Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from an in-depth article in Woodall’s Campground Management assessing the relationship between public and private parks. To read the entire article click here.
Even without an organized effort to get along, pure economics may end up leveling the playing field between the public parks and private parks.
So surmises Jeff Sims, director of state relations and program advocacy with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
With most states under budgetary pressures, rather than subsidize their state park and campground budgets with tax revenue, Sims says, “a lot of parks and campgrounds are generating their own revenue and becoming more in line with the market.”
A look around the states yields various findings.
CONY Proposes that Privates Run State Facilities
In New York, where the private campground industry operates between 45,000 and 50,000 campsites and the state operates about 15,000 sites, the privates have suggested the cash-strapped Empire State turn over operation of state-run campgrounds, which currently undercut the private operators, to concessioners.
Donald Bennett Jr., president and CEO of Campground Owners of New York (CONY), floated the proposal during testimony to a State Assembly committee on tourism, the arts, state parks and sports development on Jan. 15.
The plan would create a more level playing field in New York because in order to cover items such as wages, taxes, insurance and utilities, the rates at public parks would have to rise accordingly, Bennett said.
“If the burden were put on someone else, the state could take the money to subsidize camping and put it toward capital improvement projects,” he noted.
Scandal Further Clouds CalARVC Stance
The relationship between California state parks and the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) is “non-existent,” says CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe.
“We were developing a relationship until the mess at California state parks last year,” she explained. The “mess” was the threat to close 70 state parks due to budget woes and then the discovery of an uncovered hidden slush fund, which led to the resignation of Director Ruth Coleman. Many non-profits then decided to pull their funding support for state parks.
Coleman served under “2 ½ governors (administrations), even through change of parties, which showed what a good job she was doing at state parks, theoretically,” Sipe recalled.
In December, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a retired Marine general, Anthony Jackson, to replace Coleman.
Jackson, a veteran RVer, now spends time each week in the field, visiting state parks in his RV.
Communications Improve In the Sunshine State
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott created a bru-ha-ha in 2011 when his state park director, Donald Forgione, proposed bringing concessionaire-operated, RV-friendly campgrounds to Honeymoon Island State Park. After a massive public outcry, which included opposition from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, Scott dropped the plan.
At the time, Florida ARVC Executive Director Bobby Cornwell told WCM he was uncertain how the ill-fated plan would affect future relations between his association and the state. “I hope we still have an open relationship and work together when we can. Hopefully, it will be status quo and we can co-exist.”
Since 2011, that relationship has improved for the better, Cornwell said.
“Communications between Florida ARVC and the State Park Director, Donald Forgione, have increased, and Mr. Forgione seems to be understanding of our concerns regarding the unfair competition issue,” Cornwell toldWCM. “We try to meet on a regular basis to stay in-touch and to discuss any concerns or issues we may have. At times we may have differing positions, but at least communications are open and I believe there is more of an awareness now how the actions of government may have unintended consequences by negatively affecting the private sector.
To read the entire article click here.
Citing low attendance, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) announced in its newsletter that it would be postponing its annual convention.
Despite the success of this year’s event in Las Vegas, CalARVC said that the financial and resource commitment to produce a convention is well over $100,000 and documented attendance at CalARVC and other industry conventions has been in a steady decline over the past six years.
The newsletter stated that “Our members have always brought home valuable information and insights from the convention. They have always connected and built relationships with each other and vendors. In this day and age of the Internet, smart phones and social media, fewer and fewer people are willing to take time off of work and invest in off-site meetings, even when they admit it has always been worth the time and investment in the past.”
CalARVC said that over the course of the next 12-18 months a task force will be created to explore new models for delivering education to California parks, providing needed ways to network, and connecting vendors to California RV parks and campgrounds.
CalARVC’s Debbie Sipe noted, “I was thrilled so many of our vendors and members wanted to support the gathering of Californians. Our vendors were so generous, we have enough funds to seed a regional meeting somewhere in California. Wine Country RV Resort of Paso Robles was quick to offer their park located in the midst of the Central Coast wine region.”
Eldredge H. “El” Welton, a pioneer in the California RV industry and a founder of the California Travel Parks Association, now California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), died July 10 at the age of 95.
Welton opened his family-owned RV park, Orangeland, in the city of Orange in 1972. Today, the park is one of the foremost parks in California and the nation, having been recognized in both 2000 and 2002 as ARVC Park of the Year, according to CalARVC’s e-newsletter, “Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates.”
At the opening of his park, Welton joined the Recreation Vehicle Park Association of California, one of several small associations in the fledgling industry. It soon became apparent to Welton and others that the competition among the several smaller existing California associations precluded their effectiveness in serving this growing industry.
