A slowing economy, predictions of a temperate summer and long-term gas price concerns are prodding consumers in Michigan to look toward their tents, pop-ups and recreational vehicles to get away from it all for a lower-cost family vacation.
As reported by the Detroit News, advance reservations at state campgrounds are up 23% over last year, the second straight year of increases after a long decline, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. State parks are on track this year to break 1 million camp nights, a level the state has not experienced since 2005, state officials said.
Campgrounds and retailers specializing in camping gear say they had a booming Memorial Day, the traditional start of the camping season. That bodes well for the summer months, travel forecasters said.
“In surveys, RV owners say gas prices would have to hit $8 (a gallon) before they would consider skipping their outdoor vacations,” said William G. Sheffer, director of the Michigan Association of Recreation Vehicles and Campgrounds (MARVAC), a trade association in Okemos.
Singles, families and baby boomers are targets for an industry hungry for a comeback. Stores, trade groups and others are investing in emotional marketing campaigns, such as REI’s sponsorship in the “Great American Backyard Campout” effort. Its website promoting today’s event extols, “Remember that magic moment when you put up that tent all by yourself?”
Stores including Summit Sports, a small chain with two stores in Metro Detroit that began selling camping gear this year, also are promoting high-tech, lightweight gadgets options. One is Coleman’s LED Quad Lantern, a bright single unit that separates into four separate lanterns for those late-night bathroom treks.
There is an emphasis on easy-to-use gear and in-store instruction, said Fidel Carino, manager at Summit Sports in Brighton.
“We’re not going to send you out there without knowing how to use the equipment,” Carino said.
Public and private campgrounds also are adding amenities such as Wi-Fi, knowing the difficulty some people have going offline.
Some are offering comfortable rental RVs, cushy and untraditional camping entertainment options. Besides singing songs and roasting marshmallows, for example, campers can check out the new zip line, outdoor bowling and sand lagoon at the Flint/Holly KOA campground.
These amenities are needed to hook first-time campers and convince former campers to try it again, said Mike Ebach, a Gander Mountain store manager in Traverse City and a partner in the state’s First Time Camper program, which loans camping gear for $20.
“So many people switched from a $150-per-night hotel room to a $25-per-night campground,” Ebach said. “Now those people who camped last year and had such a great time are now trying to recruit their friends.”
To read the entire story in the Detroit News, click here.