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Report: Technology Has Invaded Campgrounds

August 20, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following story from The Boston Globe clearly shows how technology has invaded and transformed the campground.

Chris Szymczuk and his son Tommy were grilling bread for BLTs outside their camper at the Bay View Campground in Bourne, Mass., and with Tommy’s XBox 360 and cellphone nowhere in sight, the Bridgewater father pronounced himself happy.

“It’s a little bit of heaven,” Szymczuk said.

That is how he sees technology-free vacation time together. Tommy, 13, enjoys undiluted family time, too, but only up to a point. “Half the time we’re doing nothing,” he said, recalling evenings spent around a campfire. “That’s when I text or play some Xbox.”

Father and son smiled at each other under the bright July sun. “I learn to deal with it,” said Szymczuk, who works for a wine and liquor distributor. “It is what it is,” Tommy replied.

Technology, having transformed the rest of life, is going after the family vacation. Parents and kids are equally guilty of clinging to their mobile devices, though for anyone who has learned about the night sky from an app — or answered a work e-mail from the beach — technology can enhance a vacation, or make it possible for some adults to get away at all. But the benefits of vacationing as a family may be lessened if each person spends the holiday physically present but mentally elsewhere.

How much of an impact is technology having? Even the age-old refrain from the back seat — “Are we there yet?” — is under fire.

“Sometimes, the kids are almost reluctant to get out of the car,” said Brad Harrington, executive director of Boston College’s Center for Work & Family. You reach your destination, but instead of hopping out, the children stay buckled in. “Just one more level,” they beg, thumbs working their game players, or, “Let me finish this episode.”

“There are times in the journey where you’d like them to unplug and interact,” Harrington joked, “even if it’s to fight.”

Statistics do not exist on the percentage of teenagers who go an entire week on Cape Cod texting so furiously they do not even realize they are away, or the number of hours toddlers spend pleading with parents to stop checking e-mail and help with the sand castle.

But mobile devices have become so much a part of the family vacation that campground owners say offering Wi-Fi service is almost a must — and some guests prefer a spot with a strong signal to one with a view of the trees. Front-desk clerks report that families arrive with so many devices that hotels have had to add power strips to rooms. And some vacationers admit they are more interested in photographing the moment for Facebook than being in the moment.

To read the entire article click here.

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WACO Convention Addresses Camping Trends

April 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Private park operators and industry officials have noted for several years now that growing numbers of Americans are camping closer to home as a result of rising fuel costs.

But while this poses a marketing challenge for parks in far-flung locations – which cater to smaller numbers of long-haul campers – there is still a significant contingent of dedicated park operators who are betting their futures on the enduring appeal of camping in remote sites.

Many of them attended the spring convention of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), including Michele Johnson, a Southern California native who recently purchased Schatzi’s 4 Seasons Resort, a secluded campground with cabins in Wisconsin’s North Woods. The region was popular with Chicago-based mob figures in the 1930s and 40s.

“People seek out these kinds of places,” said Johnson, one of 565 park operators and industry officials who attended the March 14–18 convention at the Holiday Inn & Conference Center in Stevens Point, Wis. “People still crave places to go to get away,” said Johnson. “We’re at the end of the road on a lake. It’s pretty secluded, and the fishing in amazing.”

Still, most park operators attending the WACO convention told RVBUSINESS.com that they are drawing the majority of their business from cities that are less than 100 miles away.

But that, of course, is not the only trend private park operators have been talking about at WACO’s convention or at any of the other significant spring events in the RV park and campground arena, including the ARVC Michigan Spring Convention & Trade Show, March 26–28 at the Causeway Bay Hotel & Conference Center in Causing, Mich.; the Northeast Conference on Camping and Trade Show, March 22–24 at the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center in Sturbridge, Mass.; the Mid-Atlantic Campground Conference, March 6–7 at the Dover Downs Hotel in Dover, Del.; and the Carolina Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds Convention & Expo, Feb. 6–7 at Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Many park operators continue to see rising demand for seasonal campsites.

“We’re getting phone calls daily from people asking about them,” said Becky Gussell, co-owner of Sherwood Forest Campground and RV Park in the Wisconsin Dells, which has 181 overnight and 37 seasonal sites.

Stoney Creek RV Resort and Campground in Osseo, Wis., which has 70 sites in 65 acres, is also seeing growing demand for seasonal sites, primarily from families and retirees who live within 70 to 100 miles of the campground, said co-owner Joy Levake.

Scott Kollock, who co-owns Vista Royalle Campground in Bancroft, Wis., said he is seeing growing demand for seasonal sites, too. About 150 of his 275 sites are now occupied by seasonal campers, he said, noting they use everything from park models to travel trailers and fifth-wheels as destination camping units.

Johnson of Schatzi’s 4 Seasons Resort is seeing strong demand for seasonal sites as well. “We have so many people calling trying to find seasonal spots that we are already full (for the season) now,” Johnson said of her park, which has 29 sites and two cabins.

