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Consumers Rediscover ‘Membership Camping’

July 17, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Rushmore Shadows, a Midwest Outdoor Resorts campground in South Dakota.

After a prolonged downturn that began well before the Great Recession, membership camping seems to be on the rebound.

Major players in this oftentimes misunderstood segment of the outdoor hospitality business tell Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) that they are upbeat about the recent past and more so about the immediate future as regular campers as well as newcomers discover the appeal of membership camping.

That appeal revolves around the individual beauty of the member parks, the security that they afford every camper and the relative affordability in an era of ever-rising camping costs elsewhere in the public and private sector.

Under membership camping, members pay an upfront membership fee that is good for, say five to 10 years, or perhaps a lifetime, which allows members to access one or more resorts, if the resort is part of a network.

“We have seen the last five years, even with the economy upside down, we have had our best year, year after year. When life gets hard, people go camping,” said Mike Pournoury, CEO and majority owner of Texarkana, Texas-based Ocean Canyon Properties, a growing system of eight privately owned, membership resorts in the Southeast that offer spacious RV campsites, comfortable vacation cabins, cottages and condos along with a wide variety of private resort amenities. “The industry as a whole has been weak due to the fact that it is so fragmented, but if you talk to each company like ours, business is great, seriously. Several companies our size are just thriving in this industry. I have a real positive expectancy for the future of the membership industry.”

Gene Addink, general manager and CEO of Midwest Outdoor Resorts, which owns and operates three resorts in South Dakota and Minnesota, agrees with Pournoury’s take on the business.

“Even in bad times, we were successful,” said Addink, who has been in the membership camping business since 1984 and led the team that founded Midwest Outdoor Resorts in 2000. “There was a little bit of a downturn in 2008-2009 but when the economy was at its worst, even then we were successful.”

Addink, whose company operates resorts near Rapid City, S.D., and two in the greater Minneapolis area, is looking to add a fourth resort this year, either in northern Minnesota or northern Wisconsin.

Pournoury and Addink say their companies are typical of the more than 50 membership camping systems that operate in the U.S. and Canada. Both maintain systems of upscale campgrounds that appeal to seasoned campers as well as newbies and also employ expert sales staffs that can walk prospects through the intricate concept of membership camping.

“It’s not like going to a KOA,” said Addink. “If you’re going to a KOA, you know what you’re getting. With membership camping, the concept has to be explained to people one on one. It is usually not a product people shop for. They have to be shown how it fits in their lifestyle. It’s a very misunderstood concept in the public’s eye.”

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Conference to Boost Membership Camping

November 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Feb. 21-23 conference is in New Orleans

Feb. 21-23 conference is in New Orleans

In planning for the 2011 Coast to Coast Membership Camping Conference to be held in New Orleans, organizer Bruce Hoster, Coast to Coast Resorts president, wanted to give attendees some new angles to ponder during the three-day convention.

So, when conferees gather Feb. 21-23 at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino, they’ll find not only some familiar themes in marketing membership camping but also some new wrinkles, such as a virtual sales tour, a trade show and a presentation on off-site sales centers. A half-day has been added to the conference, giving attendees two full days of presentations, on top of the opening night reception.

The theme for the conference is “Driving Profits in Private Membership Camping.”

“We’re still working against our objective we outlined last year: to share best practices in sales and marketing in the membership campground business. That’s the secret sauce that makes our industry tick,” said Hoster.

There will be some of the same topics, such as “Turning Tours into Sales,” “Successful Marketing Strategies” and “Developing A Winning Sales Team,” he said “But there are some new things we’re introducing. I don’t want to have the same meeting every year.”

“We are pulling our speakers from our most successful resorts and the most successful sales and marketing folks,” Hoster said. “Most of our sessions are panels with two to three industry experts and time for questions and answers. All sessions are back to back. No concurrent sessions. If somebody wants to attend all the sessions, they will be able to do that.”

Bruce Hoster

Bruce Hoster

The private membership camping business faces many of the same operational issues faced by other privately owned campgrounds, so there is great value for owners to attend regional or national association meetings and join 20 Groups, Hoster said.

