One indication that Vermont could be headed for a stellar camping season this summer is that sales of recreational vehicles are picking up in a big way. That could reflect a shift toward less expensive vacations closer to home, according to WCAX-TV, Burlington, Vt.
Dave McGinnis, a partner with Pete’s RV Center in South Burlington, said, “It’s been really good. We’ve had to hire two new technicians, a salesman — a couple of sales people. So you know, we’re adding personnel. So I think the campgrounds can expect a good season this year. I think there’s gong to be a lot of interest in camping in Vermont.”
The fine weather this past weekend lifted economic prospects as Vermont and other places struggle with the aftershocks of the recession. But there are signs that things may be getting better,
Vermont state parks don’t open until Memorial Day, with the exception of half a dozen that will open earlier in May. By opening day several new construction projects will be finished, including solar-powered bath houses. There will be one for each of more than two-dozen Vermont state parks with overnight camping, thanks to capital spending authorized by the Legislature last year.
Forests & Parks Commissioner Jason Gibbs said, “While a lot of states are moving away from investing in their state parks system and in fact are having to make the difficult decision of closing parks or dramatically contracting their operations, Vermont’s moving in exactly the opposite direction.”
Gibbs says Vermont state parks cover 90% of their operating budgets through fees. And he says the improvements are likely to bring additional benefits to the economy and taxpayers. He says reservations for state parks are up 10% over last year.
Gibbs added, “Of course, the more people we get into our parks, the more money they’re spending in the local economy and the better it is for the entire state. But also, the more visits we get to our parks the better bale we are as an organization to reduce our reliance on taxpayers in difficult times.”
Attendees at the 46th Annual Northeast Conference on Camping and Trade Show March 18-20 in Springfield, Mass.,“Recipe for Success 2010″ were encouraged by incoming reservations for the upcoming season, according to show sponsors.
The trade show attracted 126 representatives from over 70 companies, which filled the third floor of the Sheraton Springfield Hotel.
“Those in attendance were impressed by a program packed with quality seminars, fun events, time to listen and learn from others in the industry, and three state meetings for Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts,” said Cyndy Zbierski, Northeast Campground Association (NCA) executive assistant.
The conference began with four technology seminars conducted by SkillPath covering everything from “Computer 101” in Technology Basics to “Getting the Most of Microsoft Excel” during Technology Plus. The entire day’s seminars were sponsored by Evergreen USA and that evening a winner was chosen for a new Acer laptop.
The next two days provided seven CPO qualified seminars ranging from “Accounting for Campgrounds,” presented by Don Bennett, CPA, CPO and the president and CEO of Campground Owners of New York, to “Management Secrets of a Large Campground That Can Be Used By Any Size Park,” presented by Peter and Barry Brown of Lone Oak Campsites, Connecticut.
All 11 state associations that make up the NCA were given the opportunity to share their individual state’s legislative issues, which included drastic reductions in state tourism budgets, new taxation rates on campsites and continued departments of environmental protection concerns, according to Zbierski.
NCA Executive Director David Tetrault and wife Pat received the Curtis Fuller Service Award during the Awards Luncheon of the conference. The award, established in March 1986, commemorates the unselfish contribution made by Curtis Fuller to the furtherance of camping throughout the United States. The award is in recognition of service given to camping in the northeast over an extended period of time. The service can take any number of forms but shall be unselfish, done in a manner to reflect credit upon the association, and be meaningful in accomplishing the aims of the association.
There are no plans for Tetrault to retire as executive director. He began on Oct. 1, 1990, replacing retiring Gerry Harrison. Pat will continue working with her husband and daughter, however for fewer hours allowing her time to enjoy a bit of free time.
During the board of directors meeting held during the conference a number of new marketing ideas were discussed to continue promoting camping in the Northeast, Zbierski said.
“The board voted to continue several successful NCA marketing ventures, such as NCA’s participation in the Tampa SuperShow in January 2011, the production of an NCA Rack Card listing all 11 states’ contact information and the NCA ad in Camping Life magazine,” she said. “Something new that will soon come out of the Northeast Campground Association’s office is the offer of banner ads to its member campgrounds on the CampNCA.com site and to its business members on the member site CampNCA.org.”
In addition, two $500 scholarships were awarded from the NCA Robert A. Hartford Memorial Scholarship Fund during the Friday awards luncheon. The parents of Cortney Goodale, of Mineral Springs Campground, Connecticut, and Zachary Fulton, of Rest N’ Nest Campground in Vermont accepted the awards for their children.
Special guests included Cheryl Smith, CPO, National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) education director; David L. Berg, CPO, Red Apple Campground, Maine, and the current ARVC chairman and Region 1 representative, and also past president of NCA; Marcia Galvin, CPO, Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort, Massachusetts, ARVC second vice chairman and Region 1 representative; Donald Bennett, CPO, Conesus Lake Campground, New York, ARVC at-large delegate; Norman Boucher, LCN Outdoors, Connecticut, ARVC Supplier Council representative; Janet Keen, CPO, Keen Lake Camping, ARVC Council of Delegates secretary; and Randy Packard, CPO, Pine Acres Family Campground, Massachusetts, ARVC Foundation board of trustees.
