aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Lots of room at this inn, but you can't afford it

After a month or more of trying, I finally got someone from the Conference camping program to return my call to make a reservation for a youth retreat in February. And then I backed off from making the reservation because the cost was prohibitive.

To rent the facility I wanted would cost us $450 per night (and that's with a UM discount). So, $900 for two nights. It sleeps 32. Now, if I knew I'd have 30 youth and adults going, that would be $30 apiece for facilities; add $20 for food, and we could price this event at $50 per. A bit steep, but worth it. And what if I only have 15 for a first-ever, launch-the-group event? Well, then, that's sixty bucks apiece plus food -- at least $80 per person. That's a bit much to ask.

Well, I could have a lesser facility at another camp (no kitchen) for $337.50 per night (with discount) = $775 per weekend. For 15 people, that would be $52 apiece, plus food. Still too much for too little. Which leaves me calling Scout camps in the area which I might be able to rent for less. Even if we're cooking outdoors -- even if we're going without showers -- I think I can match value for price better going that route.

All of which brings up a vicious circle of a problem with our Conference's Outdoor Ministries program. From the get-go, we have demanded that the entire program, including year-round facilities cost and the cost of Conference staff to operate the program, be paid out of user fees. Compare this to the Scouts, who maintain their facilities year-round out of the Council operating budget. User fees basically go to support actual program, which means the program is better and off-season usage costs cheaper.

Combine this less-for-your-money approach with the declining value of volunteer leadership, and what you get is declining enrollment in summer church camp -- the biggest source of income for the program -- which means we have to raise fees over and over to make a shrinking number of users cover the costs, which discourages more people from attending, so that an even smaller base carries the load, which discourages volunteers so that we get lower quality leadership, ad infinitum.

So, I understand why they're charging per-facility rather than per-person. At the end of the day, the budget has to balance. But if they're going to operate like a hotel, then they need to think like hotels do. Unoccupied rooms don't make you any money. And if people back off from paying what you're asking, raising the rates to cover the shortfall just makes it harder to fill your rooms. This is why Expedia and Orbitz and Travelocity and Priceline can offer you rooms for less when you book through them. They're booking those empty rooms that the hotels couldn't sell at the official price. In the end, having someone in those rooms paying something loses them less money than holding out for the full price for every occupancy.

As I say, this is an old problem in our camping program, but it's getting worse. I'd be glad to help -- even if means paying a bit more than I'd pay somewhere else, but I can't see paying what I'm being asked to. Loyalty to the Conference can't take precedence over loyalty to the families I'm ministering to.

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