Before joining Thor Industries Inc. as its director of campground relations last year, Shane Ott spent 23 years with Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), working his way up to president and COO of the company.
But during an address to private park operators attending the ReV up in Reno convention and tradeshow in Sparks, Nev. last month, Ott said the multi-week, long-haul family vacations that many of us grew up with are a thing of the past.
And while recent increases in fuel costs certainly encourage families to camp closer to home, that’s not the only factor.
Most families, he said, no longer can afford time off work to take extended vacations of two weeks or more, as they had in years past. In most cases, both parents are working, and many find it difficult to leave work for more than a few days at a time. Their kids may also have sports practices and other extracurricular activities, which further complicate efforts to escape for a lengthy trip.
As a result, he said, people are taking shorter trips, and they’re camping closer to home. And while there will certainly always be some people who have the ability to take long-haul, multi-week RV and camping trips, Ott said the phenomenon of families taking shorter trips closer to home is “a macro trend that is here to stay.”
But while this may seem like an ominous development for private park operators, campground operators have found that they can broaden their guest base by investing in park model rental accommodations, which are perfect not only for people who don’t have a tent or RV, but for time-deprived families who want to have a quick and easy weekend getaway without having to worry about packing tents and sleeping bags, let alone setting up and taking down camp.
Rental accommodations are lucrative, often generating three times as much as a typical RV site. Park models are more lucrative than RV sites not only because they generate more income per night, but because they tend to be booked more often and have higher average occupancy rates than RV sites.
“To some extent,” Ott said, “campgrounds have insulated themselves from dependence on RVs by investing in park models.”
This is one reason why several Thor subsidiaries have partnered with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) to provide campground operators with special pricing on rental accommodations, including park models manufactured by Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp. and CrossRoads RV as well as travel trailers manufactured by Airstream Inc. and Keystone RV Co.
During an interview with Woodall’s Campground Management, Ott said the park operators were directly involved in helping the Thor companies develop their respective rental products. CrossRoads RV, the latest to join the ARVC-Thor promotion, has several features, including:
- 5/8-inch pine plank tongue and groove interior paneling instead of ¼ inch paneling or gypsum board.
- No carpeting. Instead, the floors are covered with Beau Floor linoleum, which is easy to clean and more resistant to furniture scratching and cracking due to cold weather than other floor coverings.
- No curtains because the materials used in draperies can tear and hold odors. Instead, CrossRoads uses miniblinds, which can be easily cleaned and replaced as needed.
- Residential-style refrigerators. Guests prefer them over compact RV refrigerators because they hold more and work better. They can also be easily replaced as needed.
- Custom designed deck plans. CrossRoads has provided Lowe’s with architectural drawings for patio decks that it designed specifically for its rental units. So whenever park operators want to install a patio, they can simply contact Lowe’s, which will provide them with the deck plans as well as the lumber and other supplies they need.
Esther Osborne of Marble Quarry RV Park in Columbia, Calif., in California’s famed gold rush country, told WCM she has seen evidence of the trends Ott described at her park, which her father has owned and operated for 32 years. She said the park has invested in cabins in recent years to broaden its market base and the results have been significant. “It used to be more clubs and older people that came in here,” she said. “But now (with the rental accommodations), we’re getting a huge mix with a lot of families with children.”
In fact, Osborne was so impressed with the CrossRoads RV unit on display at the Cal-ARVC convention that she bought the unit, and hoped to have it ready for occupancy before Memorial Day weekend.
The convention was sponsored by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) and the associations of several neighboring states.
Ocean Lakes Family Campground, located along the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach, S.C., has been voted the “Best RV/Camping Facility” by those who visit Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Myrtle Beach’s “Grand Strand” attracts more than 14 million visitors annually and those surveyed in this poll voiced a clear preference for Ocean Lakes over other campground options in the area, according to a news release. The “Best of the Beach” survey results were reported in the Oct. 25 edition of The Sun News in the “Visitor’s Voice” section.
The “Best of the Beach” honor is the latest for Ocean Lakes Family Campground, which was named the 2008-2009 National “RV Park of the Year” by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). It is the largest campground on the East Coast and one of the largest in the United States with over 310 acres of campsites and beach house rentals.
