The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) plans to extend its membership to a greater number of state parks in an effort to strengthen the campground industry’s political power and marketing potential.
“Times are changing, and we need to look to the public parks not as competitors, but as industry partners since we are typically viewed as one in the same by camping consumers and we also share many of the same marketing and government affairs objectives,” said Paul Bambei, ARVC’s president and CEO.
ARVC bylaws have permitted public park membership for many years, and while some states, such as Maine, California and Vermont, have aggressively pursued public park membership, the national association remained relatively quiet. In June, however, ARVC launched a mail campaign designed to attract non-members to the Association by hailing its multiple benefits, and many have taken notice.
“We’ve already received several inquiries from both non-member private parks as well as public parks that see the value of ARVC membership, and we plan to make ARVC membership available to them on a six month trial basis,” Bambei said, adding that the offer has been warmly received by top representatives of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD).
ARVC’s Executive Committee and Board of Directors approved the six-month trial membership offer to all non-members in early June.
“State park directors will be making independent decisions to participate in the trial over the next few weeks,” Bambei said, adding that Jeff Sims, ARVC’s director of membership and government affairs, is assisting the effort by contacting each director to answer any questions.
“There is strength in numbers, both financial and political,” Sims said. “Already, those states that have recognized the wisdom of proactively welcoming public parks to their associations over the past several years have been generally pleased with the relationship.”
Bambei added that by representing both public and private parks, ARVC can strengthen its marketing and government affairs efforts.
“Working together as an industry for the good of all is not only outwardly beneficial in our dealings with the press, government officials and consumers, but can also have far reaching benefits to our members as campground owners,” Bambei said, adding that increased public-private park collaboration could pave the way to beneficial business relationships for both segments of the campground business.
“The natural trails, rivers, lakes and woodlands that are such a huge consumer attraction on these public park lands could become more accessible to private parks as a result of this relationship, which in turn could make camping more enjoyable for all,” Bambei said. “Alternatively, state parks generally do not have the pools, stores and infrastructure of private parks, so there could be many reciprocal opportunities for guest referral as a result of this relationship.”
Having public and private parks speak with one voice will also strengthen the industry’s government affairs efforts. “Together, we will have a stronger voice in Washington and in the state legislatures,” Sims said, adding that state government cutbacks have forced many public parks to raise their fees and operate more like business entrepreneurs, which has helped to level the playing field between public and private park sectors.
“These economic pressures being felt among public parks will surely continue,” Sims said, adding that over time it will likely erode, if not erase, price differences that exist between public and private parks today.
ARVC Chairman David L. Berg, who is also president of the Maine Campground Owners Association, said the state association has welcomed state parks as members for several years and that the relationship has been mutually beneficial at all levels.
“Times have changed,” Berg said. “And while it took some time for a few of our members to realize the benefits of working together, it is now clear that we are all in the same business. We often have the same customers. And public parks receive the same benefits of membership as private parks.”
Berg added that he is happy to welcome public parks into ARVC. “Once they experience the benefits of belonging to a national as well as, in some cases, state associations, we will all be working together promoting camping for the betterment of ‘our’ members and ‘our’ customers.”
Dan Wright, president of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, said his state association believes the move to encourage increased state park membership in ARVC is a step in the right direction as well. “The board of CalARVC has really encouraged this type of collaboration,” Wright said, adding that public and private parks need to be working together to strengthen public interest and support for camping, regardless of whether it’s in public or private parks.
Wright himself manages The Springs at Borrego RV Resort in the Southern California desert, which generates most of its business from visitors who want to visit neighboring Anza Borrego Desert State Park. “In an age when we’re talking about closing state parks, instead we should be talking about ways to enhance state park revenue opportunities and how they can offer more amenities and services to their guests,” Wright said, adding that strengthening private park relationships with state park operators can be mutually beneficial.
David Gorin, executive director of the Virginia Campground Association, said it’s time for the private park sector to move beyond the days of looking at state parks as competitors. “The competitive playing field is leveling on the price side, and we in Virginia welcome state parks as partners in the growing camping market,” Gorin said.
Gorin added that public park members can also strengthen camping industry tradeshow attendance. “We don’t think it’s good for anyone to have the Virginia Campground Association in one booth at an RV show and the Virginia state parks promoting camping in their booth on the opposite side of the floor,” he said. “As the saying goes, a rising tide raises all ships.”
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds is the national
voice of the outdoor hospitality industry. For additional information or for leads on parks in your news coverage area, please visit www.arvc.org and www.gocampingamerica.com.