July 2, 2009

Send the CEO to Summer Camp

I've lived in some of the largest cities in the world - Mumbai, Montreal and Toronto. As a result I'm used to noise, pollution and high population densities. Some city dwellers must escape from time to time. Not me. When on vacation I prefer to be in other big cities like NYC, Paris or LA. I'm a inner city type of person.

When I was a kid our family spent the summer in the city. Before I was old enough to get a summer job, my parents would send us to summer camp. Actually it was a day camp at the local Y. Our days would be spent playing baseball or swimming. But we were less than five blocks away and went home every evening.

A recent experience made me think of summer camp. My daughter is Director of a summer camp in rural Nova Scotia. It's a six week sleep away camp in the country by a lake. We visit frequently. But yesterday was the first time we were there on opening day. Opening day is the day that campers arrive and get settled into their cabins and bunks.

These campers are young kids, some of whom haven't been away from home before. Scary stuff for kids and their parents. The first day away is a real test. But fear not, from the minute the kids step off the bus they're immersed in tight community. Kids get over homesickness pretty quickly because there's so much to do.

It was an eyeopener for me. I always thought that summer camp was just about doing things you could only do away from the city. For example - learn how to paddle a canoe. But the true benefits to the camp experience are deeper.

Campers learn independence, social skills, problem solving...all without the 7x24 presence of a parent. This doesn't happen by accident. Camp staff work long hours to make the experience a memorable one. The team running the camp is qualified, well trained, compassionate and always engaged/connected to what's going on.

I was struck that this camp experience is similar to what you would get at five star hotel. The five star hotel attends to each detail, the staff knows your name, knows your preferences and makes your stay a memorable one. Minus the bunk beds of course.

I can't help but wonder how many hotel CEO's ever went to summer camp. I bet that some did. But if they haven't, perhaps they should arrange for a summer camper focus group to get the insight to reinvent their customer experience!

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