“We’re honored that Myrtle Beach visitors voted Ocean Lakes the ‘Best RV/Camping Facility’ on the Grand Strand,” said Barb Krumm, marketing director for Ocean Lakes Family Campground. “There are a lot of great choices out there when it comes to camping. We focus on customer service and upgrading our park’s amenities annually. Our year-round recreation activities feature something for every age from mini-golf, games center, skate park to crafts and shows. This honor speaks volumes to the way we run our business and our dedication to making sure our visitors have fun when they are with us.”
At Ocean Lakes, the fun doesn’t end when the summer season does. Ocean Lakes Family Campground offers affordable family fun all year long, including events like The 26th Annual South Carolina Fossil Fair held on Halloween. Presented by the South Carolina Fossil Association, the Fossil Fair featured experts from the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History who identified fossils brought by participants.
On Dec. 31, a New Year’s Eve party is offered along with the 10th Annual Polar Bear Plunge for those brave folks, young and old, who want to take a winter dip in the ocean. Families can also enjoy the 10th Annual Beach n’ Boogie weekend Feb. 12-13. Beach n’ Boogie kicks off Friday evening with Fantastic Shakers and begins again Saturday morning for a full day of fun activities for the whole family. Saturday’s concert features the Band of Oz. Campsites for this event fill up quickly.
In 2006, Ocean Lakes received the prestigious South Carolina Governor’s Cup for making a significant economic impact on South Carolina. Ocean Lakes covers 310 oceanfront acres with nearly one mile of beachfront. It offers 3,447 sites — 893 of which are large and pull-through to accommodate larger RVs.
It was built by Mary Emily and Nelson Jackson and their five daughters, starting in 1970. It opened with 30 campsites and one bathhouse in 1971. On an average seasonal day, Ocean Lakes has 25,000 – 30,000 guests enjoying the countless amenities that have made it a local favorite and a national vacation destination.
Ocean Lakes Family Campground is a division of the Jackson Cos., a family-owned enterprise that includes Prestwick Golf & Country Club, Ocean Lakes Properties, Crystal Lake Mobile Home Village, Ocean Lakes RV Center and the master-planned development SayeBrook.
Want to hear some good news?
On the heels of a year so completely immersed in negative news headlines, it’s time for some solid, bonafide positive news: The 2009 U.S. summer camping season seems to have exceeded expectations in many cases, especially for parks that aren’t located in remote locales. That’s the message from several articles in the upcoming issue of Woodall’s Campground Management, sister publication to RVBusiness and RVBUSINESS.COM.
“Reports that the economy still stinks are in direct conflict with what our members are telling us,” said Mark Anderson, chairman of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and a veteran New York State campground owner. “Of course there is legitimate concern, though many of our members are reporting average to good business.“
Leisure Systems Inc., franchisors for the Yogi Bear Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, reports revenues up 5% for the season. In fact, several resorts that added waterparks to their facilities saw revenues soar more than 50% this year, reported Dean Crawford, LSI vice president. Some franchisees posted business gains of as much as 10 to 20%, while others reported flat business. On the other hand, Jellystone parks located in out-of-the-way locations tended to register more disappointing results.
Jim Rogers, chairman of Kampgrounds of America Inc., declares in an article in this same issue that the Montana-based park network is seeing a strong resurgence in all types of camping — tents, cabins and RVs – and that camper occupancy this year is on par with 2007, the best year in KOA’s 47-year history.”
All told, the great American outdoors has never looked better to U.S. travelers.
The statistics bear this out.
Nationally, campground reservations in the first six months of 2009 rose 8% over last year, according to the Wall Street Journal. The sale of fishing licenses nationwide is up 7% this year. Outdoor equipment store REI reported sales of family tents up by 20%.
The national park system, spurred by three “fee-free weekends,” is headed for a record-breaking year in 2009 if current travel trends hold up. Nearly 232 million people have already visited national park sites this year with recreational visits in ’09 up almost 5% vs. the first nine months of 2008, ABC News reports. If visitation stays strong through year’s end, in fact, the parks could see more than 288 million visitors for ’09, topping the previous records of more than 287 milllion in 1987 and 1999, the National Park Service (NPS) confirms.
