As spring starts to bloom, it’s time to get a jumpstart on the upcoming season. Even for year-round operations, it’s a great idea to hit pause for a short time now and do a full reset in preparation for the busy summer ahead. Operators should evaluate everything and make sure that what you’ve been doing is what you want to continue to do. It’s the perfect opportunity to make adjustments to your operations and implement new (and sometimes overdue) changes to your program.
As you enter that process, attention to the following seven steps will go a long way toward preparing for a successful summer season.
Determine Your Approach to Covid
I’m completely over everything related to Covid. The masks, the distancing, the isolation, the public polarization, the need to change operations, all of it. Perhaps you feel the same. However, it’s still a reality that we have to take seriously. If predictions are accurate, Covid will be with us at least through summer, so we might as well embrace that and move forward—hoping for better days, while also making solid plans for navigating high season in a way that keeps our staff and patrons as safe as possible.
Decisions regarding your Covid procedures will likely impact multiple areas of your operation, so sorting out the who, when, how, and what of your Covid plan on the front end is a wise first step.
Here are a few things to consider:
Follow state and local Covid requirements when formulating your procedures. If you didn’t operate in 2020, or you’ve been closed for the off season, investigate updated requirements for your area. Depending on your location, requirements could be looser or stricter than what you last dealt with. These requirements could impact your capacity, among other things, and necessitate program or staffing changes. The sooner you know, the better.
Research the most recent industry information about best practices and common procedures related to Covid. Early in the pandemic, organizations such as ACCT and The Alliance Collaborative scrambled to put together recommendations for dealing with Covid in an aerial adventure context, based on the best information we had at the time, which wasn’t a lot. We’ve learned a lot more about the virus since then, and about what’s important—and not as important. Find the most up-to-date information from reliable resources, such as ACCT and The Alliance. Both have Covid resources available on their websites:
The Alliance: thealliancecollaborative.com/covid-19-resources
(Ed. note: Adventure Park Insider has also pointed out many Covid best practices in recent issues as well as this issue.)
Order anticipated necessary supplies now. There haven’t been supply issues for Covid-related supplies in some time, but as the weather warms and many organizations start spooling up for the summer, we could see shortages or delivery delays again. Avoid the stress of not having what you need to open by ordering sooner rather than later.
Prepare Your Courses
Late winter/early spring is the time to start getting your courses ready for your professional and/or permit inspections, schedule needed repairs or additions, and verify inspection and permit renewal dates. Don’t forget those special inspections, such as those conducted by an arborist or engineer, that may be required for permit renewal.
If you’re opening a course for the first time in 2021, or you’re not sure what inspections you may need, check out the aptly titled video, “What Challenge Course Inspections Do I Need,” from Challenge Course Pro Tips on The Adventure Guild YouTube channel. It answers many questions regarding inspections and can point you to additional resources.
Finally, if you rely on a third party for course repairs, confirm with your service provider early in the season to get your work on their radar. All reputable providers get extremely busy in the spring, so it’s important to get on their schedule as soon as possible.
Prepare Your Gear and Equipment
If you didn’t thoroughly go through your gear and equipment at the end of the busy season last year, do it now. Not only will it help in your professional inspections (hint: Inspectors do not appreciate trying to examine equipment that is not logged, is haphazardly stored, or is not taken care of!), you will also identify any gear that needs to be replaced to accommodate increased patron numbers come summer. Gear suppliers get inundated with orders in the spring, so the sooner you get yours in, it’s less likely that you’ll have to stress about equipment backorders.
Bonus tip! Don’t neglect the non-course side of your operations. Verify that your card readers, cash drawers, photo printers and systems, tablets, and computers are in good working order. Are your ticketing and sales computer desktops cluttered with random files? Is there a software or printer driver glitch that hindered smooth operations last season? Now is the time to solve those issues. Check your radios. Buy batteries. Verify your glow stick supply. Order and restock your merch. Look at every aspect of your operation, and consider what you’ll wish you’d done when July gets here. And do it now.
Prepare Your Greater Facilities
What’s true of your course and general operations is also true of your greater facilities. Things like trails, trees, decks, bathrooms, parking, vehicles, food service areas, merchandise sales locations, etc., all need attention. See if there’s something important that needs to be done while there is time to do it. Take a thorough look around. Take notes. Make a list and put those tasks on the calendar.
Review Course Paperwork
Course paperwork and documentation is an important—yet often overlooked and under-maintained—component of operations. Daily setup/teardown checklists, course and equipment logs, maintenance logs, operations manuals, employee manuals, near miss/incident reporting forms, and Covid procedures should be reviewed in a team meeting before the busy season starts. This review group should include company leadership, course manager(s), and any available staff/guides. This diverse group helps ensure that a broad spectrum of daily operations’ experience is represented, and that important issues and perspectives don’t fall through the cracks.
Time to make changes. All documents should be reviewed and any discrepancies or inconsistencies in reporting discussed. If the form layout or way of inputting information needs to be changed, now is the time to get feedback and make those amendments. Maybe a move from paper forms to digital record keeping is in order. Make those adjustments now and allow early season staff to test drive the new system before the madness of high summer.
Review and discuss near miss/incident report forms from last year and determine what contributed to each incident, and whether a pattern exists. Recurring incidents could be addressed through a change in policy, procedure, training, or course design. When making these types of changes, it’s always important to engage your installation, inspection, and training service providers to verify that they can support the changes you’re considering.
Make a Plan for Staffing
Like virtually everything else in the past 12 months, Covid turned staff acquisition on its head and made many traditional avenues for recruiting staff unreliable. In 2020, international students couldn’t travel to the United States—a serious roadblock for many camps and retreat centers that draw upwards of 85 percent of their staff from outside U.S. borders. Covid has disrupted college schedules and rearranged priorities and availability, too.
This means you should investigate traditional staff recruitment avenues to verify that they are still viable, and investigate other options if they are not.
One source for potential staff that you may not have considered is your local climbing gym. There is likely some skill overlap, and the issue of being comfortable at height is usually already sorted out. You’ll have to do program-specific training, of course, and not everyone will be a fit, but that connection could mean the difference between a full staff and a lean one come high summer.
Consider Your Marketing/PR Plan
Hammer out your PR and marketing plan for the year, and get a handle on what that schedule looks like. In many tourist locations, important publications like coupon books, hotel guidebooks, attractions magazines, etc., are only published every couple months, perhaps once a year. Know the deadlines for getting your ad in your preferred advertising vehicle, or risk missing the opportunity.
Are you making news? Are you planning an expansion to your course? An added attraction to your operation? Or anything else that’s newsworthy? Get that information together and get it in the hands of all the relevant periodicals, papers, and local attractions websites, as well as TV and radio stations. Understand which media outlets are long lead and which are short lead, and plan delivery of your news accordingly.
Finally, think through your website and social media marketing plan—including what promotions you want to do around holidays, for example—and start working on graphics and video during the slower months. This can make the crazy days of summer a little less crazy.
So, there you go! Seven steps you can take now that will go a long way toward making the upcoming season as productive, safe, and low-stress as possible. If you can take the time now to tackle them, you’ll thank yourself in July.