The campground business has been the most resilient sector of the travel and tourism business throughout the recession. But it’s not just because campgrounds offer the most affordable vacation option, according to The Daily Exchange, Waterloo, Ontario.
“Campgrounds increasingly offer rental accommodations, so they’re no longer solely dependent on tent campers and RV owners,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), adding that roughly a third of America’s campgrounds now offer park model rental accommodations.
But most campgrounds aren’t building their own rental accommodations from scratch. In most cases, they are ordering factory-built cabins and cottages, which are being delivered to their parks just in time for the camping season.
Many of them look like miniature log or cedar-sided cabins. But these 400-square-foot units are actually recreational park trailers or “park models,” and are technically classified as recreational vehicles.
“They’re completely turnkey,” said William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA), which represents park model manufacturers. “All the campground owner has to do is hook each unit up to the utilities and they’re ready to rent.”
And, perhaps best of all, since “park models” are technically classified as recreational vehicles, they do not require building permits in most jurisdictions, so campgrounds can literally order them over the phone and have them delivered to their parks within a matter of weeks.
“Manufacturers construct these units in factories to conform with approximately 500 safety requirements contained in the National Safety Standard for recreational park trailers,” Garpow said.
Industry insiders see the campground industry’s increasing investments in park models and other rental accommodations as a shrewd business move, particularly given rising fuel costs and the dramatic decline in towable and motorized RV sales in recent years as a result of the recession.
“To a certain extent, the campground industry has insulated itself from the economic downturn by installing rental units,” Profaizer said.
Indeed, by providing rental accommodations, campgrounds are drawing not only tenters and RVers, but anyone who would normally stay in a hotel or motel while they travel.
“With park model cabin rentals, we can appeal to families who don’t have to worry about going out and purchasing an RV or having a tow vehicle or whatever the case may be. They can just get in their car and come to one of our parks,” said Rob Schutter, COO of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts.
Campgrounds have been gradually investing in park model cabins and other rental accommodations for many years. But the focus on rentals has intensified in recent years.
In fact, the competition for campground business has become so fierce that park model manufacturers are facing increasing competition from RV manufacturers, who are now marketing some of their own products as rental accommodations for campgrounds.
For more than 13 years, in fact, the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp. in Nappanee, Ind., was the only Thor Industries Inc. subsidiary that produced rental accommodations for campgrounds. Now there are four Thor subsidiaries vying for a piece of the campground rental business, with Topeka, Ind.-based CrossRoads RV, Goshen, Ind.-based Keystone RV Co. and Jackson Center, Ohio-based Airstream Inc. each competing for a piece of the campground accommodations business along with Breckenridge.
Some of the major campground chains, for their part, are busy working out exclusive arrangements with leading park model manufacturers, which are building custom-designed rental units for their parks.
Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc., for example, is building units for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), while CrossRoads RV recently landed an agreement to build custom designed park models for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts. Another RV resort developer, Memphis, Tenn.-based RVC Outdoor Destinations, is working with Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas, to furnish its resorts with park models.
But while some see the growing demand for rental units in campgrounds as a result of rising fuel costs and declining RV sales, it also reflects significant sociological changes taking place across the United States, Profaizer said.
“Families are increasingly time deprived and the dynamics of the summer vacation have changed,” she said. “People are camping closer to home because they don’t have as much time off to take extended trips across the country. Oftentimes, both parents are working and their kids are often involved in extracurricular activities, which limit their ability to travel.”
In addition, she said, many families are finding that it’s easier and more convenient to rent a cabin for a weekend getaway than to spend their limited free time packing, setting up and taking down tent camping equipment. For others, she said, having a cabin rental gives them an opportunity to experience camping in the great outdoors even if they don’t have an RV.
Schutter of Leisure Systems said campgrounds are also finding that park model rentals are particularly appealing to women, especially mothers. “In our particular system,” he said, “one of the major decision makers is Mom. And Mom finds all the comforts of home in these units. That’s a big selling point.”
Thomas Heneghan, CEO of Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc., also said park model accommodations have wide market appeal. “In today’s economy,” he said, “the park model extends the outstanding value and experience of the outdoor lifestyle to families who are either unfamiliar with tent camping or RVing or who prefer the conveniences offered by staying in a park model.” He added that park models “allow one to have all of the comforts and conveniences of home with the ability to have a change of scenery and reconnect with family.”
Park model manufacturers, for their part, find it behooves them to pay attention to campgrounds and their growing accommodations needs.
“Many of our manufacturers are literally racing to get these units in place in time for the summer camping season,” said Garpow of RPTIA, adding that the pre-summer rush can be a nail-biter for campgrounds, many of which have already booked the park models they have ordered for this summer.