Familiar with the Western Mobilehome Association (WMA) from his 14 years as owner of a mobile home park, Welton and associate Vi Goodsell of Anaheim Vacation Park recommended that RV park owners consider joining the RV Park division of WMA. Welton and others reached an agreement with the WMA, and the RV Division of WMA began to unify RV Parks within the state. Welton began a short tenure as a WMA director.
WMA however, was not familiar with the needs of the fast growing RV industry – they failed to realize, for instance, the value of publishing a directory of parks. On his own initiative, Welton published a small directory of approximately 15 California RV parks using WMA RV Division funds to defray the cost.
RV park owners soon realized that WMA could not adequately support RV parks’ interest, and at a meeting of the WMA RV Park Division, RV park owners concluded that their interests could best be served by establishing their own association. Welton was dispatched to notify WMA, and subsequently Welton, Dick Crowl and Dave Hodgin began a statewide needs assessment as a first step to forming a new state association.
Welton, Crowl and Hodgin agreed upon the name California Travel Parks Association. Bylaws were written, Welton retained a graphic artist to produce a logo and CTPA was born. At the first general convention in 1974, Hodgin was elected president, Crowl first vice president and Welton second vice president.
In 1979, Welton became CTPA’s fourth president, having spent the years since the association’s inception recruiting new members, nurturing the organization and upgrading CTPA’s camping directory.
Welton is survived by his wife of 71 years, Virginia; daughter, Cynthia Wimbish of Huntington Beach; son, Dr. Stephen T. Welton of Sikeston, Mo.; and his daughter, Janis Beghtol of Orange; eight grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has urged its members to take action on changes proposed by the National Fire Protection 1194 Committee.
Following up an advisory announced last week by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), CalARVC said the proposed changes could affect half its members.
The National Fire Protection Association 1194 Committee, which creates standards for RV park and campground design, is proposing the following:
“Campgrounds shall not be located in areas designated as flood plains or where there is frequent accumulation of storm water or other surface water.”
CalARVC noted, “State and local agencies commonly refer to these guidelines when updating or establishing their specific regulations. If these guidelines are adopted, we have no idea how state regulators would interpret or implement these recommendations. Would they only ban new development? Would they ban expansion by existing parks? Would they ban any changes or upgrades of existing sites? Would they mandate closure of existing parks in a flood plain?”
The association concluded, “We see no reason for NFPA 1194 to ban what FEMA has already defined.” Click here to read more.
In addition to the flood plain ban, there are four other proposals that affect RV parks and campgrounds.
CalARVC stated, “While our industry is represented by highly qualified spokesmen on the committee, they need your specific issues and input to fight these proposals. Please share what impact these new guidelines would have on your business with Jeff Sims, ARVC’s director of program advocacy, before May 18.”
Sims will compile all comments into a single document for the committee to discuss at the next meeting, which is May 22-24.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has published the 2012 edition of Camp-California! The Camper’s Guide to California.
The free, four-color glossy magazine is a four-time winner of ARVC’s Best Directory Award in the large state category and remains a leading source of California specific information on public as well as private parks, according to a news release.
“We think this is our best directory yet,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of CalARVC, which operates Camp-California.com and publishes the print directory.
The print directory includes listings of nearly 800 privately owned campgrounds as well as campgrounds in county, state and national parks. The guide also includes regional locator maps that feature multiple campgrounds on the same page allowing readers to see where the campgrounds are located in relation to places they might like to visit.
Informational grids are provided that indicate if the campground is pet friendly, big rig friendly or if it offers pull-through sites, tent sites, rental accommodations, swimming pools, showers, hot tubs or spas, playgrounds, convenience stores and laundry service. The informational grid also indicates if the park charges a fee for Wi-Fi service and if rental accommodations are also available.
Campground listings include information on fun things to see and do nearby, such as fishing, kayaking, hiking, horseback riding and wine tasting. QR codes are included with several park listings. The directory also includes travel-planning calendars that include detailed information on activities and special events throughout the state.
CALARVC hired Advanced Media Marketing Group (AMMG) to produce the 2012 directory, which can be picked up at most campgrounds that are affiliated with the CalARVC as well as California Welcome Centers, Camping World and Bass Pro Shop stores throughout California. It can also be ordered online through www.Camp-California.com. However, there is a small fee to cover the cost of postage.
Editor’s Note: The following column was written by Dan Wright, president of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), and appears in the current issue of CalARVC News.
I’ve been camping my whole life, but as a campground operator and your president, I look at the subject with a whole new perspective.
Recently, my beautiful bride and I took a two-week road trip and tried to take a broad view of our industry.
Our trip involved 3,000 miles of highway travel through California, Nevada, Idaho, Oregon and Washington state.
