A brand new survey of state parks by the National Association of State Park Directors has some very encouraging news for the camping and RV industry.
For 28 state park systems reporting on camping activity for calendar year 2009, all but one reported an increase in camping. Hawaii was the sole exception – and the state has experienced a very significant drop in tourism. The average increase in campground stays for 2009 over 2008 for the 28 states was 7.38%, according to a preliminary report issued by Philip McKnelly, NASPD executive director.
The same states also reported a significant increase in overall state park visitations with just two states — New Jersey and Arkansas — reporting declines. The overall increase in visits for 2009 was 6.94%.
The Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA Kampground was named Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) Kamground of the Year during a ceremony Wednesday (Nov. 18) at KOA’s annual convention in Houston, Texas.
“Being named Kampground of the Year is the highest award in the KOA system,” said KOA President Pat Hittmeier. It is only given to those campground franchisees who truly are the very best of the best in every aspect of what they do, he added
Purchased in 1981 by Rudy and Rena Scialdo, and now run by their daughter, Dr. Renee Scialdo Shevat, and her husband Sam Shevat, the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA has gained local and national acclaim for its excellent accommodations and outstanding customer service, according to a news release. Its beginnings were a bit more humble, however.
It is said that the farmer who owned the property would see the cattle in his pastures trip, as their hooves broke through the ground. In the hole left behind, he would find a large pocket full of naturally occurring, 18-faceted quartz crystals, now known as Herkimer Diamonds.
The Herkimer Diamond Mines first opened to the public in 1955, with prospectors leaving a dollar in a mailbox as their fee. Eventually, the mines were sold to a group of investors, who built a rock shop and a public campground to serve the needs of the prospectors. That campground eventually became the KOA gem that it is today.
At the Herkimer Diamond KOA, guests find 135 sites, including tent and RV sites. There are also 16 Kabins, five Kottages and two Lodges. Each of the heated and air-conditioned Kottages, which come with a private bath, kitchenette and dining area, have a different theme and are decorated accordingly. Those themes include “World Wide Gems,” “Fish Tales,” “Captains Quarters” and more. Each of the kabins is named after a gemstone, like “Shady Sapphires,” “Amber Annex” or “Peridot Place.”
On site, campers will enjoy spending time on the West Canada Creek, jumping in the pool or playing disc golf, and there is always something fun happening during the season (April 15-Nov. 1). And of course, everyone likes to try their hand at finding fortune at the Herkimer Diamond Mines.
For a minimal fee (kids age 4 and under are free), campers receive a prospecting admission ticket/wristband, a hammer and a collector’s bag for their finds. They watch an instructional video and head off to the mining area, where they can spend the day finding — and breaking — rocks and digging in pockets. They can then take their treasures to the rock shop to have custom jewelry made for them.
Also available are sluice bags full of rough material, perfect for young campers.
“Of course, the mines are a huge draw for the Herkimer KOA,” Hittmeier said. “But what we hear from KOA guests time and time again is how well they’re taken care of when they stay there.”
That includes, he said, the friendliness of the staff and their willingness to go out of their way to meet the needs of campers.
“At KOA, we frequently survey our campers,” Hittmier noted, “and time and time again, this campground gets some of the highest scores anywhere in North America. That’s why they won the President’s and Founders Awards this year as well.
“It’s an outstanding accomplishment that accurately reflects the outstanding efforts of the Scialdos and the Shevats.”
Watch a video from Wednesday’s convention highlights in the featured video elsewhere on this page.
Des Watts, one of the founding members of BIG4 Holiday Parks of Australia, is part of a contingent of Australian camping experts on a tour of the United States that will include a stop Nov. 18-20 at Kampgrounds of America’s (KOA) annual Convention in Houston, Texas.
There will be more than 10 BIG4 Holiday Parks represented at the KOA Convention this year, according to a news release.
Watts, owner of several BIG4 Holiday Parks in Australia, was one of the original four park owners who, in 1978, decided to combine forces to better market their camping properties and amenities to Australians.
BIG4 Holiday Parks is now the leading chain of holiday parks in Australia, with more than 180 individually owned and operated parks. BIG4′s Holiday Park Club membership stands at more than 176,000 members, and the parks host more than 4 million visitors each year.