But there are some unique sales and marketing challenges and opportunities facing private membership campground operators that aren’t being addressed by conventional means, thus the need for the Coast conference, he said.

Virtual Park Tour

That being said, Hoster has taken a page out of the playbook of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and created a Virtual Campground Tour for the Coast conference.

“We would love to take all the conferees to four or five resorts and walk them through a sales presentation, but we physically can’t do that,” Hoster said. “So, we’re doing the next best thing, taking everyone on Virtual Sales Tours. We visited our top sellers with Outdoor Adventures, Travel Resorts of America, Midwest Outdoor Resorts and East Coast Resorts this year, took photos and, working with the sales people there, followed them on a typical sales tour. We’ll take the audience from the start when a couple walks in to the front desk, to a tour of the park, and back to the office to try to close the sale. We examine what people see and say during each step. We think it will be a tremendous value to people attending the conference.”

Another new wrinkle at next year’s conference will be what Hoster calls a “What’s New in the Industry” discussion.

“One of the new and exciting things in the industry is off-site sales centers. We’ll look at how they do it,” he said. “It’s done well in the time share business and some of our developers have done it right in our industry.”

Instead of expecting potential clients to visit their parks, some developers are taking their programs to major population centers and pitching their sales presentation via videos, brochures and posters, he said.

For example, one park owner is successfully promoting park model rentals for non-RVers (the other 90% of the population) via a display in the parking lot at a nearby Camping World store, he said.

The first-time trade show will be a small but highly visible part of the conference, said Hoster, who is soliciting vendors to participate. The show will be held in the same room and concurrent with breakfast and breaks both days.

Another new twist to the upcoming conference will be a presentation by Woodall Publications on its unique rating system used in Woodall’s North American Campground Directory. To be eligible for Coast to Coast affiliation, campgrounds must maintain at least a 3W rating.

“We will have a session to talk about Woodall’s rating, how to go from a 3 to a 4 or a 4 to a 5. We’re lucky to have several resorts with perfect 5/5 ratings,” he said.

As at the first conference, conferees will have plenty of time to network with their colleagues over meals, between sessions and after hours, Hoster noted.

Renaissance Underway

The membership campground part of the industry was a lot bigger in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it has shrunk,” Hoster acknowledged. “However, we see a lot of renewed interest in it. We see a product that is very right for the times. It’s affordable, a product that is easy to use, especially if the resort is located within a couple of hours of your house. I think membership camping in particular is due for a renaissance.

“For Coast to grow, we have to invest in this industry and have to do what we can to help this industry grow. It will pay back many times over for us. Membership camping has suffered due to a lack of awareness and lack of enough people promoting and selling it. We see a lot of good things on the horizon for the industry. Even this year, there are a lot of new parks. From where I sit, I believe we will see this industry grow in the next year or two. I think it will be a lot of long-term growth. There are a lot of underlying factors in travel and tourism that favor this industry.”

Not to be overlooked is the conference’s setting: New Orleans. “It’s always a great venue, great food and great music,” he said.

Affinity Group Inc. (AGI) is parent company of Coast to Coast, Woodall Publications and RVBUSINESS.com.

For more information on the Coast conference, visit www.coastconference.com or call (800) 833-9183, ext. 429.

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Coast’s First Membership Camping Conference

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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Participants at the recent Coast to Coast membership camping conference held in Las Vegas, Nev., include (from left) Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media; Mike Siemens, vice president of membership services for Camping World; Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts; and Michelle DuChamp, vice president of sales and business development for sponsor Interval International.

Market conditions are ripe for a resurgence of the North American membership camping industry. That was the message broadcast by speakers at the 2010 Coast to Coast Conference Feb. 16-18 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.

”We feel there are a lot of factors in favor of growth in (the membership camping) industry,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Denver-based Coast to Coast Resorts, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), who spoke to about 90 park developers and others during the opening session of the first-of-its kind conference.

