Eight Keys to Attracting and Retaining Hispanic Campers

Sandra Diaz, MBA
September 2017

In the next five years, two out of every five new US campers five to 17 years old will be Hispanic. Because of their immigrant heritage and historical camper diversity challenges, many of them and their families will not be familiar with the summer camp experience.

A March 2013 ACA research study found 7 percent of children in day or resident camp were Hispanic, and that 89 percent of day and 96 percent of resident camp directors were white. The report highlighted the barriers to recruiting diverse campers because their families view the camp as an organization that is run by and serves Caucasian children only.

Given the recent media and political focus on racism, nationalism, and immigration, some parents and children may be more apprehensive about camp, especially if it is a resident camp. On top of that, Hispanic cultural beliefs are already biased against sleepovers.

Given these challenges, what is the best way for your organization to attract and retain Latino campers? Here are eight things to consider for developing your best Hispanic plan:

One: Do Not Get Bogged Down by Labeling

The first question someone always asks me is whether to call us Hispanics or Latinos. According to a Pew Hispanic Center study, most think of themselves in terms of country of origin (ex: I’m Mexican or Mexican-American). Half identify with both terms equally (Hispanic or Latino). Texans and corporations prefer the term Hispanic. Community-based organizations generally use Latino/a.

Also, check your assumptions about undocumented Hispanics. Did you know that 80 percent of Latinos are US citizens or legal residents? That is close to 45 million people. And this figure excludes US-born children who have at least one undocumented parent. Those in the US illegally are not as likely to be recent immigrants — another myth that must be challenged.

Two: Think Beyond Marketing in Spanish

Except for less-educated, low-income, foreign-born Hispanics, most (70 percent) of Latinos can fully engage in the details of a camp pitch in English. The biggest barrier to Hispanic camp enrollment is not language, but cultural concerns about kids sleeping away from home and negative influence of strangers’ moral values. It doesn’t help that their impressions of camp are limited to what they see in the movies, as a lack of camp diversity means they and most of their social circle have never been to camp.

With that said, speaking in Spanish to a Hispanic parent may help with gaining trust. Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb on who values that choice. I recently launched a bilingual coaching program, and was surprised that a client who is an executive and very fluent in English signed up for my Spanish course, while another client who has not been in the US long and has language limitations preferred to take the course in English.

If you decide materials in Spanish are a must, please avoid relying solely on Google Translate or any other online translation tool. Instead, create a translations review committee of at least three people of diverse Hispanic backgrounds so you can deliver the best quality communications. If your camp is sloppy with messaging, why would somebody entrust their precious kids to you?

Three: Focus on Business Rather Than Diversity Problems

My experience is that Hispanic initiatives are not given adequate priority when treated as something to do “because it is right” or it appeases certain community voices. Instead, figure out how attracting Hispanics contributes to solving your camp’s pain points. For example, if you’re struggling to enroll new campers, consider sourcing them among Latinos because most of your competitors have no Hispanic strategy.

Also think holistically about your camp’s mission and how Hispanics can be integrated rather than creating a separate initiative for Latinos. For example, as part of the life-skills-building benefit of the camp, consider how you can instill an attitude of inclusion, a global mindset, or a desire to speak several languages in the children. As participants embrace those values, your camp will feel more welcoming to Hispanics. Latinos, similarly to Jews, are part of a tight-knit community where word travels fast. A few families with positive experiences can help your camp establish a competitive advantage among Hispanics.

Four: Determine How Critical Hispanics Are to Your Camp

Local demographics are one key factor. In cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, and San Antonio, Texas, roughly one out of every two people is Hispanic. In Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston, the ratio is roughly one out of every three people. Locations with a high concentration of Hispanics require a deeper focus on meeting their needs. In those areas, pay attention to language preferences. Miami is a very Spanish-dominant market regardless of income and education, while English prevails in San Antonio.

Income level is also a consideration. Latinos matter more if you cater to the $50K to 100K income bracket (in which 12 percent of the households are Hispanic) than when you serve the $250K+ income bracket (where Hispanics represent 4 percent of the households). One additional barrier to engaging higher income Latinos, is that they value foreign travel more than the camp experience. If they still have family abroad, they prefer to help their children develop language skills by spending time in their home countries with people they trust.

