Radical Hospitality - 10 tips if you are hosting special guests at your camp
Building a spirit of “welcome” to all the guests and service people who visit your summer camp
QUICK INTRO: I’m Jonah Babins, based out of Toronto.
I'm a summer camp magician travelling to dozens of summer camps around Canada for the past 6 summers. I’ve been up to over 100 unique camps for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. I've seen all of the successes and mistakes that camps do in bringing in a special guests. Here’s some tips to help you out.
If your camp has a unique bathroom situation, make sure you let your special guests know upon arrival (or ahead of time). Something you might be used to and feel is the norm for “camp life”, might be strange to a newcomer and might even be unique to your camp.
One lovely camp I go to has outhouses with no genders, no locks, and two toilets (cheek to cheek). You can imagine how confused I was wondering what is going on. (Is someone going to come sit beside me?). I wouldn't have minded knowing the situation in advance.
2) Schedule and scheduling changes
While you’re at camp, it feels like having a class schedule. It’s almost implied. For a special guest, timing makes all the difference. They’re often leaving early in the morning or arriving late at night or vise versa. If you can give them their schedules well in advance it makes all the difference
Some camps I go up to and stay up at for a few days, and get into the rhythm of the schedule. Often there will be an adjustment or change, that is passed along to the campers and staff, but not the special guests. You would be surprised how many times I’ve arrived at an activity or breakfast, looking around seeing nobody else is there, to realize there was a sleep-in scheduled last minute
3) Confusing Roads
If for some reason your camp is tricky to drive up to or leave from please let your guest know in advance
Here’s a list of things I’ve experienced driving up or leaving from a camp:
Lose GPS and cell signal 30 min before arrival (not longer know where to go)
MAIN ROAD Closure
Multiple unnamed roads that you have to take
Forks in the road with no signs
4) Meal Seating
If your camp has communal seating make sure you have a seat at a table with staff for special guests.
There is a camp that every year I return to and they set an ENTIRE TABLE of 20 for the special guests that are up that day (2 of us). Better to set them up at a table with head staff so they can connect with some of the amazing people at your camp.
5) Meal rules
Every camp is different, if you have rules to your meal time (wait for the song/ blessing, where to line up, where not to line up) either let the special guest know, or make sure someone is there to help them navigate their first meal.
6) Sleeping Setup
Treat your special guest like A SPECIAL GUEST. I have multiple times been up to a camp where:
Was asked to stay in a room with campers.
Was asked to stay in a room with other staff
Slept in someone's bed because “I’m pretty sure they’re on their day off”
Put in a cabin (the size of a tent), made of wood, SMOLDERING hot with no fan. All of my props were destroyed by the heat.
Do your best to make their sleeping situation as comfortable as possible. Every camp is different, NOBODY is expecting a 5 star hotel. But the more comfortable your special guest is, the better.
7) Shower setup
If they are staying the night. You either need to provide your special guest with their own shower, or inform them what is the best time to shower in your shower house and not run into campers and staff. Here’s 3 reasons why:
The cleaner your special guest smells the more impressed your campers are (:P )
Not sure how to say this, so I’ll be blunt: As an entertainer who makes their full time living performing for kids, I do not want to be put in a situation where I’m at a shower house with campers.
Plus as a camp you do not want to answer the question to your lawyer “why did you let the special guest who you’ve just met shower at the same time a your campers?”
You special guest is out of their normal routine and into yours. Helping them understand when and how they can fit a shower into their day is incredibly important.
8) Camp tour
Your special guest doesn’t know the camp as well as you do, if they are coming up to camp and staying there for more than a few hours, give them a short tour, or a map so they don’t get lost.
Especially once it gets dark I cannot tell you how many times I have been totally lost at night trying to head back to my cabin.
Pretend it’s a new camper who is coming up to your camp. You would do everything you can to make sure they don’t get lost on their first night. Do the same with your guest.
9) Allergies, Dietary Restrictions.
The same way you diligently check to see if your campers have any allergies, you should do the same with a special guests.
Especially if they are eating meals up at your camp. I have a Peanut and Soy Protein allergy, and I have had countless close calls because something like a chicken burger was loaded with soy protein.
Simply ask “Do you have any allergies or dietary restrictions” (99% of the time they will say “NO”) but save yourself on the 1%.
10) Let them know about staff events
Many camps do an incredible job of staff programming during the evening. The staff work hard and they want to reward them with amazing events.
If I’m up at a camp for a few days I would much rather go see the staff talent show than I would sit in a cabin and read a book.
The better job you do of integrating your special guest with the going ons of camp the more comfortable they (and the entire camp) will be.
11) Let them love your camp
Summer camps has a huge place in my heart.
Myself and many other summer camp performers seriously UNDERcharge during the summer for what we do, so that we can spend time in nature and up at summer camps.
If someone is spending some time up at your camp, and you can find a way to get them into the camp spirit and into the camp swing of things, all the better! That's probably half the reason why they're there.
I hope this stuff helps!
If you have any questions about bringing special guests up to camp, any sort of camp advice from someone who has been to hundreds or want to bring magic shows, or workshops to your camp you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org