Before the COVID-19 pandemic, GLR Tours, a full-service custom group and receptive tour operator based in Woburn, Massachusetts, was gearing up for a busy spring and summer tour season. But the pandemic and subsequent shutdown brought everything to a screeching halt.
Instead of shutting down the business completely, GLR Tours, which specializes in the student market, shifted gears and created a new division called SummerCamp2U. Neal Waldman, owner of GLR Tours, has extensive experience in both tour and travel, and the camp industry. It was a natural fit.
The concept? SummerCamp2U is an at-home program that brings the experience of camp into a person’s backyard or nearby park. Offered in the Greater Boston area, the program is designed for up to eight kids within a family’s trusted circle to ensure proper social distancing and protect their “bubble.” Each one-week session runs for two or three hours a day. A camp counselor goes to the home or park each day and does all the activities one might expect at any summer camp.
Martha Kelley, director of operations at GLR Tours, talked with Student Group Tour magazine about the new program born during the pandemic.
Q. How did you get involved with SummerCamp2U?
A. As the director of operations at GLR Tours it was not a difficult transition. Once we got through cancelling all our spring and summer groups, there was not much left to do. Neal came to me with the idea. Within a couple of days, we had the website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages up and running and SummerCamp2U was ready for business.
Q. How does SummerCamp2U work? What kinds of activities can kids participate in?
A. Families create their own trusted groups of three to eight kids. We assign a counselor who will spend the entire week with them in the backyard. A typical camp day is two or three hours long. The counselors must wear a mask the entire time unless eating or drinking, but we leave it up to the parent’s discretion as to whether the kids must wear a mask the whole time. To keep in line with social distancing practices all equipment is wiped down between each use and everyone washes their hands in between every activity.
We bring along some sports equipment, outdoor toys like water squirters, hula hoops, noodles, and arts and craft supplies. Whatever they have in their backyards such as sprinklers, kiddie pools, balls, basketball hoops, swing sets trampolines etc. also get used.
The counselors follow a basic schedule that we have outlined; allowing for adjustment based on anything from the kids’ interest to the weather.
On the first day of camp, the kids get to name their camp and create a camp banner. They play all sorts of games. Some have created obstacle courses then compete to see who can get through it the fastest. Some have done scavenger hunts or nature walks through the neighborhood. One day they would make gimp keychains or lanyards and friendship bracelets then another day they do tie dye. They have made slime, painted rocks, done some dot art and various other arts and crafts. Being that it’s been so hot, they’ve also played in the sprinklers, kiddie pools or have had water fights and some have even had their own talent show in the backyard.
And of course, what camp could even call itself camp without S’mores?
Q. What age range does SummerCamp2U cater to?
A. SC2U mainly caters to ages 5–11, but we have had younger kids participate with their older siblings.
Q. What has the response been like for these camp programs?
A. We got some amazing exposure when we were featured on “Good Morning America” and WCVB, a local Boston news station.
Overall the response has been incredibly positive. All our campers have loved every minute of it. Parents have loved having a few hours to NOT play director, producer and entertainer while trying to work from home.
Q. Why was/is it important to bring the camp experience to kids during the pandemic?
A. Sleep-away camps were unable to open this summer and any day-camps that did open had a lot of restrictions in place. After being stuck at home glued to one screen or another, kids were starved for actual social interaction. We help them capture a little normalcy and much needed socialization in the most abnormal of times.
Q. Will SummerCamp2U continue to operate once more in-person camps resume?
A. Only time will tell. If there is a need or demand, we will keep it going in some capacity, but first and foremost we are a tour operator, so we really want to get kids back on buses and out on the road.
Q. What advice do you have for student travel professionals as they navigate this new normal?
A. Don’t be afraid to get creative. This is a great time to experiment a little and try new things that would seem completely crazy under normal circumstances. When we first started this venture, I had no clue it was a huge opportunity landing in my lap. I can put together a student trip in my sleep but getting SummerCamp2U off the ground forced me to learn a few new tricks.