My affluent Latino friends and family who have sent children to camp wanted to make sure their kids were not left out, or had kids with friends who went to camp and lobbied for it. The more religious ones were only willing to send them to Catholic camps they felt would share their faith and family values.

Five: Study the Hispanic Sub-group that Best Fits Your Camp

Affluent, college-educated Latinos may live in different neighborhoods and have different attitudes, exposure, and alternatives to camp than less-educated, low-income Hispanics. Immigrant Latinos may prefer to send their children to spend the summer with their family, while US-born Latinos may be more familiar with the camp experience. Their heritage (ex: Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican) may determine their summer options (ex: Cubans would not send kids to family on the island) and their affiliation to specific organizations (ex: Mexican hometown clubs). Those nuances can affect where you recruit Hispanic campers and how you speak to camp benefits and objections. Some Latinos only or mostly access the Internet on their smartphones, which will drive the need for your camp to have a mobile-responsive site.

If you intend to engage in Spanish, know that 90 percent of the language is universally understood with 10 percent of the words changing by country of origin (think American vs. British or Australian English). Make sure translators and bilingual camp staff making the pitch are aware of the possible variations, and check comprehension of key words among several Hispanic people.

Six: Be Prepared to Engage Hispanics in Mainstream Venues

Because Latinos move fluidly between two cultures, some of them may already have come across your organization. Using census data of the most common Hispanic first and last names, and highly Hispanic zip codes, you can figure out how many Latinos are currently engaging with your camp online, in social media, and face to face.

If you meet individuals who you suspect are Latino, do not ask whether they are indeed Hispanic. Rather, question them about their personal experiences with camps and their typical concerns (sleeping away from home, length of time away, values, importance of culturally diverse campers and staff), as well as the reasons behind those concerns. If you can deliver your pitch or materials in Spanish, ask about their preferences for receiving written and oral information. Some US-born Hispanics may prefer to talk in Spanish but are not as proficient with reading. Some low-income Latinos may prefer a bilingual brochure rather than visiting a website.

Seven: Leverage the Power of Relationships

Hispanics don’t live in a silo, so chances are your current campers have friends and classmates of various cultural backgrounds. Discuss the value of diversity as part of your summer programs, and encourage your alumni to invite a friend who has never been to camp to visit an off-season reunion.

Plus, make new friends yourselves among organizations that cater to Hispanics. If you want to engage the affluent, participate with professional groups (see sidebar for examples). To reach the less-affluent, partner with organizations that funnel resources to affiliates that serve the Hispanic community (see sidebar for examples). Talk to their leaders about how the skills and/or relationships built through camp can contribute to setting up their members’ children for further success, and pick their brains on how the people they serve can take full advantage of that opportunity.

Eight: Set Up a Formal Process to Test and Learn

Many organizations abandon their Hispanic outreach too early in the game because “it did not work.” What they really mean is that Latinos did not come to them in droves in the first six months. That is an unreasonable expectation; it has taken your camp years to build credibility and trust among your current customer base. Instead, focus on establishing interim funnel metrics that can help you gauge whether you are making progress in driving awareness of your offering among Hispanics and gaining small commitments from them (ex: searching for your camp, clicking on your website, visiting a camp fair, or attending an informational meeting).

The secret to a successful and cost-effective initiative to engage Hispanics lies in clarifying your reason for focusing on Latinos, learning as much as you can about the type of Hispanics you want to attract, finding ways to speak to their unique concerns wherever you may encounter them, and measuring your progress in educating them on the value of your offering.

Additional Resources

Useful websites:

Hispanic-affiliated professional groups:

Community organizations:

Sandra Diaz, MBA, is a multicultural market expert. She runs DIAZ&CO., a consulting firm that delivers strategic work sessions and planning and execution services that allow clients to capitalize on the growing US Hispanic market. Sandra has more than 15 years of experience as a corporate executive at L’Oréal, Sears, Sara Lee, and Colgate Palmolive. She can be reached at diazandco.com or 646.580.5842.

Photo courtesy of Wilderness Adventures, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.