Park operators are also seeing continuing growth in demand for rental units, including park models, site built cabins and yurts.

“Our rentals are just about filled every weekend this summer,” said Randy Sondalle, co-owner of Pineland Camping Park in Arkdale, Wis., a noteworthy achievement for any campground owner three months ahead of the summer season. Pineland has three cabins.

Gussell said Sherwood Forest Campground and RV Park is also seeing continuing strong demand for its 15 rental cabins and two rental trailers, a trend that bodes well for the nation’s park model and towable RV manufacturers, which are increasingly marketing units for seasonal and rental use.

Lori Severson, WACO’s executive director, said a record 192 businesses displayed their products and services at the association’s tradeshow. Vendors included RV pedestal supplier Wade Elliott of Kingston, Wash.-based Utility Supply Group, who noted that his sales figures for January and February exceeded last year’s figures for the same period.

The WACO conference included more than 20 educational seminars as well as guest appearances by several former members of the Green Bay Packers football team, including William Henderson, Santana Dotson, Bill Schroeder and Gilbert Brown, who was known as “The Gravedigger” for pretending to dig a grave to bury the unfortunate member of the opposing team he just demolished.

 

 

 

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KOA Sites Transform into ‘Outdoor Destinations’

February 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following is an article by the Los Angeles Times examining the trend among KOA campgrounds to be a resort destination as opposed to a stop along the way. To view the entire article and accompanying photo click here.

At a wooded campsite in Santa Paula, north of Los Angeles, vacationers, stray deer and even peacocks must share the tree-shaded property with tractors, backhoes and stacks of lumber.

Work is in full swing to transform the 76-acre Ventura Ranch Kampgrounds of America (KOA) site into one of a fast-growing breed of affordable outdoor destinations or resort campgrounds.

Workers have already added new lodges and upscale tepees and installed two 800-foot-long zip lines. Construction has begun on a pool and water slides to open by this summer. A backhoe is moving dirt for a new playground area, and the park owner has plans for four treehouses near the banks of the Santa Paula Creek.

“It’s kind of a new version of camping,” KOA campsite guest Desiree Dennis said as her four children took turns strapping on harnesses, hooking themselves to pulleys and flying downhill along zip-line cables stretched between two elevated platforms. “It brings families together.”

Zip lines, swimming pools and other campground extras typify changes underway across the nation at KOA, the nation’s largest private network of campgrounds, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Instead of offering rest stops on the way to vacation destinations, KOA wants to add enough activities to convert its modest overnight campgrounds into final destinations for traveling families.

“Campgrounds are indeed a resort destination,” said KOA’s chief executive, James Rogers.

KOA’s 488 independently owned campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada are increasingly offering such amenities as wireless Internet access, cable television hookups and prefabricated cabins, most equipped with refrigerators, microwave ovens and flat-screen televisions. Many also have swimming pools, bicycle rental stations, arcades and miniature golf courses.

“The world wants to get outdoors,” Rogers said. “At the end of the day, they also want a hot shower and a clean bed and a cold beer.”

These upgrades are most prominent in California, a state with 36 KOA campgrounds, the most in the nation.

It makes good business sense. Although KOA’s overall guest bookings dropped 2% to 14.4 million in 2011 compared with the previous year, KOA officials say reservations for the campgrounds’ furnished cabins jumped nearly 20% in the same period.

KOA is a private company and would not disclose its annual revenue, but a Dunn & Bradstreet report estimated that the company, based in Billings, Mont., generated nearly $40 million in sales in 2011.

The move to install more cabins, tepees and treehouses, said Rogers, helps KOA serve those guests who don’t want to sleep in a cold tent but can’t afford a $50,000 recreational vehicle. RV sales dropped dramatically nationwide during the recession but began to rebound in 2010 and 2011, according to industry reports.

KOA is not the only campground franchise to pursue this market. KOA’s top competitor, Leisure Systems Inc. of Milford, Ohio, the franchiser of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks, has been installing furnished cabins at a rapid pace at its 78 franchise campgrounds.

“The lodges are very popular,” said Michele Wisher, a spokeswoman for Leisure Systems. “That is what books up.”

A nationwide survey co-sponsored by KOA last year found that 42.3 million people over age 6, or 15% of Americans, regularly go camping, either in tents or recreational vehicles.

“That’s a big universe of people who are not going camping,” said Jeff Crider, a spokesman for the National Assn. of RV Parks and Campgrounds. “That is why KOA and Jellystone are investing in cabins, yurts and tepees. It’s to get them into their campsites.”

KOA was launched in 1962 when its founder, David Drum, noticed a caravan of cars driving past his cottonwood-shaded property in Billings headed for the Seattle World’s Fair. He quickly converted his property into a campground with showers, restrooms and a small store and charged guests $1.75 a night.

In the company’s early years, KOA opened campgrounds along busy highways, giving travelers a convenient place to rest on the way to popular tourist attractions such as theme parks or national monuments. But now KOA has shifted its focus to make campgrounds an inexpensive vacation destination for families.

 

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