This summer, travelers chose vacations to fit the economic times, and Minnesota tourism businesses and attractions felt the impact, for better or worse, according to a news release from Explore Minnesota Tourism.
As consumers looked for affordable getaways, campgrounds filled up and festivals drew crowds. But many hotels and other accommodations saw fewer guests this summer.
In an end-of-the-summer survey taken by Explore Minnesota Tourism, the state’s tourism promotion office, half of more than 300 reporting accommodations noted that both occupancy and revenue were down this summer. On the other hand, one out of four reported that business was up. The mixed picture reflects that while some businesses struggled, others benefited from this summer’s travel trends.
“Minnesota still hosted plenty of travelers this summer, but the way they are traveling has really changed,” said John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism. “People are traveling closer to home and looking for good values, often waiting until the last minute to book their trip. Typically, they are taking shorter trips and spending less while they travel. But people are still taking trips and finding ways to have fun on a budget.”
Overall, travelers looked for bargains, and businesses that did well said they offered affordable rates, special deals, or packages that included activities, free breakfasts or other extras. Campgrounds fared especially well, with close to half reporting an increase in revenues. Fishing, hiking, festivals, amateur sporting events and other low-cost activities were popular this summer, and state parks saw an increase in visitors.
Many resorts reported that their traditional housekeeping cabins, where guests can cook their own meals, remained popular this summer, and that they draw loyal, return customers who often book for the next year during their stay. On the other hand, large resorts saw a downturn in bookings by corporate groups and conferences. Occupancy and revenue were down at the majority of hotels, especially in the Twin Cities area; hotels, in particular, are suffering from a decline in business travel and convention attendance.
In spite of the toll the recession has taken on the travel industry, just over half (52%) of the accommodation businesses responding to the recent Explore Minnesota Tourism survey reported “stable, but positive” financial health, and another 14% indicated that their financial health was “growing.” Overall, businesses expect the summer’s travel trends to continue into the fall.
Tourism is an $11 billion industry in Minnesota, a key sector of the state’s economy. The leisure and hospitality industry, a major provider of tourism services, employs more than 248,000 Minnesotans.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has added the GuestRated review function to Camp-California.com, which gives consumers the ability to rate their camping experience, according to a news release.
“Consumers can now rate private campgrounds and RV parks throughout California using a survey tool that coverts their responses to letter grades,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the Auburn-based CalARVC, which manages Camp-California.com.
Private parks can be rated on their service quality, property condition, campsites and restrooms. “Overall grades are assigned to each park that has been surveyed,” Sipe said, adding that the number of surveys completed for each park is also displayed.
Sipe said the rating system, developed by Murrieta, Calif.-based GuestRated.com, was added to Camp-California.com this summer in response to consumer demand for an independent rating system for private parks throughout the Golden State.
“The letter grade system is a powerful marketing tool for parks with high scores since Camp-California also offers consumers the ability to sort parks by their ratings,” Sipe said. “Of course, it also provides an incentive for parks with lower grades to address areas of consumer concern if they want to remain competitive with their peers in the industry.”
Consumers can review campgrounds and RV parks they have visited by clicking on the “reviews” tab, which appears at the top of the screen after they click to see detailed information about the private park of interest to them. The rating form provided by GuestRated.com will then appear on the screen.
Sipe said more than 3,200 surveys have been completed for roughly half of the campgrounds and RV parks listed on Camp-California.com and those numbers will increase significantly as word spreads about the new ratings function.
The ratings capability was one of several upgrades made to Camp-California.com this summer by Orange, Calif.-based Friend Communications Inc., which manages and hosts for CalARVC.
Other improvements include the creation of subdomains on the site, which make it possible for consumers to bookmark park listings for future reference. The computer coding in URLs throughout the site has also been replaced with recognizable keywords to make it easier for consumers to find parks listed on Camp-California.com when they conduct Google searches or searches with other Internet search engines.
Parks listed on Camp-California.com can also be sorted by location and by the amenities or recreational activities they provide. They can also be listed alphabetically or by their ratings.
“We are continually fine tuning Camp-California.com to make it more user friendly and to give consumers the information they need as quickly as possible,” Sipe said.
For additional commentary, statistics and sources on the latest camping trends in campgrounds, RV parks and resorts in California or for leads on parks in your news coverage area, contact Sipe at (530) 885-1624 or (530) 906-4592 (cell).
The staff of the Vancouver, British Columbia, park board is assuring Point Grey residents that a plan to set up RV parks at Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks near their homes during the 2010 Olympics is nothing to worry about, according to the Georgia Straight, Vancouver.
The parking-lot campers are expected to be good neighbors, won’t make a lot of noise and will be inside their trailers for most evenings after spending the day out at the Games, according to Philip Josephs, manager of revenue services for the park board.
