Camp Trends

A Look at Trends in Camps, Campgrounds & RV Parks

By Emily Tipping

Slightly fewer respondents in 2012 were from youth and private camps, campgrounds and RV parks. While 7.7 percent of 2011 respondents were from this type of facility, in 2012 that number fell to 5.7 percent.

Respondents from camps were most likely to be from the Midwest, with nearly one-third (32.8 percent) indicating they worked in that region. Another quarter (24.1 percent) were from the West, while nearly a fifth (19.8 percent) were from the Northeast. Smaller percentages were from the South Central (12.9 percent) and South Atlantic (10.3 percent) regions.

As you might expect, camp respondents were far more likely to report that they were from rural communities than respondents from other facility types. While around a third (33.5 percent) of all respondents were from rural communities, more than two-thirds (67.8 percent) of camp respondents worked in rural areas. Another quarter (24.3 percent) indicated that they worked in suburban communities, and 7.8 percent worked in urban areas.

Camp respondents were slightly less likely to indicate that their facilities were meant to serve all ages. At the same time, they were more likely to serve children and teens. More than a third (36 percent) of camps serve all ages, compared with 38.4 percent of all respondents. But nearly twice as many camps (30.7 percent) served children ages 4 to 12, compared with all respondents (16.2 percent); and 11.4 percent of camps served teens age 13 to 18, compared with 9 percent of all respondents.

Nearly three out of 10 (29.3 percent) of camp respondents indicated that they do not partner with other organizations, making these respondents the least likely to report that they form such partnerships. Their most common partners include nonprofit organizations (51.7 percent of camps partner with nonprofitst); local schools (35.3 percent); corporate or local businesses (25.9 percent); and colleges and universities (23.3 percent).

Usage, Revenues & Expenditures

From 2009 through 2013, camp respondents were more likely than others to report that the number of people using their facilities was falling. But starting in 2010-2011, they also were more likely than many other respondents to report an increase in usage, and the percentage reporting a decrease fell from 21.7 percent in 2009-10 to just 5.8 percent projecting a decrease from 2012 to 2013.

More than half of camp respondents saw an increase in usage in 2011 (53.9 percent), and more than six in 10 expect increases in 2012 (61.8 percent) and 2013 (65.4 percent), compared with lower numbers for all facility types for these years (51.6 percent in 2011, 54.4 percent in 2012 and 55.4 percent in 2013).

Camp respondents were far more likely than other respondents to report that their revenues had increased in 2010 and 2011, and were also more likely to expect further increases in 2012 and 2013. While 38.4 percent of all respondents saw an increase in 2010, and 37 percent saw an increase in 2011, those numbers jumped to 46.1 percent and 55.3 percent, respectively, for camp respondents. Further, 60 percent of camp respondents expect revenues to rise in 2012 (compared with 41.5 percent of all respondents), and 61.5 percent expect an increase in 2013 (compared with 42.1 percent of all respondents).

Camp respondents continue to be among the lowest spenders when it comes to operating costs, with an average annual operating budget for fiscal 2011 that was 41 percent lower than the across-the-board average. For all facility types, fiscal 2011 saw an average operating budget of $1,552,000, while camps reported an average budget of just $916,000.

However, camps reported slightly quicker growth in projected operating budgets over the next couple of years. While for all respondents, average operating budget is expected to increase by 5.1 percent, to $1,631,000, camp respondents projected an increase of 7.5 percent, to an average of $985,000.

A similar percentage of camp respondents reported that they had taken measures to reduce their operating expenditures in 2012, compared with 2011. In 2011, 91 percent had taken such measures, while in 2012 that number dropped slightly, to 90.2 percent. By far, the most common measure taken by camp respondents to reduce their operating expenditures was improving energy efficiency. In fact, camp respondents were more likely than many other facilities to have undertaken this endeavor. While 57.4 percent of all respondents said they had taken measures to improve energy efficiency, 61.6 percent of camp respondent had done so.

Other common measures taken to reduce operating expenditures among camp respondents included increasing fees (50.9 percent); putting construction or renovation plans on hold (43.8 percent); and reducing staffing levels (37.5 percent). They were far less likely than other respondents to report that they had cut programming or services (17 percent, compared with 30.1 percent of all respondents) or reduced their hours of operation (10.7 percent vs. 26.6 percent).

Nearly a quarter (24.1 percent) of camp respondents reported that they have plans to add staff in 2012, making them among the most likely to have such plans. They are, in fact, second only to community recreation and sports centers in this, and well above the across-the-board number of 15 percent who plan to add staff. Camp respondents will add an average of 13 new employees in 2012, dominated by seasonal workers and volunteers.

Facility Plans

Respondents from camp facilities were far more likely than others to report that they had plans for construction over the next three years, whether to build new facilities, add to their existing facilities or renovate. While 60.4 percent of all respondents had some construction plans, for camp respondents that number jumps to 80.2 percent. Nearly two-thirds (65.5 percent) said they planned to renovate their existing facilities. Another 44 percent have plans for additions, and 42.2 percent are planning new facilities.

