Gilbert Brown grew up in inner-city Detroit and went on to a successful football career — 10 years as a defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers and one season as a Super Bowl champion.
Wealth, fame and “The Gravedigger” nickname he earned opened many doors, but Brown could never have predicted they would open one to … the joys of RVing, according to USA Today.
Brown, his wife and four kids, ages 1 to 16, love to load up their recreational vehicle, hit the road and camp. “I’m 39 years old, and I never knew what a S’mores was,” Brown says. “Growing up in Detroit, there is nothing really in that area as far as camping.”
He was introduced to recreational vehicles when his Gilbert Brown Foundation, which contributes to 144 children’s charities, partnered with the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) to raise money. Every time a campground hosted a fundraiser, he would go.
Brown now owns an RV and has inspired friends to do the same. He encourages people — especially those in urban areas — to at least try it once. “Get the kids outdoors instead of sitting in the house playing PlayStation,” he says. “Nobody’s got money to get four or five kids on a plane and go to California.”
Newcomers to fun
A new generation of Americans searching for ways to have fun in a wobbly economy is giving a boost to the 100-year-old RV industry.
Wholesale deliveries of RVs to retailers totaled 84,500 in the first four months of 2010, nearly double the total from the same period last year, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports.
Some RV camps and resorts are seeing double-digit percentage jumps in occupancy and in new faces, according to Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVCs. “It had been mainly the 55-plus,” she says. “The fastest-growing segment is the younger market — 35 to 47 … younger people entering the market with families.”
Reasons: affordability, a return to simple pleasures and a desire to get kids outdoors and away from electronic screens.
Don’t own an RV? They can be rented and delivered to a campsite at any of the 14,000 RV camps and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. About 8,000 camps are privately run. The rest are in public parks.
Campgrounds and resorts are adding amenities to offer more than simply a site to pitch a tent or park a pop-up camper. Their goal is to keep city slickers entertained and comfortable.
“We have a class of individuals looking to enjoy all the comforts of home without necessarily having to pay the price of a resort,” says Rob Schutter, chief operating officer of Leisure Systems Inc., franchiser of 75 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts.
The industry targets niche segments — from hardcore outdoor enthusiasts and snowbirds to urban families who may no longer be able to afford plane tickets and hotels but still expect amenities.
“I call it ‘glamping,’ ” says Kenny Johnson, recreation director at Campland on the Bay, a San Diego RV resort that has a sandy beach, skateboard park, cafe and game room. “It’s like a city inside a city.”
“It’s unbelievable,” says Aaron Justice, 35, who joined RVing friends at the camp. “It has an arcade, market, laundromat. You really never have to leave here.”
Justice, who works in construction and lives in Temecula, Calif., usually flies to visit family in Tennessee. “Times are tough, so it makes sense to come here,” he says.
A range of activities
What camps offer:
- Fun. Giant water slides, skateboard parks, wine tastings, zip lines, restaurants, carousels, swimming pools and playgrounds are among an expanding list of amenities. Geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunting game that uses GPS devices to locate hidden treasures, is popular. Some want to get away from it all and seek camps out of range of cellphone towers. Others want wireless access. “We’re in the entertainment business, the experience business,” Schutter says. “We can still cater to people who desire a rugged experience or a true family experience, sitting around the campfire and cooking S’mores.”
- Comfort. “Park models” that look like cabins but can be moved like an RV have become popular rentals. Higher-end models offer bathrooms, kitchenettes, separate bedrooms and real beds. Cheaper units are more primitive.
- Proximity and cost-savings. Parks within 150 miles of a metro area are in demand because they can be reached in a couple of hours, says industry consultant David Gorin, who owns the Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla.
Robert Franz likes to vacation near his home in Berryville, Va., in case he is needed at work. His family goes to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Luray, about an hour away.
His five children love the swimming pool and slide, he says. “If my kids went to Disney World, they’d be bored,” he says. “Here, the boys will go from the paddleboat to the basketball court. … I can turn them loose.”
