For awhile, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) thought it had the perfect “surprise” visitor for its upcoming national conference in Savannah, Ga.: a Supreme Court justice who camps.
According to a report by Woodall’s Campground Management, ARVC CEO Paul Bambei said a plan was being formulated for Associate Justice Clarence Thomas to visit the convention, which opens Nov. 28 in Savannah, and address the assembled ARVC members.
Thomas was born in the Pin Point community near Savannah and is an avid camper, vacationing with his wife Virginia in their 40-foot Prevost bus that’s been redone by Marathon Coach.
But a last-minute conflict will prevent Thomas’s visit, Bambei confirmed to Woodall’s Campground Management this week. WCM contacted the Supreme Court to check on Justice Thomas’s schedule but hadn’t heard back for comment.
Bambei seemed to take the letdown in stride, without going into details about how the Thomas visit fell through. No substitute “surprise” visitor is being lined up.
The convention runs through Dec. 3.
The hoped-for Thomas visit was at the center of a minor spat in August between ARVC and Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO). Schaeffer touted that he could arrange for Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry to speak at the ARVC conference. ARVC turned down Schaeffer’s offer, saying it wished to remain non-political with its guest speakers.
However, Bambei indicated at that time, “We have someone just as big in mind who’s not running for office and is an RV enthusiast.” Though not identifying Thomas by name in August, Bambei sounded confident that the deal to book Thomas could be sealed.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has designated Athens Park Homes as an endorsed provider for park model sales to Texas parks.
“Athens Park Homes has been a member of TACO for many years. They have supplied hundreds of park models to our members. They provide great products and service, and we wholeheartedly recommend them and their products,” Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO, stated in a news release.
He added that Athens’ endorsed provider status translates into significant savings and other benefits for TACO members.
For starters, any TACO member that purchases a park model from Athens Park Homes will receive a free Galvalume metal roof, which is normally a $900 upgrade, as well as a two-year warranty instead of the standard one-year warranty that comes with each park model.
Texas parks also benefit from the fact that Athens Park Homes is based in Athens, Texas, which translates into lower park model shipping costs compared to the prices Texas park operators would pay if they purchase park models from out-of-state providers.
Schaeffer said Athens will have an increased presence at upcoming TACO trade shows, including its Oct. 23rd fall tour at The Vineyard Campground and Cabins in Grapevine, which coincidentally has had a terrific consumer response to the eight park model cabins it installed last year.
Athens has also agreed to donate the profits from the sale of one of its highly appointed park model units at the TACO Spring Show (auction) to support the association’s government affairs program, and to increase its advertising presence in TACO’s award-winning Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide, Schaeffer said.
“We’re very excited to receive TACO’s endorsement,” said Dick Grymonprez, vice president of sales and marketing for Athens Park Homes, which has enjoyed a 17% increase in January through September park model sales compared to last year’s figures.
Founded in 2004, Athens currently accounts for about 8% of the nation’s park model sales, Grymonprez said, adding that much of Athens’ recent sales involve campgrounds that are purchasing park models for use as rental accommodations.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) will host its annual spring conference and trade show May 1-3 at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville.
“We’re expecting a big crowd, much like we had last year,” Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO, stated in a news release, adding that the organization’s conference and trade show is the largest of its kind in the Southwest.
Texas is the nation’s largest market for RVs and boasts one of the three largest assembly of privately owned campgrounds in the U.S.
The conference will feature eight educational sessions, including:
- Maximizing Employee Potential & Bursting Your Bubble: These sessions will be led by Lori Severson, a motivation training consultant who has consulted for numerous companies, including the Walt Disney Company, Leisure Systems, Camp Snoopy, IBM, TRW, the LeRoy Butler Foundation and the Gilbert Brown Foundation in addition to serving as executive director of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners.
- Utilizing Guest Surveys and Feedback & Dealing With Negative Online Reviews: These sessions will be led by Bob MacKinnon, a Certified Park Operator and campground industry consultant who developed the GuestReviews online survey program, which is widely used throughout North America’s campground industry. MacKinnon spent 30 years with the Walt Disney Co., handling everything from resort and theme park management to marketing and human resources.
- The Legislature and You: Ron Hinkle, TACO’s legislative consultant, will explain the extensive legislative work TACO is performing on behalf of campground owners. Hinkle has worked in various capacities both inside and outside the Texas legislature for nearly 30 years. Hinkle served as sergeant at arms and Legislative Division director for the Texas House of Representatives; then became assistant government affairs director for the Texas Chamber of Commerce as well as a legislative liaison for the Texas Public Utility Commission.