Josephs was responding to a letter by Phyllis Tyers, president of the North West Point Grey Home Owners Association, which identified the residents’ concerns to Mayor Gregor Robertson and members of the city council.
Another resident, Larrie Bongie, has written the mayor to express astonishment to the scale of the plan, which would allow 365 RVs into the parking lots of Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks for three weeks in February.
“Why so many huge RVs?” Bongie asked the mayor in his letter. “In terms of day-and-night traffic and human commotion what will be the effect of suddenly dumping 365 temporary dwellings and perhaps as many as 1,200-1,500 ready-to-party transient residents into Vancouver’s world-famous ‘quiet’ beach-park area?”
The plan will be considered by park board commissioners on Monday (July 20).
Waterfront accommodation in Vancouver, British Columbia, perfect views of the city and literally steps to the beach for $95 a night.
The only catch? It’s BYOB – bring your own bed.
From two days before the opening ceremonies until two days after the 2010 Winter Games, the parking lots at Jericho and Spanish Banks waterfront parks will be turned into RV parks with room for 365 vehicles, according to Vancouver’s The Province.
The Vancouver parks board decided this week to create the temporary RV park along the beaches. Public washrooms, concessions and showers will be provided, along with sanitation dumps and 24-hour security.
At Jericho, the sailing club will open its facilities to RV campers.
“People are going to come to the Olympics in their RVs and we don’t want our shopping mall parking lots to become de facto RV parks,” said Vancouver parks board commissioner Aaron Jasper.
A shuttle bus service will move people from the parking lots to the Canada Line station at Oakridge mall.
The parks board is looking for an operator to manage the temporary site and to provide a reservation system to book the spaces — 110 at Jericho and 255 at Spanish Banks. Residents of 400 homes in the Point Grey neighbourhood will also be notified of the plan this week.
At Spanish Banks on Thursday (June 18), news of the beachfront RV park had yet to reach anyone.
“It’s only three weeks, so I don’t mind,” said Clive Darvell, who has lived in the area for 30 years. “But what I don’t like is them doing it in this sneaky way.”
Sharon Low and Jane Claxton were a little more critical.
“This ruins our neighbourhood. People should come to the beach to visit not to live on it for three weeks,” said Low, who’s lived in the neighbourhood all her life and walks the beach year-round.
As a Dunbar resident, Darrell Thomas said the RV park won’t affect her, but she was concerned about neighbourhood security.
“I can see the reason for it, and I’m not opposed as long as it’s closely monitored — like, very closely,” said Thomas, who was at the beach with her two children.
Philip Josephs, manager of revenue services for the parks board, said the board will break even with 35% occupancy. The area will still be accessible to people who use the beach in winter.
“It should be really nice, right on the waterfront. We really want to welcome people, and there’s no other RV parks in Vancouver.”
At Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wis., according to the New York Times, a typical weekend goes something like this: Families splash around in the man-made “swimming pond” – a lined, sand-bottomed swim zone filled with outsized inflatable toys. Staffers in blue or white T-shirts deliver pizza to tents, RVs and air-conditioned cabins scattered across the grounds. Kids line up for face painting, temporary tattoos, Segway riding clinics and amusement-style rides while parents sip coffee and surf the Web on laptops outside the General Store, where they can also buy firewood for the requisite campfire and hot dog roast.
“Never a dull moment,” said Kathy Kranz, an office manager from Chicago, who spent Memorial Day weekend at the campground with nine other family members, including her 15-year-old son, Jimmy, and her 17-year-old daughter, Krystal.
At some campgrounds, said Kranz, who owns a 34-foot motorhome with another family, there is “absolutely nothing to do, except if you want to go fishing.” But with all the amenities at Smokey Hollow, her family “just had a ball,” she said. “There were so many things to do.”
Getting close to nature and telling ghost stories around a fire are no longer the main attraction at many campgrounds.
Campgrounds Reinvent Themselves
In an effort to attract families – and charge more – private campgrounds across the country have been reinventing themselves from sleepy, rustic campsites to bustling “camp resorts.” You can still pitch your own tent, but with food delivery, you don’t have to slave over an open flame for dinner.
“It’s Disneyland for campers,” said Jim Rogers, the CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), one of the country’s oldest operators of private campgrounds, which has been adding free Wi-Fi, espresso bars and air-conditioned cabins to some of its 450 parks.
Rogers likens the evolution of campgrounds in recent years to the amenity creep in the hotel business. Just as hotels have added free cocktail hours, fluffy beds and spas to attract clients and get them to stay longer, he said, campgrounds too have been “ratcheting up the value” with new features and services.
