Who could have believed a few years ago that one of the better attended seminars at Kampground of America Inc.’s (KOA) International Convention in Savannah in November would have addressed the squeamish topic of bedbugs?
It’s a problem that had receded along with the World War II generation, but has again reared its ugly little head in a wide variety of places – restaurants, insurance companies, churches, office buildings and, yes, RV parks and campgrounds as more of them cater to park models, cabins and a variety of new lodging concepts.
A study conducted in July by the National Pest Management Association and the University of Kentucky found almost 20% of exterminators had been to workplaces for bedbugs vs. 1% three years ago.
“We are dealing with bedbugs one case at a time,” explained Mike Atkinson, director of lodging for Kampgrounds of America. “The campground industry in the United States is not heavily infested as a general rule. KOA in particular has had only minor issues.”
But that doesn’t rule out the need for campground owners to become educated about what Atkinson refers to as very industrious little bugs, samples of which, floating in vials of formaldehyde, were passed around to the seminar attendees.
“We need to be on top of this issue and handle it properly so we can be a bedbug-free industry,” he said. “The lack of education is the source of our fear. Once you have a little bit of knowledge about them you don’t fear them.”
Bedbugs, which dine on human blood, were previously eradicated in the United States, but have slowly come back over the last 30 years mainly due to overseas travel and the ban of the chemical DDT.
“Bedbugs are a fascinating little creature, actually,” Atkinson said. “They will only live within about five feet of a meal – in close proximity to beds. They sense the carbon dioxide people exhale so that is why they come out at night. We emit carbon dioxide continuously while we sleep. They inject a little anesthetic before they bite and that is why victims don’t wake up to the biting.”
These hardy insects can go without a meal if they have to for up to 18 months.
“What we were trying to figure out is the eradication technique that would work the best at campgrounds,” Atkinson said.
When Atkinson began reading articles about the issue he came across a common denominator – Wayne Walker, senior pest controller at the University of Florida, who wound up as the presenter of KOA’s bedbug seminar.
At the University of Florida, where there has been a bedbug issue within married housing, Walker developed and openly endorsed a unique process utilizing Nuvan ProStrips for dorm room size, which is also ideal for cabins at campgrounds.
Nuvan ProStrips, made by Amvac Chemical Corp., Axis, Ala., are hung up and vapor off bedbugs and other pests. The active ingredient is dichlorvos (DDVP).
“There is a specific technique for use in a small area, like a cabin or a lodge,” Atkinson said. “It kills them in all life stages. It is not harmful to humans. It takes about 48 hours and campground owners can re-rent the cabin. There is no danger, no residual in the air. We have seen it be 100% effective so far.”
Atkinson said campgrounds can use it freely, although it’s not available for use in New York or Connecticut because of restricted use on pesticides.
Visit www.amvac-chemical.com/nuvan_prostrips_labels.html for more information on Nuvan ProStrips. Visit www.bedbugregistry.com to see a listing by state of lodging where bedbugs have been found.
Campers flipping through the pages of the all new printed edition of the 2011 Kampgrounds of America Directory will now be able to use Microsoft Tag technology and their smart phones to access enriched content such as photographs and special deals on the Internet, according to a news release.
“Adding nearly 500 Microsoft Tags to our new directory gives our campers a way to directly access more information about our campgrounds than we would ever be able to print,” said Mike Gast, vice president of communications for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). “Our directory includes more Microsoft Tags than any other publication, and we’re very proud of that fact.”
Microsoft Tag is a kind of customizable 2D barcode that can be displayed anywhere and connects almost anything in the real world to information, entertainment and interactive experiences on a mobile phone. They can be black and white or color. Tags are scanned using the free downloadable Microsoft Tag Reader on a smart phone (available at www.gettag.mobi).
“We’re excited that Kampgrounds of America is using Tag to extend their directory beyond the printed page,” said Bill McQuain, director of Tag product management at Microsoft Corp. “Microsoft Tag makes the world around you clickable, and now with the scan of Tag in KOA’s directory, campers will unlock even more information and a rich interactive experience.”
The new KOA directory, which also includes more than 20 popular camping recipes from the test kitchens of Better Homes & Gardens, is currently available at any open KOA location in North America. Directories have also been shipped directly to the homes of campers who are members of the KOA Value Kard Rewards program.
The directory includes complete descriptions of all 474 KOA locations in North America, as well as detailed driving directions and locator maps. Each campground listing includes a Microsoft Tag that will take campers directly online to view additional content about each campground, such as photographs, videos and up-to-date “Hot Deals” at each park.
“We chose the Microsoft Tag technology because we are quickly able to change a Tag’s destination on the Internet, if need be,” Gast said. “Tags allow us to keep the experience fresh for our campers. This is just the beginning of the blending of our printed Directory and our online content.”
In the next few weeks, KOA will be adding a digital, downloadable edition of the directory to its KOA.com website.
“This will give our campers a paperless alternative to the printed Directory,” Gast said. “They will be able to download all 250 pages of the Directory right to their computers or mobile devices, and take it with them on their travels.”
You can follow KOA on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/KOAKampgrounds.