Coast to Coast, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), Ventura, Calif., is committed to growing the membership campground industry, not only to the benefit of Coast to Coast but to the industry in general, Hoster said.

”We need more (resort) developers selling in this industry and we need more sales from our current developers, and mostly, we need more awareness and promotion of membership camping,” Hoster said. ”We are very serious about this mission and it’s a mission that we definitely can accomplish.”

Helping to boost that awareness is retailer Camping World, another AGI unit, which has begun promoting Coast’s membership camping parks by allowing local resort owners to set up kiosks in Camping World stores and promoting the industry in its publications.

”We are trying to help educate the Camping World customer base on the concept of membership camping, the value it brings to our customers and hopefully drive customers to the membership camping developers,” Mike Siemens, Camping World vice president of membership services, told RVBusiness. ”It’s always been a good program for customers like ours who want an opportunity to camp around their home, but also when they are on the road.”

Generally, membership campgrounds are privately owned with all or a portion of their sites set aside for use by RVers who pay an initial membership fee and annual maintenance fee to cover operating expenses. Members, in return, receive varying levels of access to the resort they join and reciprocal access to other parks in the network.

The average cost of an initial consumer membership is about $5,000, Hoster reported, adding that while Coast to Coast has 250 member resorts, only about 20% are selling new memberships to consumers.

”If people leave this conference and they are more excited about the opportunities and learned a few things they can take home, it can translate into better business,” Hoster told the assembled attendees. ”The measurement will be more over the long term.”

Membership resort organization such as Coast to Coast serve two different audiences. ”One, obviously, is our members, but secondly, our developers as well,” Hoster said.

The depth of the recent economic recession has caused consumers to change the way they spending their leisure time, Hoster noted.

”While RV manufacturers and dealers struggled, campgrounds were full,” Hoster said. ”That’s because a lot of people looked at campgrounds as a more economical way to take a vacation. They might not have been able to fly somewhere and stay for a week in a condo or go to Disney world, but they were able to go camp.”

Participants at the recent Coast to Coast membership camping conference include (from left) Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media; Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties; Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts; and Michelle DuChamp, vice president of sales and business development for Interval International.

So-called ”staycations” also have changed the travel landscape, and should play into the membership campground sector’s hands, he maintained.

‘They are the perfect solution — being able to pick up Friday for a long weekend,” Hoster said. ”We hear from a lot of our developers that people aren’t taking the traditional vacations — the one-week or two-week vacation. ”It’s more the three- and four-day getaways. Having a membership in a resort nearby certainly takes advantage of that trend.”

Those trends, coupled with a decreasing number of high-end campgrounds, makes membership camping more attractive, he added. ”There really is a shrinking supply of quality campsites vs. growing demand,” he added. And there are more and more Baby Boomers that are entering our industry and buying RVs.”

Bruce Hoster (left), president of Coast to Coast Resorts, goes over confernence materials with Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas.

Bruce Hoster (left), president of Coast to Coast Resorts, goes over confernence materials with Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas.

Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas, with resorts in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, spoke during the opening session on ”Unlocking the Value of Your Resort.”

”It all revolves around getting back to the basics’ Pournoury said. ”Everybody’s going to know everything that I bring up here. The only twist to it is the simplicity of it. Sometimes we take a good program and complicate it for ourselves.”

Pournoury said that key to Ocean Canyon’s success is its relationship with RV dealers who refer new owners to Ocean Canyon properties, which, in return promote the dealership when it comes time for the consumer to buy a new RV.

”Then you become one team,” Pournoury said. ”He sends a good customer to the resort where you sell a membership … and three or four years later, (the member) goes back and buys another RV from the same dealer.”

Consequently, he said, park owners should attend RV shows to show dealers that they want to be actively involved.

By the same token, he noted, membership parks should establish referral programs that reward current members for promoting the park. Ocean Canyon gives $500 to members for referrals resulting in sales.

”The referral program is the lowest-cost marketing and the most profitable program that we’ve got in our organization,” he said.