BIG4 provides a wide variety of high-quality accommodations throughout Australia, including full-service, luxury cabins
The BIG4 contingent at the KOA Convention will also once again include BIG4 Chairman Rodger Powell. Powell also attended last year’s KOA Convention in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
BIG4 Holiday Parks has had close ties with KOA for the past five years. KOA CEO and Chairman Jim Rogers and his wife, Sandy, recently returned from BIG4′s National Conference in Alice Springs, Australia.
Josh Bell, a member of the Bell family which owns both the San Diego Metro KOA in California and the Grand Canyon/Williams KOA in Arizona, was recently named general manager of park systems for BIG4. Bell has spent the last year in Australia working as a liaison between BIG4 and KOA, primarily working on transitioning BIG4 to KOA’s KampSight campground operating system.
KOA recently signed an exclusive 10-year agreement with BIG4 to share intellectual property.
“The agreement will accelerate the progress of these two world-leading outdoor hospitality organizations,” said Rogers.
As part of the agreement, BIG4 recently purchased the KampSight system from KOA and plans to develop the system to better fit BIG4′s needs. BIG4 will call their system PAM, for Park Accommodation Manager.
“We’re planning to give the operating system a facelift,” Bell said of his new duties. “We’ve got 30 BIG4 Holiday Parks ready to go with PAM right now. It’s going to change the way Holiday Parks in Australia do business, and it all started with KOA. It’s nice having a great partner like that in the states.”
While in the United States, the BIG4 group will also be visiting the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) Convention in underway this week in Orlando, Fla., and a variety of campground locations.
In 2008, American participation in outdoor recreation was marked by encouraging growth in important segments of core outdoor activities as well as continuing, though less dramatic, declines in youth participation, according to a new report, the 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, released today (Sept. 15) by The Outdoor Foundation.
These trends show the beginning of adjustments in American lifestyles brought about by a challenging economy, shifting demographics and changing times, according to a news release.
“In today’s economy, people are returning to simpler lifestyles,” said Christine Fanning, executive director of The Outdoor Foundation. “Historically economic downturns have resulted in increased participation in outdoor recreation. Nature-based activities provide fun, affordable recreation and vacation opportunities for individuals and families.”
The Outdoor Foundation’s 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report is the only detailed study of its kind tracking American participation trends in outdoor recreation. The study is based on an on-line survey capturing responses from over 40,000 Americans ages 6-plus and covers 114 different activities.
- Popular Pastimes: In 2008, 48.6% of Americans ages 6-plus participated in outdoor recreation and made an estimated 11.16 billion outdoor excursions.
- A Return to Nature: Activities like backpacking, mountain biking and trail running showed double-digit increases in participation in 2008, and hiking and camping showed 9% and 7% increases, respectively.
- More Indoor Youth: Participation in outdoor recreation among youth ages 6-17 dropped 6% — resulting in a combined 16.7% drop over the last three years.
- Busy Lifestyles: Today’s kids are struggling to find time to get active outdoors and are foregoing outdoor pursuits in favor of other competing priorities. Among outdoor participants ages 6-17, lack of time is the primary reason they don’t get outdoors more often.
- Outdoor Participation Varies by Ethnicity: Participation in outdoor activities is higher among Caucasians than any other ethnicity and lowest among African Americans in nearly all age groups.
The 2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report is available at www.outdoorfoundation.org/research
About The Outdoor Foundation
The Outdoor Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and growing future generations of outdoor enthusiasts. Through ground-breaking research, action-oriented convening and outreach and education programs, The foundation is working with partners to mobilize a major cultural shift that leads all Americans to the great outdoors.
This summer, travelers chose vacations to fit the economic times, and Minnesota tourism businesses and attractions felt the impact, for better or worse, according to a news release from Explore Minnesota Tourism.
As consumers looked for affordable getaways, campgrounds filled up and festivals drew crowds. But many hotels and other accommodations saw fewer guests this summer.
In an end-of-the-summer survey taken by Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state’s tourism promotion office, half of more than 300 reporting accommodations noted that both occupancy and revenue were down this summer. On the other hand, one out of four reported that business was up. The mixed picture reflects that while some businesses struggled, others benefited from this summer’s travel trends.
“Minnesota still hosted plenty of travelers this summer, but the way they are traveling has really changed,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. “People are traveling closer to home and looking for good values, often waiting until the last minute to book their trip. Typically, they are taking shorter trips and spending less while they travel. But people are still taking trips and finding ways to have fun on a budget.”
