Own business: how to open a children’s camp

One of the industries experiencing a serious decline after the collapse of the USSR is children’s camps. The legacy of the Soviet era, in most cases, has turned into sad ruins and abandoned areas, the territories of which, over time, were regained by nature. Despite the fact that the former culture of the pioneer camps cannot be returned, the society still has a need for well-organized children’s recreation.

In children’s camps, children learn to live in society, perform team tasks, find new friends, gain new knowledge and reveal their creative potential. A modern children’s camp needs to respond to the demands of the time: offering children unique programs, teaching skills and professions in demand on the labor market, developing the child’s creative skills, and so on.

In addition, today the share of the shadow sector is rapidly growing on the market, when programs for children are held at the sites of hotels and recreation centers. And although this type of activity is essentially the same children’s camps, it is not subject to strict legislative regulation.

Pros and cons of business at children’s camps

One way or another, children’s camps in Russia are a rather complicated business, fraught with many risks, therefore, first of all, we will note its most significant shortcomings, taking into account the situation that is relevant at the time of this writing.

Cons and difficulties:

  • Working in a falling “white” market. If you look at the statistics on the number of children’s camps in Russia and evaluate the dynamics, it is easy to understand that the market was steadily stagnant even before the coronavirus pandemic. The number of camps and the children staying in them gradually decreased, and in 2020 it collapsed rapidly due to the pandemic, the ensuing restrictions and the lack of timely state support. Only 20.5% of the available camps were used, which accepted only 891.5 thousand children, or six times less than last year. Many camps either went bankrupt, were forced to sell their existing assets, re-profiled into family vacations, or go into the shadow sector.
  • Increasing camp costs . Every year, the rental rates for land and premises are growing, utility bills and spending on the salaries of counselors are increasing, food and equipment for programs are becoming more expensive. All this organizers have to invest in the cost of vouchers. In this regard, not only the number of vacationers is decreasing, but also the number of days the children stay in the camp.
  • Difficult requirements of the law . Inspectors are often very closely interested in the work of children’s institutions. In addition, if you work “in the white”, there are a large number of bureaucratic complexities and difficult-to-fulfill requirements from the Russian supervisory authorities. For example, according to SanPins, stationary children’s camps need to organize first-aid posts with doctor’s offices, an isolation room and other premises. In connection with these factors, in order to avoid registration difficulties and numerous checks, some Russian entrepreneurs open camps abroad, where the authorities are more friendly towards such types of business.
  • High responsibility . In the work of any children’s camps, the issue of children’s safety is always acute – on the one hand, everything must be done to prevent an emergency with children, on the other hand, to legally protect yourself as much as possible.
  • Seasonal business . For the most part, children’s camps are a seasonal business, operating from early June to late August. However, the same factor is sometimes called one of the pluses – for the opportunity to gather courage and earn a lot in a short period of time.
  • Unconventional business . A modern children’s camp is not the kind of business that can have some kind of typical template and standard selection of the necessary, like some store or beauty salon. It is rather about creating a project: with a unique location, a unique concept and program, its own nuances about rent and premises, a list of necessary equipment, an approach to communicating with children, principles for recruiting counselors, and so on. There are no average values ​​for investments. There are examples when in this area they successfully start practically from scratch or invest tens of thousands of euros unsuccessfully for years and do not receive a return. In any case, it is not worth falling into projecting: in practice, only the most viable projects with the most thoughtful financial model survive.
  • Personnel turnover and the need for their training. Usually the profession of counselor is a fickle and seasonal business, in connection with which the entrepreneur will have to create something like training and screening courses for counselors, who are usually selected from among students.
  • Multitasking . A children’s camp is quite laborious in terms of organizing and doing business. We need to take care of the accommodation of children, and their nutrition, and the creation of an interesting program. The work itself is carried out not only with children, but also with parents, counselors, food suppliers, landlords – there are a lot of aspects here.

Business Pros:

Despite the above disadvantages, with proper organization and high interest of the entrepreneur himself, this business can bring solid profits.