The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA in La Selva Beach, Calif., is the home of an espresso bar, but also has miniature-train rides, outdoor movies, a mechanical bull and a giant outdoor Jumping Pillow (sort of a cross between a trampoline and a bouncy castle).
In Kimball, Mich., the Port Huron KOA features an in-line skating rink, batting cages, bumper boats, an ice cream parlor and seven playgrounds.
And Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in North Java, N.Y., just added a 16,000-square-foot water playground with water slides, water cannons and other spray features to its long list of kid-oriented attractions.
Not unlike hotels, which offer different room types at different prices, private campgrounds have been expanding their lodging options. The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA, where tent sites cost about $60 a night, has RV sites (from $75), 50 air-conditioned cabins (from $115) and 13 lodges that can sleep six and have a small kitchen, dining area, bathroom and central air and heat (from $225). In April, the campground added six Airstream trailers that sleep a family of four for $150 a night.
Also like hotels, KOA introduced its Value Kard Rewards program, last year, allowing repeat campers to earn points redeemable for savings on their next visit.
“We’re campers in name only at this point,” said Bob Mills, a retired firefighter from Stockton, Calif., who parks his 30-foot trailer stocked with, as he puts it, “every luxury known to man” at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA for a few weeks each summer to spend time with his daughters, Lisa, 15, and Julie, 12.
After rolling out of their bunks each morning, Lisa and Julie may take a ride on the motorized Fun Train, race around on three-wheeled recumbent bikes or hit the heated swimming pool with friends. In the evening, they’ll meet up with Dad for dinner – pizza delivered straight to their campsite – and the requisite campfire with s’mores, before turning into their comfy bunk beds inside the trailer.
Camping with Golf Cart
All of this may elicit a swift roll of the eyes from hard-core campers, used to pitching a tent deep in the woods and relying purely on nature for entertainment. But the “camping lite” travelers offer no apologies.
“I like to camp two hours a day,” said Scott Crompton, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone in North Java. “Then I retreat into my motorhome with every amenity there is.”
His staff caters to campers like him with a roster of activities, food delivery, people who will park your RV for you and a fleet of golf carts campers can rent for $50 a day to cruise around the 100-acre park. “Certainly nobody is rubbing two sticks together to make their own fire,” he said.
The recent surge in amenities at private campgrounds partly grew out of the rise of the RV business, as ownership grew by 15% from 2001 to 2005, with more than 8 million households owning a recreational vehicle. As droves of Baby Boomers snapped up increasingly fancy motorhomes over the previous decade, they sought out campsites that could not only handle the increasing need for electricity and water these vehicles required but that also matched the plush interiors of their RVs.
Campgrounds soon found out that the more amenities and services they provided, the more they could charge.
“The objective is to maximize dollars,” said Bud Styer, a camping consultant who owns and manages several RV parks and campsites in Wisconsin, including Smokey Hollow. “If I have 100 sites and I’m charging $10 a night, that’s $1,000. If I add an amenity, I can charge $15 more a night. The return on investment is staggering.”
The campsites at Smokey Hollow cost about $45 a night on average and include access to the swimming pond and other water features. Campers can pay an extra $25 a person for a V.I.P. wristband for unlimited weekend use of the miniature golf course, pedal carts, the Jumping Pillow and other amenities.
But even at these rates, a weekend of camping can still be more affordable than staying at a hotel or motel – especially if you cook your own food – a point the industry expects to bank on during the recession. So far this year, Styer said, business is up about 12% across his four campgrounds.
“When the economy gets a little rough, camping usually gets better,” he said.
Like other RV manufacturers, recreational park trailer builders have been hard hit by the recession, with unit shipments being roughly half of what they were in 2006, when a record number of 10,100 shipments were recorded.
“I think the market is starting to improve. We’ve seen some movement in the marketplace. And a few manufactures even report having a small backlog, which is something that we haven’t experienced in the past year,” Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) in Newnan, Ga., told RV Business.
But manufacturers remain cautious about the economy, and generally don’t see the recreational park trailer or “park model” industry to rebound until the nation’s banks are in better financial shape.
“As I talk to my contemporaries, I’m hearing the same from everyone, that it’s really tough out there. And what business is out there is really tough to get,” said Tim Howard, president and CEO of the Breckenridge Division of Damon Corp., a Thor Industries Inc. company in Nappanee, Ind.
Like most manufacturers, Breckenridge has had to dramatically scale back its work force to remain viable during the current economic downturn. “We’re in very good shape,” Howard said. “Our balance sheet continues to be very strong. We have virtually no debt.”
But as a manufacturer, he said, it has been “heartbreaking” to have to let staff go because of the economic downturn. “You have an emotional bond to quality people and an investment in quality people,” Howard said, adding that Breckenridge has just over half as many employees as it did a few years ago, when the park model industry was experiencing record sales.