Brown, the former football star, recalls his introduction to RVs. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “Once you experience something like that, it’s contagious.”
The economy may be mired in recession, but that hasn’t stopped private campground owners in California – the nation’s leading market for RVs and camping – from investing in new campsites, cabins and other upgrades for the upcoming camping season, according to a report from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Campground and RV park operators know that the recession is temporary that it behooves them to continue making improvements to their parks so that they can compete with other travel and tourism options,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
As a result, she said, many private park operators are investing in new facilities and amenities this year, which include everything from new campsites and cabins to hot tubs and swimming pools. For example:
- Auburn Gold Country RV Park, Auburn: This property, which includes 66 RV sites, 20 tent sites and two cabins is getting a $300,000 facelift, which will include upgrading many of its campsites with 50-amp electrical and Wi-Fi service.
- Bakersfield Palms RV Park, Bakersfield: This park recently completed a $1 million expansion and plans to open a new 20-site section for overnight travelers in May. The new section has premium campsites that are 25 feet wide and 70 feet long. The new sites have 50-amp electrical pedestals as well as telephone, cable TV and Wi-Fi service. The existing section of the park has 112 sites.
- Campland on the Bay, San Diego: This RV resort is spending up to $50,000 this year on a skate park, which is expected to open before Memorial Day weekend. The park is also spending $100,000 on other infrastructure improvements, including a leash-free dog park.
- Far Horizons 49’er Village RV Resort, Plymouth: This 329-site park, which also has 13 park model rentals, is planning to spend about $200,000 in improvements this year, mostly involving the park’s swimming pool complex.
- Flying Flags RV Resort, Buellton: This RV resort, located near the Dutch-themed town of Solvang, has budgeted $550,000 for improvements this year, including three recreational-park trailer cabin rental units, a fitness center, electrical and sewer service upgrades, renovation of campsites, cable television system upgrades and new landscaping.
- Frandy Park Campground, Kernville: This park, which has 18 campsites on the Kern River and 60 sites off the river, just installed new asphalt at the entrance to the park. The park is also making landscaping improvements and is installing a new dump tank. The total investment in improvements is expected to be close to $70,000.
- Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground, Klamath: This 33-acre park, which is located in Big Foot country with one quarter mile of frontage along the Klamath River, plans to spend more than $30,000 in improvements this year, which will include construction of 26 new tent sites and three more RV sites.
- Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Pismo Beach: This park is investing more than $700,000 in improvements this year, including the renovation of 51 campsites, which will be upgraded to 50-amp electrical service; the renovation of the swimming and wading pools, road paving and other electrical upgrades. The park is also planning to continue its improvement effort next year and develop another 20-acre site for RV storage.
- Premier RV Resorts, Redding: This park, which has 84 RV sites, 12 tent sites and two yurts, is planning to do a 21-site expansion this year. Other improvements include a new hot tub and a fenced dog-run area. These improvements are expected to cost about $500,000.
- Rancho Los Coches RV Park, Lakeside: This park has invested more than $30,000 in a variety of improvements this year, including renovations to its swimming pool and hot tub and new pool furniture. The park has also built a fitness room and made landscaping improvements with new flowers, shade trees and palm trees, including two Taiwanese King Kong Palms.
- San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA: This park is investing about $200,000 in improvements this year, which include finishing up a 4,000-square-foot dog park and remodeling the camp store. The park has also expanded its lodging with the purchase of six park model cabins last year. The park has 312 sites, including 34 cabins and a total of 10 park models.
- SunLand RV Resorts: This La Jolla-based chain, which has six parks in Riverside and San Diego counties, is upgrading its Wi-Fi system capabilities this year. SunLand’s parks include Golden Village Palms in Hemet, San Diego RV Resort in La Mesa, Escondido RV Resort in Escondido as well as three parks in El Cajon, including Oak Creek RV Resort, Circle RV Resort and Vacationer RV Resort