  • Big income in a short time. Working in such a short time obliges entrepreneurs to look for the most profitable solutions at minimal cost.
  • Low competition . There are still not so many camps of a new format that are ready to offer unique programs in the country. The former children’s camps, which remained afloat, largely live off state contracts, that is, vouchers paid for by the state. They are distributed throughout the country through the relevant departments and parents get them at a reduced cost. In such camps, the quality of children’s rest remains in the background.
  • Regular customers. Despite the fact that children grow up quickly, many of them return to their favorite camps for several seasons in a row. Loyal customers, satisfied children and their parents, and word of mouth can significantly reduce promotion costs. The main thing for the camp is to make sure that you want to return to it.
  • Possibility of government support.Such a business fulfills an important mission of socialization and education of children, is socially responsible, which means that at the state and municipal level (at least in the future) it can count on the support of the authorities. This issue has become especially acute during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, only a quarter of all children’s organizations for children’s recreation were able to use state support. One of the main obstacles was the lack of a separate OKVED code under which children’s camps could operate. The situation was corrected only in 2021, when a new OKVED for camps was introduced and an opportunity appeared for targeted state assistance to children’s camps. But the situation promises to change for the better. At the highest level, active negotiations are underway to restore and develop the system of children’s recreation and health improvement in Russia.

Target audience of children’s camps

Any child of school age can potentially be a client of children’s camps. Since in practice only a quarter to a third of children go to camps, this market in Russia still has room to develop.

Despite the fact that the clients are children, when planning an advertising campaign, the calculation should be made not on them, but on the parents, since it is the parents who pay for the tours. The decision to send a child to the camp is most often made by mothers, they are also involved in his choice, so you should focus mainly on mothers aged 27 to 45 years. Around this age, women are most likely to have school-age children. Men choose the camp much less often: only in one case out of ten.

In order to more fully present the portrait of the client, it is also necessary to take into account that, as a rule, these are people with an average and above average income (unfortunately, not every family can afford to pay for tours today). Among the interests of people are family, children, education and self-development.

What are the requirements for parents to children’s camps? According to research conducted by Mosgrotour and Deloitte, among the main parental fears are poor living conditions, poor quality food, illness and unprofessional staff.

It is also worth noting that modern parents have become more scrupulous towards their children, in connection with which the camp will have to work to win their trust. Some camps are solving this issue with the help of technology. For example, allowing communication with parents in instant messengers 24/7, creating blogs with a description of the day and photos of children, sending them letters with the achievements of the child in the camp, and so on.

Own business: how to open a children's summer camp

Camp formats: choose yours

In order not to make a typical mistake and not create a camp for everyone, the entrepreneur needs to decide on a niche, that is, with the type of camp, its theme and bias. Having developed a unique program and started working in a narrow area below, it will be much easier to rebuild from competitors.

By type of organization, all children’s camps can be divided into:

  • Stationary camps for rest and health improvement of children. This type of camp is perceived as the most classic, but it is still one of the most common. Typically, such camps are located on their own premises with residential buildings, canteens, showers, etc., or premises of recreation centers are rented. As a rule, they are located outside the city. In total, in Russia, according to data for 2019, there were approximately 2,300 stationary camps, 700 of which are private.
  • Children’s sanatoriums. Sanatorium-type camps are usually created on the basis of medical centers or schools adjacent to medical institutions. Recreation and entertainment in such camps is not the main thing, health promotion and prevention of various diseases are more important. Much more attention is paid to the health of children. Health workers study the extracts of the child’s medical record, certificates and conclusions of specialized doctors and draw up an individual recovery program for each.
  • Tent camps. The camp in the format of a tent city does not require serious infrastructure. As a rule, the emphasis in such camps is on being in nature, tourism and hiking. The tent city itself often acts as a starting and ending point for hiking trips. Note that due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the organization of recreation for children in tent camps was prohibited, the ban continues to apply in 2021. If in 2019 there were about 1,600 such camps in Russia, now they are all in danger of ruin.
  • Travel camps . Such camps do not have a permanent residence permit and wander from place to place, which depends on the goals and objectives of the program.
  • Labor and recreation camps . In such camps, in addition to recreation and entertainment, teenagers are invited to work. Usually they work only in the first half of the day (for example, working in gardens picking fruit or in vegetable gardens) and receive a small wage for their work. It goes to partially cover the cost of the tour. At the same time, the camp cooperates with various organizations that need seasonal workers.
  • Urban day camps for children . Such camps do not need to be somewhere far away: the children spend the night at home, and the day school is left with only the day program and, at a minimum, the organization of lunch.
  • Weekend camps. They work on weekends and holidays. The programs in them can be the same as in regular camps, but given in a truncated version.