But even though all segments of the RV industry have been particularly hard hit by the current recession, Howard and other park model manufacturers and industry officials believe the park model industry still has a long ways to go to reach its full potential.
“I’ve always said this market is in its infancy, and I still do, especially given the trend from a transient to permanent camper,” said John Soard, a longtime park model industry executive who spent 20 years with Breckenridge and Middlebury, Ind.-based Woodland Park before becoming general manager of Nappanee, Ind.-based Fairmont Park Trailers in 2005.
Indeed, Soard and other park model manufacturers believe consumer interest in “destination camping” will continue to increase, and as it does so will demand for park models.
Soard, in fact, noted that many of the leading RV manufacturers are now building towable trailers up to the 400-square foot limit precisely because they believe consumer interest in destination camping is growing. “Each one of these major RV manufacturers has a destination travel trailer that’s intended to be parked, not towed,” Soard said.
Garpow, for his part, noted that park models remain one of the most profitable investments campground owners can make, a point that was underscored by Atkinson of KOA. Park model rentals typically generate two or three times as much revenue as a typical RV site, plus they stay rented for longer periods of time throughout the year. “Park models not only generate more revenue, but they do it for longer periods of time than a typical RV site,” Garpow said, adding that campground owners often generate enough income from their park models to pay them off in three years or less.
Garpow also noted that the Obama administration’s efforts to increase CAFÉ standards could further increase demand for park models. “One way to increase fuel economy is to produce lighter vehicles as well as vehicles with smaller engines, the net effect of which is to reduce the vehicle’s towing capacity. But as towing capacities are reduced, it’s going to be harder for consumers to find vehicles that can tow the biggest trailers, and that could lead to increased demand for park models or for destination camping.”
As a result, he said, many consumers may find it easier to purchase park models that are professional installed on permanent campsites than large travel trailers or fifth wheels that require a tow vehicle. This is precisely what happened when CAFÉ standards were increased in the late 1970s and 80s. In fact, the resulting reduction in vehicle towing capacities helped foster the birth of the park model industry.
Garpow also noted that many of the nation’s campgrounds have yet to open their doors to park models, either for rentals or sales, and that represents a significant growth opportunity for park model manufacturers.
Many campground operators say they are pleased with the return of investment on park models, including Jeff Gordon of Raintree RV Park in Rockport, Texas, which sits along the Gulf Coast roughly 30 miles northeast of Corpus Christi. In addition to 80 RV sites, Gordon also offers one cabin, two fifth wheels and four park models for rent.
“We’re actually going to phase out the fifth wheels and just go with park models,” Gordon said, adding, “All of our requests are for park models. They’re nicer accommodations, and that’s what people want in this area.”
Coincidentally, Gordon had to interrupt his interview with RV Business to answer questions from a woman who called on another line to reserve one of his park models. He said he’s also had some people change their vacation plans to coincide with days when he has park models available.
Such is the demand for park model accommodations, which is why campgrounds and RV parks continue to invest in these units, even during the current recession.
“Roughly 25-30% of the nation’s private campgrounds offer park models as rental units, and the numbers are growing,” said Garpow of RPTIA.
Mike Atkinson, facilities development manager for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), said his company’s park models, which it markets as Kamping Lodges, have the highest occupancy rate of any category of rental accommodation in the KOA system. He said KOA parks had taken deliver of 163 park models as of early June.
KOA, like other campgrounds, furnishes its park models with beds, linens and kitchen utensils. “Our numbers show that the customers who are coming to our campgrounds want lodging that has amenities,” Atkinson said. “They want a bathroom. They want a comfortable bed. And they don’t want to pack their car with everything. They don’t want the labor.”
Park operators often invest in park models so that they can have rental units available for people who don’t have their own RV. Many park operators also take it a step further and form their own park model dealerships. This way, they can potentially make a profit on the sale of the park model in addition to generating ongoing revenue from the campsites they lease to park model owners.
Some parks also set up rental pools using the park models they have sold at their parks. This way, the owners can make money on their park models when they’re not using them.
While park models have long been a rental option of choice for Winter Texans, Gordon of Raintree RV Park said boating enthusiasts also like to rent them as well. “We’re on the coast, so we get a lot of people from San Antonio, Austin and Houston and the surrounding areas,” Gordon said. “But if they’re pulling their own boat down, they can’t pull a camper, too.”
Park models are also ideally suited for campgrounds in popular tourist destinations that want to broaden their business base to compete with hotels and motels.
Crater Lake RV Resort in Fort Klamath, Ore., purchased three park models in 2006 and installed a fourth one this year. “They are our most requested cabin,” said resort owner Babe Hamilton, whose park also features 14 RV sites. “They’re just a nice looking cabin with the wood siding. They all have their own gas barbecue on the deck, and they’re right on the creek. It’s a very nice setting.”
