Editor’s Note: David L. Berg, current chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and immediate past president of the Northeast Campground Association (NCA), took a good look at the season ahead during the recent 46th Annual Northeast Conference on Camping & Trade Show in Springfield, Mass. A director of the Maine Campground Owners Association and owner of Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, Berg essentially sees good things for 2010.
RVB: As we head toward spring, what’s the campground sector look like.
Berg: I think it’s going to be a banner year. The shows are up substantially, reservations are up throughout the Northeast region and many other areas of the country. Units are starting to move again. Obviously, they are still low compared to three or four years ago. But it’s a big improvement over last year in the industry.
RVB: We don’t want to jinx anything, but do you think the campground sector will continue to escape the recession as it did last year?
Berg: Before I would say we are recession-proof, I’ve had years when I was down a little bit. But when everybody else is having terrible years as the economy gets more expensive, people look at the best value for a vacation, and camping clearly is that. Along those lines, camping is a recession-proof business. We had a banner year after 9/11 — the good with the bad — everybody got back to family camping. That wave has held to that day. When people can’t afford the $200-a-day ocean-front hotel, they’ll come back to the $40 RV site and bring their family and sit around the fire. This is going to be one of the years when we see that sight again.
RVB: What issues do you see on the forefront at any level – ARVC, NCA or your state – that are front burner this spring?
Berg: Advertising. Everyone in this business has to advertise and sell what we have and what we have to offer. We have to get out and work more with the state tourism areas and get camping in the state advertising. We’ve worked with Go RVing to get more campground shots. Gasoline is important. It does affect the motorized industry. Gas has leveled off some in the Northeast, and if it stays below $3 it won’t have a big impact on anything. Right now the stock market is going well. Peoples’ retirement accounts are starting to build again. All those things are important to the future of our industry.
People need to listen to their customers and make their parks better. The average customer wants it all. We have to make sure we keep our parks up, improve them, bring in the amenities they want and make them feel welcome.
RVB: What other factors are you monitoring on the horizon — for better or for worse?
Berg: The biggest issue over the last two years has been weather. In the Northeast region, we’ve had rain, and then we had rain, and then we had rain. In early March, we had nine inches of rain in two days. I’m hoping that’s getting out of the system and we’ll have some sunshine.
In respect to being recession proof, there are people who are far worse off. If you’ve got a reservation with a motel, you’ve got until 6 o’clock at night to cancel it. And if the sunshine isn’t showing for the weekend, you cancel it. In the camping world, you are paying a deposit and people will come. You have to give them things to do if the weather is bad.
But the biggest issue in Maine is taxes. We get taxed two or three times, depending on how your park is run. If you have seasonal (guests), they pay personal property tax. I have to pay property tax on the same land they are on. States are in a financial crunch and they are always trying to tax the tourists because they think it’s an out-of-state tax. In Maine, the vast majority of people who camp are local. So it has a severe impact on our economy when the legislature just thinks it’s an import tax. That’s what New Hampshire did. States are trying to put their budget woes on the backs of tourism.