Officers elected were:
- President Michael Irons, Ole Mink Farm Recreation Resort, Thurmont, Md.
- Vice president Roger Druck, Pine Cradle Lake Campground, Rome, Pa.
- Second Vice President Judy LaPorta, Little Oaks Campground, S. Seaville Cape May Courthouse, N.J.
- Treasurer, Mark Wright, Terrace Pines Campground, Center Ossipee, N.H.
- Past president David L. Berg, Red Apple Campground, Kennebunkport, Maine.
The next NCA event will be the “2010 NCA Great Escape” hosted by the state of New Hampshire at Danforth Bay Camping Resort in Freedom, N.H., Sept. 14 –16. Contact information can be found at http://campnca.org/greatescape.htm.
Editor’s Note: Thor Industries Inc. on Tuesday (March 23) announced that it is joining Midwest Leasing Inc. in rolling out a leasing and financing program for the rental lodging arena. Coupled with Thor’s previously announced vendor relationship with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), the Midwest Leasing deal brings Thor’s team of RV lodging professionals full circle. Thor manufactures “ruggedized” rental lodging units customized to withstand the rigors of rental use under the Airstream, Breckenridge, CrossRoads and Keystone divisional brand names. Midwest Leasing, based in Crested Butte, Colo., will provide the financing to get them on site. “This Midwest Leasing announcement could not have been timed better, as ARVC owners are looking for the opportunity to add lodging inventory before the upcoming summer season,” said Shane Ott, a former KOA president and current director of campground relations for Jackson Center, Ohio-based Thor. His comments appear below with those of Midwest Leasing President Fran Wickenhauser, who is based in Crested Butte, Colo.
RVB: Why is this deal with Midwest Leasing Inc. important to the campground industry?
OTT: The No. 1 hang-up for campground owners right now is the lack of the ability to obtain financing. Banks have routinely struggled to understand the campground model anyway because our industry doesn’t have a lot of publicly traded companies. They don’t understand the dynamics. With the downturn in the economy it became increasingly tough. We’re providing an option. If you want to pursue lodging accommodations, we think we have an outstanding offering of park models and ruggedized RV units. It’s exclusive to Thor products.
RVB: How did this relationship unfold?
OTT: I pursued it. I talked to a couple of national lenders (about the program) and it was apparent it was going to be a long road. They didn’t say no to us but it was apparent this would be an arduous process going through two large companies, Thor and the institution. The window of opportunity is right now! Midwest Leasing, a smaller regional lending group, was able to move quicker and be more flexible with our needs at Thor. I spoke with Fran Wickenhauser, the president.
(Ott suggested RVB contact Midwest Leasing. Ott added, “Don’t be surprised if Fran answers the phone.” RVB called Midwest’s 800-number and sure enough, Wickenhauser answered the phone.)
RVB: Why are you entering the RV park and campground sector?
WICKENHAUSER: It is a brand new market for us but we have always known that sector of the market was out there. We’re a general equipment leasor; we finance any type of equipment, computers to school buses to construction and production equipment. We have leased motorhomes and travel trailers in the past; we just haven’t done it on an organized basis and we haven’t done it for the campgrounds
In this economy, credit is tight all over. Campground owners are not unique. We realize we are coming into a segment of the market in a time when credit is still tighter than it was two to three years ago. That is true in the lending community in general. We are confident this economy is on the slow rebound and recovery and that lending will get more relaxed in their requirements as times goes on.
RVB: You are in a sense a middleman in this operation. Please explain.
WICKENHAUSER: We are a privately held company and have been in business since 1985. We have bank lines of credit. That’s typically how it is done in the leasing community. We have a fair amount of staying power and have gone through a number of cycles and survived them all.
RVB: You have offices in Colorado and Arizona but you see this program as a nationwide program, right?
WICKENHAUSER: Yes. In lending community, it’s somewhat impersonal. Ninety-nine percent of the clientele I deal with, I never meet them face to face. All work is done on the Internet and in e-mail and the electronic world we are all in. We cover the entire U.S. through the Internet. It’s a very expeditious way to handle that. You attach documents and quotes and can have it on a campground owner’s desk within 30 seconds. We’ve been covering the entire U.S. for 25 years. Now the campground industry will become a part of our world.
RVB: Walk me through how this would work for a campground owner seeking to use your service.