Some private park owners are also finding that park models can be used for more than guest accommodations.
At the River’s Edge at Deer Park in Heber, Utah, which is close to the Deer Valley and Park City ski resorts, Cavco park models are being used not only as guest accommodations, but as seasonal employee housing for during the winter months, said resort owner John Kenworthy.
“We’re continuing to expand the lodging part of our business,” Kenworthy said, adding that his park models remain are in high demand.
Garpow and Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), are scheduled to discuss the merits of investing in park models on Sept. 15 during the 41st annual Pennsylvania RV and Campground Show in Hershey, Pa. The show features the largest park model expo in the country.
A thunderstorm packing 80 mph winds struck a Texas RV park Thursday night (June 11), injuring several guests.
At the RV park in Burnet, residents said they saw two funnel clouds and are awaiting the confirmation from the weather service. One RV was torn to shreds while two others were overturned with residents trapped inside, residents told News 8, Austin.
Residents said one woman escaped without injury, but in the other RV, an elderly couple was trapped inside until police came to punch a hole and help them escape.
“(I) never thought it would turn over these RVs,” Burnet RV owner Karl Piehl, said. “I’ve always said when you see a storm or something you always seen mobile home parks destroyed, not RV parks. Storms are not supposed to hit RV parks, but this one obviously did.”
The National Weather Service traveled to Burnet today to review storm damages.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) launched a new website Tuesday (June 9) that highlights campgrounds and RV parks in Texas that offer cabin, cottage and recreational park trailer or park model rentals.
The website, www.TexasCabinRentals.net, features more than 130 campgrounds, many of which offer cabins, cottages and park models that can be booked online, according to a news release.
“We’re trying to make it easier for consumers to identify campgrounds and RV parks that offer rental accommodations,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO, adding that private parks are increasingly investing in park models and cabins to accommodate people who do not have an RV but want to experience the camping lifestyle.
Several Texas campground owners said they were looking forward to the new website because it will help spread the word about the availability of rental units in private campgrounds.
“It’s often cheaper to stay in a park model than a hotel,” said Jeff Gordon, owner of Raintree RV Park in Rockport, which has four park model rentals. “We’re on the coast, so we get a lot of people from San Antonio, Austin and Houston and the surrounding areas. Many of them bring their boats down and stay in park models because they can’t pull a boat and a camper, too.”
Jim Rowley, owner of the 108-site Pecan Park in San Marcos, has two fully furnished park models, which he said are ideal for people who have never camped before. Each unit is fully furnished linens and kitchen utensils and can sleep up to eight people.
“A lot of people want to know what campgrounds are like, and park models give them a chance to have a camping experience without buying an RV,” Rowley said, adding that his park models are positioned on a bluff overlooking the San Marcos River.
“I definitely think TexasCabinRentals.net will help our business,” said Jenifer Johnson, director of business development for Mill Creek Ranch RV and Cottage Resort in Canton, which has 100 RV sites and 31 park models. “All of our park models are owned by individual owners, and when the owners aren’t here, we rent them out,” she said.
Vacation rentals in Pismo Beach, Calif., will be included in a proposed Lodging Business Improvement District if the city forms an assessment district.
The 1% assessment, if adopted, would be charged to all businesses that pay transient occupancy tax, including hotels, motels, RV parks and vacation rentals. The fee would be assessed on the city’s gross lodging revenues, according to the Santa Maria Times.
With a 4-1 vote on June 2, the Pismo Beach City Council approved a resolution of intent to form the assessment district that would levy a new 1-percent fee on the city’s lodging industry.
Councilman Ted Ehring was the lone dissenter in the vote, stating the city’s numerous vacation rentals should be exempt from the proposed assessment.
“We don’t even have an ordinance for vacation rentals,” Ehring said. “Exempting vacation rentals would take care of a very big problem for us, and you aren’t going to lose very much.”
Vacation rentals contributed 3.5% of the transient occupancy tax collected in 2008 in Pismo; hotels accounted for 90% of the revenue, according to city staff.
Ehring also wanted to see hotels and motels with less than 15 units exempted from the fee.
However, the majority of the council believes Pismo’s vacation rentals must be part of the improvement district should the city form one later this summer.
“You create a slippery slope when you start adding exemptions,” said Councilman Ed Waage. “Vacation rental owners will benefit from this as well. They will get a free ride if they are exempt.”
Waage added that he supported creating the district and including vacation rentals for the potential financial benefit to Pismo Beach and not for that of the city’s hotels.
“I’m doing this to try to keep money flowing into the city,” he said. “If we do nothing, we will be hurt.”