More information about how Microsoft Tag can power digital marketing is available at http://tag.microsoft.com. People can follow the Tag community on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/microsofttag or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/microsofttag.
Woodall Publications Corp has included 39 Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) parks in North America on its annual list of top-rated campgrounds and RV parks, according to a KOA news release.
That total is more than any other camping company in the U.S. or Canada placed on the list, according to officials at Woodall’s.
The 5W/5W top rating from Woodall’s allows recreational vehicle owners and campers to search and find the top-rated RV parks and campgrounds that meet their travel needs, according to Joe Daquino, senior vice president and publisher for Affinity Group Inc.’s (AGI) Affinity Media Division, the parent company for Woodall Publications.
“Privately owned campgrounds and RV parks covet the 5W Woodall’s rating,” Daquino said. “It’s valued as the industry’s longest running standard, and most respected rating system.”
A total of 333 campgrounds in North America received the 5W/5W rating for 2011 and are listed in the 2011 Woodall’s North American Campground Directory.
“It’s gratifying to have an outside authority such as Woodall’s Publications verify what our campers already know,” said Pat Hittmeier, KOA president. “We pride ourselves on the fact that our KOA owners know what their campers want because we tirelessly survey our campers and ask that very question. Our KOA owners have become experts in analyzing the camping data we provide, and working hard to ensure that they deliver just the sort of experience our campers want and expect.”
In order to rate campgrounds across North America, Woodall’s field teams conduct their own on-site inspections of every park. The final ratings are a composite of several different areas of interest, including a campground’s physical grounds, restrooms, site and road developments, surrounding recreation and the superior maintenance of its facilities.
The KOA campgrounds receiving a 5W/5W Woodall’s rating for 2011 are:
- Hot Springs National Park KOA located in Hot Springs, Ark.
- San Diego Metro KOA located in Chula Vista, Calif.
- San Francisco N/Petaluma KOA located in Petaluma, Calif.
- Pueblo South/Colorado City KOA located in Pueblo, Colo.
- Grand Junction KOA located in Grand Junction, Colo.
- Starke/Gainesville NE KOA located in Starke, Fla.
- Lafayette KOA located in Scott, La.
- Port Huron KOA located in Kimball, Mich.
- Petoskey KOA located in Petoskey, Mich.
- Branson KOA located in Branson Mo.
- Polson/Flathead Lake KOA located in Polson, Mont.
- Chocorua KOA located in Chocorua, N.H.
- Carlsbad KOA located in Carlsbad, N.M.
- Newburgh/New York City North KOA located in Plattekill, N.Y.
- Watkins Glen/Corning KOA located in Watkins Glen, N.Y.
- Chautauqua Lake KOA located in Dewittville, N.Y.
- Buckeye Lake/Columbus East KOA located in Buckeye Lake, Ohio.
- Dayton KOA located in Brookville, Ohio.
- Shelby/Mansfield KOA located in Shelby, Ohio.
- Sandusky/Bayshore KOA located in Sandusky, Ohio.
- Checotah/Lake Eufaula West KOA located in Checotah, Okla.
- Allentown KOA located in New Tripoli, Pa.
- Erie KOA located in McKean, Pa.
- Gettysburg/Battlefield KOA located in Gettysburg, Pa.
- Bellefonte/State College KOA located in Bellefonte, Pa.
- Pine Grove/Twin Grove Park KOA located in Pine Grove, Pa.
- Rapid City KOA located in Rapid City, S.D.
- Badlands/White River KOA located in Interior, S.D.
- Mount Rushmore KOA located in Hill City, S.D.
- Manchester KOA located in Manchester, Tenn.
- Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg KOA located in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
- Rusk KOA located in Rusk, Texas.
- South Padre Island KOA located in South Padre Island Texas.
- Lake Conroe/Houston North KOA located in Montgomery, Texas
- Williamsburg KOA located in Williamsburg, Va.
- Harpers Ferry/Civil War Battlefield KOA located in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.
- Barrie KOA located in Barrie, Ontario.
- Thunder Bay KOA located in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
- Toronto North/Cookstown KOA located in Cookstown, Ontario.
With 67 RV sites, cottonwood trees, rock climbing walls and a three-acre fishing lake stocked with trout and catfish, Rancho Jurupa Park in Riverside, Calif., lives up to its billing as “a perfect setting for a quick escape from the city.”
Operated by the Riverside County Regional Park & Open Space District, it’s also one of a growing number of government-run parks investing in park models as rental accommodations.
“We did a feasibility study and a master plan, and one of the features that was called out was cabins for folks who want to get outdoors and have a nice recreational experience, but don’t have a camping unit themselves,” said Scott Bangle, general manager of park district.
Riverside County just installed six Silvercrest/Western Homes Division park models at Rancho Jurupa Park, and the county plans to add more park models to other county parks in the future. “I could see having a handful of units at every park,” Bangle said. “(They) will be part of our inventory at all of our major regional parks someday.”
Riverside County, of course, isn’t the only government agency that’s investing in park models as rental units. Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. just delivered 25 park model cabins to Lassen National Park in Northern California, and the company is in discussions with other California counties about purchasing parks models for use as rental accommodations, said Tim Gage, vice president of Cavco’s Specialty Division.
