Programming: Day Trips
The Path to Adventure
By Kelli Anderson
"The times they are a changin'" is as true a Dylan lyric today as ever it was in the '60s. As aging baby boomers enter what was once a stronghold of the great generation in the senior demographic; with parents more concerned than ever about the safety of their children; and with an economy changing the way we think about almost everything, it is no surprise that programming day trips for recreation is experiencing some changin', too. Programming these short adventures requires more creativity and more organization than ever to keep people signing up for more.
One of the most significant changes in recent years has been the entry of baby boomers into the AARP crowd. Whereas many older seniors tend to gravitate toward the day trip standards of educational trips, cultural excursions and culinary outings, the entry of the baby boomers has meant adding a greater variety to the usual lineup.
"Our seniors are more adventurous," observed Linda Aluise, senior programming coordinator at the Douglas H. Buck Community Recreation Center in Littleton, Colo. "The new 40 is really 70 or even 80 because they are staying active. My tap dance instructor is 80, had knee replacement surgery and was dancing again two weeks later!"
In the City of Round Rock Park and Recreation department in Texas, programming is definitely undergoing a transformation. Although admittedly a majority of their trips involve restaurants (very popular for those who no longer like to cook), theater, bingo and performance/art, their programming now includes longer and more demanding hikes, dancing and, soon, the addition of skydiving.
The change in senior lifestyle is also having an impact, turning many day trips into evening ones. "With the boomers who are more active, I have to look for evening things because some are still working," said Dawn Moonan, recreation program coordinator of nine years with the park and recreation department in Round Rock. "They are looking for fun things to do."
Not only are aging baby boomers typically more fit and active, but in Littleton, Colo., many of those looking for day trips also tend to be single women where women outnumber men 10 to one. This, too, affects the kinds of trips that are offered. "The clientele has shifted," said Skot Latona, SPP in the Carson Nature Center in Littleton. "It used to be more retired couples, but now there are a lot more single or individual women in the 45-to-85 age range that don't like nature travel but are looking for that safer experience with planned details."
There is no doubting, however, that the economy is also having a big impact on the kinds of day trips being offered these days as well as how many.
"I've seen a decline in all the day camps," said Danielle Potter, community recreation manager of award-winning Rockford, Ill. "But we have playgrounds within our neighborhoods for neighborhood-based programming that is under supervision, and our numbers continue to be strong. We are finding that parents who can't afford a $100-a-week program do this."
Potter attributes the community's continued participation in their day trip and day camp programs to understanding the demographic and the location. "When you schedule field trips, think about the economy and your demographic because if people can't afford it, what's the point?"
One way Rockford has helped to reduce costs is to create successful partnerships with local businesses like the nearby waterpark, skating and bowling facilities, local museums and pools to get discounted fees that are, in turn, passed on to their families.
At Conejo Recreation and Park District in Conejo, Calif., day trips are given a financial limit. "Cost is important," said Karen Lindsey, administrator with the district. "We do not charge extra in our summer day camps for field trips, so we generally go to places that the admission is less than $10 unless it is a teen or senior trip."
Keeping costs down is also important, too, for the recreation facility, and making sure that enough of those who sign up show up can be a challenge. "I set up a minimum number of participants to ensure that we don't 'lose' money," Moonan said of their program policy. "And if the trip does not meet the minimum, it will be cancelled." Another strategy some recreational organizations employ is to have all participants pay in advance so that there is more of a commitment to show up.
Showing up, however, can be a big problem for the program directors, too, when obstacles like traffic get in the way. Being in a heavily urban part of California, Conejo's park and recreation's day trip planners take driving time through traffic into account before deciding on a day trip location. And when it comes to day trips for children, time in transit is a big consideration.
"We are located in southern California so not only the distance but what freeways you have to take to get there is important," Lindsey said. "How fun can it be to sit most of the day on a freeway in traffic?"
Traffic can also play a role in deciding when day trips are taken. In Littleton, Colo., traffic is heavy enough on the weekends that programs are usually only offered midweek to avoid the issue.
And sometimes arranging for day trip transportation is simply not a factor at all. For the Jamestown Audubon in Jamestown, N.Y., some programs went more smoothly when local participants were asked to show up at the day trip location on their own rather than spending far more time arranging to meet at the center before going together in one vehicle.