“This isn’t a tax on the person staying there,” said City Attorney David Fleishman. “This is an assessment on the operator of the facility that they pay out of their revenue to promote tourism.”
The new revenue – an estimated $590,000 to $600,000 annually – would be used to increase the city’s tourism budget and fund new, multiday events, like a wine and waves festival, that would encourage longer stays in the city.
When the council adopted the resolution of intent Tuesday, it opened a 45-day protest period that allows any hotelier, motel operator and RV park or vacation rental owner to protest inclusion in the district. That period ends on July 21, when the council is required to hold a public protest hearing.
Assuming a majority doesn’t lodge a protest by or at the July 21 meeting, the ordinance establishing the assessment district would become law on Sept. 3 and the city could begin collecting the 1-percent fee in October.
The council also will hold a public hearing at its July 7 meeting to consider formation of the proposed Pismo Beach Lodging Business Improvement District, which has a three-year sunset clause.
The Texas Senate on Tuesday (May 19) passed a bill by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, that will give property tax exemptions to local nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
The charity has entered into a public-private partnership with the city of Austin to provide homeless individuals with housing in the form of recreational vehicles in local RV parks. House Bill 2628, exempting the nonprofit from certain property taxes, has passed both chambers and is now headed for Gov. Rick Perry’s desk to become law, according to impactnews.com.
The bill is set to become law, barring a veto by the governor.
The latest report from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) on the U.S. campground industry looks at the state of Missouri. Among the improvement projects undertaken by the state’s privately owned RV parks and campgrounds are the following:
- Branson KOA: This 197-site park, which features 22 cabins, cottages and recreational park trailer lodges and eight tent sites, has invested more than $100,000 in improvements this year, including a new jumping pillow, dog park and special food counters for pizza, soft serve ice cream and fudge. The park has also leveled and upgraded 32 of its campsites with large patios. Five supersites have also been created, each of which has new landscaping and 350-square-foot patios with brick pavers. Additionally, the park has invested in energy-efficient lighting, tankless water heaters and water-saving toilets and showerheads. The park has also purchased new playground equipment and a 28-foot pontoon boat and golf carts that will be available for rent. The park is also building an exercise room that will include two treadmills, a stationary bicycle and a bowflex machine.
- Cross Creek RV Park, Lake Ozark: This 80-site park, which has five cabins, is building a supersize cabin this year that can accommodate up to the 12 people. The park is also clearing land this year to make room for another 30 mostly seasonal and pull through campsites. Last year, the park added a new nine-hole miniature golf course.
- Oak Grove RV Park, Branson: This 69-site park is adding 50 additional campsites this year.
The Maine House of Representatives on Tuesday (May 12) killed a bill that would have banned recreational vehicles from parking overnight at commercial lots after lawmakers were inundated with e-mails from people opposed to the idea.
The House rejected the bill at the request of its sponsor, state Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, who said she received an estimated 200 e-mails from irate RV owners around the country since the proposal was first publicized, according to the Kennebec Journal.
Perry said while she and other lawmakers received some informative messages that helped sway her decision to kill the measure, not all were pleasant, or polite.
“A lot of the e-mails I got were nasty, name-calling e-mails,” Perry said. “If those were the only things I had gotten, honestly, I think I would have stuck my feet in and passed this bill.”
The proposal pitted the owners of local RV parks and campgrounds that charge a fee for overnight camping against retail giants like Wal-Mart, which allow RV owners to camp overnight for free.
Last week, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 8-2 to endorse the bill, LD 114, prompting a huge outcry from RV owners and advocates who threatened to boycott the state if the law was adopted.
Among those who chimed in was William J. Ryan Jr., president of the Oxford Plains Speedway in Oxford.
“If passed, this bill will close Oxford Plains Speedway after its 50-plus-year history,” Ryan wrote in a mass e-mail to all lawmakers. “Each year we depend on people that park in their RVs in our parking lot to attend our races so that we can stay in business. It would be sad to see my business fail due to this bill.”
Ryan contended in another e-mail to lawmakers that the bill would likely also hurt Wiscasset Raceway, Unity Raceway, Speedway 95 in Hermon and Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough.
Pretty much every elected official received e-mail on the issue, including Gov. John Baldacci.
“The governor’s office received hundreds of e-mails about the proposed legislation, many of them very passionate in their content,” said David Farmer, Baldacci’s deputy chief of staff. “Both proponents of the bill and opponents raised legitimate issues, and the administration will continue to work with (Perry) and other stakeholders to enhance tourism, including camping and RVing in Maine … I think this is a good example of political leaders responding when presented with new information.”