“We believe that the government campground parks are a marketplace that hasn’t been fully explored at this point,” said Gage.
Private parks, for their part, have been stepping up their investments in park model cabins in recent years. But despite the significant purchases of park model cabins as rental units by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) and operators of independent parks, North America’s private campground sector is still a long way from being saturated with rental accommodations.
In fact, the KOA system, which purchased 317 park models last year, is now waiving royalty fees on park model income for one year on any new units that its franchisees purchase this year.
“The idea is to encourage more KOAs to invest in lodging,” said Mike Atkinson, director of lodging for the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor, adding that park models are “becoming an absolute necessity to grow your campground income.”
Necessity or not, park models accounted for 1,168 of KOA’s 1,530 fully equipped (with bathrooms) rental accommodations systemwide in 2010 and generated over three times as much income as typical RV sites. “Park models have the longest short-term occupancy and you get over three times the money,” Atkinson said.
Atkinson added that most people who could be potential campground accommodations guests have not even been exposed yet to the concept.
Of course, Atkinson cautions that simply purchasing park models doesn’t turn into immediate revenue hikes because they have to be marketed. He says it typically takes three years for them to reach their marketing potential.
Nevertheless, some park operators find that these ordinarily rustic-looking units outperform their expectations.
Scott Cory, managing partner of Ventura Ranch KOA in the mountains southeast of Santa Barbara, Calif., installed four Cavco park models at his park in June of last year. It was the first time his park offered accommodations and he found that his guests responded very favorably to his investment.
“Lodging is the biggest ‘wow’ factor we’ve done at our park,” he said, adding that he plans to purchase six more park models this year. He also complements his park models with glamour tents and teepees.
Manufacturers, for their part, are increasingly rolling out more park model rental options, not only to accommodate rising demand for rental units, but to make up for recent declines in sales to consumers who traditionally purchased park models and placed them on leased campsites for use as their own private vacation cottage.
“We’re looking at doing more rentals because more and more campgrounds are realizing the benefits of having park models versus transient RV sites,” said Tyler Steele, vice president of Canterbury RV in Goshen, Ind.
“Listening to the needs and desires of campground owners and then turning that input into an affordable and profitable cabin design has been a crucial key to our growth,” said Andy Davis, sales manager for Pinnacle Park Homes in Ochlocknee, Ga.
Some park model manufacturers, however, still focus most of their attention on producing units for consumers who want to buy them for use as vacation cottages that they can place on leased or purchased campsites in campgrounds, RV parks or resorts.
“We’re probably about 10% for campground rentals, while 90% of our production is for retail sales,” said John Soard, general manager of Fairmont Park Trailers in Nappanee, Ind.
Joe Follman, sales manager for Chariot Eagle Inc. in Ocala, Fla., added that park operators that rent or lease sites to park model owners can benefit from having a steady income stream. “I think there’s still a lot of room to grow in this industry, both in the Sunbelt and up north,” he said. “There’s still plenty of business out there. We’re such a small percentage of the RV business.”
A continuing roadblock is the availability of financing, both for consumers and parks that want to purchase park models for use as rental accommodations.
“You can show how quickly they can be paid off, and how it’s a great investment to put cabins in. But the lenders are just not buying aggressively,” said Dick Grymonprez of Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas. “If we could get financing, all of us would be building more cabins. I can’t tell you how many campgrounds tell me, ‘If you can get us financing, we’ll buy six.’ I can’t tell you how many roadblocks we face getting them financed.”
But there is money out there. Parks are continuing to purchase park models. And, increasingly, manufacturers say that the best sources are local lenders rather than nationally known lenders that have little knowledge or experience with the park model product.
The same approach can also help consumers find sources of financing for park models they’d like to purchase as private vacation cottages. “We’re recommending that dealers work with their local banks and educate them about the lack of defaults in the park model world and why it’s a good business model for them,” said Steele of Canterbury RV.
Kampgrounds of America, a prime sponsor of the gold-medal-winning United States bobsled team at the 2010 Winter Olympics, will be prominently featured when the U .S. Bobsled Team competes in the World Cup Bobsledding event Saturday (Dec. 18) at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Elana Meyers, a bronze medalist at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, will pilot the yellow, KOA-themed sled.
“We’re thrilled to again be able to play a role in the success of the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Teams,” KOA CEO Jim Rogers said in a news release. “To have the team race in a Kampgrounds of America-themed sled makes it all the more special. We know the team will continue its resurgence as a power in world bobsled competition, and it’s wonderful to be able to share in that.”
The Lake Placid World Cup event will not be broadcast live, but will be shown by NBC Universal the following weekend.
These, of course, are not regular times. These are post-recessionary times — emphasis on recessionary — when the U.S. is digging out of a tough situation. And, as you know, we’re still digging, more so in some areas of the country than others.
Yet, as sister publications RVBusiness’s and Woodall’s Campground Management’s small staff sat down to review the year that was, we couldn’t help but marvel at the top-ranked story in our list below — the fact that the industry had indeed outperformed many other American business sectors for the second year in a row.
