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!
Nearly 500 representatives from 250 Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) from throughout the U.S. and Canada will be represented at the 47th Annual KOA International Convention starting Tuesday in Houston, Texas.
The convention with the theme “Explore The Opportunities . . . Together!” begins with a special session of KOA’s WorKamper University. This one-of-a-kind training session for KOA Workampers will provide this elite group of camping professionals with additional training on KOA’s proprietary KampSight campground operating system, as well as training to enhance workampers’ recreation program management skills, according to a news release. KOA owners will also take part in the training day, which includes a job fair to match KOA owners and workampers for the upcoming camping season.
The convention’s official opening session will be Wednesday, and the KOA Expo, with more than 110 industry vendors, will be held Thursday.
Special KOA awards – included the coveted KOA Franchisee of the Year Award – will be also be announced Wednesday.
The convention concludes Friday, with a special KOA Owners Association auction to benefit KOA Care Camps for children with cancer, a network of 44 specialized summer camps throughout North America.