Camps, of course, spend a great deal less than most other respondents on their construction, with an average budget for their current plans of $1,312,000, compared to $4,225,000 for all facility types.

The features most commonly found now in camp facilities include: trails; open spaces; campgrounds; playgrounds; outdoor sports courts; park structures such as shelters and restroom buildings; waterfront and marinas; outdoor aquatic facilities; classrooms and meeting rooms; and challenge courses.

Some 50 percent of camp respondents indicated that they have plans to add more features at their facilities over the next three years, making them the most likely of all facilities to be planning such additions. The features most commonly planned for addition include:

  1. Climbing walls (planned by 22.4 percent of camp respondents who have plans to add features)
  2. Splash play areas (20.7 percent)
  3. Trails (20.7 percent)
  4. Disc golf courses (17.2 percent)
  5. Nature centers (17.2 percent)
  6. Outdoor aquatic facilities (17.2 percent)
  7. Classrooms and meeting rooms (15.5 percent)
  8. Open spaces (13.8 percent)
  9. Outdoor sports courts (13.8 percent)
  10. Challenge courses (13.8 percent)


As usual, respondents from camp facilities offer different types of programming, compared with other respondents. The vast majority (98.3 percent) of camp respondents said they offer programming of one kind or another. The 10 programs most commonly found among their facilities include:

  1. Day camps and summer camps (69.8 percent of camp respondents)
  2. Camping (69 percent)
  3. Arts and crafts (63.8 percent)
  4. Holiday events and other special events (53.4 percent)
  5. Educational programs (48.3 percent)
  6. Teen programming (46.6 percent)
  7. Environmental education (44.8 percent)
  8. Water sports (41.4 percent)
  9. Trips (34.5 percent)
  10. Climbing programs (30.2 percent)

Nearly one-third (32.8 percent) of camp respondents reported that they have plans to add more programs to their lineup over the next several years. The top planned programs include:

  1. Environmental education (also No. 1 planned program in 2011)
  2. Holiday events and other special events (up from No. 9)
  3. Educational programs (down from No. 2)
  4. Day camps and summer camps (down from No. 3)
  5. Arts and crafts (up from No. 6)
  6. Teen programming (down from No. 5)
  7. Water sports (down from No. 4)
  8. Climbing programs (down from No. 7)
  9. Fitness programs (did not appear in last year's top planned programs)
  10. Active older adult programs (did not appear last year)

Camps + Fitness = Fun

With more than 23 million children overweight and more than 12 million considered obese, it should come as no surprise that more camps are looking to add fitness programming to their lineup of ways to entertain and educate their young charges.

Last summer, Sesame/Rockwood Camps, located in Blue Bell, Pa., launched their own initiative to help children get active.

"Camps are or should be addressing the growing reality of childhood obesity, because camps are the ideal venue for such awareness," said Howard Batterman, owner and director of Sesame/Rockwood Camps and Diamond Ridge Camps. "What could be better than being out of doors, away from technology, being with friends, playing sports, swimming laps, hiking, being on the move from one activity to the next, zip lining through the woods, paddling a boat—and above all, eating properly without the distractions of a television, cell phone or computer," he asked.

In addition to the expected daily physical activity that comes with being in a camp setting, Sesame/Rockwood Camps devotes every Monday morning of its eight-week summer program to a camp-wide exercise platform called FitMondays. More than 600 campers and 250 staff gather on Monday mornings to participate in a unique and new group exercise class each week, such as yoga, jumping rope, Zumba, Fitness Frenzy, martial arts, Dancersise, Funastics and more.

"Sesame/Rockwod Camps' FitMondays are a way of welcoming back all of our campers and staff on a Monday morning with performances by exercise experts," Batterman explained. "We get the crowd up and moving with top trainers who instruct a different type of exercise each week in hopes to expose the children to at least one new exercise they love and will want to continue throughout the school year."

Batterman has seen that campers learn from one another and are encouraged by others' actions.

"FitMondays is just plain fun and silly…just being a kid," Batterman said. "From our littlest guys of 3 and 4 years old to the big league CITs (counselors in training), everyone just does it while watching everyone else. Because the campers see their staff 'idols' having so much fun, why not just join in."

Batterman said that while outcomes are difficult to measure, they did find that the campers like to do short bursts of activity, then move on to the next thing. "I call it the 'remote generation,'" he said. "Campers want to gather many experiences—just like changing the channel on a television. So we limit the exercise to between 10 to 12 minutes—then they are off to their scheduled activities of the day."

Children, Batterman added, are like sponges, so his best advice to other camp directors is to just do it. Children can absorb so much, if you offer them an activity, they'll do it.

"Our campers are our future staff…our future leaders…our future parents," Batterman concluded. "Getting them to enjoy the camp culture and experience, whether at a day camp or a sleepover camp or at a travel-and-adventure camp, whether for a week or even two months—the summertime is the ideal time to grow, to become independent and to learn to make good choices. Along with a positive school atmosphere, our children will grow into loving and caring individuals and citizens—and fit to take on the challenges of life."

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