Without looking a gift horse in the mouth, it’s hard to figure in times like these.
But maybe that’s the point: Maybe times like these in some cases bring out the best of those lucky enough to enjoy them. Maybe we’ll just chalk it up to North America’s drive — lust might be a better word — for affordable recreation, a habit that the average family has retained throughout the global recession.
We’ve seen it at the tollgates in large public parks like Yellowstone and at the registration desks of hundreds of private campgrounds and resorts enough to know that it’s real. Having said that, here’s a quick look at our Top Ten campground news stories for 2010:
(1): RV park and campground business again bucks recessionary pressure to post gains in 2010. “Our members are generally reporting a better year than 2009, with the exception of the Gulf Coast areas,” Linda Profaizer, retiring president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), noted in her President’s Message.
“It appears that snowbirds are returning in bigger numbers than last year as well,” she added. “Most parks report an increase in rental accommodations and tenting is still a major part of the picture.”
Indeed, in his remarks during ARVC’s annual meeting, ARVC Chairman David L. Berg said the economic downturn has actually created new business opportunities for private parks as families and other travelers look for more affordable ways to enjoy weekend getaways and vacation time.
It’s not just an isolated trend. Industry leader Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) reported year-over-year gains in each of the first 10 months of 2010 with total revenues up 8.5 % over 2009. For the summer camping season, same store revenues were up 6% and camper nights up 4.5%.
Leisure Systems Inc. ((LSI), franchisors of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, reported same park revenue up 5% in 2010. While site revenue was down 4%, rental income was up 15%, store revenues grew 15% and miscellaneous revenue was up 19%. And LSI looks for more of the same in 2011, thanks in part to the release in late 2010 of a new “Yogi Bear” Warner Brothers movie starring the voices of Dan Akroyd and Justin Timberlake.
(2) The RV Centennial, the focus of which was in June when the ARVC Business Forum ventured to Elkhart, Ind., along with much of the recreational vehicle industry for Recreation Vehicle Industry Association’s (RVIA) joint Annual Meeting and Committee Week proceedings and a party at the RV/MH Hall of Fame.
RVIA determined that 2010 was the centennial year for the industry, and what a year it was. The Go RVing Coalition promoted events throughout the year in conjunction with the centennial. The Coalition’s “Ambassadors of Affordability” cartoon characters appeared in Go RVing TV spots, and “Centennial Charlie,” a stuffed bear, made a PR tour across the country. The highlight of the year came in early June with a big bash in Elkhart, but other events were held across the nation at campgrounds, RV dealerships and elsewhere. It was, by most accounts, a public relations extravaganza.
(3) Gulf Coast RV parks share with other commercial segments in negative oil spill spillover. An explosion on April 20 at a Deep Water Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men working on the rig and set off a massive oil leak that would ultimately send more than 250 million gallons of oil into the Gulf and threaten hundreds of miles of ocean frontage.
The oil fouled beaches from Florida to Louisiana, stifling tourism for months. Business was down significantly at campgrounds across the region, even where the beaches were never involved. It was a major PR problem for the tourism industry, which was still gradually recovering at year’s end.
(4) Flash flood kills 20 campers in June at Arkansas campground. Heavy rains the night of June 11 sent a wall of water in the “Loop D” area of secluded publicly operated Albert Pike Campground nearly Langley in western Arkansas. In all, 20 campers at the 54-site park were killed in the disaster,
The Caddo and Little Missouri rivers — two normally gentle waterways — rose by 20 feet overnight, engulfing the hikers and campers who were spending the night in tents along the rivers in the isolated Ouachita Mountains. “Within ten minutes the water had rose and campers were floating down,” a survivor told ABC News. “If they didn’t get out of their camper within five, ten minutes, they weren’t getting out.”
(5) Succession at ARVC — Linda Profaizer retiring and Paul Bambei succeeding her. Profaizer announced in the spring that she would be retiring after 10 years at ARVC’s helm and 40 years in the industry — a tenure that included her time as president of then Chicago-based Woodall Publications Corp.
ARVC looked both inside and outside the RV park and campground sector for her successor and recently hired Comcast Corp. veteran Paul Bambei. He never owned a campground, but he’s an avid RVer and was touted as an expert marketing executive. He was introduced at ARVC’s InSites Convention in December.
(6) Succession at KOA — Pat Hittmeier named president of KOA in February, succeeding Shane Ott. A 29-year veteran of the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor’s front office, Hittmeier was named president on Feb. 28 after Shane Ott stepped down. Hittmeier held several positions at KOA before taking on the presidency of the 475-member campground chain, and so far, from all we can gather, his relatively quiet demeanor and astute business instincts are serving him well.
(7) Virtual Campground Expo breaks ground on new era of trade shows. Campground vendor Art Lieberman earned praise in 2010 for introducing the industry’s first virtual online trade show, a “Virtual Outdoor Hospitality Expo” that kicked off in early November and continues today for those choosing to pay the site a visit.
