As gas and diesel prices climb past $4 per gallon in Southern California, some snowbirds in ecreational vehicles say the rising costs could keep them closer to home, Palm Springs’ The Desert Sun reported.
They include Larry and Vivian Wiebe, who drive each year to the Coachella Valley from Alberta in their RV and are parked at the Palm Springs Oasis RV Resort in Cathedral City.
Fuel prices have risen about a dollar a gallon since the couple spent $579 on gasoline in November to make the 1,500-mile trip. Now, they’re faced with paying considerably more to get back home.
“It’s a strain. (But) we have to get back,” Larry Wiebe said.
If prices stay this high, the Wiebes said they may visit the Coachella Valley every other year instead of annually.
The price spike came late enough last year that it didn’t hurt local RV park occupancy, operators say. But they’re watching those prices closely and are worried that gloomy predictions of $5 gas will lead many RV owners to leave their rigs in the driveway.
“Are we concerned? Yes,” said Greg Sidoroff, vice president of Sunland RV Resorts, which operates Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert. “We just hope that our great guest service and marketing efforts will carry us through.”
Thousands of RV enthusiasts escape cold, cloudy hometowns each year to relax at the 20 or so parks from Desert Hot Springs to the Salton Sea. They spend money at local shops and restaurants, and provide cities with transient occupancy tax.
But driving homes-on-wheels that get 10 to 12 miles per gallon makes most RV owners extremely sensitive to fluctuations in pump prices.
“We’ve had a few cancelations across the system, but not a great panic as the last time,” Sidoroff added, referring to 2008, when prices at some California gas pumps hit $5 a gallon.
That $5 mark is the “psychological barrier” that keeps many RVs off the road, he said.
Sonoma County resident Roland Mellor agrees. He drove his RV to Cathedral City in March with his wife, Bev, for an annual gathering with friends. The couple usually visits Arizona, too, but gas prices prompted them to limit the trip to the valley.
“We look forward to the sunshine,” Mellor said. “Arizona lost out, Palm Springs made it.”
But if diesel prices were closer to $5, he’d consider canceling the trip altogether, he added.
Some RV enthusiasts are dodging the gas prices by avoiding the drive home entirely. Shadow Hills RV Resort in Indio just “had our best year ever” thanks in part to a new offer that allows visitors to store RVs on site for six months, said Paula Turner, the park’s co-owner.
“It’s cheaper for them to fly down and store it for six months,” Turner said.
For the return trip to Alberta, the Wiebes plan to prepare meals instead of spending at restaurants along the way to help offset costs.
“We won’t be eating, we just have to buy gas,” said Anna Calvert, also of Alberta.
Recreational vehicle and motorcoach sales are on an upswing in Florida’s Lee County.
The RV industry struggled through the downturn, but Tim Lowry, marketing manager for North Trail RV Center in Fort Myers, said sales are on the rise, the Fort Myers News-Press reported.
The Lee County RV dealer was hard hit in 2008, but the company started to see business pick up in the third quarter of 2009, even though about half of Florida’s RV dealers closed that year, Lowry said.
“The herd was thinned,” he said. “What happened is there was a lot of growth in the industry and the industry has always been give or take.”
Several RV manufacturers were producing very similar products and competing with each other and some dealers managed their businesses poorly, relying on sales to keep their doors open, he said.
But the big factors that drove the decline were credit availability and a drop in consumer confidence, said Kevin Broom, spokesman for the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Consumer confidence, while it’s still down, it isn’t dropping any further,” Broom said.
Through September, RV manufacturers have shipped 194,000 units, an increase of 59% from the same period in 2009, according to an RV association report released this month.
The same report shows shipments for the month of September totaled 16,700 units, a decline of 4% from the same month a year ago.
North Trail RV Center has grossed $73 million year-to-date compared to $42 million for the same period a year ago, said Alan Erp, company vice president.
Erp said mid-to-high-end recreational vehicles and motorcoaches — starting at about $75,000 and peaking at about $2 million — are the vehicles that increased sales.
He attributes North Trail’s growth to sticking with or adding product lines from leading manufacturers that have survived the downturn, such as Newmar Motorhomes and Tiffin Motorhomes.