Bob Zagami, a freelance writer, photographer and consultant to the RV industry, said the proposed Maine law was discussed on RV websites and written about by bloggers. The RVers who tour through Maine and use free overnight spots as sort of base camps spend a lot of money, said Zagami.
And RVers would have stayed out of Maine should the law have passed, he said. The state would have lost more money from tourists who stayed away than they ever would have gained from increasing lodging tax receipts, he suggested.
“They will boycott the state, they don’t have to go to the state of Maine,” said Zagami. “That’s a powerful group of people.”
Ryan, of Oxford Plains Speedway, said many race car drivers, their crew members and fans will stay on his property during a race.
The Speedway has 40 events a year, he said. On any given race night, there will be between 50 and 100 RVs on his 150 acres. For many, it’s a matter of convenience, said Ryan. The races end at 9 or 10 p.m., and it’s easier for many to just stay overnight.
Perry, who filed the bill for a constituent who owns a campground, said what happened to her bill illustrates “the wonderful part of transparency.”
“You don’t always know what the unintended consequences are,” she said.
State Rep. Meredith Strang Burgess, R-Cumberland, said the bill was a “classic case” of unintended consequences.
Strang Burgess voted against the bill in the Health and Human Services Committee. She said she viewed it as a local issue, to be addressed by municipalities.
Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which had supported the measure, said he had encouraged Perry to withdraw the bill. No matter how the bill started, it effectively targeted campers, said Abare.
“We never thought that should happen,” he said. “The bill was wrong, basically, from the get-go, in that light.”
The Yonder Hill Campground in Madison, Maine, used to be filled to capacity every summer night with recreational vehicles. But that was years ago. RV owners have found they can skip the $36 campground fee and park overnight at the Skowhegan Wal-Mart for free.
The campground’s owner, Allen York, said he often sees 25 to 30 RVs parked at the Wal-Mart.
In recent years, he said, there has been a cultural shift in how RVers travel, influenced in part by websites that use searchable databases to guide RVers to free parking spots, according to the Central Maine Morning Sentinel, Augusta.
“What has happened is nothing short of a phenomenon,” York said. “All of a sudden, we are looking at empty lots when we should be in the prime season.”
The owners of the state’s 275 campgrounds are pushing legislation that would ban RVs from parking overnight at commercial lots, such as Wal-Mart. The Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted 8-2 to endorse the bill, L.D. 114, which may come up for a vote in the House this week.
Proponents say the measure would help local campgrounds and RV parks stay in business and also allow the state to recoup nearly $1 million in lost state lodging taxes. They say it’s unfair that licensed campgrounds must comply with regulations, such as supplying drinking water and waste-removal facilities, while parking lot owners don’t.
For the campground owners, the enemy is Wal-Mart, which has a national policy allowing RVs to park overnight in most of its parking lots. While Wal-Mart doesn’t charge a fee, it does make money when people shop at the stores.
“It’s Goliath versus David,” said Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association, which has 220 members. “This is the monster versus the little guy.”
Wal-Mart by tradition has offered free parking to RV owners as part of an effort to serve communities, said Alexandra Serra, a lobbyist for Wal-Mart, which has 24 stores in Maine. She said the company has never had any problems with RVs staying on its Maine properties and welcomes them.
Nevertheless, Wal-Mart is not fighting the bill, she said. “Wal-Mart is going to do whatever the Legislature tells us to do, of course, and happily so.”
While Wal-Mart is staying on the sidelines, RVers around the nation are mobilizing. News about the legislation has spread via the Internet on message boards and newsletters. People are sending e-mails and making phone calls to legislators, Gov. John Baldacci’s office, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Maine tourism offices.
If it passes, Maine would become the first state in the nation to ban RVs from commercial parking lots. Similar bills in Montana and Nevada were defeated after protests from RVers, according to a press release by the Escapees RV Club, a Texas-based club with 32,000 members nationally.
“If this legislation passes, it may well set a precedent for the rest of the country, and we could see our freedom to choose where we park permanently revoked!” the club said in an electronic newsletter.
The callers are delivering a simple message: If the Legislature passes this bill, RVers will no longer to come to Maine. “I like Maine. I want to visit there. But I don’t want to be told I have to pay to camp,” said Jim O’Briant of California, who administers www.overnightrvparking.com, which tells RVers were they can park for free.
The site lists more than 30 Maine locations where RVers can park overnight for free, including L.L. Bean in Freeport, Dysart’s truck stop in Hermon, DeLorme in Yarmouth and the Kittery Trading Post.
The Wal-Mart in Scarborough is not listed because the town has a municipal ordinance banning overnight parking. David Labbe, a senior official at the Kittery Trading Post, said that allowing RVers to park in the store’s lot is just good customer service. For many RVers, the store is a destination stop, he said.