While some argue that these online expos are the way of the future, Lieberman gets an “A” for effort, but a “C” for the site’s actual performance due to software issues that soured some on this landmark event. Lieberman, owner of MCPS for Campgrounds, was up front about the problems and pledged to try again, if not in 2011, then in 2012.
(8) Best Parks in America expands membership to 71 by year’s end. Best Parks in America, launched in 2004 by industry consultant and entrepreneur David Gorin as a marketing network, must be somewhere close to reaching critical mass by now, as the 71-park organization held its annual meeting and a slate of seminars Dec. 1-2 at the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on the brink of the ARVC InSites convention.
Now, having made some serious changes over the past year, Gorin says Best Parks is getting ready to grow to the next level as an organization that will provide more business tools yet remain “a system of independent unique parks.”
(9) CalARVC takes lead on holding tank chemical ban in California, despite legislative headwinds. Based on the premise that formaldehyde-containing products used in RV holding tank waste treatments have troubled RV park and campground septic systems for years, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) decided earlier this year that it was time for a change.
So, CalARVC lobbied extensively to ban six specific chemicals from all holding tank treatment solutions utilized in the Golden State, and the California State Assembly passed landmark legislation in late summer. However, outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill to ban the chemicals and referred the matter to a state agency for remediation while CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe has vowed to march on with an education program.
(10) ARVC’s ongoing headquarter saga. The national trade association announced in late spring its decision to move from Larkspur, Colo., a rural location to which it had moved in 2009 from Washington D.C.’s suburban Virginia, to more urban Castle Rock in the Denver area on the premise that it would be a better place in which to do business.
Then, in December, after some internal debate a few weeks ago, the ARVC board voted unanimously not to move to Castle Rock and instead authorized new CEO Paul Bambei to look elsewhere for suitable space in the greater Denver area.
Despite the nation’s challenging economic environment, business for most of Kampground of America Inc.’s 460-plus parks is relatively good right now. In fact, it’s real good in some cases. That much was evident at KOA’s Annual International Convention at which some 500 people – representing 220 parks – gathered Nov. 7-10 at the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa in Savannah, Ga.
How so many entrepreneurial franchisees like Steve Jewell, of Spartanburg NE/Gaffney, S.C. KOA, managed to so gracefully avoid the more dire effects of the Great Recession is hard to figure.
So far, however, that appears to be the case.
“Our business has been strong this year and last year right through the rather low period that other people experienced,” said Jewell, a convention attendee who does “huge” repeat business. “We’ve experienced continual growth over 29 of the last 30 months with increases over 10% — and as much as 18% to 19% — from the previous year.”
By the same token, Al Johnson’s 10 KOAs are all posting revenue gains. “We had a banner year for our company, which was chasing a really good year last year,” says Johnson, whose South Dakota-based Recreational Adventures Co. has benefited from both good weather and economy-seeking campers.
Neither Jewell nor Johnson was doing paid testimonials for KOA, but they well could have because their remarks are consistent with the company’s own impressive report: KOA’s core business saw strong growth during the company’s summer camping season, with same store revenue up 6% and camper nights up 4.5% over 2009, according to an “annual report” distributed by the company at its upbeat convention.
KOA President Pat Hittmeier says the company experienced year-over-year gains in each of the first 10 months of 2010, while destination locations near major attractions and “along-the-way parks” that feed those major markets did particularly well.
KOA’s total revenues are up about 8 1/2 percent in this, the second consecutive year of strong gains compared to the “poor” results posted in the recessionary summer of 2008. “We are still just a fraction below where we were in 2007,” Hittmeier told RVBusiness. “So we are very close to that benchmark, which was an excellent year.”
In fact, Hittmeier says KOA had surpassed 2009’s total year-end camper nights by early November.
“As consumer confidence and the jobs market come back, we are looking for a record-breaking year in 2011 for the summer,” adds Hittmeier. “The part that is a little disconcerting is the winter business, that which takes place between Nov. 1 and April 30. It has been down multiple years in a row. There are two parts of that — the short-term traveler and the extended stay snowbird.
“The snowbird business has stayed pretty stable — down a little bit, up a little bit,” he continued. “But the traveling market in the wintertime period has taken a big hit. That group has gone down repeatedly since the 2006-07 winter. Last year, we thought it would stabilize. It didn’t. It’s about 25% of what it was in 2007. We are hoping this year that it will turn around and that that particular retiree market will come back.”
KOA, in turn, expects to finish 2010 with a total count of about 470 parks, 26 of them company owned, the rest operated by independent franchisees. Hittmeier says KOA usually adds through conversions of new parks as many as 20 to 25 parks a year and loses through attrition anywhere between five and 15 parks in a average year.
Cultivating a Lucrative New “Lodging” Business
Looking ahead, the so-called “lodging” market remains a big target of KOA’s as the company continues to spearhead a trend toward rustic looking, wood-clad cottages built by three preferred providers: Cavco Park Homes & Cabins, Goodyear, Ariz.; Thor’s Breckenridge division, Nappanee, Ind.; and General Coach of Hensall, Ontario, Canada, all three of which had units on hand at the Georgia convention.