- Campground Insurance Update: Lance Goff from AVP Philadelphia Insurance will discuss some of the latest insurance topics affecting campgrounds and how to maximize your coverage. A 20-year insurance industry veteran, Goff has been handling insurance for RV parks and campgrounds for the past 10 years.
- Legal Challenges Facing Campgrounds: This session will be led by Casey Erick of McKamie Krueger LLP, an attorney on retainer by TACO who specializes in defense against allegations of civil rights or labor violations, employment disputes as well as tort and insurance litigation. He also lectures on laws that impact government entities.
- 21st Century Utilities/Electric Car Charging Stations: This session will be led by Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group. If you want to learn the latest in electrical hook-ups, changes in electrical codes and generate extra cash by being an electric car charging stations – don’t miss this class.
- Driving the Experience: Facts and Figures from the Campground Industry: This session will be led by Larry Brownfield, a senior business development consultant in franchise services for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). Brownfield is responsible for KOA’s southwest region, which includes 101 campgrounds.
- So You Want To Expand Your Business: This session will be led by Carol and Walter Preble, longtime campground operators who have also worked for KOA in various capacities. Carol spent five years at KOA’s corporate headquarters, initially working as vice president of franchise sales and later as vice president of franchise services. Walter has provided consulting services to KOA and numerous campground operators for business development and campground design.
- Playing the Google Game: This session will be led by Matt Taylor and Michael Moore of Texas Advertising. Taylor is a Google AdWords Certified Professional and website director for Texas Advertising who oversees the company’s social networking initiatives, while Moore is Texas Advertising’s general manager and account executive, overseeing internal operations and cross-platform marketing.
- First Time Visitors Orientation and Creative Marketing Roundtable: This session is designed to help the association’s newest and potential members find what they’re looking for during the show. There will an emphasis on creative marketing – bring your best ideas and share with the group.
TACO’s trade show, for its part, will take place at Kerrville’s Inn of the Hills River Resort and will feature more than 40 vendors, who will display their products and services at the Inn’s 15,000-square -foot conference hall. During the trade show awards will be given to Supplier of the Year and also a Park Lifetime Achievement Award.
Other activities include an opening night Hawaiian luau and casino night with a live band and great food, a raffle with $3,000 worth of computer and entertainment equipment, including an iPad2 and a big screen TV and TACO’s annual auction, which supports its government affairs programs.
The three-day event will conclude with TACO’s annual awards luncheon, during which time awards will be given for Park of the Year, Website of the Year, Brochure and Rack Card of the Year.
For more information or to register, please visit the TACO show website, www.guadaluperiverroundup.com, or call Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0219.
Robert Kennedy of Lubbock RV Park in Lubbock has been elected to a two-year term as president of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which represents nearly 400 privately owned campgrounds, RV parks and resorts in Texas and New Mexico.
Kennedy, who has served on TACO’s board of directors for the past four years, was elected during the association’s winter meeting.
Other campground industry leaders who are joining Kennedy for a two-year term on TACO’s board of directors include 1st Vice President Don Temple of Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville; 2nd Vice President Gwen Craig of Rayford Crossing RV Park in Spring; Secretary Allan Hughes of Traders Village in Grand Prairie; and Treasurer Mac McLaughlin of Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi. Joe Moore of the Vineyards Campground and Cabins in Grapevine and Robert Crockett of Spring Branch RV Resort in Spring Branch were elected as directors as large, while Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Rio Frio will serve as past president. Terry Munoz of Thousand Trails in Lake Conroe and Ed Welliver of Oleander Acres RV Park in Mission will serve as regional directors.
According to Kennedy, his priorities as association president will be to support TACO’s marketing efforts to increase camping within the state of Texas while also advocating various legislative reforms to lessen government regulations in the private park sector.
One key issue involves water regulations and the pricing of water in privately owned parks.
TACO secured legislation in 2005 that requires municipalities to charge parks for their actual water consumption using commercial rates. But some water districts in unincorporated areas of Texas have been charging parks flat fees (per campsite) using much higher residential rate structures.
Kennedy said the residential rates can cost as much as four times as much as commercial rates and are unfair to park operators, since they typically deal with transient campers and not permanent residents.
