Best Parks in America (BPA) has announced the introduction of a new rating system that will be used to evaluate RV parks and campgrounds that wish to join the national Best Parks network of highly-rated, premium RV parks and campgrounds. According to a press release, the Best Parks board endorsed the new system at a meeting on June 6 and agreed to implement the measuring system immediately.
“As Best Parks continues to build a new market segment and create a niche audience that seeks higher end, premium parks to enjoy, every effort must be made to assure consumers that parks affiliated with BPA stand out and truly are the best. Continued reliance on the Trailer Life and now Good Sam ratings is no longer appropriate and doesn’t provide a valid measuring tool on which to judge parks for inclusion in Best Parks,” said BPA board member Mike Gurevich, owner of Cherry Hill Park, College Park, Md.
“It’s imperative that Best Parks continue to raise the bar as it creates a new industry segment. Every park in the network reflects on every other park and the goal is to come as close as possible to universal agreement among consumers that each park in the network has earned and deserves the recognition and brand as one of the Best Parks in America. This new rating system is an important development in this direction,” said board member Randy Packard, owner of Pine Acres Family Camping Resort in Oakham, Mass.
The new system scores 110 elements on a scale of 1 to 4. Initially, parks that attain a score of 225 or higher can be considered for Best Parks affiliation. The system takes into account the diversity that exists among parks in different geographic areas, among those serving various demographic groups, and the value of the overall consumer experience at the park.
“Just as KOA, Leisure Systems and other companies have their way of evaluating the properties in their group, Best Parks will now have in place a way to assure that each park in the system will meet the high standards expected by its target consumers and is of the highest quality in terms of guest experience, facilities, amenities, hospitality and service,” said BPA President David Gorin.
Established in 2003, Best Parks in America currently consists of 66 affiliated facilities nationwide.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) will be offering a free weekend of camping to children on Father’s Day this year.
“We want to encourage families to get out and enjoy all of the benefits of the outdoors, and camping is one of the very best ways to do that,” said KOA CEO Jim Rogers in a press release. “Allowing children to camp for free with their children will hopefully encourage more families to share the joys of camping on this very important family holiday.”
More than 400 participating KOA locations throughout North America will waive normal camping fees for children under 17 from June 15-17 in honor of Father’s Day weekend.
“Camping is all about connecting with your family,” Rogers said. “There is no better way to cement that bond than by enjoying each other in the Great Outdoors.”
Kampgrounds of America parks offer “camping any way you want it,” with plenty of sites for any type of recreational vehicle or tent. There are also thousands of KOA Camping cabins available, along with new deluxe cabins that sleep up to six and come with full bathrooms and kitchens.
For a list of KOA campgrounds offering free camping for kids for Father’s Day Weekend, go to www.KOA.com.
If you don’t know these worlds existed, you can’t begin to guess what happens when they collide.
As reported by the Daily Herald, Arlington, Ill., even a master in the art of traveling by RV who knows the lingo and is fully immersed in this popular subculture of the Walmart life, didn’t grasp the situation when he discovered that his $1.2 million luxury motorhome and the 40 grand inside were gone.
“I was stunned. I called my wife and said, ‘Somebody stole my coach,’” said Larry Socha, recalling how he ran some banking errands with his 90-year-old mother the Saturday morning before Memorial Day, returned to the Walmart parking lot in Glen Ellyn, Ill., where he had spent the night, and discovered that his luxury 40-foot, 22.5-ton RV with the safe full of cash and the 25-foot trailer for his Mustang GT had been towed.
Those of you who don’t live this lifestyle probably have some questions, starting with, “How does something that valuable end up in the parking lot of a Walmart that is known for low prices and Internet videos mocking folks wearing inappropriate clothing?”
Turns out, many Walmart parking lots are havens for RV owners looking for a free place to spend the night. Some websites even refer to Walmart as “America’s Campground,” which irks owners of actual licensed campgrounds in America.
“Whenever Walmart allows free overnight camping, it not only results in lost business for local campgrounds but lost transient occupancy tax for local cities,” emailed Paul Bambei, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). He noted that campgrounds pay for licenses, pass health and safety inspections and offer services not found in parking lots.
Walmart spokeswoman Kayla Whaling made it clear that Walmart parking lots are not campgrounds.