The main difference between the camps starts with the prevailing theme, which underlies the program of activities.

Depending on the theme of the camp, they conditionally distinguish:

  • Tourist and sports camps . This type of camp is associated with the physical development of children, it offers either a specialized sport or a complex of physical activities. In such camps, children go in for sports and physical exercises, go hiking, go on rafting trips, learn how to make a fire, receive decision-making lessons in extreme situations, overcome obstacle courses, and so on. Sometimes the organizers deliberately emphasize the Spartan conditions of such camps – they say, do not expect buffets and a hot bath before bed from us. And such an offer is also relevant today, because many parents seek to tear their children away from the benefits of civilization, smartphones and computer games. Such camps are more traumatic and require increased attention of instructors and counselors to children.
  • Historical-patriotic camps . The main goal of such camps is to educate children who respect their roots, to acquaint them with the history of the country and the region and to participate in all kinds of related activities. In such camps, practical lessons and master classes on tailoring national clothes, cooking folk dishes are held, folk crafts are mastered, reconstructions of significant historical events are organized, song and dance competitions are held, and so on.
  • educational camps. In fact, these are summer schools that can be both of a general educational nature, pulling up those who are lagging behind in the school curriculum, or specialize in something specific – mathematics, languages, preparation for passing the exam, web blogging, and so on. This type of camp can be both stationary and located, for example, on the basis of schools, so it is perfect for an urban day camp with a rich cultural program and visits to cultural institutions.
  • Creative/developing camps . The main objective of these camps is to unleash and reveal the creative potential of children in all sorts of ways. In such a camp, innovative teaching methods are often used, and children are offered to go through the most unusual games, quests and quizzes, they are taught to draw, write poetry, make crafts from various materials, they are forced to solve non-trivial tasks that help find a way out of various simulated situations.
  • Regional camps . Camps in which the emphasis is on knowing your own land in all its diversity: its nature, language, culture, peoples, history, way of life, famous figures of the past, and so on.
  • Technical camps . Such camps focus on the technological education of children. They absolutely do not need to be outside the city, because the proximity of nature is not necessary here. Programs may include areas such as robotics , programming, video game design and development, mobile application development, and more.
  • Ecological and biological camps . This is a type of camp that organically combines recreational and educational recreation and rehabilitation with environmental education and communication of children with nature. In such camps, environmental consciousness is instilled, healthy habits are taught, respect for nature, and a healthy lifestyle is preached.
  • language camps . A popular type of summer school with in-depth study of foreign languages. Emphasis is placed on conversational practice and activities related to the perception of information in another language (games and watching films in another language). Often, native speakers act as teachers.
  • Family camps . A new type of camps where, in addition to children, adults are also accepted. It can be, for example, a camp organized on the basis of some craft workshop, where parents and children come to create.

Of course, the list is far from complete. In practice, there are also all kinds of other specialized camps that combine educational and recreational programs. These can be volunteer camps and camps for journalists, camps for sailors, future entrepreneurs, and so on. It is also worth noting that in addition to seasonal summer camps, there are occasionally year-round ones.

Place and premises for children’s camp

Given the variety of possible formats, there can be many options for places to camp, including within the city. However, in the classical sense, this place is quiet, clean, beautiful, surrounded by beautiful nature. Often, in general, the business itself begins precisely from the very place, which suggests the very concept of the camp. In half of the cases, the camps are located in the vicinity of water bodies, that is, on the banks of rivers and lakes, or by the sea. However, their presence is not a prerequisite.

When choosing a quieter location, it is worth, however, not to go too far. In the outback, difficulties may arise due to the lack of communications and, in general, any familiar infrastructure, and in which case an ambulance is unlikely to be able to quickly reach you. Also, the choice of a wild place is fraught with many unobvious dangers. For example, you should make sure that there are no trees and shrubs bearing poisonous fruits. 

Of course, not every entrepreneur can afford to open and build a children’s camp from scratch, knowing that, most likely, the rather low profitability of this business will not allow him to recoup his investments for many years. Therefore, most often we are talking about rent. Usually recreation centers, or separate buildings and floors of sanatoriums and boarding houses are rented. Finding them is quite simple, and some bases themselves come up with offers to host groups of children. It is good if the recreation center has some additional benefits, for example, a private pool or some kind of playgrounds.

