ARVC: U.S. Campground Business Stable
Year-to-date occupancies and revenues at campgrounds, RV parks and resorts through Labor Day weekend were generally consistent with last year’s figures, according to a news release from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Private park operators are generally pleased with their performance this year,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC president and CEO.
She added that parks that have invested in rental accommodations, such as park model cabins and cottages, have done particularly well.
The biggest exception, however, were parks along the Gulf Coast, many of which lost considerable summer business as a result of the BP oil spill and related media coverage.
Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the nation’s largest campground chain with roughly 475 parks, said its year-to-date occupancies through Labor Day weekend were down 0.7%, while revenues rose 2.7%, according to Mike Gast, KOA’s vice president of communications.
The slight occupancy decline was largely due to weaker business levels last winter, while summer occupancies actually outpaced last summer’s figures by 2.5%, Gast said. He added that revenues for the company’s park model cabins and cottages, which KOA markets as “Kamping Lodges,” were up 27% over last year’s figures, which reflects both rising consumer demand for rental accommodations in campgrounds as well as a larger rental inventory.
Indeed, KOA and other campground chains have increasingly invested in park model cabins and other rental accommodations in recent years.
Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, saw its year-to-date occupancies through August increase by 4%, while revenues grew by 3%, said company Vice President Dean Crawford. Demand for cabins and park models, however, grew by 13%, also reflecting increased demand and an increased inventory of units, he said.
Meanwhile, Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), a Chicago-based Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) whose holdings include RV parks and resorts, said occupancies and revenues for its core RV properties were up 2.3% and 3.1%, respectively, through July, according to Ellen Kelleher, ELS’s executive vice president of property management.
Kelleher added that while occupancies for transient or traveling RVers fell by 3.3% during the period, revenues were up 3.3%. ELS also reported gains in seasonal and annual customers, up 15.3% and 2.1%, respectively, while revenues increased by 3.9% and 4.9%. The annual figures include occupancies and revenues from consumers who own park models at ELS parks, Kelleher said.
ELS also reported an 8.5% decline in park model rental occupancies through July, but this was because the company wound up selling many of its units to consumers who wanted to stay for extended periods of time at ELS resorts.
Across the country, several park operators and industry officials reported an exceptional summer camping season.
“We are showing an increase of 6% in business for 2010. This is our actual increase in site nights after subtracting for our annual rate increases,” said David L. Berg, who owns Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, in addition to serving as ARVC chairman.
Berg, whose park is affiliated with the Best Parks in America network, attributed much of the increase at his park to an unusually hot and dry summer in Maine. Berg also said many campers are taking more frequent trips, but for shorter periods of time. “I find folks making reservations at the last minute, or trying to get in when we often are sold out. Also they are not staying for week-long stays, but rather doing three- and four-day mini vacations and are getting away more often.”
Berg also said he has seen a large influx of tent campers this year, which he attributes to the economy. “I feel this is a win-win situation for all,” Berg said. “Customers get a reasonable priced vacation and we as an industry get new customers, who if they get the experience they are looking for, they will upgrade in time to a popup or RV of some sort down the road. This is an example of finding the silver lining in the tough times we are all in economically.”
But tent camping is also influenced by weather patterns.
KOA, for example, saw tent camping decline by 1.3% at its parks nationwide, Gast said. “Weather nationwide is probably the primary driver of that,” he said. “Inventory (tent sites) has been relatively stable for years.”
Other parks also saw significant business gains this year, including Misty River Cabins & RV Resort LLC, a Best Parks in America affiliate in Walland, Tenn., which saw its year-to-date business grow by 17%, according to park owner Jimmy Felton.
Castaways RV Resort and Campground in Berlin, Md. also saw double-digit growth during the summer season, with a 4% increase in business year-to-date, according to Kathleen Morris, the park’s general manager. Morris attributed the increased business in part to the warm dry summer on the East Coast.
Meanwhile, Crossroads RV Park in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, saw a 19% increase in year-to-date occupancies, said park owner Jeff Krug, who also serves as president of the Iowa Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Krug attributed the increase in part to the relative newness of his three-year-old overnight park, which more and more campers are discovering.
In California, Ron and Sheryl Culp of Green Acres RV Park in Redding said their year-to-date business was down 2.7% from last year, although their summer business was up 4.3% from a year ago.