Such is the case at West Glacier KOA in Glacier, Mont., which just received six park model cabins in late April. “We’re hooking them up to septic and electric utilities right now,” said park co-owner Theresa McClure, adding that five of the six units are already booked May 14, when the park opens for the summer camping season.
“It’s just crazy,” McClure said of consumer demand for park model cabins, which KOA markets as Kamping Lodges. “We could probably put in 12 and they’d all be booked.”
The National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) is launching a major advertising effort to heighten business awareness and support for the GoCampingAmerica website, according to a news release.
“We’re going to be targeting REI and other big retailers and telling them why they need to be partnering with ARVC on GoCampingAmerica.com,” said Marc Cramer, a Florida-based advertising consultant who has signed a two-year contract with ARVC to set up and manage a national website sales operation for the association.
While Cramer’s initial campground industry experience involved designing and developing advertising support for CampGulf.com, the website for Camping on the Gulf in Destin, Fla., he has worked on advertising campaigns for prominent clients, including Microsoft Corp. and Major League Baseball and has designed more than 600 websites along with the associated advertising programs to support the websites for virtually every industry during the past 12 years.
Cramer’s contract was approved by ARVC’s Executive Committee during a series of meetings in late March.
ARVC President and CEO Linda Profaizer said Cramer’s work is the first major advertising effort involving the GoCampingAmerica.com since its redesign was completed last year.
“With the addition of Marc Cramer as our national sales director on an independent contractor basis, I am looking forward to building the traffic to GoCampingAmerica.com for our members and increasing the advertising sales income to the association to help offset costs of running the website,” Profaizer said. “Marc brings a wealth of capabilities and experience to aid and increase our efforts.”
In addition to helping consumers locate campgrounds by state and by city, GoCampingAmerica.com has an advanced search function that allows consumers to search for parks that offer nearly 40 different types of activities and outdoor recreation, from biking and bird watching to hunting and fishing, golfing and kayaking. Links to information about outdoor recreation, festivals and special events in each of the 50 states are also provided on the site along with helpful information for first time campers, such as “What to Pack” lists and recipes. Links to the state affiliates of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds are also provided.
Consumers can also use GoCampingAmerica.com to quickly find parks that are affiliated with major campground chains, such as Equity LifeStyle Properties, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, as well as the many parks that offer AAA, AARP, FMCA, Good Sam and other popular discounts.
GoCampingAmerica.com has had more than 616,000 unique visitors and 3.2 million page views since it went live last fall.
Leisure Systems Inc., the franchisor of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks, has temporarily waived its franchise initiation fees as part of a strategic move to expand the company’s presence in the family campground business, according to a news release.
The promotion, which is being offered as the 75-location Jellystone-park chain celebrates its 41st anniversary, is being promoted as Peter Yesawich and other travel industry experts forecast continued growth in demand for family friendly vacations.
“Travel industry research shows continuing strong interest in family travel, and we believe that modifying our franchise offer will be an effective way to encourage high-quality, family-oriented campgrounds to leverage our brand name and business model to grow their businesses,” said Rob Schutter, Leisure Systems’ COO.
Five independent campgrounds have already signed agreements to join the Jellystone Park chain in time for this year’s spring and summer travel season, and more are expected to sign on later this year, Schutter said.
The newest Jellystone Parks are located in the following cities:
- Bloomington, Ind.: Cedar Ridge Camping Resort, a five-year-old former private membership resort, will reopen April 16 as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park at Lake Monroe. The park, which features 92 RV sites, 12 cabins and forested areas for primitive tent camping, is currently undergoing $200,000 worth of cosmetic improvements.
- Burleson, Texas: Rustic Creek Ranch, which recently doubled its size to include 248 RV sites and 37 fully furnished luxury cabins, will become the North Texas Jellystone Park.
- Donalsonville, Ga.: The park, formerly known as Trail’s End Resort & Marina, will join the Jellystone Park chain on April 1. The park, which is currently undergoing an expansion, will feature 39 RV and tent sites, nine cabins and six floating condos on Lake Seminole, which is popular with bass fishing enthusiasts.
- Forsyth, Mo.: Shoal’s Bend RV Resort will officially join the Jellystone Park chain on April 1. The park has recently undergone more than $80,000 in improvements, including larger campsites, upgraded campsites with patios and outdoor chimineas, new landscaping, remodeled bathrooms and a new dog walk. A 20- by 60-foot outdoor pavilion is also expected to be completed by April 1.
- Swansea, S.C.: River Bottom Farms RV Resort & Campground will become the first Jellystone Park in South Carolina. The 43-acre park on the North Edisto River has five stocked fishing ponds and 70 campsites.
