Few sectors have been immune to the impact of Covid-19, but hospitality and entertainment have been hit harder than most. GstaadLife contacted four children’s activity camp providers in the Saanenland – Boomerang Club Gstaad, JFK Swiss Outdoor Camp, Lovell International Camps and Le Rosey Camps – to learn how they have been navigating the pandemic.
Children’s camps (both summer and winter) have long been a feature of family holidays in the Saanenland. Whether as a day camper or boarder, camps offer a great way for young people to make friends, try new activities, become more independent and have fun at the same time. Archery, swimming, rock climbing, dance, arts and crafts, kayaking and wake-boarding are among the plethora of season-appropriate activities available, offering an organised and safe way for children to spend their holidays.
The good news for the Saanenland is that demand for these activity camps remains strong, though this period has not been without its challenges.
One of the biggest Covid-related restrictions to affect camps across the board is the drop in international travel. While the camps generally welcome students from all over the world – as Lovell International Camps indicated, this gives campers the opportunity to choose diverse groups of friends with different ages and backgrounds – campers have only been accepted from countries approved by the Swiss authorities.
In the case of JFK Outdoor Camp, this has meant that while it usually hosts an incredibly international community, welcoming campers from many European countries but also from Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, Russia, USA, Korea, and so on, it has needed to adapt and devote increased focus on campers from Switzerland and Europe.
Along with international travel, the provision of boarding is another area hit hard by Covid restrictions. While most camps offer day access to their programmes, boarding is typically an attractive option for students, especially in the older age groups. For many children, attending summer or winter camp is their first experience away from home. At Le Rosey Camps, which offers boarder-only programmes, the benefits of this approach are clear. Boarding creates a family-like atmosphere, giving students an environment where they can grow, learn and develop their autonomy and independence.
Lovell International Camps has adjusted to the restrictions by boarding just two campers per room (unless they are from the same family or on request from families) and has further allocated two rooms in its Mountain Lodge (from where the summer camp is run) to isolate anyone showing Covid symptoms. JFK Swiss Outdoor Camp adapted by only taking day students in 2020 and while they are accepting boarders this year, can only host participants from Switzerland and Europe.
Boomerang Club has not been impacted by these restrictions as it focuses on day camper programmes in addition to ‘scout-like’ adventure days throughout the year.
Social distancing has been an important Covid prevention measure the world over. However, as the Saanenland camps already offer small groups with a high instructor to camper ratio, fewer changes have been required in this area. For instance, Boomerang Club has always offered groups comprising a maximum of four children to one instructor so as to give children enough time and personal support to fully participate in the programmes offered.
When it comes to camp activities, the good news is that pre-Covid these were already outdoors-focused, with all camp providers making the most of the Saanenland’s Alpine environment. So while all camps have put in place robust Covid practices to ensure the safety of their participants, the activity programmes have not needed massive adjustment.
JFK Swiss Outdoor Camp already offers an outdoor learning programme, where students not only participate in fun activities, but also learn about their environment and nature around them. They operate a non-academic camp, with the belief that students have a long year in the classroom and need to go outside and have fun during the summer.
Covid times or not, Boomerang Club focuses on outdoors pursuits, while also teaching children the importance of staying healthy and Le Rosey offers exciting mountain discovery activities in the Alpine countryside alongside sports and arts and an ‘ultimate adventure week’.
Lovell International Camps is also largely outdoors-based, but is taking this a step further by adopting ‘What is Life, but one Grand Adventure’ as its theme for 2021, making adventure and discovery the primary goal. Lovell is also moving as many other activities as reasonably possible into the great outdoors and eliminating activities in crowded areas and facilities such as Aquaparc or public overnight huts.
Outlook for 2021 and beyond
Although all camps have been affected by Covid, the outlook is positive with an increased number of applications being received this summer. Le Rosey Camps commented that the long period of digital distance learning forced on children during the pandemic appears to be driving a desire for a holiday experience that allows them to be children again, enjoying time with their peers.
Covid or not, Lovell International Camps is clear on the advantages offered by camps and why children return year after year: structured learning combined with exciting discoveries and experiences shared with peers at camp fortifies character and builds self-confidence. It is important for children to succeed without their parents always on the side lines; children enjoy their successes independently, a true victory for the individual.
Despite the challenges faced by these camps over the past eighteen months, it is striking how well they have adapted to the situation and continue to see the positives and opportunities. Not unlike the life skills they teach the campers lucky enough to participate in their programmes.