“While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store lots as we are able,” reads a Walmart statement. “Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”
Socha, who drove his 2000 Prevost Marathon XL from his home in New Jersey to visit his mom in Glen Ellyn and attend his 50th high school reunion, has parked at several Wal-Marts during his travels and also supports campgrounds. He parked at Walmart this time not to save 30 or 40 bucks but because it would have taken him more than two hours to drive to the nearest campground and back.
He said that last year he left the same RV in the same Walmart parking lot for three or four days during a visit as his dad was dying. He said he didn’t even see the signs this time reading: “No truck parking. Unauthorized vehicles will be towed away at owner’s or operator’s expense & liability. Towing enforced at all times.”
On the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day, Socha parked his RV at Walmart, unloaded his car, visited his mom and then returned to spend the night in his RV. He said he doesn’t pull out his awnings, roll out the grill or dispose of his dirty water or sewage.
“That’s wrong. Those are the people who ruin it for others,” says Socha, noting that his vehicle’s waste tanks are large enough that he can live inside for five or six days without having to empty them. He ran some banking errands with his mom that Saturday morning, and when he returned that afternoon, all his stuff was gone and he had to pay an $872.50 towing bill to get them back in time for his school reunion.
The manager did knock on the door a couple of times before calling for the tow truck, Whaling said. Socha did find the store on a website that lists free overnight parking, but Whaling said Wal-Mart doesn’t keep a list of what stores allow parking or how many people do park.
A Walmart customer and stockholder, Socha said he was upset that Walmart denied his claim to have the company pay his towing bill.
“Will I stop shopping there? No, I’m not a jerk,” Socha said. “I learned a lesson.”
He said he just wants to warn others and perhaps push Walmart to be a little more sensitive and communicative about this issue. There’s no use fighting over $872.50, which he said is basically “a tank of gas,” but he said he wouldn’t mind an admission that the situation could have been handled better.
If he did drive the 1,670-mile round trip from his New Jersey home to the Glen Ellyn Walmart to accept an offer of reconciliation or financial considerations, the trip in his RV, which gets 5.5 mpg on the highway and 3.5 mpg in the city and has a 165-gallon fuel tank, would cost him about $1,214.
Advanced reservations for the 2012 Memorial Day Weekend holiday are running about 8% ahead of the same period in 2011 according to Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), according to a press release.
With just three days to go before the first major summer holiday of 2012, reservations at KOA’s 484 campgrounds in the United States and Canada are still rolling in. In fact, Kampgrounds of America reported it is running about 5% ahead of 2011, year to date, in the number of short-term camper nights in the system.
“We had a strong start to the year in the first few months, and that has carried through to the start of the summer camping season,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “Campers are responding well to the efforts our campground owners have made to add more deluxe cabins to our inventory, as well as to the many enhancements they’ve made to their parks in recreation and other amenities.”
The Memorial Day weekend numbers nearly mirror the results of KOA’s annual Come Kamp & Care With Us Weekend results on May 11-12, which finished with about 10% more campers than last year.
Veteran RV park and campground owner/consultant John Imler is finally stepping away after nearly 40 years in the business.
According to a report by Woodall’s Campground Management, as of June 1 Imler will discontinue his web page, www.imlerconsulting.com, and the five books listed on the site will be out of publication.
Imler and his wife, Ruth, developed their first RV park, Campers Inn, in Dunnigan, Calif., starting in May 1974 and in 1975 attended as members the very first state convention of the California Travel Parks Association (CTPA).
While the Imlers added Dunnigan Mobile Home Park in 1978, John later served as president of CTPA (now CalARVC) and as a board member of the National Campground Owners Association (NCOA), subsequently renamed the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). He also was on the board of regents of the National School of RV Park & Campground Management.
Although the Imlers sold their RV and mobile home parks in 1985, they remained active in the industry. Imler authored five books dealing with the RV park industry, including “The RV Park Business” and “Designing RV Parks & Resorts for the 21st Century.” The texts were widely read and followed throughout the industry.
“Ruth and I have enjoyed our years of working in this great industry but those years have finally come to a complete close. This is a decision we have been putting off, since during those years we have made many friends and trust that we have been of help and service to some.
“We continue to wish you many joys as you continue in your service to the RV park industry.”