Rent is not only a disproportionately lower cost, but also an opportunity for maneuver. After all, if something did not suit you, next year you can look for another partner. In addition, thanks to the lease, you can avoid most of the inspections of Rospotrebnadzor, Gospozhnadzor, the Labor Inspectorate and other authorities and inspection bodies.

In addition, you can try to look for partnerships with hotels by renting part of the room stock (hotels divided into buildings are especially suitable) and private guest houses.

Also, modern camps are not required to follow Soviet traditions and place all children in the same conditions. Following the example of conventional hotels, accommodation can have a different level of comfort. For example, be standard, say, from 6 to 8 people in large rooms with toilets and showers on the floor, or improved or even elite – 2-3 people in a room with private facilities.

Requirements of Rospotrebnadzor to the territory and premises of the camp

Opening your own children’s camp promises much more difficulties. From January 1, 2021, new sanitary rules SP 2.4.3648-20 for educational and recreational institutions for children came into force, which will be valid until January 1, 2027.

According to them, stationary children’s camps with round-the-clock stay should: 

  • Allocate residential, sports and recreational and economic zones on their own territory.
  • To have sleeping rooms, rooms for the educator, rooms for the daytime stay of children;
  • Have washrooms with foot washers, separate showers for boys and girls.
  • A room or place for drying clothes and shoes;
  • Room or place for washing and ironing; a room for washing clothes (can be equipped in a separate room), equipped with hot and cold water supply and drainage, basins for washing personal belongings and benches (it is possible to use automatic washing machines in rooms for washing clothes); an ironing room and a place for storing shoes, equipped with shelves or racks.
  • Room for processing and storage of cleaning equipment;
  • A room for the preparation of disinfectant solutions – one per detachment (or residential building);

It is also allowed to use bunk beds, subject to the norm of area per child and the number of people living in the room.

Separate paragraphs of the sanitary rules are devoted to the organization of a medical office at the camp (paragraph 3.11.5) and outdoor toilets, if any are used (paragraph 3.11.6).

So, to provide medical care at the camp, you must have at least 9 rooms. It is necessary to equip a doctor’s office, a treatment room, an isolation room with at least two wards for drip and intestinal infections, a toilet with a sink, preferably a shower or bathroom and a pantry with two sinks for washing dishes and cabinets for storing them, a nurse’s station, a room for preparing disinfectants solutions and storage of cleaning equipment intended for these premises. Also in the first-aid post there should be a toilet with a washbasin.

Registration and documents

For the reasons described above, it is more profitable for entrepreneurs not to become a children’s camp in the context of 124-FZ, but to follow gray schemes, organizing either tourist trips for children, or socio-cultural projects or types of family and leisure activities.

The entrepreneur himself is registered as an individual entrepreneur, and a typical business scheme can consist of three contracts:

  • agency. It concludes with a recreation center entered in the register of children’s recreation organizations. Vouchers of this base are sold under this agreement.
  • contract with end customers. It is concluded on the basis of an agency agreement – for the sale of vouchers and the organization of a leisure-gaming program in the camp.
  • an agreement with the base that your organization was hired by the recreation center to implement a leisure and game program at the base site.

That is, formally it turns out that customers purchase vouchers for recreation centers, where the entrepreneur conducts his leisure and game program. For such activities, the OKVED code 85.41.9 “Other additional education for children and adults not included in other groups” was assigned, which does not require licensing. Other codes were also used, for example, OKVED 55.20 “Activities for the provision of places for short-term residence.” However, we recall that from March 1, 2021, children’s camps have their own separate OKVED 85.41.91 Activities for organizing children’s recreation and their recovery. It is clarified that this code, despite being in an educational group, does not require an educational license, but all the consequences of its use are not yet fully clear.

Since the business requires a large number of fixed and variable expenses, the most appropriate option would be to use the simplified 15% STS scheme (“income minus expenses”).

Download and schedule

Modern camps can accept children traditionally in shifts (for example, there can usually be 6 two-week shifts in a season), or go according to some kind of their own scheme. For example, in America in tourist camps, a scheme is common when recruits arrive in small groups at the base camp every day during the summer. At the same time, the previous groups go on a hike at this time, and their places are vacated, so that at the same time a certain number of people are in place.

