Campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are reporting strong bookings heading into the summer camping season, with most parks expecting to exceed last year’s business levels, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“We are fully booked for June and July and almost through the second week of August,” said Doug Shearer, who owns the Parkview Riverside RV Resort in Concan in the Texas Hill Country. He said his strong summer business is being fueled in part by the recent rains, which are ushering in the return of river tubers and kayakers.
But the surge is business also follows the best winter he’s ever had since he opened his 95-site park 10 years ago.
Across the state, Gwen Craig is also reporting strong business and reservation levels at Rayford Crossing RV Resort at The Woodlands, north of Houston. She said her business levels are being fueled in part by new activities and special events taking place in the Woodlands area as well as by business people and people who work in various construction trades who want to stay at her park while they work various jobs in the greater Houston area.
The jump in business levels at these parks isn’t unique. In fact, TexasCampgrounds.com is seeing record growth in online bookings this year. “Our website traffic is up about 20%, but we’ve seen a 100% increase in the dollar value of our online reservations,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO.
He cautioned, however, that private parks are going through a transition period in their use of online reservations. So the increase in online reservations is fueled not only by growing numbers of consumers visiting TexasCampgrounds.com and making their reservations online, but by existing Texas parks that are making more of their inventory available online as well as other campgrounds and RV parks that are beginning to market their campsites online for the first time.
Schaeffer said that by next year the association should be able to make fairly accurate assessments of the business levels of Texas parks simply by measuring the year-over-year volume of their online reservations.
Private campground and RV park operators across Texas typically book about 15 to 20 percent of their reservations online, though some parks report higher figures, he said.
Chuck Church, the manager of Dallas Metro KOA in Arlington, said his park’s year-over-year first quarter business was up 30%. “It feels like the economy is turning a corner and there are some amazing events in the DFW market place, particularly Arlington that is fueling our surge in business.”
Robert Kennedy of Lubbock RV Park said online reservations only account for about 15 percent of his business. But he can already tell by looking at his online reservations that demand for campsites is on the rise this year.
“I had a really good year last year,” he said, “and this year is looking to be even better than last year.”
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.