Schutter said the franchise promotion is available to private campgrounds and RV parks that meet Leisure Systems’ facility requirements, which include a swimming pool, pavilion and playground.
Private campgrounds and RV parks have proven themselves to be the most vibrant segment of the travel and tourism business in 2009, with most parks reporting surprisingly stable revenue and occupancies figures, despite the recession.
The nearly 600 private park operators, vendors and industry officials who attended the annual InSites Convention and Expo in Orlando, Fla., this week learned that 2009 was also year of multiple successes for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
ARVC, in fact, used the recession as a news hook to promote camping in a national media campaign that scored positive story placements in some of the largest media outlets in the country, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune.
ARVC also completed a major redesign of its GoCampingAmerica website with interactive Google maps; stepped up its communication efforts with members with the ARVC Report in Advance, a bi-monthly e-newsletter, and monthly and bimonthly conference calls with state campground association executives; and launched a new pricing program with Thor Industries Inc. for specially built park models and travel trailers that are designed for use as rental accommodations.
ARVC also secured an 84% membership renewal rate. In fact, nearly half of ARVC’s Texas members renewed their memberships, despite a decision by the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) to loosen its affiliation with the national association.
And the association saw a 30% increase in the number of parks participating in the GuestReviews online survey program, which is offered to private parks as an ARVC member benefit.
In their joint presentation in a ballroom at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, ARVC Chairman Mark Anderson and President and CEO Linda Profaizer provided updates on the association’s successes, while also sharing positive news about the camping and RV industry’s expected performance in 2010.
“It seemed like people were giving camping a try this year,” Anderson said, adding that many snowbird parks are also projecting a good winter season, with advance reservations running slightly ahead of last winter’s figures.
The RV industry is also experiencing a gradual rebound. Anderson quoted a recent report from University of Michigan economist Richard Curtin, who forecast 185,000 RV shipments by the end 2010, a 27% increase over this year’s figures. Granted, the numbers are still a long ways from the 396,000 shipment figure recorded in 2006, he said, but they are headed in the right direction.
Profaizer told InSites attendees she was particularly pleased with the performance of Jeff Crider, a Palm Desert, Calif.-based public relations consultant and longtime Woodall’s Campground Management contributor who ARVC hired to lead its media outreach campaign.
“Our PR campaign has really scored tremendous successes with more than 220 story placements in newspapers, magazines and broadcast media in the U.S. and Canada – and I think that’s really only the tip of the iceberg,” Profaizer said. “The top 30 newspaper placements alone generated more than 15 million positive impressions about the affordability of camping and the improvements underway in private RV parks and campgrounds across the country.”
“ARVC was quoted as an expert source by USA Today three times this year, (and) one member park that participated in a radio interview said they’ve had inquiries from coast to coast and around the world as a result of the interview.”
As a result of its successful media outreach efforts, Profaizer said reporters are now regularly contacting ARVC for suggestions on story ideas and industry trend information.
In his remarks to InSites attendees, Vic Nolting, vice chairman of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), expressed a sense of relief over the relative strength of the private park business compared to other segments of the travel and tourism business.
Citing figures from Smith Travel Research, he noted that hotel occupancies were down 8% during the third quarter, despite a 10% reduction in room rates.
Las Vegas, in fact, had suffered a 6% drop in overall visitors and a 30% drop in its convention business despite a 24% reduction in room rates, Nolting said, citing Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau statistics.
Nolting said the hotel industry’s malaise is further compounded by the fact that the hotel industry is adding even more inventory.
Amusement parks, meanwhile, have suffered similar malaise. Attendance is down 14% year to date at Universal Studios, while Disney has suffered a 24% drop in its net profits. Nolting said there was a chance Disney could rebound somewhat during the fourth quarter holiday season, but even Disney has been discounting its rates in an effort to boost sales.
“They are discounting the Holy Grail to get people into their parks,” Nolting said. “That is unprecedented.”
But while the hotel and amusement park industries have suffered during the recession, campgrounds and RV parks have held their own. “By and large, people are saying, ‘Up a couple.’ ‘Down a couple.’ Yogi has had a very good year. KOA has had a good year.”
And, unlike the hotel industry, “Our inventory is shrinking and we’re not having to promote and discount our life away,” Nolting said.
Several InSites speakers indicated they expect a slight increase in business levels in 2010.
KOA, for example, is predicting a one-half percent increase in camper nights and a 3.8% increase in rates for its 450-park system, according to COO Pat Hittmeier. “The recession is not quite over with,” he said, adding, “We’re sort of crossing our fingers to see what’s going to happen in December, January and February.”
