Leisure Systems Inc.’s Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts mark their 40th anniversary this year — nearly 50 years after it namesake cartoon character debuted in a syndicated TV show. And a good argument could be made that LSI’s 75 campgrounds — and the souvenirs they sell carrying Yogi’s moniker — have gone a long way toward keeping the Yogi Bear name in the public’s eye.
“I don’t think we could have done it without Yogi,” said Robert E. “Rob” Schutter, president of Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts in 27 states and Canada.
“From a generational standpoint, as we go into our fifth decade, we get comments from people remembering that they came to a Yogi Bear campground when they were a child and they want to share that with their children and grandchildren.
LSI, based in the Cincinnati suburb of Milford, Ohio, is marking its anniversary in part by conducting its annual franchisee “Symposium” in conjunction with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) InSites 2009 Convention and Outdoor Hospitality Expo Nov. 9-12 at the Rosen Centre Hotel and Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.
The symposium, usually held in Cincinnati, continues for participating franchisees with a cruise of the Western Caribbean aboard a ship sailing from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. “The idea was that we wanted to do something a little bit different for our franchisees,” Schutter said. “We will hold a couple of meetings on the ship and have an awards session and reception.”
More than 65 of LSI’s franchisees are expected to attend. ”A couple of them have been with us the entire 40 years,” Schutter said.
The average size of an independently owned Yogi Bear camp-resort is 230 sites with campground stores ranging in size up to 1,500 square feet and amenities including finished indoor or outdoor pavilions, swimming pools, play areas for children and activity areas for adults.
“Our major growth has been in water amenities,” Schutter noted. “Some campgrounds have installed waterslides, splash pads or spray grounds and indoor pools and seen increases of 25% in reservations. In this day and age, the consumer is looking for our value. In our system, it’s up to us to begin looking at attractions that can be easily added to the operational mix of the park.”
Campers also will find characters — Yogi, Boo Boo Bear, Cindy Bear and Ranger Smith — in costume participating in evening hayrides, storytelling time and other events.
Looking ahead, LSI will ramp up training over the next five years by strategically acquiring four to five parks in different regions of the country to use as training centers, according to Schutter.
All parks, in turn, participate in LSI’s telephone reservations system, and 55 parks take reservations on LSI’s online system.
With the nation in the midst of a recession, reservations have held steady this season compared to 2008, although revenue throughout the system will be up 4% to 5% based on fee increases. “Occupancy has been relatively flat compared to last year, which I take as a positive, given what’s been going on with the economy,” Schutter said. “Typically, families are watching what they spending, but they are spending what they have allocated.”
Gaining popularity at LSI’s parks these days are cabins, as has been the case across the RV park and campgrounds sector. Schutter says the top end of the cabin rental market — LSI has more than 1,700 cabins in the Yogi Bear system — has softened somewhat, but the drop off has been made up by less expensive rentals. “And there has been a large increase in tent camping,” he added. “That market had been 10% to 15% of our occupancy. It looks like it will be about 18% this year, which is interesting. But whether the trend continues will depend on the economy from here on out.”
With 75 campgrounds consisting of approximately 16,000 campsites in the fold, Schutter said that the maximum number of campgrounds in the system likely won’t ever exceed 100. That’s just not what LSI is all about. “That’s because of the type of amenity package that we are looking for and because we are family-style campgrounds,” Schutter explained. “That part of the market is a lot smaller than the empty-nester segment. For campgrounds themselves, we’ve just whetted our appetite for exposing our industry to people who have not been campers. For the longest time, people thought you needed an RV to go camping. With the emergence of rental units at every level, that is changing.”