The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) drew 629 campground operators, industry officials and vendors from across North America to its annual Insites Convention & Tradeshow, Dec. 1-4 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas — an event that featured several tributes to outgoing ARVC President and CEO Linda Profaizer as well as a public introduction of Paul Bambei, a marketing and business development expert and former Comcast executive who will replace Profaizer when she retires at the end of the year.
“This has been another positive year for the industry,” Profaizer said in her annual president’s message. “Our members are generally reporting a better year than 2009, with the exception of the Gulf Coast areas. It appears that snowbirds are returning in bigger numbers than last year as well. Most parks report an increase in rental accommodations, and tenting is still a major part of the picture.”
In his remarks during ARVC’s annual meeting, by the same token, Chairman David L. Berg, CPO, said the economic downturn has actually created new business opportunities for private parks as families and other travelers look for more affordable ways to pursue weekend getaways and vacation times. He also noted that campers can purchase all of the camping equipment they need for what they would typically spend for just one night in a hotel room.
Berg also cited several statistics from ARVC’s 2010 National Operations of the RV Park and Campground Industry, which found that fewer parks were listed for sale or changed ownership due to the declining real estate market. The report, produced by the Arizona Hospitality Research and Resource Center at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, also noted park operators’ increasing use of discounts and declining availability of free Wi-Fi service.
Bambei, for his part, told InSites attendees that he looks forward to taking the helm of ARVC and that he operates with three principles:
- That customer service and communication are king, and that he will always strive to improve ARVC’s customer service and communication with its members.
- That he believes in small businesses should make a profit and that he will help ARVC develop innovative marketing efforts to improve park operators’ bottom line.
- That he believes in teamwork. “Anything worth achieving is always done through teamwork,” he said.
In terms of ARVC initiatives, Profaizer noted in her written annual report and in her remarks to InSites attendees that ARVC achieved success with several initiatives launched during the past year. These include:
- A successful PR campaign: Working with Jeff Crider of Palm Desert, Calif.-based Crider Public Relations Inc., ARVC secured more than 200 positive camping related stories in local, regional and national media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, MSNBC.com, AARP Radio and National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program, in addition to numerous story and news release placements with RV and camping consumer and trade media. Profaizer said the PR program will continue in 2011.
- Increased visitation to GoCampingAmerica.com: ARVC implemented a search engine optimization program and other advertising initiatives that helped increase visitation to the site to over 1 million unique visitors. The website was promoted through TrailerLife.com, RVTravel.com, the GORP, Away and Outside websites, Google keyword advertising, rack cards, Airstream Lifemagazine and ads on Southeast Publications site maps, among other venues. GoCampingAmerica (GCA) also sponsored a camping getaway contest, which offered a three-night/four-day getaway to any ARVC park of their choice along with an RV rental, courtesy of El Monte RV. Website promotions were also tied in with ARVC’s GCA blog, Twitter and Facebook pages.
- The launching of the GoCampingAmerica mobile website: The website, launched in late May at GoCampingAmerica.mobi, has had over 17,000 visitors who can access the site using their mobile communication devicies. iPhone users account for more than a third of the site’s visitors.
- The addition of new member benefits: These include discount programs with Sherwin Williams for paints and related supplies; Aramark Uniform Services; and Skyway Supply, which provides environmentally friendly products.
- Continued legislative advocacy on behalf of ARVC members: ARVC proposed several recommendations regarding tourism and recreation for the Obama administration’s Great Outdoors Initiative. ARVC also supported statutory changes in the Travel Promotion Act to expedite collection of revenue to start the Corporation for Travel Promotion. ARVC also actively supported direct expensing provides as well as the repeal of Form 1099 reporting requirements in the health care reform legislation. ARVC also supported the continuation of the Bush Estate Tax requirements. In addition, ARVC spearheaded a meeting of tourism and recreation officials with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) to explore the prospects for an industry coalition. ARVC has also helped members across the country with tax issues, public utility issues and zoning permit consultations.