Yellowstone National Park, in itself, had a record number of visitors in July, with over 900,000, up from about 800,000, in July 2008.
Camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was up this summer for the first time in almost a decade. Smoky Mountain visitation so far this year was up 6.2% over last year at press time. The park’s strongest month of the summer was June, which registered a whopping 11% increase over June 2008, according to the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel.
Glacier National Park just finished its busiest summer in 15 years, tallying 1.47 million visitors through its entrance stations in June, July and August, according to the dailyinterlake.com — the highest summer visitor total since 1994, when 1.5 million visitors entered the park during the peak season.
What’s up with all this good news?
“Generally, in times of economic turmoil, national parks are seen as being a great value, and people really connect with the parks as a place to go,” says Jeffey G. Olson, a spokesman.
Meanwhile, WCM Contributor Bob Ashley, sampling private campground owners across the nation in his monthly “On Campgrounds” column, finds a consistent pattern. For instance, Ozark RV Park in Mountain View, Ark., owner Andy Rutledge tells Ashley that his 73-site park had the best summer season since he bought the park nine years ago.
Yellowstone Park KOA in West Yellowstone, Mont., experienced a good year, too, although people are being more frugal. ”Occupancy has been quite high this year,” said manager John Dutton. ”But store and auxiliary sales are not there. People are not going into the restaurants as much and not buying as many souvenirs. People are traveling, but they aren’t spending their dollars.”
Even with a challenged economy and bad weather early, Dan Adams, owner of Lake Bohoseen Campground in Bohoseen, Vt., was pleased with the results at his 140-site park. ”I think we did quite well,” said Adams, whose park also sells travel trailers and recreational park trailers. ”We were way down in May and June, but July and August turned around when the weather got better. We ended up about even with last year.”
Even in two Midwestern states hard hit by the recession, there were encouraging signs. Michigan park operators seem to have held their own in 2009, reported the Detroit News. Many destinations reported little change from last year, a small victory for resort operators who feared the state’s escalating unemployment rate – now at 15% – and fallout from the auto industry’s collapse would keep budget-conscious consumers away.
Ohio State Parks data from mid-July show camping has increased by over 15% from last year, and getaway rentals – ranging from platform tents to camper cabins – also are up by almost 5%.
Uniquely situated between a sagging economy and dropping gas prices, Dave Zentgraf’s RV rental business in Wichita Falls, Texas, is at the right place and the right time.
D&D Enterprises is in the midst of its fourth summer vacation season. Having started out with only three recreational vehicles, Zentgraf now has a stable of 12 travel trailers and one motorhome, few of which remained on the lot Friday morning (July 17), according to the Wichita Falls Times-Record.
“Three left yesterday and two went out early this morning,” said Zentgraf, who also owns Moonlight Limousine Service. “Bookings are up about 70% from last year and our customers are very satisfied.”
Zentgraf points to lower gas prices as one reason for increased interest in RV use.
“Most people only have a couple of times a year when they can get away, so maintaining, insuring and storing an RV for the rest of the year doesn’t make sense to them,” he said. “This way they have all the fun without the upkeep and other responsibilities. It also lets people who are thinking about buying a chance to see how they like different styles.”
The Internet has also made a big difference for D&D. Customers shopping prices quickly discover Zentgraf’s biggest trailers rent for $395 as opposed to $795 from similar Metroplex businesses. Trips planned for points north or west make it easy to stop and hitch one up, he said.
“We’ve had people headed to Quartz Mountain and Waurika Lake in Oklahoma. One fellow was on his way to a powwow in Walters. Using them for family reunions and out-of-town guests is also getting popular,” Zentgraf said. “We’ve even had a family rent an RV to do medical transport. They were moving their 82-year-old mother and this was more practical and comfortable than paying $6,000 for an ambulance.”
Most of the D&D lineup has been booked for Hotter’N Hell cycling race held each August since last year. Zentgraf sets up the trailers, which sleep from four to eight people, at the campsite, turns on the air-conditioning and makes sure the refrigerators are stocked with plenty of cold water.
“It’s just been amazing this year, but what it tells me is that people still like the idea of family camping,” said Zentgraf. “If you can do it this comfortably, why not?”