Eleven million children attend summer camp each year, according to the American Camp Association. Over spring break, many parents and their children are making their plans. This week gives them time to discuss priorities and interests, and to research the various summer camp options. I spoke with Angela Allyn, Senior Program Coordinator for the City of Evanston, about what today’s families are looking for in summer camps, the trends she’s seen, and the camp decision-making processes. Allyn has designed and implemented camp programs for more than a decade.
“In the old days, all you needed was the bug spray and the lanyards. Now parents are more involved—they want to see the curriculum. There is a trend toward more specialized programs. Especially for older kids, parents use summers as ways to learn what ‘lights up’ their kid’s interests. Parents want their kids to be able to pursue passions they don’t have time for in the school year, which leads to us offering more specialized camp topics, such as Aquatics, Film Project or Lacrossse.”
Since the recession, parents are also looking at summer camp costs differently. According to Angela, many have chosen to seek more day camp options instead of overnight camps. Payment plans have become more popular as well. There is also high demand for flexibility in being able to choose one-week options, instead of the standard three to four week camp programs.
Summer camp planning segmentation falls into three categories: the Early Birds, the Spring Break Planners and the Last Minute Crowd. As mentioned earlier, there is also demand for more specialized camps for older children. Perhaps surprisingly, an estimated 50-60% of parents fall into the Early Bird category—deciding on their children’s summer camp plans as early as February. Allyn explains:
“Early birds are usually working moms who see summer camp partly as daycare. Their shopping choices are dictated by that. Camps must have full-day, pre-care, post-care and be geographically congruent with the parents’ commute. The best weeks at Camp Echo will be gone by January or February.”
Of moms whose oldest child is of prime summer camp age (7-12), 62% of them work full-time, of which 91% work outside the home. It makes sense that these moms need to plan their summer in advance and fill in the hours that their children are typically in school.
Allyn estimates that another 20-25% of moms plan for summer camp during spring break. These moms either are less “Type A” than the early birds, may work part-time or not work outside the home. The Spring Break planner is more relaxed and wants to take her time choosing the best camp in conjunction with her child. The remainder of moms decide last-minute where to send their children. They may be uncertain about their family’s ability to afford camp, or the family may be moving or in transition, meaning that they need to make quick plans for their children’s summer.
Even in the already-segmented world of summer camp, deeper market segmentation plays a large role in reaching actionable consumer insights. It’s just as important to understand when to reach out to Mom and Dad as to understand their motivations and aspirations for their child’s summer camp experience. Given the trends towards specialization and flexibility in schedule, many moms with older children will be searching online this spring break for camps that meet their needs, along with consulting other moms, family, friends and community groups that they are a member of (e.g., YMCA, church groups).