Release your inner child - summer camps for adults
- 4 July 2016
- From the section Business
In the US every summer, millions of children are sent away to camp.
Friends are made, games are played, and nights are spent sleeping in dormitory bunk beds. It is very much a rite of passage.
By why should children have all the fun?
That was the thinking behind Camp No Counselors (CNC), one of a small but growing number of companies that organise adults-only summer camps.
The idea is that grown-ups can release their inner child and participate in many of the same adventure activities that kids do at camp.
But with two significant improvements - freely available alcohol and late-night partying. Although you do still have to sleep in a dormitory.
'A tonne of fun'
CNC was founded by Adam Tichauer, a 33-year-old Canadian, and former boss of a New York-based technology start-up.
He first came up with the idea for adult summer camps when trying to organise a reunion weekend with old friends back in the spring of 2013.
"I was working lots of nights, and needed a fun weekend with my best friends," he says.
"I always loved organising events, and I'd gone to summer camp growing up, and I thought - wouldn't it be a tonne of fun to rent out a camp for a weekend with friends?"
Adam's mates all loved the idea of taking a trip down memory lane, and so he booked a summer camp venue in upstate New York for three nights.
Encouraging his friends to invite others as well, about 90 people attended that first weekend, where activities included water-skiing and dancing to DJs.
Adam says it was so successful that six months later he arranged a winter camp, with the number of attendees rising to 120.
It was after that second camp that Adam decided that he could turn his idea into a full-time business, buoyed by the encouragement of his friends, who said he was a natural party organiser.
"It was the aha moment," he says. "All my friends thought it was so directly in line with who I am, and what I love to do."
So Adam quit his job in May 2014 and formally launched CNC. The company's name is in reference to the fact that unlike kids' summer camps, there are no camp officials spoiling the fun.
"I only had a little bit of savings, but I thought I could start with one camp and then two," he says. "Once word got out it moved quickly."
Adam says he had to work hard initially to "explain and justify" the concept to the sometimes perplexed owners of the summer camp venues.
What brought them on board was the fact that CNC allows the venues to extend their opening seasons, as it typically hires them out before and after the school holidays.
"This is incremental income to the camps as they are typically closed during the spring and fall seasons when we rent them out," says Adam.
The Los Angeles-based company quickly grew thanks to word of mouth, and this year will be running 30 camps across 10 locations, including Maine, Tennessee and California in the US, and Ontario in Canada.
Typical activities include kayaking, rock climbing, softball and tug-of-war, while cocktails such as Bloody Marys and Mimosas (similar to a Buck's Fizz) can be sipped with breakfast.
Each weekend lasts for three nights, and numbers are limited to 200 people. The average age of attendees is 30.
All dormitories are unisex, so if you are a women, there could be a man you have never met before in the bed above you, and vice versa. This is not said to put people off.
The cost is typically $575 per person (£430) but the events are all-inclusive so you don't have to pay any more for your food or drink. To run the camps CNC employs eight full-time and 15 part-time members of staff.
Forget about work
So why is CNC proving to be so popular? Adam pinpoints several reasons.
"There's the nostalgia of it all. Wouldn't it be cool to go back to camp with friends, and be able to drink and stay up all night?
"The other idea is that a lot of people didn't go to camp [as children], so there is the curiosity about it and now they get to go."
Adam adds that none of the camps have wi-fi, so people are having "to put the phone down, forget about work, and just have fun and meet new people".
Daphne Kasriel-Alexander, a consumer trends consultant at research group Euromonitor, agrees with Adam's arguments for the growth of CNC and other companies in its field.
She says: "More adults are opting for active summer camps as a way for them to enjoy the perceived carefree times of childhood.
"However, the real drivers of this interest in, and success of, adult summer camps are over-connectivity, work-life balance stresses, and sedentary lifestyles."
CNC has, however, come in for criticism over the fact that its camps aren't open to all. Instead anyone wishing to attend has to register, which includes filling out a questionnaire about themselves, and giving the details of your social media accounts.
The company then "specially selects" or "curates" the 200 people that can attend each camp.
One critic dubbed this "slightly creepy social engineering", but CNC defends its approach.
Dave Kushner, CNC's director of community engagement, says: "Because of limited space we make sure the 200 people who are coming to camp are the people that want to be there the most.
"We want to make sure that this camp community will respect each other's space, and doesn't demonstrate any hateful or unsafe attitudes.
"We're very proud of the fact that we've never had anyone get into a fight at camp, even with people partying with an open bar available."
Looking ahead, Adam is planning further expansion across the US and Canada, as well as looking overseas.
He says: "I love making people happy, and enabling adults to forget about the stresses of adult life, while making new life-long friendships."