TechnoTrends: Online Camp Registration Options

TechnoTrends

by Julia Lim

How "cutting edge" can your
camp be? State-of-the-art solutions, innovative technology,
and the latest word on advancements in camp management software
await you in this new regular column, "TechnoTrends."
Each issue, expert, techno-savvy authors will share the newest
innovations technology has to offer you as you strive to find
cost-effective ways to improve camp management.

You cannot avoid it. From e-mail to homework help, from Christmas shopping
to online bill payment — the Internet is everywhere. As a camp,
you feel the pressure to have a Web site, and if you already have one,
there are always new and better features to add.

This is partly due to the nature of the medium — technology is
constantly changing and improving. Camps do not operate in a vacuum. As
companies in other markets offer consumers more features and value on
their Web sites, these same consumers — your camper families —
will come to expect more from you.

Additionally, the drive to improve your Web site comes from your own
desire to run your camp better. Online registration has become a critical
feature for camp Web sites. Done the right way, it can translate not only
to a better camp experience for your camper families, but also to dramatic
cost and time savings for camp administrators.

The Trends

Skeptical? Consider this:

  • Consumers spent nearly $13.7 billion online just this past holiday
    shopping season (eSpending Report, The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Harris
    Interactive, and Nielsen/NetRatings. January 6, 2003).
  • Recently, California State University and the University of California
    announced that beginning with fall 2005, all undergraduate applicants
    would be required to submit their applications online.
  • A Nielsen/NetRatings report from February 28, 2003, stated that millions
    of surfers (Internet users) from home and work went to the National
    Parks Services site to plan summer camping trips and make reservations
    — just in the prior week!

What does it mean for a camp to be online? It means everything from
a basic Web site describing the camp to a fully interactive experience
with online registration, photo albums, and virtual tours. Camps are redefining
this daily — pushed by the expectations of their campers and families
to offer more . . . better . . . faster.

From Research to Online Registration

The convenience of 24/7 availability often makes Web sites the first
stop for families looking for a camp — so the information and services
that you offer are obviously important. If your Web site does not provide
some sort of online registration, you are missing a golden opportunity
to engage potential camper families exactly when they might decide to
"buy." If you make them pick up a phone or wait for forms to
be mailed to them, you run the risk of losing them — somewhere between
the decision to register and the actual mechanics of doing so.

Online Registration — What's Available Today?

Online registration solutions range from the generic to the customized.
Choosing the right solution for your camp is a matter of defining your
needs and matching them to what's available.

Web Site Mention

The most basic registration solution is simply a matter of your webmaster
or developer adding a line or two to your site ("Call or e-mail for
more information or to request registration forms.") in the appropriate
places — e.g., on the "Contact Us" page or on a "How
to Apply" page.

Pros and Cons It's quick and easy but
does not offer convenience or any new value to camper families. It merely
redirects the inquiry from the Web site to a phone call or e-mail.

Camp Profile For camps with very low
registration (under 100) and/or those that use minimal or no technology
to manage the registration process.

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) Forms

PDF documents allow information to be available for downloading from the
Web site. Families must have Adobe's free Acrobat Reader in order to access
and print PDF forms.

Pros and Cons This is an easy fix to
get the forms to families faster, but does not cut down on any of the
camp's processing time or costs. Families must still complete by hand
and mail the registrations. Camps still have to hand-enter them into their
management system.

Camp Profile For camps with low registration
(under 100) and/or those who use minimal or no technology to manage the
registration process. May also be used by camps that do not need the data-entry
savings.

Basic Web Forms

Basic Web forms are simple online forms — most often used for inquiry
and not registration because of their limitations. They can be completed
online and, when submitted, are usually delivered in the form of an e-mail
to the camp administrator.

Pros and Cons These are completed and
submitted online for the convenience of the family. Some solutions, however,
are not secure, and camps should be wary of the information they solicit.
Because of the nature of the format, the information must still be hand-entered
into any camp management system, and there is no online credit card processing
available.

Camp Profile These camps recognize
the benefits of immediate registration on the site, but do not need the
extra savings and functionality of direct delivery of registration information
into the camp's management system. These are usually more technology-savvy
camps, but with very basic registration forms that lend themselves to
this format and possibly lower volume of registrations that are not an
administrative burden to process.

Online Camp Registration: Online Forms + Administrative
Tools + Data Feed


Unlike the previous solutions, this type of online registration is specifically
designed for camps. It includes customized online forms (all of the camp's
forms) and administrative features and tools like waitlist, capacity management,
auto-confirmation e-mails and reports. In addition, this solution delivers
registration information electronically, usually in a file that can be
imported directly into the camp's management system — eliminating
the need for expensive and time-consuming data entry.

Pros and Cons This solution includes
all the "bells and whistles" that a family or administrator
could want for an easier, streamlined registration process, but it also
requires a larger investment in time and money. To recoup these costs,
the camps need a fair amount of online registration usage and should be
prepared to market this to their families. Because this type of registration
is secure, online credit card processing is available, making it more
convenient for families to pay and easier and faster for camps to collect
payment.

Camp Profile These are typically larger
camps that must process a fair volume of registrations. These camps need
to streamline their registration process and have already invested in
a management system to help them. They need the cost and time savings
offered by the electronic delivery of data into the system and rely on
this data to help run the camp better. These are also camps that are willing
to invest time and money to provide the convenience of a complete online
registration solution for their families.

Why Online Registration?

Camps come in all shapes and sizes — from a small summer camp
for special needs children to a large camp that offers a summer resident
program and year-round day options. No matter how small or large your
camp is, if you have a Web site, you need online registration. We've made
a list of the top three reasons why our customers have told us they use
online registration.

Eliminate the Paperwork to Save Time and Money

Duncan Lester, director of Hillside Camp in Brewster, New York, saved
$7,500-$8,000 and 800 hours of administrative time in just one registration
period. "It saved us time and money because parents put their own
children's registration into the online forms and then click a button.
We accept the registrations with another click of the button, and it all
goes into CampBrain." (Note: for the full savings impact, you need
online registration that delivers the information right into a management
system like CampBrain.)

Provide Convenience to Camper Families

Part of the business of running a camp is constantly striving to add value
to the camp experience, and that starts with the registration itself.
Online registration is just easier for families because it is available
24/7 and can be completed and submitted right online — eliminating
mailing hassles and delivering registrations immediately and accurately.

Increase and Enhance Registrations

Adding online registration is one way that camps can stay competitive.
Kamren Johnson, administrative director of Mountain Camp in San Francisco,
California:

"In this tough economic climate, I know registrations were down
for other camps in our area. Our numbers were actually up this year, and
we think that's because of the online registration. It just makes it easier
for families; it's convenient, less of a hassle, and they can register
right away."

Julia Lim is the director of marketing for infosnap, inc.
For more information regarding this company, call 301-986-1600, ext. 205,
or visit the Web site at www.infosnap.com.

 

Originally published in the 2004 January/February
issue of Camping Magazine.

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