A Look Back at 2021 and
a Look Forward to 2022:
Impacts and Accommodations
from the Covid-19 Pandemic
Results of the SummerCamps.com
Camp Director Survey Fall, 2021
The 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic struck all businesses around the world very hard, creating uncertainty and shutting down in-person contact as news became clear that the virus was spread through airborne transmission. Summer camps were hit hard financially like many other businesses, maybe even more so with parents wanting to ensure the safety and health of their children before sending them to camp.
News reports in July 2020 said that the coronavirus forced two out of three summer camps to close that year and early estimates predicted the industry would take a $16 Billion revenue hit according to the American Camp Association (ACA). While we hoped things would improve in 2021, we quickly noticed that, while business began to come back in 2021, many camps were not going to be operating at full capacity. Many camps pivoted to new offerings such as virtual or year-round programs. Many just struggled to stay afloat. Our team at SummerCamps.com reached out to our camps to see how they fared in 2021, and what the future looks like for 2022. We report the findings of our survey in this report.
SummerCamps.com is the #1 national online directory in the United States providing listings for summer camps in the U.S. and around the world. We have been connecting camps and campers since 1995. Our mission is to make it easy for parents to find great camps for their children while providing outstanding service to our camp community.
In the fall of 2021, we asked our camps to complete a short survey about how the pandemic impacted them, and we had 90 responses which represents a significant enough sample to see trends and impacts. Respondents represented the greater camp landscape of traditional residential camps, day camps, sports camps, technology camps, virtual online camps, arts camps, college prep camps, and more. This report summarizes their 2021 experiences, how they responded to Covid-19 guidelines, and plans for 2022.
We are happy to report that the outlook is positive. Camps do expect to be back in 2022, are preparing for next season already, and have made significant changes to accommodate the impact of the pandemic. Hint: Yes! Buckle up for summer camp in 2022!
CAMP OFFERINGS IN 2021
For each of the questions in our survey, we present the question asked and the response options. We then share the results and our analysis of the data.
Did your camps hold in-person or virtual summer camps in 2021?
- Yes, we had only in-person participation with no restrictions
- Yes, we had only in-person participation but with Covid-19 safety precautions in place such as masks, social distancing, vaxes required, etc.
- Yes, we had some summer sessions in-person and some virtual
- Yes, we moved all our summer camps to virtual
- No, we did not hold in-person or virtual camps this summer
After a tumultuous 2020, the summer camp industry began its rebound in 2021 with 82% of our respondents saying have had in-person camps. 72% held only in-person camps and another 10% had some sessions in person and some virtual online camps.
Interestingly, 9% moved all summer camps to only virtual camps, following a trend towards in-home computer or mobile based fun and learning. This will be an interesting camp category to watch and SummerCamps.com has put more focus on Virtual Online Camps listings in the last year in preparation for this trend.
A small number of respondents said “other” and shared comments such as ‘allowing families to decide the level of restrictions they take for their own child,’ and ‘the only restriction was that children had to be tested no later than 4 days before camp started.’
Only 7% of our respondents reported that they did not hold any camps in 2021.
CAMP OFFERINGS IN 2021 (Virtual Camps)
2. What was your experience with moving your camp to a virtual offering (check the one that most closely describes your experience)?
- We were able offer a complete season of on-line virtual camps
- We offered a few virtual camps, but not all of our camps were transitioned to the virtual environment
- We considered moving to a virtual camp, but we did not have the technical expertise to make it happen to our standards
- Our camps don’t really work as a virtual camp so we did not try to make this happen
Many camps either already had shifted to virtual online camps or were able to make a quick pivot and add virtual camps to their in-person camp mix. Of our respondents 14% offered a complete season on virtual online camps. One benefit of adding virtual camps was that those new assets can be used in 2022 and beyond – things like videos and class materials might be appropriate for future virtual offerings. Another benefit was that virtual camp sessions were not limited by geography or time zones, so virtual camps opened the door to new audiences.
Not all camp types or offerings work as a virtual camp. Residential camps, for example, were impossible to transfer to the virtual format. Six out of ten of our respondents did not offer virtual camps at all. But many camps adjusted their sessions, formats and programs to take advantage of local or day camps for families and groups.
Those that reported other shared why. “We offered some virtual options and some in-person options in 2020 but went back to in-person in 2021.” “We did not consider virtual this year.” “We didn’t have the manpower to do both virtual and in-person in 2021, and had tried virtual I 2020.” And “We were live in 2021 for the campers, but some faculty were virtual and some were live.”
Only 1-2% considered moving to a virtual camp but did not have the technical expertise to do so.