Overall, travelers looked for bargains, and businesses that did well said they offered affordable rates, special deals, or packages that included activities, free breakfasts or other extras. Campgrounds fared especially well, with close to half reporting an increase in revenues. Fishing, hiking, festivals, amateur sporting events and other low-cost activities were popular this summer, and state parks saw an increase in visitors.
Many resorts reported that their traditional housekeeping cabins, where guests can cook their own meals, remained popular this summer, and that they draw loyal, return customers who often book for the next year during their stay. On the other hand, large resorts saw a downturn in bookings by corporate groups and conferences. Occupancy and revenue were down at the majority of hotels, especially in the Twin Cities area; hotels, in particular, are suffering from a decline in business travel and convention attendance.
In spite of the toll the recession has taken on the travel industry, just over half (52%) of the accommodation businesses responding to the recent Explore Minnesota Tourism survey reported “stable, but positive” financial health, and another 14% indicated that their financial health was “growing.” Overall, businesses expect the summer’s travel trends to continue into the fall.
Tourism is an $11 billion industry in Minnesota, a key sector of the state’s economy. The leisure and hospitality industry, a major provider of tourism services, employs more than 248,000 Minnesotans.
Ron Haynes’ 35-foot recreational vehicle has all the conveniences of home, including a roomy bathroom, recliners, satellite television and the same brand and style of mattress he sleeps on in his Pella, Iowa, home.
“So I sleep well,” says Haynes, an avid camper – ummm, RVer. Haynes, 52, and his wife, Carol, 54, take their Winnebago Chieftain on four trips a year. And most of the summer, the home on wheels is parked at Cutty’s Campgrounds near Grimes, Iowa, where the Hayneses spend weekends. “We love the comfort and freedom of the RV,” Haynes says.
Baby Boomers such as the Hayneses make up the largest number of RV owners, according to Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). The typical RV owner is 49 years old, married, with annual household income of $68,000. On average, owners spend 26 days a year traveling in their RVs, covering about 4,500 miles.
Camping, even locally, is a chance to get away from the daily grind, if only for a weekend, says Nocona Mollendor, assistant business manager at Cutty’s. The RVs she sees at the campgrounds have become more elaborate over the years, now including washers and dryers, fireplaces, expensive countertops, built-in computer stations and more, she says. “Those are their second homes,” she says.
Many of the Cutty’s visitors park their RVs there all season, some year-round. Some take side trips with their motor homes, others never move them, she says. Haynes, who is semi-retired from the Culligan water systems dealership he owns in Pella, takes yearly treks to Door County in Wisconsin and to Florida, Arkansas and other locales.
The trips are easier because of the RV, he says. “You are taking your home with you,” he says. “When we visit relatives, we don’t intrude on them. With the RV, we have our own beds and shower.”
The family cat nestles onto the dashboard for long trips, and there is never a worry about hotel reservations or crowded restaurants, he says. His grandmother was able to join the couple recently on a trip to Florida because in the RV she could plug in her oxygen machine. And the couple bring along their Wii Fit program so they can get do their daily aerobic exercise while on the road, Haynes says. “We make sure the curtains are down,” he says. “It keeps us on track.”
Like many RV owners, the Hayneses started their camping career in tents about 15 years ago. From there, they moved to a pop-up trailer. “As our finances got better, we went to a motorhome,” Ron Haynes says. Three years ago, they “traded up” to the Winnebago Chieftain, which has two slide-outs, a spacious living room, bedroom and bathroom, a roomy refrigerator and two air conditioners. Haynes already is crafting his wish list for the next RV.
“The next one will be a little bigger, run on diesel fuel and have a washer and dryer,” he says. He also would like a one-touch system for retracting the awnings, a built-in wind meter for the roof and a desk area for a laptop. “I might as well get it the way I want it,” he says.
Touring the United States in comfort appeals to Baby Boomers, says Mark Polk, owner of RV Education 101, which publishes books and videos on owning and operating RVs. The sour economy is taking a bite out of large motorhome sales, he says. As the economy recovers from recession, a new generation of RVs will emerge, he predicts. “They won’t do away with amenities, but they will scale down in size,” he says.
“They will be more fuel-efficient and be smaller and lighter, like the European version.”