Since 2009, Imler has focused his attention on his spiritual side, writing a book titled “It’s Never Too Late” and writing a regular blog on the topic.
Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) popular Come Kamp & Care With Us Weekend May 11-12 hosted nearly 10% more campers this year than in 2011, according to a press release.
“A combination of great weather, stabilizing fuel prices and fun event planning by our campground owners really brought out the campers,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications for Billings, Mont.-based KOA. “Of course, it’s the official kickoff to KOA’s 50th birthday, so that didn’t hurt, either.”
Participating KOAs throughout North America logged nearly 42,000 camper nights between last Wednesday and Sunday, a double-digit increase from Come Kamp & Care With Us Weekend 2011.
Nearly 400 of the 480 KOA campgrounds in North America participated in the 9th annual event, where campers received a free night of camping last Saturday if they stayed as paying guests on Friday.
The annual event also serves as the largest single fundraiser for KOA Care Camps for children with cancer, the official charity of KOA and the KOA Owner’s Association. KOA Care Camps is a network of 44 specialized summer camps that provide a free summer camp experience for children with cancer and their siblings.
Donations are still being counted from this year’s fundraising efforts, but last year, KOA campers helped raise more than $500,000 to benefit the charity.
“Come Kamp & Care With Us Weekend isn’t just the official start of the summer camping season,” said Gast, “It’s also a pretty good indicator of how things might look for the rest of the summer.”
Advanced reservations for the summer months at KOA are running ahead of last year. The increase in KOA’s inventory of deluxe cabins, which feature full bathrooms and kitchens, is also fueling increased camping by bringing in new campers.
“The public’s desire to reconnect to the outdoors is certainly increasing,” Gast said. “Camping is the perfect, affordable answer.”
Representatives from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and its affiliates made a show of force in Washington, D.C., last week, holding 80 face-to-face meetings with members of the U.S. House and Senate to voice industry concern over recent changes proposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) regarding its ADA pool lift guidance released on Jan. 31.
According to a press release, ARVC’s objective was to continue to “hammer home” the outdoor hospitality industry’s opposition to recently proposed federal guidelines that would require public accommodations, including campgrounds, RV parks and resorts, to install fixed, permanent pool lifts at every body of water on commercial property.
While ARVC supports the spirit and intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the association has called on the Justice Department to change its proposed guidelines to make it possible for campgrounds, RV parks and resorts to meet the latest ADA requirements with portable pool lifts, which ARVC contends are equally accessible to the public, but would not create a safety hazard for children who will be attracted to the apparatus.
ARVC and its affiliates have also endorsed a bill proposed by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., that would extend the compliance deadline for one year while also allowing portable pool lifts to meet the new ADA pool lift requirements.
The Justice Department is expected to announce this week if it has reached a decision on whether it will allow private parks, hotels and other hospitality businesses to accommodate disabled people with portable pool lifts or whether it needs more time to study the issue. The Justice Department previously issued a 60-day delay in enforcing its proposed pool lift requirements in response to a coordinated lobbying effort by ARVC and its coalition partners in the hospitality industry.
“Last week’s meetings represent the continuing pressure we are bringing to bear on the ADA pool lift issue, which has already succeeded in prompting the Justice Department to postpone the implementation timeline of new regulations while it considers possible changes to ADA pool lift requirements,” said Paul Bambei, ARVC’s president and CEO.
Those efforts have included letter-writing campaigns; a visit to the White House at the invitation of the administration to discuss the issue; an official written comment to the Department of Justice’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that expired April 4, 2012; as well as coordinated lobbying by ARVC and its partners in the hotel industry, which include such notables as the American Hotel & Lodging Association, American Resort Development Association, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the World Water Park Association.
Congressional representatives have also sent letters to top Justice Department officials in response to the outreach by the campground and hotel industries.
Recently, Congressman, Bill Owens, D-N.Y., who met last week with fellow New Yorker and member of the ARVC Board of Directors, Truman Hartshorn, sent a letter to Allison Nichol, chief of the Justice Department’s Disability Rights Section, criticizing the burden that the department has placed on small businesses. “Your office’s total inflexibility to consider alternatives, such as a portable lift, demonstrates that this rule was poorly crafted and did not meaningfully incorporate any ideas or suggestions from the industries that will be affected,” Owens wrote. “I suggest you delay implementation of this rule and work with all the parties affected to come up with a more practical solution.”