“They are on their way from Florida to Canada and want to get off the highway and park in our parking lot, which is safe and convenient,” he said. “And they are on their way the next day. What’s wrong with that?”
But York said he’s seen RVers park at Wal-Mart in Skowhegan for four or five days at a time. He said they sometimes come to his campground wanting to pump out their waste tanks, but he turns them away.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais, said state law requires that businesses obtain campground licenses if they receive compensation from four or more RVs at a time, either directly or indirectly. She said the law is difficult to enforce.
She said that local police, though, could easily enforce an outright ban. Her bill calls for a one-time warning followed by a $100 fine. She said there have been isolated incidents of RVs at parking lots dumping waste into storm drains.
She wants RVers to feel welcome in Maine, she said. But if RVers avoid the state because they aren’t allowed to park for free, that’s not a great loss.
“If they are parking one night in parking lots, they are not staying in Maine,” she said. “They are driving through.”
Billings Mont-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) has added 15 new campgrounds, pushing the number of KOA-affiliated parks to over 450 nationwide.
According to a press release, the new parks stretch from California to North Carolina, and cover the gamut from convenient full-service overnight facilities to expansive campgrounds that are true destinations.
Steve Albrecht, who owns a park in Staunton, Va., said he has been looking to purchase a KOA campground for 20 years.
“I’d been watching KOA for what seemed like forever,” Albrecht said. “I was really disappointed that I couldn’t make my park a KOA the first time around. When I found out that a franchise was available, I jumped on it.”
The Albrechts have been deeply involved in the camping industry for decades. He’s a former president of the Virginia Campground Owners Association, and currently serves on the board of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Staunton/Walnut Hills, Virginia KOA is located on an old southern plantation in the Shenandoah Valley. KOA said it’s so “full service” that it actually has an on-site massage therapy and wellness center staffed with a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist.
Other campgrounds joining the KOA system this year include:
• Acton/Los Angeles North, California KOA: This Soledad Canyon campground is surrounded by mountains and yet is just 10 minutes from Santa Clarita and no more than an hour from Universal Studios, Hollywood and the beach.
• Statesville East/Winston-Salem, North Carolina KOA: Set on 30 acres of rural countryside, the park is close to Lowes Motor Speedway, Carowinds Amusement Park and Lake Norman.
• Eagle River/Chain O’Lakes, Wisconsin KOA: The facility is set in the middle of Wisconsin’s Lake Country, with plenty of fishing and spectacular scenery.
• Northampton/Springfield, Massachusetts KOA: This is a great base camp for a visit to the Springfield area, just 30 minutes from Six Flags and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
• Madison/Shenandoah Hills, Virginia KOA: Located at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a short drive to Shenandoah National Park.
• Logan/Hocking Hills, Ohio KOA: The facility features its own 75-foot mining sluice along with access to numerous trails, horseback riding, canoeing and rappelling.
• Pasco/Tri-Cities, Washington KOA: Stay at the confluence of the Snake, Yakima and Columbia rivers. There are 10 local golf courses and history buffs can check out Sacajawea State Park and view the same sites as Lewis and Clark.
• Camdenton/Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri KOA: You’ll be at the top of Lake of the Ozarks, but still just minutes from downtown Camdenton. There’s even a marina at the park, so bring your boat.
• Manistique, Michigan KOA: On Lake Michigan’s northern shore, this campground even has a remodeled 40-room inn with five Jacuzzi suites, a restaurant and indoor pool. The boardwalk is just two miles away, and it’s a great place for lighthouse lovers.
• Starbuck/Lyons Ferry Marina, Washington KOA: Here’s another KOA stop on the Lewis and Clark Trail, but it was home to Native Americans for thousands of years before that. The campground and marina are located at historic Lyons Ferry Crossing. And don’t miss the 200-foot waterfall on the Palouse River.
• McCall/North Fork Payette River, Idaho KOA: This KOA is in a beautiful setting and features a natural wood lodge that’s perfect for rallies and family reunions.
• Tulsa Northeast/Will Rogers Downs, Oklahoma KOA: Just 20 minutes from downtown Tulsa, this campground is steps away from the popular “racino” at Cherokee Casino Will Rogers Downs. The campground offer 400 RV pads and a huge group meeting facility.
• Durant/Choctaw, Oklahoma KOA: This brand new campground will be opening in the spring of 2009 and will eventually feature 150 extra-large, concrete, full-service pull through sites. Plans include a 100-seat meeting room with a full kitchen and plasma TV.
• Lava Hot Springs, Idaho KOA: This location is famous for it’s nearby, world-acclaimed hot pools. There’s the Portneuf River that flows right through the campground for fishing or floating, or take advantage of the Olympic complex, complete with diving platforms and water slides and even an indoor pool.