Meanwhile, Robert Kohn, an independent consultant, is working with Signature Naples Motor Coach Resort on the high-end resort’s first sales campaign, which launched Nov. 1.
“We’ve taken in 11 reservations in the first 23 days,” he said.
The resort, located at 13300 Tamiami Trail E., has 184 spaces and sits on about 23 acres of beachfront property offering boating access, beach, lake and interior sites ranging from $89,000 to $250,000.
In 2009, Sunland RV Resorts based in La Jolla, Calif., and Morgan RV Resorts based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., bought the property at the courthouse steps and paid the full purchase price of the property, which allows them to set a fair price that is still a good deal, Kohn said.
“We have an incredibly stable platform for people buying here because there is no bank debt, which means there is no gun to the head of the developer,” he said.
Sales are up for the high-end motorcoach resorts, Kohn said, because of careful financial investment. Also, there is a shortage in RV resort property as many resorts were purchased by developers in 2004 and 2005 to build homes.
North Trail RV Center also adapted to meet customer needs through the downturn as sales slowed.
North Trail converted its dealership at the Billy Creek Commerce Center to a tire and collision center offering body shop services to fix wrecked units, a 60-foot paint booth and tire balancing for trucks and motor coaches.
It also expanded its operations and opened a second dealership in Fort Lauderdale in April.
“It was a necessity if we were going to be the kind of dealership we wanted to be and that people expected us to be,” Lowry said.
Between 2000 and 2005, as real estate prices rocketed to unprecedented levels, developers pulled out their wallets and encouraged owners of RV parks and resorts to sell their properties because they wanted to replace them with shopping malls – all more lucrative uses of these properties, or so they thought.
As the real estate market has tumbled, however, many developers have not been able to get very far with their plans, and several of the RV parks and resorts they acquired have not only survived, but prospered during the current economic recession, according to a release from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
In fact, one lesson that developers have learned is that high quality RV parks and resorts are more economically resilient than hotels, shopping malls or condos, particularly when investments are made to improve these parks.
“Camping is a recession-proof business,” said David L. Berg, ARVC chairman, adding that most of the nation’s campgrounds, RV parks and RV resorts have reported stable to slight increases in income this year, despite the recession.
Berg cited his own campground as a case in point. The park, Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, scored an 8.5% increase in business compared to last year, while hotels and motels in his area saw their business drop by as much as 25%. “Camping is more family oriented and more reasonably priced than other travel and tourism options,” he said, adding, “The state of affairs of our economy has not hurt the camping business at all.”
Developers, on the other hand, have mistakenly assumed that land is always more valuable when it’s used for hotels, shopping malls and condominiums. While this kind of thinking may apply to poorly maintained RV parks, in resort destinations, high-quality RV parks and resorts remain economically resilient, even when times are tough.
Consider the story of Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., one of the top winter vacation destinations in the country. Several years ago, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taylor Morrison bought the park with plans to replace it with high-end housing. But the recession pulled the rug out from under the real estate market before Taylor Morrison could finish its project. And while Taylor Morrison had converted portions of the RV resort to housing, the rest of the resort remained standing, including all of its RV sites, clubhouse and other core buildings, which prompted the company to put the RV resort back on the market.
La Jolla, Calif. based SunLand RV Resorts bought Emerald Desert last summer and plans to keep as a resort. “I’ve had my eye on this property for 20 years,” said Reza Paydar, SunLand president and CEO. “It is very valuable. There is nothing like it.”
SunLand, in fact, has already invested more than $1 million in improvements to the 251-site property and plans to operate it as a year-round luxury RV resort. It’s newly designed 1,200-square-foot lobby features a custom designed floor mosaic and reception desk with inlayed stone. Luxury furnishings are also being added to the newly designed fitness center and swimming pool area.
Meanwhile, the economic downturn has given La Pacifica RV Resort in the San Diego, Calif. suburb of San Ysidro a chance to assert its economic resiliency. An investor purchased the property several years ago with the idea of re-selling it to a housing developer. But as the real estate market tanked, the investor’s plans evaporated and he wound up selling the property to another investor, Bart Thomsen, who plans to make improvements and keep La Pacifica as an RV resort.