WICKENHAUSER: The campground owner will come with a borrowing request. Let’s say he wants to buy five park models, $40,000 each for a total of $200,000. The campground owner would ask for a quote. We say we’ll provide a quote within 24 hours, but typically it might be within the hour. We’ll e-mail the quote. If the quote is acceptable, we will send them a credit application. Within two to three days of the return application, the campground owner would receive a credit decision. If the decision is positive, we would move forward with a lease agreement. At this point, we would wait for Thor to deliver the park models. As soon as they are delivered, Midwest would pay Thor and the lease commences, with the campground paying Midwest Leasing. Typically, a lease would be for five years. At the end of 60 payments, they own the park models.
An analogy would be school buses or modular classrooms for schools. We’ve been working with school districts for years.
RVB: The initial response has been good, we understand.
WICKENHAUSER: I’m getting calls daily from interested parties, be it KOA, Jellystone, associations or sales and marketing people. The information is so new it’s just now being released. I’m hearing from marketing and sales people from Thor Industries, from people who want to better understand the program.
RVB: How do you see this business unfolding this year?
WICKENHAUSER: I have no idea, only because I don’t know if Thor knows how many people will be interested in financing their products through Midwest Leasing. I think we’ll get a good feel for this in the next six to nine months, after the summer season and some trade shows. I’ll be in Reno in April and standing next to the Thor people in their booth as they market their products to the campground owners…We’re all very hopeful it will be very productive for both of us. It’s all based on the strength of the individual campground entrepreneurs. As I told Thor Industries, each opportunity has to stand on its own two feet.
Thor Industries Inc. announced that it has joined with Midwest Leasing Inc. to provide the rental lodging industry with leasing and financing solutions.
Added to Thor’s previously announced association with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), Midwest Leasing brings Thor’s team of RV lodging professionals full circle, according to a news release.
Since its inception in 1985, Midwest Leasing has provided customized and structured finance options for virtually any type of equipment. Now they will design those options to meet the specific needs of campground owners seeking lodging opportunities. All financing products can be customized and structured to meet the unique requirements with appropriate term and repayment schedules needed by today’s campground owners.
This threesome – Thor, Midwest Leasing and ARVC – is a first in the campground industry. Thor manufacturers Airstream, Breckenridge, CrossRoads RV and Keystone provide quality, ruggedized, rental lodging units customized to industry standards. Midwest Leasing provides the financing to get them on site.
ARVC’s commitment to promoting the campground industry continues. All three successful organizations combine to provide a first-time collected resource for campground owners.
According to Shane Ott, Thor’s director of campground relations, “Our commitment to meet the needs of our customers continues as we develop efficient and profitable ways of doing business. This exclusive offer from Thor sets us as the premium brand of choice for lodging accommodations. Right now the biggest need of campground owners is finding financing. This Midwest Leasing announcement could not have been timed better, as ARVC owners are looking for the opportunity to add lodging inventory before the upcoming summer season.”
Contact Ott or Fran Wickenhauser for more information on Thor’s Rental Lodging opportunities by calling (406) 670-7181 or e-mail Ott at email@example.com.
The occupancy at private RV parks and campgrounds in California in 2009 was 57.8% or down 0.6% from 2008, according to a study by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
The 2009 occupancy rate was down 2.7% from 2007 and down 4.9% from 2006, making 2009 the lowest occupancy for the past 10 years, CalARVC noted in its current Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates e-newsletter.
Occupancy was highest in 2005 at 63.8%, followed by 2001 at 63.5%. Statewide occupancy at 57.8% is 0.6% less than the average for the past 20 years. This slip in occupancy is widely attributed to continued high fuel prices and a slumped economy that resulted in many job losses and home foreclosures.
Occupancy decreased in eight regions, with San Francisco showing a 15.4% decline. Monthly regional averages vary in accuracy depending upon which CalARVC members respond in any month resulting in a margin of error of plus or minus two to five percentage points. The error of margin for the statewide averages is one to two percentage points.
Average statewide occupancy increased over last year in six months, and decreased six months resulting in an overall decrease of approximately a half percentage point.
Market conditions are ripe for a resurgence of the North American membership camping industry. That was the message broadcast by speakers at the 2010 Coast to Coast Conference Feb. 16-18 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.
”We feel there are a lot of factors in favor of growth in (the membership camping) industry,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Denver-based Coast to Coast Resorts, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), who spoke to about 90 park developers and others during the opening session of the first-of-its kind conference.
Coast to Coast, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), Ventura, Calif., is committed to growing the membership campground industry, not only to the benefit of Coast to Coast but to the industry in general, Hoster said.
”We need more (resort) developers selling in this industry and we need more sales from our current developers, and mostly, we need more awareness and promotion of membership camping,” Hoster said. ”We are very serious about this mission and it’s a mission that we definitely can accomplish.”
Helping to boost that awareness is retailer Camping World, another AGI unit, which has begun promoting Coast’s membership camping parks by allowing local resort owners to set up kiosks in Camping World stores and promoting the industry in its publications.
