By anyone’s standards, 2009 has been a tough year for the U.S. economy.
But while most Americans have tightened their budgets in response to job losses, difficulties obtaining credit or simply because of economic uncertainties, campgrounds and RV parks have remained economically resilient, according to a news release from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“We are very grateful for the level of business we’ve had,” said Jayne Cohen, president of Adventure Bound Camping Resorts in Center Harbor, N.H., which owns and operates nine RV resorts in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Arizona. “When we closed down our November numbers, we were even with last year in revenue.”
That’s a significant accomplishment, Cohen said, not only in this economy, but given the fact that most of her company’s parks are located in areas that suffered unusually cold and wet weather last summer. “We strongly feel that if we had not had bad weather, we would have been ahead of last year’s figures,” she said.
Most of the nation’s campgrounds, in fact, reported business levels that were stable or slightly ahead of last year’s figures, and most private park operators expect their business levels to remain steady or experience continued growth next year.
“I’m very optimistic and very grateful for how we finished out this year,” said Mark D. Anderson, president of Camp Chautauqua Camping Resort in Stow, N.Y. “Our reservations are looking very good for next year. We’re already just about full for Fourth of July weekend. And to be almost full at this time of year is pretty good.”
Across the country, Harriette Groth of SunBasin RV Park in Ephrata, Wash., said she is already receiving reservations for Memorial Day weekend next year. “Two groups have already called in for reservations for Memorial Day weekend. We feel that’s encouraging,” she said.
David L. Berg, ARVC chairman, said he is also optimistic about the level of consumer interest in camping next year. “I think we’re looking across the country to an improved camping season next year,” he said. “The state of the affairs of our economy has not hurt the camping business at all.”
Revenues at Berg’s own park – Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine. – were up 8.5% this year, compared to last year, and Berg expects the upward trend to continue.
“Our reservations for next year are at least as strong right now as they were a year ago,” said Jim Ozburn of Falcon Meadow RV Campground in Falcon, Colo. “I really think the camping business is going to get better. As long as gasoline and fuel behave, those who do the most traveling will still do it.”
Ozburn added that he, too, is already receiving reservation requests for next year, which he finds encouraging.
Carolyn Strong, co-owner of Sundermeier RV Park and Conference Center in St. Charles, Mo., is also receiving reservations for next year, including reservations from large rally groups. “We had a tremendous increase in business this year,” she said, adding that as of mid-December her park was already running about 10% ahead of its business levels in both 2007 and 2008.
Some Sunbelt parks are also reporting strong reservation levels for this coming winter. “Right now, we just finished the best November we’ve ever had, and our advance bookings from now through March are probably 20% over last year,” said Doug Shearer, who opened Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan, Texas, in 2001. He expects this winter to be the best winter season he’s ever had.
Some park operators remain cautious, however.
Bruce Aljets, who owns Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Sioux Falls, S.D., experienced a 17% jump in business this year, despite the recession. “I don’t know what to expect next year,” he said. “Being in South Dakota, we generally lag behind the rest of the country. But I’m going to hope for the best.”
Cohen of Adventure Bound Camping Resorts, for her part, said her company is optimistic but cautious about the future. “We’re very enthusiastic and we’re very pleased with the results of this year. But we’re not taking anything for granted, either.”
For instance, Parkview Riverside RV Park, a 95-site in the Concan-area Hill Country, has seen a 25% increase in advance winter bookings compared to last year at this time, said park owner Doug Shearer, who also serves as president of the Texas Association of Campground Owners. And because many RVers show up without reservations, Shearer believes his winter occupancies may ultimately be up 25 to 30 % compared to last winter’s figures.
“Reservations for the remainder of the year are strong with a full park of ‘Winter Texans’ expected for the months of November through April,” said park owner Gwen Craig of Rayford Crossing RV Resort at The Woodlands. “We have witnessed a very healthy increase with our Winter Texan bookings and have also seen a surge in local residents selling their home and trying out the full-time RVing lifestyle.”
The management of 50-site Sunset Point RV Resort in Marble Falls is equally upbeat about the upcoming season, according to TACO. “One hundred percent of the Winter Texans we had in 2008 are returning and we continue to take reservations for additional sites,” said park manager Ed Robinson.
“My winter months will be very busy,” adds Charles Rhea, owner of 45-site Surfside R.V. & Resort in Port Aransas. “January to April 15 are booked for monthly sites. Only a few nightly and weekly sites are still available.”
And while he isn’t convinced that the worst of the recession is behind us, Rhea is still moving ahead with improvements to his park, including an $8,000 bathroom renovation project, which he hopes to complete before his winter visitors arrive. “I’m eager for them to see the upgrades,” he said. “They will appreciate me putting money back into the park, back into them.”
Meanwhile, Winter Haven Resort in Brownsville, which includes 525-seasonal park model sites and 29 RV sites for nightly rentals, is completely booked up for the winter season, said Juan Estrada. He added that cold weather up north has already prompted some Winter Texans to return to the park.