- An extraordinary volunteer outreach effort by former ARVC Chairman Jeff Sims: Jeff and his wife, Susie, traveled over 38,000 miles and visited over 1,800 parks to raise awareness about the benefits of ARVC membership. Sims visited parks in Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
- Stepped up communication efforts with ARVC members, state associations and other industry partners: These efforts include publication of a monthly e-newsletter, the ARVC Report in Advance, with up-to-the-minute industry happenings sent to all members; and quarterly conference calls with state association presidents and executive directors to share information on the latest industry issues. These quarterly calls are in addition to the monthly phone calls and emails that state association leaders share with ARVC board members.
- A successful national outreach effort to support Andrew Ratzlaff on a his cross-country bike ride to raise awareness about lymphoma: Ratzlaff, a 27-year-old New York City resident, lost his father to lymphoma when he was a senior in high school. On Mother’s Day, he began a 4,400-mile bike ride with the hope of raising awareness about the disease along with donations for the Lymphoma Research Foundation. More than 30 ARVC-member campgrounds, RV parks and resorts provided Ratzlaff with campsites, cabin accommodations and, in some cases, food to help support Ratzlaff on his cross-country journey. Several newspapers produced reports about his trip, and the support he received from ARVC member parks.
In other updates, Profaizer noted several staff changes at ARVC headquarters, including the hiring of Barb Youmans as the association’s new education director, while Karen Derosa joined the organization as an administrative assistant. Derek Dick is now membership director.
InSites provided nearly 40 seminars for educational enrichment and CPO credit, which were widely attended by representatives of the 315 private parks that attended the annual event.
Seminar topics involved everything from human resources, accounting and 20 groups to marketing and media relations through ARVC’s PR program. Other seminar topics included emergency preparedness, the dynamics of working with your family, how to develop and expand food service, and preventing employee theft.
InSites attendees were also entertained by famed mentalist Jon Stetson, who repeatedly demonstrated his ability to read people’s minds on a variety of topics. Other special InSites guests included Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.
ARVC’s tradeshow, meanwhile, attracted 115 vendors, many of whom said they were pleasantly surprised with the volume of purchases park operators were making at the show.
“It has been very busy,” said Kathleen McCormick, operations manager for Verona, Wis.-based Commercial Recreation Specialists. “We’re seeing lots of interest in splashpads and water inflatables. People who bought last year are coming back to add more sections” to their floating play structures.
CRS offers play structure planning, financing and installation, with financing being provided by Clearview Financial.
Other play equipment vendors at the show included Scott Borcick of Norwalk, Ohio-based Mazur North America, which manufacturers a variety of water play structures, including waterslides and splashgrounds, while Pensacola, Fla.-based Pedal Karts was busy marketing its unique pedal go karts, which parks often rent out to their guests.
FritoLay, for its part, was busy generating new leads for its program to provide parks with free shipping on any order of chips exceeding $25. “The response has been fantastic,” Max Chesser, national sales manager for FritoLay’s “Snacks to You Program,” told RVBusiness on day two of the tradeshow. “We’ve had 12 new customers just since last night.”
Chesser said park operators like the flexibility of FritoLay’s shipping program, which enables them to customize their orders. “All they pay for is the product, and only when they need it,” he said.
Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group said day two of the tradeshow was very strong for him as well and gave him a chance to talk to numerous park operators about electrical pedestals and energy efficient hand driers, which he said parks are increasingly installing in their restrooms as a way to reduce paper waste and reduce costs.
Dennis Culver, a sales representative from Jamestown Advanced Products in Jamestown, N.Y., said he, too, was pleased with the volume of new business his company generated at the show, both in terms of purchases off the floor and contacts for the future. Jamestown offers a diverse range of products for campgrounds, including electrical pedestals, picnic tables and fire rings.