”We are trying to help educate the Camping World customer base on the concept of membership camping, the value it brings to our customers and hopefully drive customers to the membership camping developers,” Mike Siemens, Camping World vice president of membership services, told RVBusiness. ”It’s always been a good program for customers like ours who want an opportunity to camp around their home, but also when they are on the road.”
Generally, membership campgrounds are privately owned with all or a portion of their sites set aside for use by RVers who pay an initial membership fee and annual maintenance fee to cover operating expenses. Members, in return, receive varying levels of access to the resort they join and reciprocal access to other parks in the network.
The average cost of an initial consumer membership is about $5,000, Hoster reported, adding that while Coast to Coast has 250 member resorts, only about 20% are selling new memberships to consumers.
”If people leave this conference and they are more excited about the opportunities and learned a few things they can take home, it can translate into better business,” Hoster told the assembled attendees. ”The measurement will be more over the long term.”
Membership resort organization such as Coast to Coast serve two different audiences. ”One, obviously, is our members, but secondly, our developers as well,” Hoster said.
The depth of the recent economic recession has caused consumers to change the way they spending their leisure time, Hoster noted.
”While RV manufacturers and dealers struggled, campgrounds were full,” Hoster said. ”That’s because a lot of people looked at campgrounds as a more economical way to take a vacation. They might not have been able to fly somewhere and stay for a week in a condo or go to Disney world, but they were able to go camp.”
Participants at the recent Coast to Coast membership camping conference include (from left) Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media; Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties; Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts; and Michelle DuChamp, vice president of sales and business development for Interval International.
So-called ”staycations” also have changed the travel landscape, and should play into the membership campground sector’s hands, he maintained.
‘They are the perfect solution — being able to pick up Friday for a long weekend,” Hoster said. ”We hear from a lot of our developers that people aren’t taking the traditional vacations — the one-week or two-week vacation. ”It’s more the three- and four-day getaways. Having a membership in a resort nearby certainly takes advantage of that trend.”
Those trends, coupled with a decreasing number of high-end campgrounds, makes membership camping more attractive, he added. ”There really is a shrinking supply of quality campsites vs. growing demand,” he added. And there are more and more Baby Boomers that are entering our industry and buying RVs.”
Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas, with resorts in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, spoke during the opening session on ”Unlocking the Value of Your Resort.”
”It all revolves around getting back to the basics’ Pournoury said. ”Everybody’s going to know everything that I bring up here. The only twist to it is the simplicity of it. Sometimes we take a good program and complicate it for ourselves.”
Pournoury said that key to Ocean Canyon’s success is its relationship with RV dealers who refer new owners to Ocean Canyon properties, which, in return promote the dealership when it comes time for the consumer to buy a new RV.
”Then you become one team,” Pournoury said. ”He sends a good customer to the resort where you sell a membership … and three or four years later, (the member) goes back and buys another RV from the same dealer.”
Consequently, he said, park owners should attend RV shows to show dealers that they want to be actively involved.
By the same token, he noted, membership parks should establish referral programs that reward current members for promoting the park. Ocean Canyon gives $500 to members for referrals resulting in sales.
”The referral program is the lowest-cost marketing and the most profitable program that we’ve got in our organization,” he said.
Upgrade programs for existing members also add to the bottom line, he said. They are easier to market because the customer already has bought into the resort and adding a few extra days or access to more amenities doesn’t cost a lot.
”Last year was hard, but one of the areas where we really excelled was our upgrade program,” Pournoury reported.
”When times are hard, you can’t leave any stone unturned.”
Seminars during the conference included:
- ”Successful Marketing” by Annette Bruzewski, marketing manager for Outdoor Adventures, and Pam Nelson, director of marketing and resort operations for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
- ”Tour and Sales Presentation” by Greg Penrod, COO of Durango Riverside Resort, Durango, Texas, and Charles Youngren, director of sales for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
- ”Gaining Efficiencies with New Technologies” with Pournoury and Peter Graffman, Ocean Canyon executive vice president and CFO.
- “‘How to Market to Non-RVers” by Penrod, Gene Addink, general manager of Midwest Outdoor Resorts, and Greg King, president, Outdoor Adventures.
- ”Hiring and Developing Successful Salespeople by Robert Topci, sales manager, Travel Resort of America-Gettysburg Battlefield Resort and Youngren.
Subjects of half-hour breakout sessions during the three days included ”Project Renaissance: Restarting Sales at Non-Selling Resorts,” ”Partnering With Camping World,” “Other Revenue Sources,” “‘Creating Positive Members Satisfaction,” “Financing and Closing the Sale” and ”Off-site Selling.”
Bruce Hoster (left), president of Coast to Coast Resorts, goes over confernence materials with Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas.
Participants at the recent Coast to Coast membership camping conference include (from left) Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media; Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties; Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts; and Michelle DuChamp, vice president of sales and business development for Interval International.
New Hampshire’s House is considering repealing a 9% tax on campsites that took effect last July, according to WBZ-TV, Boston.