IMPACT OF COVID – Camp Enrollment
3. How did Covid affect your summer camp enrollment in 2021?
- Enrollment was down 25% or less
- Enrollment was down 26-50%
- Enrollment was down 75% or more
- We closed our camp during the pandemic
- We closed our camp permanently
While 82% of our respondents held in-person camps, enrollment was definitely affected due to Covid-19 in 2021.
Over 64% of camps reporting said enrollment was down: 31% of camps reported enrollment down by 25% or less; 26% of camps reported enrollment down 25-50%; and only 8% of camps reported enrollment down by 75% or more.
We were pleased to learn that about 29% of our camps reported other, mostly because their enrollment was up, not down or flat. Some sample explanations: “We were packed with wait lists”, “We had a full camp”, “Enrollment was up” and “Enrollment was normal or about the same”
About 6% of camp respondents said they closed their camps in 2021 and another 1% said they closed permanently due to the pandemic.
IMPACT OF COVID – Health and Safety Guidelines
4. Which one of the following most influenced your camp’s Covid policies?
- CDC guidelines
- Guidelines from the ACA or other camp association
- Regional and state guidelines
- Guidelines of our local community
News reports about the camp industry confirmed that parents were (and are) looking at a camp’s Covid-19 polity before confirming their child’s spot in a camp session.
All camps with in-person enrollment followed some form of Covid-19 health and safety policies and guidelines. Certainly, all camp administrators wanted to assure parents that their children’s safety was paramount.
As news and statistics about the pandemic grew throughout 2021, policies often changed or were updated. However, after a year and a half of dealing with the pandemic, health experts agreed that mitigation and safety measures worked.
As a reflection of varying national, state and local policies or recommendations, our camps reported following different policies. About 29% of reporting camps followed the CDC guidelines, while 41% followed local and state guidelines. Another 14% followed local community guidelines. The remaining camps, in the other category, shared alternatives such as following the guidelines of their host location, their parent company, or DHHS.
IMPACT OF COVID – Accommodating pandemic concerns
5. What are some things you did differently in 2021 to accommodate the pandemic concerns of parents?
This was an open-ended question, and the responses were varied and insightful. The most commonly mentioned accommodations were masks. New sanitizing practices, frequent temperature checks, social distancing and smaller groups doing activities. Where possible, camps increased outside activities and moved normally indoor activities to the outside if possible. Others noted that they upgraded air filtration systems and required masks at all indoor activities and events. Here are a sample of the responses from camp directors:
Hygiene and Sanitation
• Required proof of vax and PCR tests for overnight campers
• Masks, temperature checks, hand washing frequently, sanitizers at all doors, 6-ft separation
• Frequent COVID testing
• Drive-thru check in
• Increased cleaning procedures
• Completely revised our health and safety approach (and it was costly)
• Took temperature at every meal
Staff, Parents and Visitors
• Staff was not allowed to go outside of the camp
• Visitors were not allowed inside the camp facilities
• Parents were not allowed in our facility. Pick up and drop off were at the perimeter/designated spot.
• Entire family had to have negative PCR test presented at check in
• Staff arrived 2 weeks early and quarantined at camp
• Called each participant family to better understand their concerns before camp began
• Hybrid- some virtual and some in person activities
• Separated campers into groups of 12, rotating activities
• Outdoor programming only- eliminated some programs that were traditionally inside
• Groups stayed in pods/cohorts, and no shared schedules between groups.
• Changed our programming to allow more time to clean/sanitize
• Reduced capacity/smaller group sizes
• Everything on Zoom
• Overcommunication to campers and families/zoom meetings with families and campers prior to start of camp
• Extensive research so everyone of our staff could speak intelligently about camper safety
• Purchased lots of tents for outside activities
• We offered both in-person and virtual camps (campers could switch if they met inperson guidelines)
• Moved all bunks 6’ apart
MARKETING PLANS & ACTIVITIES – Overall Marketing Budget/Activities
6. How did your marketing budget and activities to attract campers in 2021 change this past season?
- We increased our overall marketing budget
- We kept our marketing budget the same as previous years
- We reduced our overall marketing budget
- We halted all marketing to save resources
Most camps utilized marketing to attract campers in 2021 after an unprecedented 2020 pandemic year. While parents were certainly interested in letting their children enjoy camp activities after long periods at home, safety was a top priority and opening schedules were uncertain, making clear messaging important in all marketing activities.
Our camp respondents kept marketing budgets the same (39%) or increased their budgets (12%) over previous years. However, 33% reduced their overall marketing budgets in 2021, with many reporting they needed to rebalance their budgets after the 2020 season.
Comments varied widely for those who reported other to this questions. Comments included: “Spent about the same but eliminated some marketing and moved emphasis to internet marketing, ”We did not need a marketing budget as campers came to us this year,” and “we relied on very limited resource events and social media.”