Campground industry representatives also attending last week’s meetings included ARVC Chairman Rob Schutter of Leisure Systems, Inc.; ARVC President and CEO Paul Bambei; ARVC Government Affairs Committee Chairman Al Johnson of Recreational Adventures Company, a Hill City, S.D. company that owns and operates multiple KOA campgrounds; Debbie Sipe of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds; Kathy Frederick and Sandra Brown of the Connecticut Campground Owners Association; Rick Abare of the Maine Campground Owners Association; Norman Gurevich of the Maryland Association of Campgrounds; Tracie Fisher of ARVC Michigan; Gregg Pittman of the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association; Joann DelVechio and Jay Sporl, Sr. of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association; Todd Kaser and Chip Hanawalt of the Ohio Campground Owners Association; Jim Breneman of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association; Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group; Lori Severson of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners; Marcia Galvin of the Massachusetts Association of Campground Owners; and Jon Heidrich of Shangri-La RV Resort in Yuma, Ariz.
The National Issues Conference sponsored by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) got under way today (May 8) in Washington, D.C.
ARVC retained McDermott, Will & Emery, a leading Washington, D.C., law firm, registered lobbyist and powerful partner on Capitol Hill, to assist in the event. Some of the issues that will be focused on include:
• Ensuring that members of Congress appreciate the importance of tourism and travel to the overall health of the American economy, and that travel and tourism accounted for 7.5 million jobs in 2010.
• Fighting for a transportation infrastructure bill, which is vital to connecting tourists and travelers to their destinations; and
• Seeking clearer guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations covering swimming pools and spas.
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.
Those of you who wiggle out of family camping trips by claiming you’re just not into roughing it will have to find another excuse.
A range of camping options and innovations have made it far more comfortable to eat, sleep and otherwise spend time in the Great Outdoors.
“’Soft rugged’ is what so many Americans are seeking in their outdoor experience today,” says Jim Rogers, chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, or KOA, which runs about 500 campgrounds around the country. So much so that he now refers to the camping industry as “outdoor hospitality.”
KOA has beefed up some of its campgrounds to include both basic and luxury cabins – the latter being the kind more often equated with family resorts than places to pitch tents. Rental costs $100 to $150 per night. Some sites offer coffee carts, pancake breakfasts, kids’ activities and entertainment.
Campers who want things a bit more – but not much more – rustic can browse the equipment lining the shelves at well-stocked outdoors stores (although some of the fancy new goodies may hike the price of that simple camping trip).
Take, for instance, REI’s Kingdom 8 tent, which is big enough to sleep eight. For $529, the tent is not just waterproof and bug-proof but also has moveable room dividers to create separate spaces with private entrances. Fill it with cots, airbeds and perhaps a ceiling fan created for tents, and you’re bound to get in a good night’s sleep. Toss in another $100, and you can add to it a “garage” to store food or gear — or use it as a place for the family dog to sleep.
Nifty outdoor stoves and cooking gear have made campfire-cooked canned beans and hot dogs moot, unless you really like them.
REI’s camp kitchen, for example, is a folding trove of food-prep workspace and storage – all of which can be carried around in a zipper bag. It even includes hooks for hanging up spatulas, and windproof screens so the elements don’t mess with your cooking.
Coleman, one of the biggest manufactures of camping gear, sells a camping oven that fits handily onto one of the company’s two- or three-burner grills.
To view the entire article click here.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is announcing free webinars that will provide information and technical assistance addressing the accessible pool entry requirements of the revised 2010 ADA Regulations and the 2010 ADA Standards as they relate to existing pools.
The first webinar will be today (May 2) from 2:30 – 3:45 (EDT), and it will address the pool access provisions as they apply to the existing pools of public accommodations subject to title III of the ADA.
The second webinar will be May 9 from 2:30 – 3:45, addressing how the pool access provisions apply to the existing pools of state and local governmental entities subject to title II of the ADA.
Registration is limited and available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Each webinar will also be archived and available for rebroadcast on www.ADA.gov a few days after each event.
To learn more about the ADA you may call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA information Line at 800-514-0301 or 800-514-0383 (TDD), or access the ADA website at www.ADA.gov.
