For millions of families, the arrival of warm weather means it’s time to start thinking about summertime activities for the kids.
But for recreational activity organizers — including sleepaway camps and athletic programs — the arrival of these customers can also mean unwanted headaches in the form of paperwork. Because many summer camps and recreational programs don’t offer their customers the ability to register or make payments using modern payment processing solutions, program organizers can get stuck entering customer information into a program database manually.
Fortunately, it appears the recreational market is getting some much-needed innovation to help organizations and associations process payments and participant registration. In recent years, several companies — such as CampDoc.com, CommunityPass and ACTIVE Network — have rolled out solutions to help recreational organizations streamline registrations, track finances and make it easier for organizations and parents to make payments.
One company that is innovating in the sports and recreation industry is Amilia, an online registration and membership management platform. PYMNTS caught up with Alexandre Gauthier, VP of marketing at Amilia, for insight into how new payment tools are modernizing the payment process for the recreational activities market, including youth sports, camps, daycare, and parks and recreation, among others. Gauthier explained how streamlining the registration and payment process is not only modernizing the quarter-trillion-dollar recreation market, but also helping communities forge stronger connections with residents, improving civic engagement.
Getting Recreational Programs To Act Like Businesses
By some accounts, the recreational activity market is valued at over $250 billion each year. In the U.S., summer camps alone generate $3 billion in revenue each year, with youth sports generating another $9 billion annually.
Nevertheless, while the recreational activities market generates vast sums of revenue, Gauthier said industry organizations can suffer from a leadership vacuum. That’s because, as Gauthier explained, activity organizers tend to be more focused on running the activities than on the business side, like the necessary paperwork and payments that participants must deliver.
“These are small businesses, and often they don’t see themselves as businesses,” Gauthier said.
The average recreational organization generates an annual review of $200,000. For these organizations and associations, Gauthier said, it’s time for an attitude adjustment. He pointed out that recreational organizations and programs that do not allow their participants the ability to register or make payments online risk alienating customers who are accustomed to conducting business online.
“Most transactions are done by cash or check, so the payment processing industry has not fully captured that market yet,” he said.
The lack of payment innovation could increasingly become an issue as more millennials become parents and consider activities for their families. According to a recent study, over 16 million millennial women (born between 1981 and 1997) have children, and that number is expected to grow.
With more millennials looking for family-friendly recreational activities, the time for these organizations and associations to modernize their payment processes is now, Gauthier said.
“Most millennials I know have never had a checkbook, and they’re used to buying stuff online,” he said. “They expect to be able to shop for a camp the same way they shop for clothes or books online … Not to have to go in-person to pay and fill out a paper form.”
Membership registration services like Amilia’s, said Gauthier, are aimed at helping recreational associations update their systems. While some of these organizations may not have been ready to make a change because older products had to first be loaded onto a central server, many modern solutions are web-based and easier to use.
With newer online solutions in place, more recreational organizations appear to be ready to make a change.
“That was a huge barrier to entry five years ago, but now it’s something that’s more mainstream,” Gauthier said.
Better Payment Options, Better Community Connections?
In addition to offering help to recreational organizations, Gauthier said Amilia’s solutions are also aimed at helping local communities build better connections with locals and helping municipalities tap into the $65 billion parks and recreation market.
Amilia’s SmartRec program (formerly known as SmartCity) is aimed at helping these municipalities manage their parks and recreation facilities and generate activity for locals. The solution allows customers to create resident cards to verify they are community members, schedule activities and register online while also providing real-time data insights on program performance.
“We created an ecosystem within our product where we can provide tools for the parks and recreation department and the clubs that are offering these activities,” Gauthier said. “Through our platform, we’re able to share data in real time so the clubs know which turfs are available and when they’re able to book the facilities.”
By offering smarter tools, Gauthier said the company is helping cities, towns and municipalities generate local activities, boost civic engagement and attract families.
“Cities in North America want to build a proper neighborhood and a vibrant community for families,” he said. “One of the main points of engagement with a community is the activity side.”
If the community program makes a lasting impression with the kids participating, it might encourage those same kids to return to the program when they are older. For example, a former summer camper might be inclined to return to the program as a camp counselor or as a program manager or even as a director down the line.
In other words, strong community activities can lead to a more engaged citizenry. An example Gauthier pointed to is the town of Montreal West in Quebec, Canada, which saw a 27 percent increase in program registrations and fewer complaints among residents who were registering for local events.
“Cities can really benefit from implementing smart tools to maximize their rec programs, and so, too, can their communities,” Gauthier said.
The Alternative To Facebook?
Beyond the recreational market, Gauthier said he sees opportunities for Amilia to expand into other venues that could use a boost with membership registration, payment collection and facilities management — for instance, educational programs and local chambers of commerce.
“We see ourselves as a platform for communities,” he said.
He also noted that while it’s easy to join a social media platform like Facebook or launch online communities and communicate online, registration services like Amilia are more focused on encouraging users to leave the house and to participate in outdoor, in-person activities.
“Facebook is a technology that lets people communicate without engaging face-to-face,” he said. “Our platform brings people together in real life.”
Removing the paperwork from program organizers’ to-do lists enables the organizers to spend more face-to-face time with kids who want to enjoy a fun summer activity.
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About the Tracker
The PYMNTS.com Payments-as-a-Service Tracker™ is designed to give an overview of the trends and activities of merchant platforms that not only enable payment processing of new and old technologies but also integrate with other features to improve the merchant’s experience, including customer engagement, security, omnichannel retail, analytics, inventory management, software and hardware management and more.