Consumer Nation

Happy Campers: Recession Can't Dampen Summer Fun


No doubt there's been a lot of tough talk around the kitchen table about summer plans this year. But when parents are looking at where to trim the household budget, there's one item that seems to be staying on the list: summer camp.


"So far enrollments are not much different from 2008," says Peg Smith, chief executive of the industry trade group American Camp Association.

Last summer, about 70 percent of ACA member camps reported enrollments that were the same or higher than in 2007.

"We've been through ups and downs in the economy, and what we have seen is that the last dollar parents will cut is the dollar they spend on their kids," Smith says. She feels this is because parents understand that a summer camp can complement their children's formal education.

"It is not a frivolous expense," she says.

This stands in sharp contrast to how folks are viewing other summertime plans. Close to three in five Americans say the recession is crimping their vacation plans, according to a recent survey from BIGResearch.

That poll found consumers are taking a number of steps to trim their vacation costs. About 30.5 percent say they are cutting back on the length of their hotel stay, about 27.4 percent are looking for local getaways without air travel, and about 20.4 percent are trading down on the quality of the hotel.

Still, parents aren't taking the camp decision lightly. Smith reports that parents appeared to put greater thought and research behind their decision this year. One sign of that was that more families were turning out at camp fairs this past winter.

More parents also are asking camps for scholarships. Others are requesting payment plans in order to divide up payments into more manageable pieces or to stretch out the payments over a longer time period, Smith says.

Others are opting for shorter camp experiences, perhaps shifting down to three weeks of camp instead of four weeks, she says.

Overall, though interest in camps remains strong and recent trends, such as children starting camp at younger ages, is continuing to hold up. Day camps are seeing campers as young as three years old and residential camps are attracting campers as young as six years old.

There also is increased interested in camps that cater to families and "trip and travel" camps, which offer older children a different camp experience.

Florida Hotel Market on Mend

Meanwhile, at least one hotel executive says that trends in the industry are not getting worse at this point, and some hotel markets such as Florida are seeing improvement.

Hotel Turnaround?

In an interview on "Squawk Box" Friday morning, Loews HotelChairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch says there are signals that businesses have stopped canceling meetings and conferences at hotels and leisure travelers are returning.

"The financial services companies, who are big users of hotels for their meetings, have stopped [canceling reservations]," he says. "There is some optimism that in some out years — in 2010, 2011 — we're starting to see some interest."

As for consumers, they are looking for value and value-added, he says.

According to Tisch, consumers are looking for hotel deals such as "stay three nights, get the fourth night free" or vouchers for free food or spa services.

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