In fact, Hittmeier says there’s now a total of about 5,000 “roofed accommodations” in the KOA system – the goal being to add another 1,700 by 2015.
“We added about 400 roofed accommodations last year — most of those being park model types with full-service kitchens and bathrooms,” said Hittmeier. “Our lodge nights were up 35% in October, so we are starting to see some shoulder season business from these lodges, which is something we didn’t experience from our camping cabins (small dwellings lacking kitchen and bathroom facilities).”
These fully equipped recreational park trailers are called “Kamping Lodges.”
The next phase in KOA’s ongoing push into the lodging arena – a rather bold step that represents a definite departure – is a move toward the traditional hotel/motel field. As a matter of fact, the company-owned properties department has developed an operational manual specifically for lodging. “We are going to go more deeply into the linen market and hit the hotel/motel market head on,” says Hittmeier. “It’s a big jump because there’s a lot of work behind it relative to commercial laundries and taking on some systems.
“Anytime we have more than 10 lodges on a property, we are going to go to that model.”
The biggest challenge related to all that, he agrees, is to get the word out to the North American public that all of these lodges exist and that a young traveling family – or a family visiting an area for a soccer tournament — can opt to stay in a pretty little pine-sided cottage at the KOA instead of the Marriott Courtyard.
“The people who are staying in our lodges rate the experiences at the highest level,” said Hittmeier, now in his second year as KOA’s president. “They rate us higher than people who stay in RV sites, and of course, they pay the most amount of money. We know we’ve got a good product. The people who stay in them are first-time visitors to KOA as well, so they are not RVers. It is a new market, a primarily family market.
“When we get critical mass of enough units out there, I think we’ll start to see an even stronger draw and awareness,” said Hittmeier, adding that about 200 KOAs currently operate lodging accommodations.
“The hotel industry is coming toward us,” adds KOA CEO Jim Rogers. “They’re not changing your sheets anymore. They’re trying to put in a breakfast in the morning, trying to get you to socialize, but you still worry about going next door, knocking on the door and getting shot. That’s not what’s going to happen in this (campground) environment. These little buildings give you a sense of ownership — it’s a cottage, it’s a chalet, it’s a cabin, it’s yours, it’s reasonably priced. And you get something that you won’t get from a hotel.
“Now you’re (the park operator) in hospitality. We are moving toward them and they’re moving towards us. But we win because we’ve got 22 acres to go play on.
The problem is that nobody knows we’ve got them. We put it in our directory last year, but that was talking to our own campers. The people who are noticing our lodges are paying the most and have the highest satisfaction, return and value.
“And they are demographically diverse. We are seeing the African-American, Asians and Latinos use these products and loving them. That takes you beyond even the hotel component. It reaches you into a whole new strata of incremental business.”
Unprecedented Focus on The Company’s KOA.com
Another significant focal point for KOA right now is its revamped www.koacom website. This is no ordinary website, not for the $900,000 that the company recently invested in it — in addition to the $1 million KOA typically injects into its web operations on an annual basis.
One of the revamped website’s new features is geo-coding, which allows the site to know where an online user is located, and display campgrounds and special offers in that area.
“The old version of koa.com was already the most visited camping website in the world, with more than 1.1 million visitors each month,” said Lorne Armer, vice president of marketing for KOA. “But it was time for an upgrade, and the new koa.com offers our guests an enhanced online experience as they plan their camping trips, discover what there is to do near our campgrounds and make their reservations.”
The new site allows park operators to manage their own content and also features Google Mapping, a familiar online technology that allows users to quickly navigate state and provincial maps, zeroing in on just the right locations.
“The new KOA.com, which was produced by our partners at Genex in Los Angeles, will allow campers to spend time discovering some of the wonderful locations we have at KOA, so they do all of their trip research efficiently in one easy-to-navigate location,” said Armer. “They will have real-time access to more than 60,000 of North America’s best recreational vehicle sites, tent sites and accommodations such as our new Kamping Lodges.”
Hittmeier says KOA had planned to launch the revamped website in May, realizing its growth potential, especially among first timers. But building 10,000 pages and integrating the company’s Kampsite reservations operating system was quite a test.
“It was a little more complicated than we thought,” explained Hittmeier. “Instead of a nine-month period, it turned into more like a year-and-a -half launch period. And once we got into the middle of summer, we thought there was no way we could launch this when we are doing about $40 million in reservations through koa.com. Our campground owners would kill us if we launched a brand new website in the middle of their season. So, we waited until just a couple of weeks ago to launch it.”
Keynote Speaker Preaches The Power of Instant Feedback
Keynote speaker Fred Reichheld, a customer service guru who authored the groundbreaking book “The Ultimate Question – Driving Good Profits and True Growth,” told the assembled attendees that he had studied several companies that had experienced exceptional growth like Chick-Fil-A, Southwest Airlines and Enterprise Rent-a-Car.
What he found was a singular dedication to treating customers well and an ability to quickly measure their success and “make good things happen with what they learned.”
And that’s the kind of responsive approach KOA is trying to emulate.