TACO has sponsored two bills, which could correct the problem. House and Senate hearing on those bills (HB1210 and SB569) were held March 15 and the Senate version was already voted out of committee. The Legislature is expected to vote on the bills before summer and, if approved, they would go to Governor Perry for signature, taking effect in September.
Editor’s Note: The following press release was provided by the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Increases in drug related violence in Mexico haven’t stopped John Macduffee from returning to the Rio Grande Valley, where they rendezvous with other “Winter Texans” at the Broke Mill RV Park in Del Rio.
“Everything is calm, cool and collected,” said MacDuffee, a 70-year Winter Texan from the Syracuse area of New York. “The press has got people scared.”
“There are absolutely zero worries in my mind about safety,” said Scott Wofford, an Abilene-based chiropractor who stays at Broke Mill RV Park while tending patients at his satellite office in Del Rio.
“The Border Patrol in Del Rio is so prevalent I don’t have a worry in the world,” he said, adding that he particularly enjoys restaurants in the Del Rio area as well as the camaraderie and social events that take place at Broke Mill RV Park. “We have lots of cookouts here. I just have the time of my life,” Wofford said, adding that he’s even thinking about purchasing a home in the area.
The safe atmosphere on the Texas side of the border comes as no surprise to Mike McCarson, a former Border Patrol agent who owns the Broke Mill RV Park.
He said media reports about violence between drug cartels inside Mexico have left many people outside Texas with the impression that the border is not safe for tourists when, in reality, it’s as safe as it’s ever been.
“There has been violence between the cartels, but that has taken place in Mexico, not here in Texas,” McCarson said, adding that the negative publicity has resulted in a 10% decline in overnight traffic at his park as well as a decline in his Winter Texan business.
Fortunately, he said, native Texans know better, and they continue to stay at his park, offsetting losses he might have otherwise experienced as a result of the negative publicity.
While there has been increased violence this year in several areas of Mexico, there has not been any notable increase in violence on the Texas side of the border, according to law enforcement agencies.
“We as an agency would have to say we do not see an increase in spillover violence from Mexico,” said Mark Qualia, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, adding, “If there is any spillover violence from the cartels, we’re going to be the first ones to see that impact.”
Qualia added that the number of agents assigned to the border has doubled in the past decade to about 20,000 agents. “And that’s just the Border Patrol,” he said.
Several Texas law enforcement agencies on the U.S. side of the border also say they have not seen any significant increases in crime, either.
Perceptions are hard to shake, however, and some RV parks have had a few cancellations this winter as a result of media publicity about violence on the Mexican side of the border.
“When people hear border violence, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a one-mile area, people think it’s the whole border,” said AJ Wright, who owns the 25-site Desert Hills RV Park in Comstock.
Wright, whose park is six miles north of the border, had a few cancellations a few months ago, but he says his business is picking up again now. “We’ve had no incidents here. So we feel very safe,” he said.
Both native and Winter Texans have similar views about the warmth and feeling of welcome they find among businesses throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Many also say they continue to cross the border into Mexico in locations where they feel comfortable doing so.
“We’ve never had any problem in Mexico, and we’ve been treated so nicely there,” said Marion Snell of Ackerly, Texas, who travels to Ciudad Acuña from time to time with his wife, Joy, to obtain medical treatment and prescription medications.
“As far as Del Rio and Acuña are concerned, we have no worries,” said Snell, who uses Broke Mill RV Park as a base when he makes his cross-border trips.
Sandra Chrane, 69, of Abilene, Texas, frequently stays at Broke Mill RV Park and has not had any problems on either side of the border. “We go there all year long,” she said. “We enjoy the park and the lake and we go over into Acuña. My husband goes to the dentist there and we’ve never had problems.”
Texans who travel to other Mexican border towns have similar accounts.
“There’s no problem going to Nuevo Progreso,” said Wanda Boush, an 88-year Chicago native and former Winter Texan who now lives full time in a mobile home in Alamo, near the Mexican border. “Everyone goes to the dentists. Everyone goes over there to buy prescription drugs. It’s safe to eat in the restaurants there. It’s safe to do your shopping.”
Boush herself goes into Mexico to purchase medicine for her cat.
Tom Brooks, who manages the KOA on South Padre Island, with 200 RV sites and 18 park model lodges, said his winter visitors also continue to make trips in Mexico. “A lot of our winter people go there for medicines and to see doctors,” he said, adding that his business levels are consistent with last year’s figures.