MARKETING PLANS & ACTIVITIES – Local Marketing Budget/Activities
7. How did your local marketing activities change in 2021?
- We did more local marketing activities to attract local campers
- We did about the same local marketing activities
- We reduced local marketing activities
- We halted all local marketing to save resources in 2021
Many camps adjusted some sessions and programs to appeal to families and groups. While some residential/over-night camps could not be held, news stories reported that some camps pivoted to offering day sessions and group outings with guides and meals.
Some camps (15.6%) increased their local marketing budgets to inform and attract local campers. Local marketing budgets helped some camps find alternative audiences and campers.
Almost 39% of camps reported that they kept their local marketing budgets the same while 25.6% reduced their local marketing budgets. About 9% halted all local marketing to save resources.
Other approaches mentioned by some camps included relying heavily on word of mouth and on returning campers.
PLANS FOR 2022
8. Are you planning on holding summer camps in 2022?
- Yes, so far all systems are a go
- We are likely to do so, but will wait to see what happens
- We are not sure at this time. It’s too early to tell
- No, we are going to wait another year
- No, we have closed our doors permanently
Happily, our SummerCamps.com family is ready for a full and robust 2022 camp season. With more research available, adult vaccines rolled out, safety protocols in place, and vaccines approved for children 5-11 in October 2021, most camps are optimistic.
A whopping 82% reported “all systems are go” with another 11% reporting that they’ll most likely hold camps for an estimated 93% of camps planning on opening in 2022. Only 5.6% reported that they are unsure and it’s too early to tell.
PLANS FOR 2022 – Fall/Winter Camps
9. Do you plan on offering Fall or Winter camps between now and summer 2022?
- Yes, definitely
- We are considering this
- No, not in our plans
As camps consider alternative revenue sources, we wondered if fall or winter camps were on the rise. Many camps are not set up to handle fall or winter sessions. Some residential camps close down in the fall and re-open to prepare for summer. Some camps are set up for after-school, weekend and fall and winter camps and they plan to offer them. Virtual camps can be held year-round, but few camp directors indicated plans to do so this year.
Most of our survey respondents (57%) said they were offering summer camps only. However, about 30% definitely are offering either fall 2021 or winter 2021-22 camps in addition to their summer camps. Another 10% are considering those additional seasonal camps but haven’t finalized them at the time of the survey.
FOR 2022 – Marketing Plans
10. If you are planning on holding camps in 2022, What are your marketing plans?
1. We plan to increase our marketing budget in 2022 since we need to attract new campers
2. We’ll keep our marketing budget the same as this past year
3. We will reduce our marketing budget and activities since we have to reduce costs
4. We are still unsure at this time
5. We are not planning on any marketing budget or activities in 2022
With most camps reporting “all systems go”, marketing is an important part of their 2022 planning. About 44% will keep their budgets the same as previous years, but 23% are planning to increase their overall marketing budget to attract new campers.
The economic impact of reduced attendance definitely affected marketing budgets for many of our camp respondents. Another 15% are still evaluating their plans and budgets for 2022 and 9% say they’ll reduce their budgets to reduce costs for 2022. One camp director said they are brainstorming ways to increase marketing without spending more. A few camps reported ‘other’ without any explanation.
About 3% of respondents reported zero plans for marketing in 2022.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS: WATCH OUT FOR A BANNER 2022!
Camps offer campers a place for imagination, creativity, confidence building and opportunities to learn new skills. Many parents are multi-generational campers and want to offer their children the same experiences they had.
The Covid Pandemic shifted camp plans in 2020 and again in 2021. Camps asked themselves how they can deliver an experience that is going to be safe and fun. They came up with very creative solutions. Parents asked themselves the same questions, and many ultimately making the decision that they were satisfied with protocols in place to keep their children safe.
After more than a year and a half of dealing with the coronavirus, research indicated that mitigation strategies worked. Camps had a year to incorporate Covid-19 virus protocols for all in-person gatherings and successfully altered their processes, policies and procedures to accommodate the ‘new normal’. The general public became more aware of the risks of the virus, as well as mitigations such as vaccines and other ways to keep their families safe. And even more good news is on the horizon: in the fall of 2021 vaccines for children 5-11 were approved. After a tumultuous time, the summer camp industry is looking forward to providing safe camp experiences for kids of all ages in 2022.
Next year, 2022, may still be a “building year” as camps, like all business, try to return to regular capacity and help offset the hard financial hit to their bottom lines. But at the same time, parents can look forward to a well-deserved break and kids and look forward to fun and adventure.
At SummerCamps.com, our camps reported that they’re ready! All systems are go for fun and exploration in 2022. We look forward to serving you and your camp community.