers, and erasers; audio/visual equipment like TVs, DVD players, and projectors; and wireless Internet access.

If you’re within an easy drive of a city or town, consider offering weekday mini-retreats that include meeting space, lunch, and one outdoor activity like a ropes course, zip line, or nature hike. For businesses that want to focus only on team-building and outdoor fun, camps are a great option for company picnics and field days.

Special-Interest Programs

Another off-season programming option is hosting workshops for people with a common interest or for those who want to develop a skill. For example, yoga and meditation weekends in natural surroundings are popular to help participants escape everyday stresses and focus on mindfulness. Other possibilities include workshops in nature and wildlife photography, career planning, or creative writing.

To find experts, reach out to regional instructors and nonprofits that can provide programming and promote the event with their constituents. Check the adult learning and continuing education guides in nearby cities to find possible topics and hosts.

Planning And Marketing

Gearing up to serve new markets isn’t a trivial task. You’ll need to devote time and resources for identifying and marketing to the right audience for your unique location and amenities. If you choose to hire some of your summer staff for year-round positions, you may have to help them shift their mindset from shepherding kids through required activities to serving as hosts and facilitators for adult guests. And, offering rentals and programs for adults may raise new legal and liability issues that need to be addressed with insurers and legal counsel.

Here are a few suggestions to consider as you begin to develop a strategy:

Outbound marketing is the key. If you haven’t made a coordinated effort to book off-season rentals in the past, you’ll need to develop a marketing plan to reach your target audience. Send an email to parents of campers to let them know that your facilities are available for group rentals, special events, and retreats. If your camp isn’t affiliated with a specific faith, reach out to all the religious organizations in the area to let them know that you’re available for retreats. If you’re close to a city, hold a daytime open house for event planners and staff in businesses, nonprofits, and faith communities that are likely to hold retreats. Use social media with images and relevant hashtags to let your followers and the public know about your capabilities.

  • Get listed! You’ll find online directories for every type of off-season rental you offer. Take advantage of camp directories and make sure your camp is listed (such as CampsNReviews.com). If you plan to offer space for retreats and conferences, sign up for free directory listings at sites like retreatcentral.com.
  • Keep your website up-to-date with complete information about your property, including accommodations, facilities, dining, and education and recreation options. The more photographs, floor plans, and property maps you can provide—the better! Be sure to include capacity information and any available add-ons that can improve the experience.
  • Offer online reservations. Potential customers expect to check availability and book rentals at any time, including nights and weekends—no one wants to fill out a form and wait until someone returns the call to find out if the weekend they want is free. While repurposing your summer registration system can work for events like family weekends and camper reunions, registration systems simply don’t support important rental requirements like an online availability calendar and immediate bookings. And, using an online reservation system frees your staff from returning calls, juggling the calendar, and tracking down forms and payments so they can focus on what really matters—planning and delivering an exceptional experience for guests.

While the shift from summer camp to off-season programming can be difficult, the rewards are worthwhile—you can generate income, keep staff members occupied year-round, and build the reputation of your facilities and programs. And, with every successful program and rental, you develop a new group of dedicated alumni who will support the camp.

Elissa K. Miller is a freelance writer and communications manager in Silicon Valley who is passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations like camps use technology to further their missions. Reach her at Elissa.miller@gmail.com.