The House votes today (March 3) whether to eliminate the tax that was enacted to help pay for state spending.
Campgrounds were added to the state’s tax on hotel rooms and restaurant meals. The tax, which went into effect July 1, applies to RV and tent sites.
Supporters argue basic tent sites are assessed very little tax. But opponents say the tax will drive away campers, which could put campground owners out of business.
Pat Hittmeier, a 29-year veteran of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), has been promoted to the position of president of the 48-year-old family camping company, according to a news release.
Hittmeier has served as chief operating officer of KOA for the past eight months. The promotion was announced Feb. 26 by KOA CEO Jim Rogers.
“The depth of knowledge about our industry that Pat brought to his new job eight months ago allowed him to lead KOA at a very critical time,” said Rogers. “Pat’s leadership helped turn what could have been a very difficult year for KOA into a very positive one.”
Rogers said while the new title won’t necessarily lead to new responsibilities for Hittmeier, it will put him on “equal footing” with his peers in the camping, RVing and outdoors sectors.
“Pat Hittmeier has done nearly everything there is to do at KOA, so he brings a depth of knowledge to this position that just can’t be matched,” Rogers said. “Early in his career, he worked in our Company Operated Properties Division, learning the nuts and bolts of campground management. He later was in the field building new KOAs like the beautiful park we have in Polson, Mont. He’s also been at the helm of our Franchisee Services Department, a very complex operation that is at the very heart of the value KOA brings to its franchisee partners. He intimately understands the needs of our staff, our campground owners and our guests.”
Before being named chief operating officer, Hittmeier was vice president of sales and development, where he spearheaded the successful effort to add 50 campgrounds to KOA in just two years.
Hittmeier, a native of Litchfield, Ill., is a graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He moved to Texas after graduation and worked with youth outdoor education programs in Houston and Waco. In 1977 he moved to Montana and became a forester for the state of Montana. In 1979, he came to Billings to be sales coordinator for the Mossmain Industrial Park before joining KOA in June 1981.
Kampgrounds of America, founded in Billings in 1962 by Billings entrepreneur Dave Drum, currently has more than 475 locations in North America. It is the world’s premiere family camping organization, hosting nearly 6 million camping families each year.
The First International Virtual Outdoor Expo is being produced by Campground Expositions. The company’s president and the producer of the Expo, Art Lieberman, has had a great deal of experience in the production of trade shows and conventions, according to a news release.
In 1984, Lieberman produced a small show called Video Marketplace at the Adria Conference Center in Queens, N.Y., which tapped into the flourishing video rental business. The show drew over 1,100 video storeowners.
Two years later, under the name of The East Coast Video Show, the show moved to the Showboat Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, drawing over 3,800 attendees. The trade show stayed in Atlantic City for three more years drawing, in its final appearance, over 8,500 attendees from all over the U.S. and Caribbean Islands. Lieberman sold the show in 1989 when it became apparent that the large video chain stores made it virtually impossible for the mom-and-pop stores to compete.
Throughout the early 1990s, Lieberman produced or co-produced several other trade shows in the hobby, pet and 900-call industries. In the late 1990s he produced several outdoor multi-cultural festivals in Connecticut and New York.
In 2000, Lieberman became president of MCPS of Central Pennsylvania and is now the president of MCPS for Campgrounds – a credit/debit card processor specializing in the RV campground industry. Working with Deanne Bower, vice president of sales and marketing for MCPS, the two are now co-producing the Virtual Expo.
Mogens Hermansen is what you’d call a working Snow Bird.
He lives in Memphis, Tenn., but spends much of the winter enjoying the sunshine in southern Alabama.
But unlike most Snow Birds, Hermansen and his wife don’t have to worry about trying to reserve a site for their 45-foot Beaver motorhome. They own an RV site at Bella Terra RV Resort in Foley, Ala. (Learn about Bella Terra RV Resort in today’s Featured Video.)
“It’s our home away from home,” said Hermanson, 59, a full-time operations manager for a global packaging company.
In fact, their RV site at Bella Terra is not their only home away from home. The Hermansens also own a site at Traverse Bay RV Resort in Acme, Mich., where they like to enjoy the summer months.
The Hermansens are part of a growing number of RVers who are purchasing RV sites at upscale RV resorts across the country, according to a news release.
“This segment of the industry is generating increasing attention from consumers,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) in Larkspur, Colo.
While most campgrounds, RV parks and resorts rent their sites by the night, week or month, there are growing numbers of parks that have started selling their sites, particularly Sunbelt parks that cater to Snow Birds.
Nationally, more than 25,000 RV sites at nearly 200 RV parks and resorts are privately owned, according to David Gorin, a longtime campground industry consultant and principal of MacLean, Va.-based David Gorin & Associates.