Most of our trip we towed a fifth-wheel RV, but we also did some tent camping, and stayed in rental accommodations. We even spent one night at a “glamour camping “ resort, where we paid $155 per night to sleep in a luxury tent! It had a wood floor, queen size bed, electricity, and beautiful rustic furniture. The great experience we had was well worth the money.
Here’s our quick-and-dirty report on our impressions of camping today:
Occupancy: While anything but scientific, our seat-of-the-pants survey showed robust occupancy across the board. Even before and after the 4th of July weekend, parks were teeming with campers both tenting and RVing. This bodes well for our industry in a time of high unemployment.
Government Operated Parks: County, state and federally owned parks are competing harder for the business. Most now have Camp Hosts on site, and are offering more amenities such as better-attended restrooms, firewood for sale and expanded store offerings. It may seem that government-operated parks have an unfair advantage, but many of them don’t have hookups or other amenities such as Wi-Fi, pools, dog parks or hot spas.
Rental Accommodations: Private parks are offering more choices in accommodations such as travel trailers, park models, yurts, and luxury tents and cabins. This is a trend that will continue, as young families want to get outdoors, and seasonal RVers want their friends and family to join them.
Amenities: Campgrounds are offering Wi-Fi, spa services, entertainment, fitness classes, guided hikes, and more. Expanded store and restaurant offerings are becoming a significant source of revenue. One park we visited has live music every Saturday night all summer. The music was free, but most campers who attended happily paid $18 per person for a fire-grilled dinner!
Association Membership: Wherever we went, we checked to see if a park was a member of their state association. We consistently saw that member parks were cleaner, better managed and had well-trained staff and good customer service.
The Takeaway: Folks of all ages, from nearby or overseas, and all income levels want to have a great outdoor experience, and they are willing to pay for it. Customer service is your No. 1 amenity.
Wherever we went, a smile and a helpful attitude from park staff were what we remembered most, and what would bring us back.
Camp-California.com now offers consumers the ability to post letter grades and detailed written reviews of campgrounds, RV parks and resorts.
“We think this is the right thing to do to make Camp-California.com an essential resource for consumers planning to visit privately owned and operated campgrounds in California,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which hosts the travel planning website.
“Now when consumers plan a camping trip, they can check Camp-California.com to see what others have said about campgrounds, RV parks and resorts that are of interest to them before they make their reservation. We think this information will prove to be invaluable to them.”
Camp-California.com had previously offered consumers the ability to assign letter grades to campgrounds in online reviews, with each park receiving an overall grade based on an average of all the reviews received. Now, consumers who visit Camp-California.com will see not only the overall grade for each park, but also a miniature report card for each individual consumer review submitted for the park during the past year.
“Consumers also have the ability to sort the reviews for each park, from newest to oldest as well as highest grades to lowest grades and vice versa,” Sipe said, adding that park operators also have the ability to offer their comments in response to consumer accolades and criticisms.
Sipe added that the online review process, and the resulting guest comments and grades are provided by Murrieta, Calif.-based GuestRated.com and not by the CalARVC. “The fact that we outsource the review function gives a much higher level of credibility to these ratings,” she said.
Camp-California.com provides detailed information and online booking capabilities for more than 350 California campgrounds. The website also offers special deals, such as a statewide RVing rewards program for campers who visit multiple parks throughout the year as well as information on upcoming festivals and other special events.
This year is shaping up to be another good year for the campground business, despite rising fuel costs, according to California campground and tourism industry officials.
“As long as people aren’t worried about losing their jobs, they’re going to go camping,” Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), stated in a news release.
Speaking at last week’s gathering of roughly 65 parks, 22 vendors and industry officials at CalARVC’s Education Forum and Tradeshow at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Anaheim, Sipe said it behooves park operators to step up their local marketing efforts, since rising fuel costs will likely prompt people to take shorter vacations and travel to destinations closer to home.
Sipe also noted that there could be additional business opportunities for California campgrounds as continuing state budget problems could result in state park campground closures as well as invitations for private companies to manage public campground operations. “This is something we’re watching very closely,” she said.
Other campground and travel industry officials who spoke at CalARVC’s March 1-2 Education Forum were similarly upbeat.
Annie Hess, tourism development manager for the California Travel and Tourism Commission (CTTC), said state officials expect California to experience a 3% increase in domestic travelers this year, while visits by international travelers are projected to jump by 6%.
Travelers in California are also expected to spend more money this year, with domestic travel spending growing by 5%, while international visitors increase their spending by 9%, Hess said, citing CTTC projections.
Tourism, in fact, is one of the four strongest growth pillars of the California economy, said John Severini, president and CEO of the California Travel Industry Association (CalTIA) during his remarks to California park operators.
Travel, tourism and hospitality produced $87.7 billion in direct spending in California in 2009, while having a financial impact on one in nine jobs, Severini said.