Upgrade programs for existing members also add to the bottom line, he said. They are easier to market because the customer already has bought into the resort and adding a few extra days or access to more amenities doesn’t cost a lot.

”Last year was hard, but one of the areas where we really excelled was our upgrade program,” Pournoury reported.

”When times are hard, you can’t leave any stone unturned.”

Seminars during the conference included:

  • ”Successful Marketing” by Annette Bruzewski, marketing manager for Outdoor Adventures, and Pam Nelson, director of marketing and resort operations for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
  • ”Tour and Sales Presentation” by Greg Penrod, COO of Durango Riverside Resort, Durango, Texas, and Charles Youngren, director of sales for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
  • ”Gaining Efficiencies with New Technologies” with Pournoury and Peter Graffman, Ocean Canyon executive vice president and CFO.
  • “‘How to Market to Non-RVers” by Penrod, Gene Addink, general manager of Midwest Outdoor Resorts, and Greg King, president, Outdoor Adventures.
  • ”Hiring and Developing Successful Salespeople by Robert Topci, sales manager, Travel Resort of America-Gettysburg Battlefield Resort and Youngren.

Subjects of half-hour breakout sessions during the three days included ”Project Renaissance: Restarting Sales at Non-Selling Resorts,” ”Partnering With Camping World,” “Other Revenue Sources,” “‘Creating Positive Members Satisfaction,” “Financing and Closing the Sale” and ”Off-site Selling.”

Bruce Hoster (left), president of Coast to Coast Resorts, goes over confernence materials with Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas.

Participants at the recent Coast to Coast membership camping conference include (from left) Joe Daquino, senior vice president and group publisher, Affinity Media; Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties; Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts; and Michelle DuChamp, vice president of sales and business development for Interval International.

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Coast Promotes Conference at ARVC Insites ’09

November 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Coast to Coast Conference logoRepresentatives of Coast to Coast Resorts were promoting their upcoming Coast Conference Feb. 16-18 at Caesers Palace in Las Vegas, Nev., during the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ (ARVC) InSites 2009 Convention and Outdoor Hospitality Expo that ended Thursday (Nov. 12) in Orlando, Fla.

Coast to Coast President Bruce Hoster said that while the membership resort system has sponsored conferences before, this one will have a more nuts-and-bolts focus.

“There really has not been a venue for the membership camping industry to gather and to network,” Hoster told RVBUSINESS.com during ARVC’s convention. “The Coast Conference is designed to identify and share best practices in the membership camping industry because that’s the ‘secret sauce’ of the industry.”

Speakers, Hoster said, “will be drawn from the industry,” specifically, those who have achieved success in selling and marketing membership resorts.

“Our speakers are going to be from the most successful developers in the industry talking about a whole range of topics from tour generation to what a sales room should look like to how to finance a sale, how to find leads and how to use a phone to turn a lead into a tour.”

“It will really be a kind of soup-to-nuts gathering.”

“In the past, we’ve done a number of summits for our key developer,” said Doug Woods, Coast national sales manager. “But we never really had a lot of input from the sales managers and marketing managers and tour-generation managers. This will include two or three levels below the developers who usually come to these conferences. It’s literally the how-to of membership camping.”

The conference will be geared not only toward resort developers, but also those already operating high-end campgrounds who may be interested in attracting membership campers.

“It’s designed to attract both current developers in the industry and people who are new to the industry who may be building new resort-type campgrounds that want to consider membership camping as an option for their development,” Hoster said. “And it may be upscale resorts or open-to-the-public campgrounds that want to convert to membership or think about adding membership as a component of their campground.”

Coast to Coast Resorts has 60,000 commercial members who have access to 450 resorts, 250 of which are membership-only parks plus 200 other ”good neighbor” parks that give Coast members special rates.

Registration for the entire conference is available for $299 per person through Dec. 15 — $100 off the full rate of $399 for those signing up after mid-December. The price does not include hotel room, and a la carte pricing is available for networking and breakout sessions.

For more information or to register for the 2010 Coast Conference visit www.coastconference.com.