“The park is in very good condition already. But we’re absolutely intent on making it an even better place,” Thomsen said. “We’re putting money into fixing up the bathhouse and clubhouse and investing in better utility pedestals and making improvements to its streets. We’re planning on it being an RV park for the long haul.”
Developers’ plans to convert RV parks and resorts to other uses have not only been put on hold by the recession. In some cases, local residents and businesses and city officials have discouraged them from replacing RV parks and resorts, which they value as important pillars of a tourism economy.
Consider Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla. A few years ago, the property was purchased by an owner who wanted to replace it with condominiums, but the developer ran into opposition from local residents, businesses and city officials. “They claimed the plan was out of character for the community and they were concerned that residential use wouldn’t support the local businesses that are geared primarily to the tourist and vacation business,” said David Gorin, who recently purchased park from the developer. “The previous owner was simply unable to get the zoning and planning commission to approve his plan. He fought with them for five years and then gave up and sold the property to us.”
Gorin and his business partner have since invested $1.4 million improving the property and making it into a high quality RV resort.
These investments in RV parks and in RV park improvements are paying off because camping and RVing enthusiasts have shown a consistent willingness to pay for parks that offer high quality facilities, amenities and service, said Linda Profaizer, ARVC president and CEO. RV parks and resorts are also aided by the fact that they offer the nation’s most affordable vacation option, she said.
John Grant, owner of San Diego-based Park Brokerage Inc., said growing consumer interest in camping and RVing is also helping RV parks and resorts to retain their real estate and business value during the worst recession since the Great Depression. “RV parks are holding on to their value because people are downsizing their vacations, taking their RV or tent and going camping,” he said. “This translates into higher property and business values for parks.”
The Signature resorts are in Naples, Fla., and Bar Harbor, Maine.
Morgan RV Resorts is the country’s largest privately owned RV park corporation. Morgan’s 41 RV resorts in 14 states offer RV owners camping and recreation facilities with over 17,000 lots in diverse locations such as the Adirondacks, the Chesapeake Bay, Cape Cod and the Florida Keys.
Sunland RV Resorts currently owns and operates seven RV resorts in Southern California which includes Golden Village Palms RV Resort, California’s largest and RV Resort Five of Sunland RV Resorts are strategically located in San Diego.
In announcing the Signature Resorts acquisition, Morgan RV Resorts co-owner Bob Moser and Sunland RV Resorts President Reza Paydar said they are excited to add this top of the line group of RV resorts to their portfolio.
“Signature Resorts is and has been the unmatched leader in RV living in America. Their properties have no equal in beauty, recreation and luxury living for Class A coach owners. They are the five-star choice in the field,” the new owners stated in a press release.
E. Randall Henderson Jr. will continue as president of the new Signature Resorts, a position he has held since 2004.
“With the Sunland and Morgan partnership, we are now expanding the Signature Resorts brand with the experience, resources and the team to set a new standard for luxury. Signature Resorts will serve those owners who demand the very finest in luxury RV living,” said Henderson, who pioneered luxury RV condominium ownership and has developed 23 RV resorts in 12 states and Mexico over the past 25 years.
Emerald Desert Resort in Palm Desert, Calif., is the newest addition to Sunland RV Resorts, an outdoor hospitality company featuring seven upscale lifestyle resorts throughout Southern California.
”Emerald Desert is a gorgeous property and we can’t wait to introduce it to Sunland’s customers,” said President Reza Paydar in a news release. “Now that the resort is going to be open year-round, we look forward to serving even more new travelers visiting the area from Europe, Canada, neighboring states and California. And for those who have visited Emerald Desert before, we invite you to come back and see again how beautiful a summer in the desert can be, with clear nights full of glittering stars and moonlight.”
Building on a 28-year history of serving the Southern California region, Sunland is committed to expanding its range of luxurious RV resorts throughout the West – and, in the not-too-distant future, other states in the hospitable climate of the Sunbelt, Paydar said.
The 32-acre, 251-site gated resort’s activities include an immaculate 2-hole putting green, lakes, lighted tennis courts, horseshoes, bocce ball and croquet, two spacious pools and two Jacuzzis.
