Camp operators prepare to bounce back this season. But are they ready?

As summer camp season approaches, Foodbuy had the opportunity to speak with Sharon Fraess, National Director for Christian Camping International (CCI), about what lies ahead for camp operators this season. CCI connects over 200 camps from coast to coast across Canada.

Many camp operators are hoping to bounce back this season after the COVID-19 shut down. Fraess indicated that registration is healthy, and the industry at large is excited to finally open their doors for another season. Fraess feels that her camps should be running at close to full capacity once again, but the aftereffects of COVID-19 are still lingering.

While operators are eager to reopen, several challenges lay ahead that will need to be skillfully managed to ensure a safe and financially rewarding season. “The entire purpose of the camp experience is to bring
people together and to break down barriers. What did the COVID-19 restrictions do? They created barriers and that hit us hard. The very thing we do, is the thing that wasn’t being allowed. Now camps are looking to get back to operating fully and that has been a very wonderful feeling for all of

The first key issue that Fraess identified were labour shortages. Labour shortages are dramatically impacting the foodservice and hospitality sectors. Camps understand the market is tight in terms of finding workers, especially for workers who have the ability to stay for the entire summer.

Fraess highlighted why COVID-19 has added additional complications to the staffing issue for camps.
“What happens is, a child comes in as a camper, then they can progress up through our training programs and eventually become a staff member in their final years. As a result of the closures, we didn’t get the chance to do that.

That continuous circle of new staff coming on has been broken. Our feeder system skipped a year. Many have moved on and found jobs elsewhere and are not coming back. This means for 2023 many people will be literally learning on the job. It is a significant issue for us.”

The second key issue is all camps had to make adjustments within the COVID-19 restrictions to figure out how they could still operate. Fraess feels many of the temporary changes are now being incorporated to make the experience better and safer for all.

“Camps have made substantial changes in how and what programs are offered. Now, we are identifying the positive changes that we plan to keep. That usually involves capital expenditures and that is an issue at a time when cash flow is tight.”

We asked Fraess about her optimistic forecast with a tightening economy and did that equal less people
attending camps? “From my perspective, entertainment for children is sometimes one of the last things that parents cut out of their budget. They’ll likely eat out less often before they cut out camp. I’m not saying they won’t ever cut out camp, but we need to be mindful that there could come a point where
camp gets cut out of the budget.”

We also talked about food costs and if that means camps will be raising their fees. Fraess doesn’t believe you will see a spike in rates this season as all camps set their budgets the year before. Food costs have only spiked recently, and she feels that will have an impact on the bottom line this year, but she expects possible price hikes to follow in 2024.

“In my view, camps will have to subsidize the cost more this year. We also feel this is where we need to lean on Foodbuy. I think the idea of pooling resources and having a company that is looking after our best interest as that will be essential to keep costs down. We won’t have the staff to check pricing all over town. Also, the sentiment I see among our young staffers is that the idea of working with a procurement company sits well with them. They’re used to buying online. You type it in, you order, you get it. So,
comparing all these prices seems ridiculous to them.”

We asked what success looks like for the 2023 season? Fraess summarized by saying; “We want to be able to run with our key programs functioning at their very best, with the goal of providing a safe environment for as many campers as possible and financially making ends meet, so that they can walk into the next year healthy.”

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