Children's Day Trips
Of course planning a day trip for children is another thing altogether, and depending on the age group of the children, can impact not only the "what" but the "where" of a day trip. The younger the child, the more protective the parents, who tend to want to keep their children close by and, therefore, prefer short, local trips within the community. For teens, however, longer trips are less of a concern as they are more able to entertain themselves en route and are more likely to be given a longer parental leash.
Safety is also a consideration, regardless of age, but varies depending on the group involved. For senior citizens, for example, taking levels of exertion and activity into account or making sure that the location has easy access for those who are in poorer health is important to prevent any injuries. For children, however, safety is less about heart conditions or falls and more about keeping track of those likely to wander.
"Kids ages 6 to 12 have to be kept together with their group at all times," Lindsey said of their policies and methods. "We use name tags with the camp information and usually have a bright-colored field trip T-shirt."
They also use a buddy system to pair up and walk together, use two leaders (that can bookend lines of children as they move along), have leaders constantly taking headcounts and at beaches only go to those locations with lifeguards where they usually position themselves next to the guard tower.
Of course, planning day trips with children also means providing extra information for parents. Locations of buses, times of arrival/departure, costs, what to wear, what to bring (including lunches or money), contact information and procedures for lost items, lost children or injuries are some of the important topics to be sure to cover.
Get the Idea
But whether your program is for children or seasoned citizens, one factor these days is key: unique ideas. With competition for recreation dollars so fierce, finding unique day trip ideas and ensuring that those trips are successful is the key to keeping patrons happy and attracting new ones.
"Any time you can give people something they can't get on their own like places not accessible to the public is popular," said Jennifer Schlick, Audobon program director of Jamestown Audubon in New York. "We scheduled a behind-the-scenes tour of a research facility to see purple martins gathering prior to migration. We had experts from the purple martin society who could call in the birds so we could see them up close and it's unbelievable how many you see! Just spectacular. Make arrangements that people can't get anywhere else."
Schlick also attributes their programming success to another key factor: creative staff. "Our method of choosing an idea tends to be what our naturalists are passionate about, and through their enthusiasm, they will fill a class."
Most will agree, however, that variety is helpful (day time and evening or active and passive) as are non-typical programs. Researching ideas online or looking to other recreational organizations like Audubon as a springboard to something new are certainly some ways to come up with that unique day trip experience. And one way to know if you are headed in the right direction is to ask.
"One of our volunteers might say, 'Have you heard about a fabulous migration in Arkansas?' and we research it and put it out to the audience and see if they think it sounds cool," Latona said about one kind of approach.
But no matter how great or unique an idea for a day trip might be, there are some critical factors to consider like transportation and affordability. For some locations where urban traffic may make travel a nightmare, day trips need to probably stay closer to home.
And the Survey Says…!
Getting people to sign up, however, is only half the battle. The other is making sure that the day trip you choose is successful and worthy of a repeat performance. Surveying those who have gone on a trip is an essential part of knowing what you did right (to do again) and what you didn't (to avoid next time). Asking good questions on a survey is, therefore, pretty important.
"On every trip we survey what went well," Latona said about their survey process. "We ask what are two things we did well, what we can improve on, where they might want to go next and how to rate the value of the trip."
Tips for Success
When it comes to doing things right, there is plenty to take into consideration with early preparation being one of the most important. "Be familiar with where you are going and think about the logistics like extra water if you forget, how to describe the trail, expectations or how long the driving will be," Latona advised. "Adding stops, too, and having fun surprises like stopping in a town at a mom and pop shop for ice cream. Something along those lines."
Enhancing the experience doesn't necessarily have to cost extra. It can be as simple as changing the route home or making an unscheduled stop for a scenic view or for a quick snack.
According to Aluise, one of the keys to enhancing any trip is the driver. "We've been fortunate to have wonderful drivers. One always carries a small baggie with mints to hand out after dinner—a little something to enhance the experience," Aluise said. "A driver or escort can make or break a trip on how they handle conflict and smooth it over with a group."
When hiring a driver, Aluise recommends looking for customer service experience and trust. "The more the drivers are trusted, the more the seniors are going to return. You can see the expression, 'Oh, good, we have so-and-so' when the driver pulls up because they know they'll be well taken care of."
Building up expectations is another big factor with pre-trip meetings, pictures, detailed itineraries and icebreakers. Of course, expectations will be dashed if day trippers arrive on location only to be turned away. Lakota emphasized the importance of getting access permits when needed and checking, double-checking and triple-checking reservations for the same reason.
Regardless of changes these days in the economy, parenting or gender gaps, some things never change. Success is always about planning, knowing your demographic and knowing your location.
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