Private park operators and industry officials have noted for several years now that growing numbers of Americans are camping closer to home as a result of rising fuel costs.
But while this poses a marketing challenge for parks in far-flung locations – which cater to smaller numbers of long-haul campers – there is still a significant contingent of dedicated park operators who are betting their futures on the enduring appeal of camping in remote sites.
Many of them attended the spring convention of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), including Michele Johnson, a Southern California native who recently purchased Schatzi’s 4 Seasons Resort, a secluded campground with cabins in Wisconsin’s North Woods. The region was popular with Chicago-based mob figures in the 1930s and 40s.
“People seek out these kinds of places,” said Johnson, one of 565 park operators and industry officials who attended the March 14–18 convention at the Holiday Inn & Conference Center in Stevens Point, Wis. “People still crave places to go to get away,” said Johnson. “We’re at the end of the road on a lake. It’s pretty secluded, and the fishing in amazing.”
Still, most park operators attending the WACO convention told RVBUSINESS.com that they are drawing the majority of their business from cities that are less than 100 miles away.
But that, of course, is not the only trend private park operators have been talking about at WACO’s convention or at any of the other significant spring events in the RV park and campground arena, including the ARVC Michigan Spring Convention & Trade Show, March 26–28 at the Causeway Bay Hotel & Conference Center in Causing, Mich.; the Northeast Conference on Camping and Trade Show, March 22–24 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center in Sturbridge, Mass.; the Mid-Atlantic Campground Conference, March 6–7 at the Dover Downs Hotel in Dover, Del.; and the Carolina Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds Convention & Expo, Feb. 6–7 at Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Many park operators continue to see rising demand for seasonal campsites.
“We’re getting phone calls daily from people asking about them,” said Becky Gussell, co-owner of Sherwood Forest Campground and RV Park in the Wisconsin Dells, which has 181 overnight and 37 seasonal sites.
Stoney Creek RV Resort and Campground in Osseo, Wis., which has 70 sites in 65 acres, is also seeing growing demand for seasonal sites, primarily from families and retirees who live within 70 to 100 miles of the campground, said co-owner Joy Levake.
Scott Kollock, who co-owns Vista Royalle Campground in Bancroft, Wis., said he is seeing growing demand for seasonal sites, too. About 150 of his 275 sites are now occupied by seasonal campers, he said, noting they use everything from park models to travel trailers and fifth-wheels as destination camping units.
Johnson of Schatzi’s 4 Seasons Resort is seeing strong demand for seasonal sites as well. “We have so many people calling trying to find seasonal spots that we are already full (for the season) now,” Johnson said of her park, which has 29 sites and two cabins.
Park operators are also seeing continuing growth in demand for rental units, including park models, site built cabins and yurts.
“Our rentals are just about filled every weekend this summer,” said Randy Sondalle, co-owner of Pineland Camping Park in Arkdale, Wis., a noteworthy achievement for any campground owner three months ahead of the summer season. Pineland has three cabins.
Gussell said Sherwood Forest Campground and RV Park is also seeing continuing strong demand for its 15 rental cabins and two rental trailers, a trend that bodes well for the nation’s park model and towable RV manufacturers, which are increasingly marketing units for seasonal and rental use.
Lori Severson, WACO’s executive director, said a record 192 businesses displayed their products and services at the association’s tradeshow. Vendors included RV pedestal supplier Wade Elliott of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, who noted that his sales figures for January and February exceeded last year’s figures for the same period.
The WACO conference included more than 20 educational seminars as well as guest appearances by several former members of the Green Bay Packers football team, including William Henderson, Santana Dotson, Bill Schroeder and Gilbert Brown, who was known as “The Gravedigger” for pretending to dig a grave to bury the unfortunate member of the opposing team he just demolished.