That’s still a fraction of the market, when one considers that there are more than 8,000 private campgrounds and RV parks nationwide. But it is a significant trend, and an attractive investment option for working professionals, empty nesters and retirees who want to spend all or part of the winter in the Sunbelt, said Gorin, who also owns Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla., which offers RV sites for sale.
While prices for RV sites vary from roughly $50,000 to $250,000 or more, depending on the park’s location and amenities, the numbers make sense for Snow Birds who plan to spend extended periods of time in the Sunbelt.
“If someone comes down and spends $3,000 or $4,000 a year every winter in Florida, and let’s say they come down five years, they have already invested $20,000 in Florida,” said Eduard Mayer, president and CEO of Elite Resorts Management Inc., which has developed several RV resorts in Florida that sell their sites. On the other hand, many consumers do not want to commit themselves to a single location, which is why most people rent RV sites, Profaizer said.
Most RV resorts that sell their sites also set up rental pools, which enable RV site owners to generate income from their campsite when they’re away. The resorts take a percentage of the rental income to cover their management services.
The economics of modern RV resort development are also leading growing numbers of private park developers to build upscale resorts that sell their sites. “When you consider the cost of land in attractive locations, the cost of design, engineering, permitting and construction costs, it’s almost impossible to justify building a new park for a rental market only,” Gorin said.
And while the downturn in the economy has taken a toll on RV site sales, some RVers have found that they can purchase RV sites through their Individual Investment Accounts (IRAs) and 401K plans, said Tripp Keber, COO of Bella Terra Resort, which recently announced plans to begin building its second phase. “With the income that can be realized through our rental management program and the lot’s appreciation, this represents a great investment,” Keber said.
Many RV enthusiasts also like the upscale nature of RV parks and resorts that sell their sites as well as the convenience of owning their own site.
“The advantage of owning our own site is we can come and go as we please,” said Emile LaChance, an Ontario, Canada, resident who recently purchased a site at Silver Palms RV Village in Okeechobee, Fla. “If you’re renting a site,” he added, “you’ve got to be on a schedule.”
Looking to the future, Gorin said the concept of owning an RV site will continue to grow in popularity, especially in highly attractive vacation destinations and in resort locations within a two-hour drive of major cities. Gorin added that the development of new, upscale RV parks and resorts that sell their sites will also create a new supply of modern RV sites for the rental market.
Dozens of owners and operators of private campgrounds in North Carolina and South Carolina are meeting at Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to talk about the status of their industry and the latest trends, according to South Carolina Now.
They’re attending the annual Carolinas Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds Convention and Expo. The event started Sunday and concludes today.
“This industry is somewhat recession proof,“ said Barb Krumm campground marketing director at Ocean Lakes Family Campground, also in Myrtle Beach, “The campgrounds have not suffered as hoteliers may have suffered; we have only seen a slight reduction and in some cases an increase in business.“
Campers can expect to see changes like more concrete pathways, a lot of landscaping and even access to the latest technology like Wi-Fi connections.
“We manufacture park model cabins and cottages and we are here to meet the park owners and show them what are product is and how it an help them in their park,“ said Andy Davis with Pinnacle Park Homes. “This allows the campgrounds to reach out to families that may not have an RV and not sure of they want to get into the camping lifestyle or not but it allows them to go camping. We are always wanting to stay on the cutting edge and make sure we are where we need to be to satisfy the needs of the families and the young people”
Krumm said that Ocean Lakes will be going “green” this year, meaning campers can expect to use amenities such as solar-heated water bathhouses.
The campground is the first in the area to use this technology as a way to save electricity and minimize water waste.
The stereotypical image of Snow Birds is a group of older adults lounging around a swimming pool, soaking up the sun.
But while that image may apply to some Snow Birds some of the time, retired Baby Boomers who spend the winter at the larger RV parks and resorts across the Sunbelt are more likely to be taking classes in Tai Chi or Qi Gong, refining their artistic skills with wood carving, ceramics or calligraphy or attending daylong seminars on music and politics by professors from Ivy League universities, according to a news release. Some RV parks even have their own theatrical and choral groups and host their own arts and crafts shows and sporting tournaments.
“Today’s retired Baby Boomers are nothing like retirees of the World War II generation,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). “This is a very active group that thrives on activities, classes and entertainment.”’
Similarly, today’s RV parks and resorts are nothing like the Snow Bird parks of a generation ago. In fact, RV parks and resorts that cater to retired Baby Boomers increasingly offer classes, activities and special events to keep their snowbird guests entertained throughout the winter months.
Consider Palm Creek Golf & RV Resort in Casa Grande, Ariz. The park offers numerous recreational activities, including aerobics, Pilates, tai chi, yoga, lawn bowling, softball and volleyball, while those who like to dance can take classes in everything from cabaret dancing to line, square and Western dancing.