RVC Outdoor Destinations announced today (May 1) its expansion west with the acquisition of the Garden of the Gods Campground in Colorado Springs, Colo.
According to a news release, the roughly 200-site property is located near the entrance of the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center, with views of Pikes Peak, the most visited mountain in North America. The property has been the top RV and outdoor lodging destination in the region but has been under bank ownership since 2010.
RVC has begun stabilizing operations and will start renovating the property immediately. Renovations will include an overall upgrade of the property and its amenities, including enhancing tent sites and incorporating them into current on-property cabins for a unique camping experience, resurfacing pools, improving existing RV sites and adding eight new concrete RV sites.
In the coming weeks, RVC will rebrand the property from Garden of the Gods Campground to Garden of the Gods RV Resort, and will reflag it as an RVC Outdoor Destination by the start of 2013.
“The Garden of the Gods acquisition is a terrific addition to our portfolio of upscale outdoor vacation properties,” said Andy Cates, president of RVC Outdoor Destinations. “The upgraded camping experience we offer is resonating with guests. It fits with what a lot of people are looking for in a vacation these days because it is unique, affordable and allows guests to enjoy some of America’s most beautiful natural landscapes with amenities that truly make it a destination experience.”
In addition to its newly acquired Colorado property, RVC currently operates Outdoor Destinations and RV resorts in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
When the Montoya family has its family reunion this summer, they expect close to 450 people to show up, including a great grandmother, who turns 100 this year. But they’re not going to hold the event at a hotel.
Instead, the five generations of the Montoya family will congregate at the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Larkspur, Colo., a relatively low cost venue that has the added benefit of being in the great outdoors.
“Our family loves camping. It’s something that’s gotten down from generation to generation. We never even thought of other options,” George Garcia, a family spokesman, stated in a news release.
The idea of having family reunions in campgrounds is spreading across the country as people look for affordable, innovative ways to spend quality time together, according to Michele Wisher, director of marketing for Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Jellystone Parks.
Across the Jellystone system, reunions happen throughout the summer involving families with relatively small groups to huge gatherings like the Montoyas, Wisher said.
Garcia said his family chose the Larkspur Jellystone partly because of its facilities and location in a scenic setting near Denver, which is convenient for most of the Montoya family.
The campground also has numerous amenities, including a grocery store and laundry facility, a 2.1-mile, 18-hole championship disc golf course, which is naturally maintained by herds of friendly goats, a playground, a heated swimming pool, two small fishing ponds, a gem-mining sluice, and a pedal cart track.
The Montoyas plan to make use of the park’s pavilion for their meals and special events. They also plan to make use of the campground’s volleyball courts, Garcia said.
But while Jellystone Parks are famous for having organized family activities and themed weekends, Garcia said the Montoyas already have enough of their own activities planned to keep themselves entertained.
“We’re all very close, from first cousins to sixth cousins,” he said. “We hope to just continue this tradition forever.”
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), celebrating its 50th year, reported the addition of 23 new campground locations throughout North America to its 2012 directory. According to a news release, the new sites bring the total number of KOA campgrounds to 485.
“We do our best to find campgrounds that are just the right fit for our campers and the KOA system,” said KOA Assistant Vice President for System Development Chris Fairlee. “There are more than 8,000 private campgrounds in North America, but we are pretty selective. Not just anyone can fly the KOA flag.”
The 50th anniversary edition of the KOA directory provides campers with not only complete descriptions and “last mile” locator maps to all KOA locations, but also a complete set of state and provincial atlas maps.
“Once again, we’ve done a great job of adding beautiful campgrounds right where our campers want to go,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. “For instance, we added two more locations in the Orlando, Fla., area to allow our campers to be right in the middle of the Orlando attractions.”
New KOA campgrounds reported that visitations were up since joining the network. “Being with KOA has already brought our campground a lot more business,” said Robyn Chilson, owner of the Meadville, Pa., KOA. “We have more visibility and the phones are ringing off the hook.”