On the other hand, the long-term outlook is very good, he said, adding that 90% of campers who participated in the latest KOA survey indicated they planned to camp as much or more often during the next five years as they are now. In fact, 45% of survey respondents said they planned to camp more during the next five years, while only 10% said they planned to camp less.
Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), the franchisor of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks, is temporarily waiving its $20,000 franchise initiation fee in an effort to make it easier for family-friendly campgrounds to join its network.
The promotion, which is being offered as the 70-location Jellystone Park chain celebrates its 40th anniversary, is being promoted as Peter Yesawich and other travel industry experts forecast continued growth in demand for family friendly vacations, according to a news release.
“Travel industry research shows continuing strong interest in family travel, and we believe that modifying our franchise offer will be an effective way to encourage high-quality, family-oriented campgrounds to leverage our brand name and business model to grow their businesses,” said Rob Schutter, LSI president and CEO.
Campgrounds signing a seven-year franchise agreement will get: a 10-foot Yogi Bear statue; a Yogi Bear costume; a facility sign package; travel and expenses for two people to attend “CAMP” (LSI’s proprietary training program) and “CARE” (LSI’s recreation training program.)
As a special promotion in conjunction with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) InSites Convention & Outdoor Hospitality Expo, LSI is also offering $1,000 worth of free Yogi Bear merchandise to each campground that signs a franchise agreement within 90 days of the convention, which will be held Nov. 9-12 in Orlando, Fla. A campground must visit the LSI booth at the InSites tradeshow to be eligible.
To sweeten the deal further, all new franchisees joining the franchise in 2010 will also be eligible to win a Boo Boo costume, valued at $3,100.
Schutter said the promotions are available to private campgrounds and RV parks that meet LSI’s facility requirements which include a swimming pool, pavilion and playground. For more information, call (866) 928-9644 or visit www.campjellystone.com and click on Franchise Opportunity.
Launched in 1969, the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort system is the second largest chain of campgrounds in the United States, boasting more than 70 campgrounds with over 15,000 campsites in 27 states and Canada. Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, which focus on the family market, are among the best campgrounds in the industry with a quality reputation for being fun, friendly, clean and service-oriented parks. On average, they have higher revenue per site night and a longer average stay than that experienced by other campgrounds – independent or franchised. Additionally, each Jellystone Park is themed with Yogi Bear elements providing instant recognition and consumer appeal. It is truly a place “Where You Camp With Friends.”
Yogi Bear Jellystone Parks are franchised through LSI, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Park River Corp., Cincinnati, Ohio.
David and Deidre Carroll from Keller, Texas, are the $10,000 grand prize winners of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park 40th Anniversary Video Contest.
The Carrolls and their daughters Ashton (age 7) and Jordan (age 5), received their $10,000 prize and a gift basket full of Yogi Bear souvenirs on a return visit tothe Jellystone Park in Canyon Lake, Texas – the site where the winning video was filmed during the family’s stay over the Fourth of July holiday, according to a news release.
“We’re very happy for the Carroll family. They reflect our mission 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. “It was great to see so many entertaining and enthusiastic videos that show how our campers enjoy our parks.”
The contest, which ran May 23 to Sept. 8, required the videos to 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.) Participants submitted 77 videos from 16 states and two provinces in Canada.
The general public was asked to vote for their favorite videos which accounted for 50% of the overall score. A panel of judges from LSI also judged each video and contributed to the other 50% of the contestant’s score. More than 21,000 votes were cast online with the Carrolls’ video garnering the highest overall score from the public and Leisure Systems. All of the videos can be seen at www.jellystonefun.com.
Because of fond memories David has from visits to Jellystone parks as a child, the Carroll family frequently visits Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts to spend quality time as a family. The Carrolls heard about the contest online and decided to film the video, which stars young Jordan Carroll asleep with her stuffed Yogi bear. In a dream sequence Yogi magically comes to life and Jordan relives all of the fun from her visit.
“We are thrilled to win the $10,000 grand prize,” said Deidre Carroll. “The girls are very excited because they are allowed to decide how to spend a small portion.”
When the economy gets tough, vacationing Americans apparently tighten the belts and head for the great outdoors.
That’s one take on new figures showing that campgrounds and RV park revenues this year largely kept pace with 2008, according to the Wisconin State Journal and Capital Times.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) reports that many of the largest campgrounds had increased visitors.
For example, Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the nation’s largest campground chain with 430 locations in the U.S. and Canada, had 1.1% more visitors in 2008 while revenues were up 5.6%.
And Leisure Systems Inc. — which franchises roughly 70 Jellystone Park resorts, including one in Wisconsin Dells — is reporting an overall 5% jump in revenues, although occupancies fell slightly.
“Private parks have performed well in this economy,” said Linda Profaizer, president ARVC, which represents commercially owned parks nationwide.