Certain innovations today also concern the graphics. Some camps prefer a strictly rationed day, others declare a freer daily routine as a trump card and try to encourage self-organization and rational planning skills in children.

Meals at the camp

According to SP 2.4.3648-20 , which also relates to organizations involved in the recreation and rehabilitation of children and youth, when they are at the facilities for more than 4 hours, it is possible to organize hot meals. Moreover, it can be carried out with the involvement of third-party organizations, legal entities or individual entrepreneurs engaged in the production of ready-made dishes, culinary products and activities for their sale.

Usually meals are organized in the form of a buffet or in portions. The first option is borrowed from foreign hotels, the second is more traditional for Russia and is considered more rational. Especially when it comes to a balanced diet for children. Today, the philosophy of a healthy lifestyle and a balanced menu is more popular than ever.

If you plan to open a city camp with excursions and visits to cultural places, you can agree on cooperation with cafes and canteens along the route.

Camp staff

Completely different employees can be involved in the children’s camp, including not only counselors, but also marketers, cooks, health workers on duty, cleaners, dishwashers, and so on. Much attention is paid to the selection of people who will directly interact with the children, and these can be not only counselors, but also sports instructors, linguistic teachers, professional coaches or psychologists, and so on, depending on the specialization of the camp. And if counselors are sometimes chosen from several dozen candidates, then with narrow specialists, things can turn out the other way around, that they cannot be found with fire during the day.

The main differences in working with camp staff are the seasonal nature of the work and the need for constant training of counselors, for whom courses and schools are organized. On them, they listen to theory, pass sports standards, receive first aid skills, receive instructions on behavior in case of conflict and emergency situations, and so on.

Remuneration of staff is usually organized on a contractual basis, for example, for a shift with counselors or per lesson with teachers and heads of creative workshops. Since labor costs make up a significant proportion of expenses, entrepreneurs often try to save on students, or attract volunteers to camps as teachers, counselors or speakers who are ready to work “for an idea”. However, it should be noted that as private camps develop, experienced staff and instructors try not to scatter and sometimes even hire them on the staff. Often the best specialists take part in the development of camp programs.

Channels and methods of promotion

As already mentioned, for a more successful promotion, you need a clear positioning. With a clear offer, it will be easier to reach your audience and stand out from the competition.

Also among the channels and methods of promotion you can use:

  • Social networks and SMM . The bottom line is blogging on popular sites and using paid advertising if necessary: ​​targeting, placing paid posts in groups with a similar audience, mutual PR with other groups, advertising with bloggers, and so on. This work can be done both independently and transferred to specialists. But in any case, it is advisable to think over the SMM strategy well, create your own chips. For example, you can create daily photo and video reports for parents about every day spent in the camp of their children, make contests or discounts on trips for likes and best comments.
  • Website . Today it is a business card that should give a clear idea about the camp and its benefits, talk about service packages and be able to leave an application. The packaging of all this should be as beautiful as possible, inspire confidence and desire to make a purchase. And, quite expensive.
  • Contextual advertising and SEO . You need your site to be noticed and clicked on.
  • Direct sales . Some camps use the practice of direct communication with parents. The organizers talk with them or conduct an interview, according to the results of which they decide to send the children to the camp.
  • Bulletin boards and specialized sites . Information is best left on as many free resources as possible.
  • Use of audience concentration areas . You need to think about where the moms gather and make a presentation of their services there. These can be parent meetings, online forums, parent chats in instant messengers, and so on.
  • Word of mouth radio . One of the main success factors is the very quality of services, when children who have been to the camp strive to visit it again, and parents tell their friends about it and force them to bring their children. Every child that comes back is a savings on marketing and the effort you would put into attracting a new customer.

Please note that it is better to start promoting the services of the camp already in the spring in order to approach the first shift with a ready-made composition of those who wish.

Financial calculations

To organize a successful children’s camp, you will have to not only think carefully about an attractive program, but also work hard on the financial part. When working on renting recreation centers, the scheme should ideally pay off from the very first month of work.

Attachments . Even if you are not going to build yourself, renting a place and premises will take a significant part of the budget. Ideally, you should have funds for at least a season. The rest will go to the salaries of employees and their training, food for children, advertising and other expenses that will directly depend on the chosen specialization (for example, related equipment and inventory). Let’s just roughly imagine the figures for a certain impersonal children’s camp without taking into account specialization and costs for developing the program.