New KOA campgrounds listed in the 2012 KOA Directory include: Oxford/Talladega/Dandy RV, Ala.; Picacho/Tucson NW, Ariz.; Heber Springs, Ark.; Montrose/Black Canyon National Park, Colo.; Orlando NE/Wekiva Falls, Fla.; Orlando NW/Orange Blossom, Fla.; East Ellijay/Chattahoochee National Forest, Ga.; Waterloo/Lost Island Waterpark, Iowa; Perry Lake/Topeka NE, Kan.; Houghton/Letchworth, NY.; Springwater/Dansville, N.Y.; 1000 Islands/Association Island, N.Y.; Homerville, Ohio; Salem/Lisbon, Ohio; Meadville, Pa.; Hohenwald/Natchez Trace, Tenn.; Bastrop/SE Austin/Colorado River, Texas; Onalaska/Lake Livingston, Texas; Weatherford, Texas; Luray, Va.; Longview North/Mount St. Helens, Wash.; Sturgeon Falls, Ontario; Bas St. Laurent, Quebec.
Editor’s Note: The following is a portion of an interview conducted by Woodall’s Campground Management with Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) Chairman and CEO Jim Rogers. KOA, celebrating its 50th year, records over 15 million camper visits annually. To watch a video of the entire interview click here.
WCM: KOA has a storied history. Your brand is the best known in camping circles and among non-campers as well. The company was recently named one of the Top 50 Franchises in the U.S. Tell me what you think are the major company developments and accomplishments and milestones along the way in the past 50 years.
ROGERS: Well gosh, I’d need an hour to do that, maybe even longer. But let me just try to identify some top ones. I think the recognition that we continue to receive that you just mentioned is essential in any franchise organization. The fact that we are receiving great feedback from our franchisees, and that’s what we were measured for, to be one of the Top 50 Franchises in all those hundreds of them out there, so that’s an accomplishment for sure.
A milestone is we just did a Harris Poll in 2011; the Harris organization is a very prominent research group. And we learned that 25 percent of American adults have stayed at KOA at some point in their lives in the last 50 years. So we’ve touched a lot of Americans. And obviously at the heart of our business is the whole idea that we’re helping Americans and visitors to our country and Canada to get outdoors with their family and friends, and that’s certainly a part of our culture.
I think the other milestone is the consistency of our brand. We are known for a great experience no matter where they travel. And again, that’s a tribute to our wonderful owners and staffs. KOA.com, as a website, does twice the traffic of all the others in our business combined. It is a horse. It is a great source of information, and I think the technology that we’ve created to support that effort serves the entire industry well.
I think a milestone of reaching halfway around the world to find a sister company or a partner in the Australian KOA, called the Big 4 Holiday Parks, is another accomplishment. We’ve looked a lot of places, and these people are so great and ahead of us in many ways, and we’ve been working on that for about seven years.
And I think lastly, the greatest milestone of our business and of KOA is that we’re guest-driven. We have done so much in the last 10 to 15 years to indeed orient ourselves and our evaluations, based upon the ultimate umpire, which is our guests.
So I think we’ve had a super history and we’re not going to dwell too much on where we’ve been. We have so much going on that’s going to focus us on where we’re going in the next 50.
WCM: Jim, that was a great segue into my next question. KOA is constantly monitoring its customers’ likes and dislikes, and you have a very sophisticated way to do this. Tell me what you learned in 2011 about your guests.
ROGERS: We started with guest feedback the day we opened 50 years ago. Dave Drum, our founder, actually would go down in the evening and handed out a survey, and we actually have the results from that original survey. So guest feedback and impacting our strategies and driving our business has been critical.
Specifically about what we learn, you have to appreciate is that our owners and operators receive today specific verbatim detail on the experience of their guests yesterday and the day before. So it’s not about necessarily a trend. Certainly at KOA headquarters we look at the data and the verbatims and see if there’s something common, is it a fact or if it’s Wi-Fi problems or is it cleanliness problems or, you know, general kinds of things. But the real true benefit here is there are owners and operators that have such pride about the performance of their parks that are getting specific details, both positive and constructive criticism about what the guests experienced just recently, and that has made it incredibly strong in terms of upgrading the overall quality.
And I think the other thing that has been accomplished in the last four or five years, because we have this measurement and this monitoring, KOA’s overall system quality is improved. Last year alone in what we call the ‘net promoter score,’ which is a device that many, many organizations are using to question their customers about whether they would recommend the brand or their service to others, we saw an 8 percent increase across our system. So KOA continues to make a tremendous commitment to that guest feedback and the fact that we get verbatim detail for each franchisee, makes a tremendous impact on where we’re going.