The upcoming winter season is shaping up to be at least as busy, if not busier, than last year for campgrounds, RV parks and resorts that cater to Winter Texans, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“Our members are reporting strong advance bookings that are at least on par with last year’s figures, while some parks are projecting occupancy gains of 5 to 15 percent or more,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’executive director and CEO.
Several park operators said they were pleased with the pace of winter reservations for the 2010-2011 season.
“Last winter was the busiest winter we’ve ever had, and as of right now, we’re looking to be about even or above last year’s figures,” said TACO President Doug Shearer, who owns the 95-site Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan.
Don Temple, owner of Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, said he expects a busier winter, too, with occupancies up at least 10% to 15 % above last winter’s figures. “Reservations are steadily coming in and we’ve got lots of deposits, more deposits than last year. We’ve also got more rallies scheduled this fall,” he said.
Teri Blaschke, who co-owns Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy, said her advance reservations were running well ahead of last year’s figures. “I would say that we’re expecting about a 25% increase (in business this winter), just looking at what we’ve got so far,” she said.
Koyote Ranch in Medina also anticipates a stronger winter season. “We’ve doubled the Winter Texan group in the past year and a half,” said Pete Cook, the park’s general manager. “I think we’ll be twice as busy this winter as we were last winter.” The six-year-old park features 50 RV sites, 31 log cabins, a 5,600-square foot home, which the park uses as a bed and breakfast inn, a bunkhouse and tent camping areas.
Meanwhile, Gwen Craig, who owns Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring as well as Timberline Ridge RV Village in Magnolia, said she expects her winter occupancies to be up about 5 percent, based on the latest reservation statistics. “We’re looking at 90% to 95% occupancy,” she said, adding. “We’re getting lots of new people, people who haven’t been with us before.”
Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties, which owns and operates several RV resorts in the Rio Grande Valley, said its initial advance reservations for the upcoming winter were running 8% ahead of last year.
Other park operators said they expected their occupancies to be up only slightly this coming winter. “At the moment, we’re just a little bit up from last year,” said Ed Welliver, owner of Oleander Acres RV Park in Mission.
Jeni Wilson, manager of Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort in Mission, said her advance winter reservations were running about 1% ahead of last year. The park has 247 sites, including nine with 650-square foot casitas and four with park model rentals.
Tom Brooks, general manager of KOA in South Padre Island, said he expects his Winter Texan business to be about even with last year’s figures.
Some park operators said it was difficult to predict the strength of the upcoming winter season. “It’s hard for us to tell until the last minute because lots of people wait until the last minute (to make their reservations),” said Bonita Story, RV office manager for Llano Grande Lake Resort in Mercedes. Roughly half of the resort’s 1,200 sites accommodate transient RVers, she said.
The Texas Association of Campground Operators publishes and distributes the Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas each year. For more information about the directory or for statistics involving the latest camping trends in Texas and New Mexico parks, please contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit http://www.texascampgrounds.com/ and http://www.texascabinrentals.net.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) Sunday (Oct. 19) held its annual Fall Parks on Tour at Rustic Creek Ranch in Burleson, Texas.
Approximately 65 people attended, spending a few hours looking over every aspect of the magnificent property, according to a report to members by Executive Director Brian Schaeffer.
The recent addition of dozens of RV sites, beautifully appointed cottages and fabulous meeting halls were the highlights.
Just prior to the park tour, guests were treated to an outstanding collection of vintage Corvettes, Camaros and muscle cars at a nearby collector.
The association unveiled the look and feel of a significant rebuild of its consumer website – www.texascampgrounds.com. The new site will be very visually appealing, extremely content rich with very robust search capability. Changes to member park information can be made immediately on the new site which goes live at the end of the year. The new site, featuring 400-plus private campgrounds, will continue to garner more visitors than any other state camping site, Schaeffer predicted.
During a CPO-approved marketing round table discussion 60% of owners indicated that their business had grown steadily over the last three years. Approximately 30% indicated they were flat over the same period, while 10% have seen a slight down turn in the last two years.
Most owners indicated they employed a well-rounded marketing approach of print media, online advertising various word-of-mouth programs to promote business.
Approximately two-thirds of the group said they had expanded their facilities or upgraded amenities over the previous year and half of the parks have expansion plans for this year. All attendees confirmed significant increases in operating expenses. Leading the way were property tax increase ranging from 20% to 200% over the last two years.