Campgrounds, for their part, can do even more to bolster their share of the travel and tourism business by stepping up their marketing efforts to younger people, said Paul Bambei, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“There is a young family demographic that hasn’t been attracted to this industry,” Bambei said, adding that the GoCampingAmerica website has been primarily visited by people who are 55 and over.
That’s about to change, however, Bambei said, as ARVC rolls out new marketing and public relations initiatives that are designed to capture the attention of Generation Xers, who range in age from 27 to 40, and Echo Boomers, who are under 26.
These initiatives will include video outreach promotions and a redesigned GoCampingAmerica website that includes an e-coupon discount program to promote camping at participating ARVC-member parks as part of the national “Great Outdoors” promotion in June.
Bambei added that ARVC’s marketing and public relations efforts will focus on attracting growing numbers of young families to private campgrounds without alienating existing customers.
One thing that bodes particularly well for the campground industry, Bambei added, is the fact that camping is the most affordable vacation option. Having a “recession proof marketing message” should resonate with young families, he said.
In addition to providing California park operators with presentations by top state and national campground and tourism industry officials, the CalARVC Education Forum included several marketing and social media training seminars by Evanne Schmarder of Roadabode Productions Inc. as well as a session on how to make your ads sizzle by Rick Wiseman, Camp California Marketing’s advertising director.
Bob MacKinnon of GuestReviews.com provided a workshop on how to respond to negative customer reviews, while Larry Brownfield of Kampgrounds of America (KOA) led thought provoking seminars on park management and how customers can see things differently than campground operators do.
Gary Pace and Deb Kohls of Leisure Interactive also held seminars detailing the latest requirements for PCI compliance and credit card security as well as an overview of electronic travel marketing distribution channels.
John Pentecost from the law firm of Hart, King and Coldren also provided seminars on the latest laws and recommendations involving RV park rules and regulations and eviction procedures.
The trade show itself featured over 22 vendors, including representatives from Cavco Industries, Airwave Adventures, Affinity Group Inc., Southeast Publications USA, Evergreen USA, Southwest Insurance and Wilcor International. For more information, visit www.calarvc.com
Editor’s Note: The following story comes from the current issue of the CalARVC News, a publication of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
A recent survey conducted at www.Camp-California.com took a look at the impact of Wi-Fi on a camper’s decision-making process.
Participants responded to the question, “With other factors equal, do you choose a campground based on whether they have Wi-Fi?” There were 354 campers who participated from Nov. 2 to Dec. 28, 2010.
- 156: Yes, only if it is free.
- 85: Yes – Always.
- 35: Sometimes – when I have to do business.
- 34: Rarely.
- 32: No – I don’t travel with my computer.
- 12: No – I don’t ever use Wi-Fi.
A significant majority (241 respondents or 68.1%) said they did choose a campground based on whether Wi-Fi was available. An additional 19.5% said they sometimes or rarely used Wi-Fi – indicating it was not a significant part of their decision making process.
Only 12.4% said “No.” They indicated they either didn’t ever use Wi-Fi or didn’t travel with their computer.
Campers seeking information about Wi-Fi (either for free or with a fee) will find it easy to find at Camp-California.com. They simply click on the “Add Amenities and Lifestlyle Options” link and select Wi-Fi from the Amenity List. This returns a list of parks that offer Wi-Fi.
If appropriate, each park’s listing includes information about Wi-Fi. If it is offered at no charge, that information is stated in the park’s description.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has shelved its plan for a Western association convention and opted instead for a state meeting, which will be held March 1-2 in the Anaheim area.
CalARVC is just one of several state associations re-evaluating the convention concept.
CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe wrote about the plan in the recent issue of the CalARVC News newsletter.
“With the decline in attendance at traditional convention and trade shows, a couple of years ago four Western state RV park and campground associations, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and California teamed up to create “Rev Up In Reno,” a multi-state convention and trade show that was meant to increase attendance and get our members re-enthused.
“We thought it was a great idea! Well, I can’t say we fell flat on our faces, but it definitely brought us to our knees. So, in an effort to find new ways to deliver education to California RV parks and campgrounds, we went back to the drawing board and penciled out a format for “The CalARVC Road Show.”
“Unfortunately, with an unforeseen budget shortfall, the Road Shows had to be put on hold until the 2011-2012 membership year. Not to be discouraged, we forged ahead and now in the works is the “Education Forum” for California RV Parks & Campgrounds tentatively scheduled for early March 2011 in or near Anaheim.
“This won’t be your parents’ convention. This will be a mean and lean event. We have scheduled two days full of education with five hours set aside to eat and visit with vendors.
There will not be the formal trade show.We will create a market place with table tops rounds and the chance to interact with the vendors. They are as much experts in our industry as are the speakers and our peers. The theme of the event….’Get Your Smarts ON!”’