Palm Creek also offers more than a dozen arts and crafts classes, including ceramics, pottery, sewing, oil painting, watercolor painting, silver smithing, stained glass and wood carving. In fact, its winter guests produce so many high quality craft items that the resort now has a monthly craft fair.
“We’re not very sedentary here,” said Wendell Johnson, general manager. “I’d say probably 70-80% of our guests pursue something here other than lying out by the pool.”
Voyager RV Resort in Tucson, Ariz., offers similar classes and activities, as well as Qi Gong, a Chinese exercise class, in addition to a class where guests can learn choreographed spirit dance, jazz dance and free form dance.
Last year, Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, which owns RV resorts throughout the Sunbelt, launched a lecture series at several of its parks in Florida and Arizona that featured professors from Harvard and Yale who talked about a variety of topics, from the music to Mozart to the role of women in politics.
The lecture series was so popular that the program has been expanded this year, with topics including “Music And The Brain: Why We Like The Music We Like,” by Professor Craig Wright of Yale University; “FDR And The Path To World War II,” by Professor Richard Pios of Columbia University and seminars on Gershwin’s most popular songs by Professor Orin Grossman of Fairfield University.
Randall Hendrickson, manager of Leaf Verde RV Resort in Buckeye, Ariz., said organized activities provide opportunities for park guests to forge strong friendships with one another, while stimulating repeat visits to the park.
“At Leaf Verde,” he said, “we have augmented the activity schedule to include water aerobics, yoga, water volleyball, casino trips and bus tours. These have been extremely well received, and our returning guests are amazed at all there is to do. Literally every day there is an activity available to serve all interests.”
Meanwhile, The Great Outdoors RV Resort in Titusville, Fla., offers its winter guests daily activities, including Zumba, kickboxing, hi-low dance aerobics, pilates, total body toning, yoga and group meditation as well as classes in calligraphy, photography, oil painting, and rubber stamping. The park also has formed clubs for virtually every type of interest, from knitting to kayaking to motorcycling.
Many private park operators now see activities being an essential part of their business strategy.
“If you’re trying to attract Snow Birds, you’ve got to have activities,” said Jolene Wade, managing partner of the Fountain of Youth Spa and RV Park in Niland, Calif. Her park, located in the Southern California desert just east of the Salton Sea, features natural hot springs and some of the best winter weather in the country. But even with those attractions, she offers numerous activities, including radio control aircraft flying, a clown school, bocce ball, therapeutic and water exercise classes and dances with live music.
Many parks have also expanded their entertainment offering and now host frequent dances and even dinner shows with professional entertainers.
“The last time I did a luau I hired an act out of Las Vegas to perform,” said Doreen Fuller, activities director for Rincon Country RV Resort in Tucson. That’s a sharp contrast to a generation ago, when a big social event at an RV park was a potluck.
“In the ’80s, people had less money to spend,” Fuller said. “They were from the Depression era and they didn’t let loose of their money very easily.
So a $4 or $5 ticket in those days was a lot of money. Today, we still have $5 and $6 tickets, but we also have $12 and $15 tickets for the bigger shows. I thought that was going to hurt us this year, but we haven’t had any problem selling tickets to our shows.”
That’s not to say that retirees are not interested in saving money. In fact, the activities program at Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, Calif., is drawing its largest crowds ever, partly as retirees scale back their investments in entertainment options outside the RV parks and resorts where they spend the winter, said Greg Sidoroff, operations manager for La Jolla, Calif.-based SunLand RV Resort, which owns the Hemet park.
For many years, America’s campgrounds and RV parks were simply designated areas where people could pitch their tents or park their RVs for the night. The better ones had clean restrooms and showers and a perhaps a swimming pool and a small playground and a camp store, but not much more than that.
It’s a different story today, according to a news release.
Privately owned campgrounds and RV parks are increasingly moving into the accommodations business with luxury cabins, park models and yurts with clean linens and daily maid service.
Many are also moving into the entertainment business, offering their guests a growing array of activities and special events, from weekend scavenger hunts and arts and crafts classes to Karaoke contests and live entertainment with professional entertainers.
But while the private park industry’s twin thrusts into the accommodations and entertainment businesses are proving to be very successful, these initiatives have also created a need for more and better trained park managers and support staff.
“It’s a constant struggle for our members to find the managers and support staff who have the training and experience they need to know how to deliver a top notch guest experience,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
The challenge is compounded by the fact that an entire generation of private park owners who started their campgrounds and RV parks in the 1960s and 70s are now retiring and selling their parks to new owners.
“Much of the hospitality industry does not even know that hospitality, entertainment and management job opportunities exist in the private park sector, which is why we’re trying to get the word out,” Profaizer said.
ARVC has created a national job listings section on its members’ only website and the association regularly fields calls from job seekers looking for career opportunities in what the association calls “the outdoor hospitality business.”
The national association has also developed a fast track park management training program, The National School of RV Park & Campground Management, which is offered at the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, W. Va., Registration information is available at www.campgroundschool.com.