An award was presented to the host park – Rustic Creek Ranch. Also, board service awards were presented to Carolyn Brown of Boone RV Park, Lampasas, Texas; and Terry Cagle of Little Creel RV Park, Chama, N.M., for six years of TACO board service. A slate of directors was presented and approved for the 2009 – 2010 TACO board.
Officers are President Doug Shearer, Parkview Riverside RV Park, Rio Frio; 1st Vice President Rober Kennedy, Lubbock RV Park, Lubbock; 2nd Vice President Don Temple, Guadalupe River RV Resort, Kerrville; Treasurer Allan Hughes, Grand Prairie; and Secretary Mac McLaughlin, Hatch RV Park, Corpus Christi.
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.
Most RV enthusiasts in Texas plan to camp at least as much this summer as they did last summer, and nearly half of them plan to camp even more often, according to the latest online survey by the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
The survey, conducted from early June, found that 45.9% of RV enthusiasts planned to go camping even more often than last summer, while 39.9% planned to camp as much as they did last summer. Only 14.2% said they planned to camp less often than last summer.
“We knew the numbers would be good, but these statistics are even better than we anticipated,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO, adding that camping remains the most affordable vacation option for consumers.
Rising fuel costs and the economic downturn have had an impact on people’s travel plans, however. Nearly 55% of survey respondents said they were taking shorter trips and staying at campgrounds for longer periods of time to reduce their travel costs, while 45.2% said they hadn’t scaled back their travel plans at all.
Looking at Texas RVers in general, 53.8% said they planned to do their camping in the Lone Star State, while 35.3% planned to visit surrounding states and 10.9% planned to take cross-country trips. Parks in Texas are reporting that as much as 70% of their business is in-state campers.
In terms of equipment, nearly half of the survey respondents (45.2%) said they camp in a travel trailer or fifth-wheel, while 24.4% use a tent, 22.4% use a motorhome and 7.9% travel with a folding camping trailer. Just over 3% of survey respondents said they planned to rent an RV this summer, while 14.5% planned to rent a cabin or park model.
Most RVers also said they traveled with friends and family:
- 37.3% with their children.
- 14.2% with grandchildren.
- 12.5% with extended family.
- 14.2% with friends.
Just over one-fifth of RVers (21.8%) said they traveled only with their spouse.
The survey, conducted through www.texascampgrounds.com, generated 913 responses, Schaeffer said. TACO markets more than 400 private campgrounds and RV resorts through TexasCampgrounds.com, which shows up No. 1 in Google searches as people search for ‘campgrounds in Texas’.
For campground sources, statistics and other information about camping trends in Texas, please contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit www.TexasCampgrounds.com.
TexasCampgrounds.com, the web portal for researching and booking reservations at private campgrounds and RV resorts, saw a 15.4% increase in unique visitors in May, setting an all-time record.
“We think the record numbers of unique visitors to TexasCampgrounds.com will translate into strong business for private campgrounds and RV parks this summer,” said Brian Schaeffer, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which manages the site. TACO reported 21,781 unique visits to TexasCampgrounds.com in May, compared to 18,867 in May of 2008. The previous record of 20,945 unique visitors was set in March.
Campground owners, for their part, say their occupancies and revenue are keeping pace with or exceeding last year’s figures, including The Vineyards Campground and Cabins in Grapevine, which has seen a 10% increase in occupancy for the past eight months, according to manager Joe Moore, who added that occupancy increases took place along with a 34% increase in revenue.
“We’re literally booked,” Moore said. “The first available weekends that we have anything available are in mid-August.”
Rayford Crossing in Spring has experienced a 10% increase in occupancy during the first five months of this year along with a 13% increase in revenue, said park owner Gwen Craig. “We are getting a lot of bookings for this month, a lot of online reservations,” she said. “Our rally business is really up, even with the heat of Texas. We have as many big groups as we can handle in July and August.”
In the Hill Country, Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville is seeing an uptick in business as well and expects to exceed last year’s occupancy and revenue figures, said park owner Don Temple. “I’d be terribly surprised if we weren’t as busy this summer as last year,” he said.
TexasCampgrounds.com features a searchable database of nearly 400 campgrounds and RV parks in every region of Texas, roughly half of which offer campsites and cabins that can be booked online through the same website. Most visitors to TexasCampgrounds.com also request a copy of the 2009 Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide.
For more statistics or other information involving the latest camping trends in Texas, contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit the association’s website at www.texascampgrounds.com.