Linda Schinckel and her husband, David, of Grinnell take their large Holiday Admiral motorhome on jaunts to the Iowa Speedway in Newton on race weekends or to campgrounds with trails, where they can ride their horses. “It’s like having our home with us wherever we go,” says Schinckel, 56. “We love to sit outside our RV with our coffee and watch the sun come up.”
The couple pull a horse trailer or a smaller one toting their Harley motorcycles.
“We just throw in our clothes and go,” Schinckel says. Their retirement plan will include a bigger RV and more travel, she says.
“It’s on our bucket list.”
Having sold out of reserved tent camping, Atlanta Motor Speedway has opened two new campgrounds to accommodate fans attending the speedway’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup night race on Labor Day weekend, Sept. 5 and 6.
The Legends Reserved Tent Campground and Elliott Reserved Campground have been created by Atlanta Motor Speedway to meet surging camping demand for Atlanta’s first full weekend of night racing, according to paddocktalk.com, a racing news service.
“With a host of fans eager to camp at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend for our first NASCAR Sprint Cup night race, it was critical that we add additional camping spaces to meet fan demand,” said Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark. “Two groups specifically – handicap camping and tents and popups – sold out rather quickly, so we wanted to provide additional camping opportunities for fans with these needs.”
Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Elliott Reserved Campground is located directly behind the Elliott Grandstand overlooking Turn 3 and will include two additional rows of camping for handicap patrons. The Elliott Reserved Campground also features a large number of sites adjacent to handicap camping for additional fans. Each RV spot is approximately 45 feet long by 25 feet and costs $150.
Shaded by a tree grove, the Legends Reserved Tent Campground is located between Atlanta Motor Speedway’s main entrance and the Legends Campground. With more than 230 campsites with dimensions of 20 feet by 30 feet for $125, the Legends Reserved Tent Campground will be one of the most desired camping locations on the Atlanta Motor Speedway property, Clark predicted.
The Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park franchise is celebrating its 40th anniversary by hosting a video contest for campers to capture how they have fun at Jellystone Park. The grand prize is $10,000.
“Our mission is to foster a fun family experience that creates lasting memories,” said Michele Wisher, director of marketing for Leisure Systems Inc., the franchisor of Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. “We’re excited to see how our campers enjoy our parks and to share that enthusiasm with others.”
The videos must be taken at any of the 71 Jellystone Park Camp-Resort locations and be 30 to 90 seconds in length (maximum length is 3 minutes.) Videos can also be comprised of various still photos in a slideshow.
Each person submitting a video to www.jellystonefun.com is eligible to win special Jellystone Park gift baskets full of Yogi Bear souvenirs during weekly prize drawings. Some baskets may include a free night of camping at a Jellystone Park.
For the grand prize, contest participants are encouraged to forward their videos to friends to generate votes. The five videos receiving the most votes will be entered to win the $10,000 grand prize. Finalists will receive a Jellystone Park gift basket full of Yogi Bear souvenirs and a free weekend stay at a Jellystone Park. The grand prize winner will be selected by Leisure Systems Inc. and announced in October.
The contest started May 23 and runs to Sept. 8.
United Kingdom-based Canvas, a leading tour operator for RV and camping holidays in Europe, has reported a surge in bookings for French camping holidays following the announcement that Europe is in for a warm and dry summer.
The announcement couldn’t have come at a better time, as a recent study by SunSmart discovered that 34% of people said that they were less likely to take their summer holidays this year because of the credit crunch, according to a press release.
Now it seems that a sunny week on a family camping holiday in France could be the answer to their prayers. Canvas has negotiated deals with local businesses around their campsites, so that campers can save even more money while on their trip. The selection of offers includes deals at local health spas, wine tasting tours, theme parks and canoe adventures, “a far cry from the image of muddy fields and baked beans normally associated with camping holidays.”
Paul Carter, managing director of Canvas holidays said, “A lot of adults choose to spend their summer holidays at one of our campsite as we offer many free activities for children, meaning, that if they choose, they can get away with spending next to nothing whilst on their camping holidays.”
The Vendee, a coastal resort region in west central France on the Atlantic Ocean, seems to be the area of the season, with bookings up by 28% this year. This resort’s perfect combination of bustling beaches and peaceful retreats definitely strikes a chord with first-time campers.