Reichheld’s measurement tool, the Net Promoter Score, simply asks customers to rate their stay immediately after departure, and guests are asked if they’d likely recommend the business to a friend. The low scores, or “detractors” are subtracted from the top scores, or “promoters” to arrive at a “net promoter score.”
Reichheld’s new scoring system, providing KOA owners with immediate customer feedback on a daily basis — allowing them to quickly check progress and correct service problems as they occur — was adopted by the KOA system this summer as a means of helping operators improve service to campers.
He said sharing immediate customer feedback with employees is a great way to insure everyone – the owner, customer and employee – can win.
As part of its new “Rate Your Stay” feedback loop, KOA guests get an automatic e-mail from KOA thanking them for their business and asking them to rate their experience and add verbatim responses if they so choose. Consequently, KOA owners received over 120,000 immediate, catalogued responses from guests so far, allowing them to take quick action on operational issues.
“This response in addition to the verbatim feedback, comes back to our KOA owners immediately,” says Hittmeier. “Each morning they can open up their responses and we provide an organized list of where their score are at, verbatim, ranking them by site types, and so forth. So, they can manage their business on a daily basis. They use this to reinforce good service practices with their staff. It’s a real good tool that will help us move those service scores up.”
“We’ve continued to refine and focus our quality process where now, we wake up in the morning and see what our customers said about us yesterday and we respond to it,” Rogers explained. “We are able to make a phone call if they are disappointed. We are dealing with one guest at a time to make sure their stay at KOA was satisfactory to them.
Rogers Addresses Financially Strapped Public Park Sector
In what amounts to a real turnaround for the RV park and campground arena, Rogers is appealing to the private park sector to take heed of the sorry current state of public parks faced with critical budget cuts.
“The public sector is in a world of hurt,” he maintained. “I don’t care if you are at the federal or state level. They represent 8,000 campgrounds. We have 8,000 commercial campgrounds. They have 8,000 very distinguished specific locations that Americans enjoy, as do our visitors. So, you have to begin to ask the question: Are there any things that we’re doing on the commercial side that can be of assistance to the private side. That’s where the doorbell is being rung.”
Although KOA isn’t interested in any concessionaire relationships, he adds, they’d like to figure how KOA franchisees near public facilities can be of assistance or can “create an opportunity to take park rangers and teach them the free enterprise system.
“They are at a clear dead end,” said Rogers. “What we are hearing from the Forest Service is that they can’t find anybody (entry-level personnel) in the channel. They are retiring all these people and there’s nobody to replace them.”
So maybe, he argues, the private sector can help.
“We’re here in the state of Georgia,” added Rogers. “Their park budget was cut 30% and they lost a referendum in California for an $18 million license fee that would have collected $500 million. They are threatening to close 126 parks. If this feeder system gets sicker and then closes, the commercial campground business is in trouble.
“So much of what you get is that entry point (for first-time campers) in the state parks. You’re going to lose that beginning point. If you take all the KOA campers and aggregate their camper nights, 20% of those are spent in public facilities. They’re on their way to a location. They stay with us on the way, but they are going to Yellowstone. If a state park is closed or doesn’t provide the service they want, we’re going to lose the traffic in between.”
While the private park sector is opposed to using public funds to build new parks to compete with them, Rogers observed, everyone needs to be careful not to forfeit in the current budget crises tens of thousands of camper nights. “We need to be more robust by putting our heads together to see if there’s a new paradigm that we can operate under,” he noted. “If we do, I think we’re going to find those state and national parks are going to upgrade their services and increase their rates and better service the camping public. We’ll all benefit from that.”
KOA Honors Franchisees At Savannah Convention
KOA honored a number of franchisees with awards. The top honorees were Michael and Kristi Kuper, owners of the KOA in Thunder Bay, Ontario, recipients of the Franchisee of the Year Award for 2011.
The Kupers, who first met as teenagers and worked together on the campground with Kristi’s parents, won the award during the convention’s first day.
The Kupers purchased Thunder Bay KOA in 1998 from Kristi’s parents, and have worked tirelessly for the past 12 years to added new features and improvements for their camping guests. Their efforts have led to a KOA President’s Awards every year, as well as three KOA Founder’s Awards.
The award was presented by Hittmeier and Rogers as well as last year’s winners, Sam and Renee Scialdo Shevat from the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA.
Along with a large bronze statue by Billings artist Mike Capser titled “Always Welcome,” the Kupers will be the one-year guardians of the “Dave’s Hammer” traveling trophy. The trophy includes a well-used hammer once owned by Kampgrounds of America founder Dave Drum, who founded KOA in 1962.
Other award recipients were:
- David and Helena Johnson were honored as KOA Rising Stars for 2011. The Johnsons are the owners of the Willits, Calif., KOA. The award goes to a KOA franchisee who has been part of the KOA system for five years or less who demonstrates extraordinary dedication to guest service and support for the KOA system.
- Rob Althoff and Marianne Bartels won the KOA Work Kampers of the Year for 2010. The couple was nominated for the award by Kathy and Stuart Marshall, the owners of the Montpelier Creek, Idaho, KOA.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has pledged an increased total contribution of $100,000 to the 2010- 2012 “Go the Extra Mile” voluntary fundraising program for Go RVing, once again achieving “Champion” status as a supporter of the effort.