The national association has also begun to develop park management and guest service training programs through local universities, the first of which is now being offered through Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff as part of the university’s accredited Parks and Recreation Management Program.
Trailer Life publications, publisher of the most comprehensive and reliable directories for RV parks, campgrounds and services, has launched its 2010 Trailer Life RV Parks & Campgrounds Directory.
The Trailer Life Directory is the most widely recognized and used RVing directory in North America. With over 11,500 RV parks, it is the official directory of the Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV owner’s organization with nearly 1 million member families and the premier source to find all the Good Sam discount locations, according to a news release.
“The Trailer Life Directory has long been known by RVers and campers around the country for providing the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available for planning their trips,” said Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media, the parent company for Trailer Life publications. “With this year’s edition, we’re including a number of new features which resonate with RVers’ lifestyles, such as adding GPS and environmental data for campsites. We want to ensure that RVers have the most information available when making their choice on camping venue, and Trailer Life Directory delivers just that.”
New features in the 2010 Directory include GPS navigational coordinates in the listings, which allow RVers to add campgrounds to their GPS systems quickly and easily, and an index of low interstate clearances. Also information on green RVing initiatives, including tips, and those Good Sam parks that meet the organization’s eco-friendly standards.
The directory’s “At-A-Glance” features continue in the 2010 edition, making it easy to locate targeted information for RV park Internet access and RV service centers and dealers.
Additionally, the “Online-Reservations-At-A-Glance” guide helps RVers easily locate parks and campgrounds that participate in the TrailerLifeDirectory.com online reservations program.
In conjunction with the launch of the 2010 edition, Trailer Life Directory announces the Top 100 Good Sam Parks for 2010. This year, the directory awards five Good Sam Parks – Bella Terra of Gulf Shores in Foley, Ala., Evergreen Park RV Resort in Mt. Eaton, Ohio, Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort in Las Vegas, Nev., Pheasant Ridge RV Resort in Wilsonville, Ore., and Seven Feathers RV Resort in Canyonville, Ore. – with a coveted perfect score of 30 out of 30 points under its highly regarded RV park and campground rating system.
The directory’s Exclusive Triple Rating system has become the industry standard. Each year, new inspections are performed on all privately-owned RV parks and campgrounds, encouraging parks to do even more to earn Trailer Life Directory’s highest recommendations. Each park is inspected and rated based on completeness of facilities, cleanliness of restrooms, visual appeal and environmental quality to provide RVers with a basis for selecting the campground that best meets their needs.
“With more than 1,600 parks in the Good Sam network, these parks go above and beyond to consistently maintain high standards in all areas of their operation, “ said Daquino. “It takes a special commitment by the park’s management to attain high ratings across all categories of the rating system and we are proud to recognize these Good Sam Parks as the best of the best.”
This year, 31 Good Sam Parks earned a near-perfect score of 29.5 or 29 total points, with the following 93 Good Sam Parks earning 28 points or above. For the complete list of top-rated Good Sam Parks, visit http://www.trailerlifedirectory.com/plan/TopParks.aspx.
The Trailer Life Directory is produced by Affinity Media, a division of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the nation’s largest provider of outdoor recreation clubs, services, media and events. AGI also is the parent company of RVBUSINESS.COM.
Editor’s Note: Here is some background on David Berg, newly elected chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). Information courtesy of ARVC.
Together with his wife Jane, now starting their 13th season, David Berg owns and operates the Red Apple Campground, a 140-site park in Kennebunkport, Maine.
Their park is highly rated, and is one of only four parks in Maine to achieve a “W W W W W” rating from Woodall’s for park appearance, and is the only park in Maine to receive a perfect “10” from Trailer Life for park appearance, and only one of two parks in Maine with a 10* rating for their bath house facilities thus ranking in the top 300 parks overall of the 12,000 parks nationally that Trailer Life rates. TL rating: 8.5 -10* – 10.
The Bergs received the 2003 Campground Owners of the Year Award, as well as the 2007 Richard Hartford – Kenneth Griffin Award for Outstanding Contributor to the Camping Industry from the Maine Campground Owners Association (MECOA).
Berg is a past president of MECOA and continues to serve on its board of directors. He currently is president of the Northeast Campground Association (NCA), and now in his second term on the ARVC board, previously serving on the executive committee as second vice chairman and secretary.
Berg has been a management labor relations consultant for the past 18 years, representing various public sector employers in all facets of labor relations, with 10 years as an officer with a public sector union as an employee representative prior to starting his own consulting business.
He also has served on the Maine Tourism Association board of directors, as well as on various local elected community boards and committees. He currently serves on the local zoning board of appeals. He also worked in law enforcement as a part-time police officer for over 20 years. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Blue Knights Law Enforcement Motorcycle Club, Maine Chapter II.
The Bergs spend their winters in a Naples, Fla. park, in an RV, of course!