Thompson Chicago provides camp-like experiences for guests

CHICAGO—Who didn’t love summer camp? Having fun in the sun, making friendship bracelets in the arts & crafts cabin, and eating ice cream all-day long are the kinds of things most kids love.Well, Thompson Chicago thinks adults should have that experience, too.

For the third year, the boutique hotel is offering up its City Summer Camp program, which runs from May through September and is designed to offer travelers curated experiences. 

“A few years ago, we were talking about how our concierge, over the summer, almost acts as ‘camp counselor,’” explained Tiffany Braun, retail director of sales & marketing at Thompson Chicago, noting that the brand is popular with guests in their 20s and 30s. Sometimes, these guests want a little bit of direction when it comes to planning their day in a new destination, so, said Braun, “They will ask the concierge what they can do, and sometimes they don’t have a plan at all.”  

Enter the City Summer Camp program, in which the hotel partners with local destinations—food & beverage venues, creative studios, etc.—to come up with 10 distinct itineraries. The program allows guests to customize their itineraries before they arrive at the hotel with exclusive offers and pricing on experiences they would not be able to find themselves by just going online and booking outside of Thompson.

Returning activities include a trip to Green City Farmer’s Market complete with a gelato-making class; a behind the scenes tour of CH Distillery; adult arts & crafts with Bottle & Bottega; private tennis and golf lessons; and an ice cream crawl driven by Lexus. This year, the hotel also added five new classes: personalized running tours with lululemon Gold Coast; a Thompson-curated walking tour; a terrarium-building class with Sprout Home; a summer cocktail course; and access to a beach volleyball setup.

So far, the most popular summer camp experience offered has been a partnership with the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Nico Osteria, and the head chef, Erling Wu-Bower. In past years, guests would visit the Green City Farmer’s Market in Lincoln Park, pick out ingredients and then the chef prepared the food for dinner that evening.

“This year, we changed it up a little bit. Now, our pastry chef, Leigh Omilinsky, will guide the guests through the market,” said Braun. And this time, the dish of choice will be gelato served to them at dinner. “We have already had a couple of reservations for this particular camp experience. The previous years with Erling were a really big success,” she said.

The price range for these camp experiences is anywhere from $12 for a cocktail demonstration, all the way up to $100 to $200. “It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all. Guests are able to choose an experience that fits their budget. But if they can’t find anything, then we provide more suggestions to make a personalized connection with the guest; we can design an experience for them,” said Braun. 

The summer camp concept is only in Thompson’s Chicago location for now, but the brand’s nine other properties throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico have their own packages called “Thompson Hotels Uncovered.” Braun noted that every property tailors experiences to its city and neighborhood. 

According to Braun, the City Summer Camp program was driven primarily to have an impact on service levels, with less focus on driving revenue.  “First and foremost, we sought to give our guests options to create summer experiences and memories that they couldn’t find elsewhere. The second goal was then to create guest loyalty from these experiences to bring them back the next time they’re in Chicago,” explained Braun. 

She added that while the hotel’s sole focus was not just to increase revenue, it has seen a substantial amount of summer bookings through marketing efforts for the City Summer Camp. 

“Part of the beauty of being a boutique/lifestyle hotel is that we have more flexibility to offer different things to our guests,” Braun concluded. HB