RVC Goal: ‘Hilton of the Campground Industry’

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October 3, 2012 by   Comments Off on RVC Goal: ‘Hilton of the Campground Industry’

Andy Cates

The following is a Q&A conducted by Woodall’s Campground Management with Memphis, Tenn.-based RVC Outdoor Destinations (RVC) CEO Andy Cates. RVC is an emerging provider of “high-quality U.S., outdoor vacation properties,” that was founded in 2006 with an eye toward redefining North America’s camping experience through an outdoor destination concept involving upgraded RV and marine resort properties offering travelers the benefit of camping “on their own terms” in RVs, tents, yurts, cottages or cabins.

RVC, offering affordable lodging options as well as upscale accommodations and hotel-like amenities like concierge services, is intent on developing, owning and operating vacation properties in naturally attractive environments in close proximity to local attractions and activities. Those amenities run the gamut from community lodges to coffee and wine bars, convenience stores, free cable and Wi-Fi, game rooms, fitness centers, modern swimming pools and pet facilities plus scooter, bike and golf cart rentals.

Driven by outspoken Cates, RVC is focused
on expansion throughout the U.S. beyond its current seven resorts, including 400-acre, 120-site Catherine’s Landing in Hot Springs, Ark.; Carrabelle Beach and Carrabelle Boat Club, both in Carrabelle, Fla.; Live Oak Landing, Freeport, Fla.; Pine Mountain, Pine Mountain, Ga.; Mountain Springs Cabins, Ashville, N.C.; and recently acquired 200-site Garden of the Gods, a facility located within sight of Pikes Peak and walking distance of Manitou Springs now being renovated in Colorado Springs. Colo.

And Cates, a Memphis native, University of Texas grad and real estate developer by trade, says he and his associates are just getting started as “capital partners,” operators and, more often than not, active participants in the facilities they choose to acquire across the U.S. “You will see us grow in three ways,” says Cates. “We will purchase properties where we can buy them intelligently. We will joint venture existing properties that we reflag as RVC properties and then, in extraordinarily select opportunities, you’ll see us buy land and build new properties.” Here are some edited highlights of a conversation between Cates and Woodall’s Campground Management Publisher Sherman Goldenberg.

WCM: What, in your words, is the central mission of RVC – the thing that sets it apart from all the other park operations that claim a high level of amenities and great locations?

Cates: We are trying to redefine camping and lead a specific niche in outdoor hospitality. To put it simply, we want to be the Hilton of the campground world and believe we are leading that market. We think that the outdoor hospitality world and especially, the RV world hasn’t seen significant change in five decades. But we think that change is inevitable and that it’s happening now. We are extraordinarily motivated to help accelerate that inevitable evolution in segmentation where there is an understanding of the different quality products among these outdoor hospitality properties.

At RVC, we don’t do RV parks. We do RV resorts and outdoor destinations. We are not saying that to criticize or diminish other properties or other property owners. We are saying that just like you would whether you are going to stay at a Best Western or Hilton Hotel. There’s nothing wrong with a Best Western, but you might prefer better lodging. And right now, in our opinion – and we’re putting our money where our mouth is – that has never been clear in the RV world.

WCM: What is it that hasn’t been clear in the RV arena?

Cates: The quality and segment differential is extraordinarily uncertain to the guests. We talk a lot about rating systems, which we find often inconsistent. But in reality, the average guest, and especially the new guest who is either a new RVer or who rented an RV or is looking for a cottage experience, to me those folks don’t even know what the existing rating systems are.

It’s very difficult for that guest to go to a single property portfolio company and get any true consistency of experience. Our goal, on the other hand, is to provide that on a national basis, and we’re doing that. Now, granted we are starting small and we’re focused on quality and consistency in getting our brand right, versus just growing for the sake of growth. But we think this is happening and that we will accelerate what will inevitably happen nationally.

WCM: How did all this come about?

Cates: We did a lot of research, spent a lot of time traveling and RVing, before we started up six years ago. We’ve got over 100 years of RVing experience in our company, collectively. We don’t do this lightly or arrogantly. But we’re excited and enthused because we are seeing our guests confirm our thesis. Again, we are putting our money where our mouths are. We spent a lot of time and money building this foundation, and we are excited about where we’re going. This is the least passive investment on the planet.

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