Coast to Coast is a division of Affinity group Inc. (AGI), parent company of RVBUSINESS.com

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Coast to Coast Resorts to Host 2010 Camping Conference

November 4, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Coast to Coast Conference logoCoast to Coast Resorts, the industry leader in private membership camping, has announced its plans to hold the 2010 Coast to Coast Conference on Feb. 16-18 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

The Coast Conference aims to help grow the industry by promoting best practices for sales and marketing initiatives to developers currently selling memberships, developers interested in restarting their membership sales activities, and new developers interested in entering the industry, according to a news release.

Several key topics will be addressed, including insights and ideas to improve sales and marketing at the resort level, secrets to success used by the leading developers in the industry and utilizing new technologies to make sales and marketing more effective. Attendees will learn ideas and practices that can make an immediate and positive impact on the bottom line.

“The Coast Conference is designed to help grow our industry by focusing on sales and marketing strategies specific to private membership camping,” said Bruce Hoster, Coast to Coast president. “We believe the private membership campground industry has the right product, at the right price, and at the right time to meet changing consumer demands for high quality campground experiences.”

Full conference registration is available for $299 through Dec. 15, $100 off the original rate of $399, and includes a welcome reception, main stage presentations, breakout sessions, two networking breakfasts and a lunch on Wednesday. Pricing is per person and does not include hotel reservation. A la carte pricing is available for networking and breakout sessions.

For more information or to register for the 2010 Coast to Coast Conference, visit www.coastconference.com.

Since 1972, Coast to Coast Resorts has been the industry leader in bringing RV enthusiasts access to some of the finest “members-only” CampResorts in the country. Coast’s primary focus is to make it possible for people who purchase memberships at private CampResorts to maximize their destination and vacation choices. To fulfill this mission, Coast to Coast has created an internationally recognized network of hundreds of affiliated private CampResorts, enhanced with hundreds of Good Neighbor Parks/Best Parks in America, forming a network of beautiful properties where nearly any vacation experience can be found.

Coast to Coast is a division of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), parent company of RVBUSINESS.COM.

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Coast to Coast Sponsoring $15,000 Sweepstakes

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Coast to Coast Resorts is launching a new “Free Camping for One Year Sweepstakes” promotion in conjunction with Camping World Inc. 

The grand prize winner will receive up to a $15,000 valued prize featuring a year’s membership in Coast to Coast RV Club and enough Coast to Coast points for a free year of camping at the membership network’s CampResorts across the country. The promotion kicks off July 7 and ends July 27, according to a news release. 

Entries are available at all Camping World SuperCenters nationwide. Participants may also mail their entries postmarked by July 27 via a 3.5-by 5-inch card with their name, address (no post office boxes), date of birth, e-mail address and telephone number to Camping World, P.O. Box 50965, Bowling Green, KY 42102. ATTN: “FREE CAMPING FOR ONE YEAR SWEEPSTAKES” Marketing Dept. 

“We wanted to find a way to give back to the RVers and outdoor enthusiasts this year and are excited to give one lucky winner the chance to experience our network of more than 450 beautiful resorts across the country,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Coast to Coast Resorts. “We are equally as excited about working with Camping World to help promote the membership camping industry.”

A Coast to Coast membership makes it easy to travel safely and comfortably throughout North America, with hundreds of affiliated RV resorts in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Member benefits include a subscription to Coast to Coast magazine and access to a number of travel services, with additional benefits that include cabin and condo rentals, trip routing and dining and leisure discounts. Coast to Coast offers RV Tripsetter, a web and phone reservation system, which provides a simple way to reserve a space. Many membership RV resorts offer additional features and amenities like boating, fishing and golf. 

Coast to Coast was established in 1972 and is owned by and affiliated with Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), the nation’s largest provider of outdoor clubs, services, media and events that service the safety, security, comfort and convenience needs of the North American RV and outdoor enthusiast market. 

RVBusiness magazine and www.RVBUSINESS.COM are owned by AGI.

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