“The show is meeting our expectations,” Culver said, adding that about 30% of the people who purchased products from Jamestown at the InSites tradeshow had never bought products from Jamestown before.
Christine Kornely, The Tower Co.’s “Diva of Dump Stations,” said she also saw strong demand for dump station products. “It’s been a very positive show,” she said.
David B. Canning, president of Orlando, Fla.-based DP Pet Products Inc., which markets DogiPot pet waste disposal stations and oxo-biodegradable pet waste bags, said he also got to meet with a lot of new customers, many of whom are expanding pet related amenities at their parks.
Several vendors also introduced new products at the show, including RV, Home & Marine Solutions, an Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. subsidiary that is marketing Nature-ZYME, a new enzyme-based holding tank product that removes odors and breaks down waste without harming the environment or posing risks to groundwater supplies.
David Kozy, vice president and director of operations of RV, Home & Marine Solutions, said he was pleased with park operator interest in his company’s product line, which includes RV holding tank products as well as environmentally friendly products to treat and maintain septic systems and household drains.
Other vendors of environmentally friendly holding tank products were also showcasing their products at the show, including Allan Millward, president of Telamode, an Ingleside, Ontario-based manufacturer and distributor.
Other new products featured at the show included an automated dump station from Bend, Ore.-based SaniStar, which accepts cash, tokens, coins and credit cards.
Park Models on Display
Park model manufacturers were also on hand with units on display outside the tradeshow, including Chariot Eagle West and Cavco Industries Inc.
Tom Satterwhite, general manager of Cavco’s manufacturing plant in Rocky Mount, Va., joined Cavco Vice President Tim Gage and other company employees in meeting with prospective customers from across the country who are interested in developing their cabin rental business.
“It’s been great from an East Coast perspective,” Satterwhite said, noting that Cavco did not previously have an East Coast manufacturing capability until after the company acquired Fleetwood and converted its Rocky Mount factory for park model production.
Athens, Texas-based Athens Park Homes LLC did not have a unit on display this year, but Dick Grymonprez, the company’s vice president of marketing, said he still had plenty of interest from park operators who visited his booth. “We didn’t bring a cabin for the first time, but we’ve had real good traffic,” Grymonprez told RVB. “The show’s going really well.”
The show also featured several providers of wireless Internet or Wi-Fi service, including Jim Ames of Napa, Calif.-based Airwave Adventures and Eric Stumberg of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet, who said he spent much of his time answering questions about Wi-Fi pricing. “People are a lot more motivated to buy (Wi-Fi service) now,” Stumberg said, adding that customer expectations for both the availability and quality of Wi-Fi service at campgrounds are increasing.
The show also attracted representatives of Wi-Fi companies who haven’t attended InSites before, including Monica Kelly, a sales and marketing representative from Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Circle Computer Resources, who said her company provides service to campgrounds and RV parks and resorts.
Some companies said it was important for them to attend the InSites Convention and Tradeshow for networking purposes. “For us, we don’t write a lot of business at this show because people’s policies renew throughout the year. But we are able to establish new relationships here, not just at the show, but at the events,” said Lucas Hartford, president of Evergreen USA, a Lewiston, Maine-based campground insurance company.
Campground Chains Represented
Representatives from the major campground franchise chains were also on hand to entice independent park operators to join their ranks.
Kathy Palmeri, director of franchise sales for Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), said the Jellystone Park chain recruited seven new parks since last year’s InSites convention, when the campground chain announced that it was waiving its franchise signup fees as part of a promotional effort to recruit more parks. Palmeri said LSI is continuing the promotion.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), for its part, has signed up about “15 to 20” parks this year, according to Chris Fairlee, assistant vice president of system development, who was at the show along with KOA President Pat Hittmeier and other KOA officials to meet with independent park operators and answer questions about the KOA franchise system.
Next year’s annual InSites Convention & Expo will take place in Savannah, Ga.