KOA rejoins Thor Industries Inc. and Winnebago Industries Inc. in the top-ranked Champion donor tier, according to a news release.
The “Go the Extra Mile” Program sponsored by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) has raised more than $500,000 in voluntary contributions for 2010-2012 from 19 RV industry companies and organizations. The voluntary funding program has helped boost the Go RVing advertising campaign by supplementing income from new unit assessments.
Participation in the “Go the Extra Mile” program for the remainder of the current 2010-2012 pledge drive is still open and encouraged because, although the RV market forecast looks favorable for the upcoming year, new unit assessment collections still trail behind pre-recession levels.
Contributions to the program pledged this year will allow companies to be recognized at RVIA-sponsored industry events in 2011 and 2012. For those companies already participating in the 2010-2012 “Go the Extra Mile” program, an increase to their contribution level will result in recognition at the higher contribution level for the remainder of the pledge drive.
“Go the Extra Mile” donors qualify for various levels of industry-wide recognition and other benefits depending on the amount of their contribution. The minimum pledge to quality for recognition benefits is $2,000 over the pledge-drive period. Companies who pledge to contribute at the highest level of $100,000 or more are designated as “Go the Extra Mile” Champions and recognized with special publicity events. Donating companies can have RVIA invoice their contributions quarterly.
For more details on the “Go the Extra Mile” program or to become a participating company, contact RVIA Advertising Manager Margie Spence at (800) 336-0154 ext. 357 or via email at Mspence@RVIA.org.
Kampgrounds of America named Michael and Kristi Kuper, the owners of the Thunder Bay, Ontario KOA Kampground, as the KOA Franchisee of the Year for 2011.
The Kupers, who first met as teenagers and worked together on the campground for Kristi’s parents, won the award today (Nov. 8) during the first day of KOA’s annual International Convention in Savannah, Ga.
Michael and Kristi Kuper purchased the Thunder Bay KOA in 1998 from Kristi’s parents, and have worked tirelessly for the past 12 years to added new features and improvements for their camping guests. Their efforts have led to KOA President’s Awards every year, as well as three KOA Founder’s Awards.
The award was presented by KOA President Pat Hittmeier and CEO Jim Rogers, as well as last year’s winners, Sam and Renee Scialdo Shevat from the Herkimer Diamond, N.Y., KOA.
Along with a large bronze statue by Billings, Mont., artist Mike Capser titled “Always Welcome,” the Kupers will be the one-year guardians of the “Dave’s Hammer” traveling trophy. The trophy includes a well-used hammer once owned by Kampgrounds of America founder Dave Drum, who founded the famous camping company on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Montana in 1962. The company now has more than 470 locations.
RISING STAR AWARD
Also today, David and Helena Johnson were honored as the KOA Rising Stars for 2011. The Johnsons are the owners of the Willits, Calif., KOA. The award goes to a KOA franchisee who has been part of the KOA system for five years or less who demonstrates extraordinary dedication to guest service and support for the KOA system.
The annual KOA International Convention continues through Wednesday at the Westin Savannah Harbor Hotel and Convention Center.
For author and customer service visionary Fred Reichheld, good business is as easy as following the Golden Rule.
“It’s as simple as treating customers so well that they come back for more, and bring their friends,” Reichheld told more than 500 Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) franchise owners and managers during the keynote session of KOA’s annual International Convention in Savannah, Ga., today (Nov. 8).
Reichheld, the author of the groundbreaking business book “The Ultimate Question – Driving Good Profits and True Growth,” studied several companies that had experienced exceptional growth, including Chick-Fil-A, Southwest Airlines and Enterprise Rent-a-Car. He told KOA franchisees what he found at these companies was a singular dedication to treating customers well, quickly measuring their success and “making good things happen with what they learned.”
Reichheld’s measurement tool, the Net Promoter Score, simple asks customers to rate their stay immediately after receiving their service, as well as ask them how likely they are to recommend the business to a friend. The low scores, or “detractors” are subtracted from the top scores, or “promoters” to arrive at a net promoter score. Reichheld’s new scoring system was adopted by the KOA system this summer as a means to held campground owners improve service to campers.
Reichheld said too many companies focus on “bad profits.”
“They make money by charging extra fees for what should be common service,” he said. “It’s basically businesses screwing people without going to jail. It destroys the humanity of their work force. It’s what has happened in the cable industry, the cell phone industry and in other businesses.”
Reichheld’s system provides KOA owners with immediate customer feedback on a daily basis, allowing them to quickly check progress and correct service problems as they occur.
“Converting a passive customer to a true promoter increases their value to your business by a factor of three,” Reichheld said. “A good name definitely can drive profitable growth.”
He said sharing immediate customer feedback with employees is a great way to insure everyone – the owner, customer and employee – can win. “It becomes not about the score, it becomes about the service consistently provided.
“If I leave you with just one thing today,” Reichheld said, “it’s that it can be as simple as following the Golden Rule. Just do unto others as you would have them do unto you – and then measure it.”