Other amenities include a multi-million dollar clubhouse, with ballroom dancing, card games, billiards, commercial gourmet kitchen, library and guest computers. Emerald Desert also offers an array of services such as faxing, photocopying and wireless high-speed Internet. New laundry facilities, TV lounge, library and a state-of-the-art fitness center, round out Emerald Desert’s range of first-class amenities. The fitness center includes cardio equipment, strength and circuit training equipment, flat screen TVs, free weights and an indoor spa.
Sunland’s seven facilities now offer a total of 1,745 existing lots, and expansion plans call for an additional 130 lots to be added to its current resorts.
The economy may be mired in recession, but that hasn’t stopped private campground owners in California – the nation’s leading market for RVs and camping – from investing in new campsites, cabins and other upgrades for the upcoming camping season, according to a report from the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
“Campground and RV park operators know that the recession is temporary that it behooves them to continue making improvements to their parks so that they can compete with other travel and tourism options,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
As a result, she said, many private park operators are investing in new facilities and amenities this year, which include everything from new campsites and cabins to hot tubs and swimming pools. For example:
- Auburn Gold Country RV Park, Auburn: This property, which includes 66 RV sites, 20 tent sites and two cabins is getting a $300,000 facelift, which will include upgrading many of its campsites with 50-amp electrical and Wi-Fi service.
- Bakersfield Palms RV Park, Bakersfield: This park recently completed a $1 million expansion and plans to open a new 20-site section for overnight travelers in May. The new section has premium campsites that are 25 feet wide and 70 feet long. The new sites have 50-amp electrical pedestals as well as telephone, cable TV and Wi-Fi service. The existing section of the park has 112 sites.
- Campland on the Bay, San Diego: This RV resort is spending up to $50,000 this year on a skate park, which is expected to open before Memorial Day weekend. The park is also spending $100,000 on other infrastructure improvements, including a leash-free dog park.
- Far Horizons 49′er Village RV Resort, Plymouth: This 329-site park, which also has 13 park model rentals, is planning to spend about $200,000 in improvements this year, mostly involving the park’s swimming pool complex.
- Flying Flags RV Resort, Buellton: This RV resort, located near the Dutch-themed town of Solvang, has budgeted $550,000 for improvements this year, including three recreational-park trailer cabin rental units, a fitness center, electrical and sewer service upgrades, renovation of campsites, cable television system upgrades and new landscaping.
- Frandy Park Campground, Kernville: This park, which has 18 campsites on the Kern River and 60 sites off the river, just installed new asphalt at the entrance to the park. The park is also making landscaping improvements and is installing a new dump tank. The total investment in improvements is expected to be close to $70,000.
- Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground, Klamath: This 33-acre park, which is located in Big Foot country with one quarter mile of frontage along the Klamath River, plans to spend more than $30,000 in improvements this year, which will include construction of 26 new tent sites and three more RV sites.
- Pismo Coast Village RV Resort, Pismo Beach: This park is investing more than $700,000 in improvements this year, including the renovation of 51 campsites, which will be upgraded to 50-amp electrical service; the renovation of the swimming and wading pools, road paving and other electrical upgrades. The park is also planning to continue its improvement effort next year and develop another 20-acre site for RV storage.
- Premier RV Resorts, Redding: This park, which has 84 RV sites, 12 tent sites and two yurts, is planning to do a 21-site expansion this year. Other improvements include a new hot tub and a fenced dog-run area. These improvements are expected to cost about $500,000.
- Rancho Los Coches RV Park, Lakeside: This park has invested more than $30,000 in a variety of improvements this year, including renovations to its swimming pool and hot tub and new pool furniture. The park has also built a fitness room and made landscaping improvements with new flowers, shade trees and palm trees, including two Taiwanese King Kong Palms.
- San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA: This park is investing about $200,000 in improvements this year, which include finishing up a 4,000-square-foot dog park and remodeling the camp store. The park has also expanded its lodging with the purchase of six park model cabins last year. The park has 312 sites, including 34 cabins and a total of 10 park models.
- SunLand RV Resorts: This La Jolla-based chain, which has six parks in Riverside and San Diego counties, is upgrading its Wi-Fi system capabilities this year. SunLand’s parks include Golden Village Palms in Hemet, San Diego RV Resort in La Mesa, Escondido RV Resort in Escondido as well as three parks in El Cajon, including Oak Creek RV Resort, Circle RV Resort and Vacationer RV Resort