It’s no secret that RV parks and resorts in the Rio Grande Valley whose livelihoods depend on the annual influx of Winter Texans are facing several challenges.
Many of today’s winter visitors are younger and more mobile than their counterparts of years past, according to a news release from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“They may go to Arizona this year, Texas next year and Florida the next year,” said Kristi Collier, president and CEO of Welcome Home Rio Grande Valley, which markets 74 RV parks and resorts from Mission to South Padre Island.
Snowbirds who don’t have a history of spending their winters in the Rio Grande Valley are also more likely to be frightened by publicity about violence in Mexico, even though cities in the Rio Grande Valley have less crime than other popular winter resort destinations in other states.
Despite these challenges, RV parks and resorts across the Rio Grande Valley are finding that they can continue to grow their business base for the winter season if they offer lots of organized activities and continue to invest in new amenities for their parks, said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
These new amenities include walking areas and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.
“Dog parks are a big deal,” said Jacqueline Gomez, who is the marketing director for Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club in Mercedes, Victoria Palms Resort in Donna and Alamo Park Mobile Home & RV Park in Alamo. She said each of the resorts has two, off-leash dog areas.
The dog park at Bentsen Palm Village in Mission has become so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.
“About 70% to 75% of our guests have dogs, so these kinds of amenities are important,” said Juanita Carvajal, Bentsen Palm Village’s general manager.
Of course, while pet friendly amenities are attractive to Winter Texans, that’s not the only attraction at Bentsen Palm Village. The 250-site resort recently set aside an open area of the park where its guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.
“It’s like a community garden,” Carvajal said, “but we give each guest a 10 by 10-foot section where they can put a stake with their name on it. They often grow kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions and radishes. Sometimes, they grow so much they bring it into the office to share.”
Bentsen Palms also markets its proximity to the World Birding Center while also highlighting the rare birds and other wildlife that make their way into the park.
But while nature oriented activities are always popular, RV park and resort operators are finding that other types of organized activities are also critical for today’s Winter Texans.
El Valle del Sol in Mission offers more than 100 activities each week for its guests. “Winter Texans want to be active,” said park manager Irma Sanchez.
Campgrounds and RV parks that cater to Winter Texans in South-Central Texas anticipate a stronger winter season than last year, thanks in part to the Eagle Ford shale oil pipeline project, which has brought scores of construction workers into the area, according to a news release from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“Last winter was about the best we’ve ever had and we’re going to be about 20% ahead of that this winter, so we’re looking really good,” said Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Rio Frio.
In addition to seeing the return of their Winter Texan visitors, campgrounds in the Texas Hill Country and other areas of South-Central Texas are filling up with construction workers involved in the Eagle Ford shale oil project, which is boosting campground occupancies during the fall shoulder season, Shearer said.
Other Hill Country campgrounds and RV parks also anticipate a strong winter season, including Hill Country RV Park & Cottage Rentals in New Braunfels. “We have a waiting list for both RV sites and park model rentals,” said Bryan Kastleman, the park’s manager.
Other parks are similarly upbeat.
“We did well last winter, but we’re doing better this winter,” said Teri Blaschke of Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy. “People are making reservations further in advance, so we’re being able to tell sooner what our vacancies will be. I do have spots here and there for travelers, but our long-term sites are already booked.”
Blaschke added that she is putting in eight new campsites for the winter season and they are already reserved.
Further to the north, La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin is already booked solid for the winter season. “We’ve got a waiting list and we’re turning people away for the 2012-2013 winter market,” said park owner Ken Butschek, who added that his year-to-date revenue is up about 15 percent over last year’s figures.
La Hacienda RV Resort has a mix of sites that are owned by RVers as well as elegant park model cottages that are available for rent. The park also has about 30 sites that are available for overnight use.
“We have a loyal group of repeat Winter Texans. But we’re also seeing a lot of people who are trying out our park models,” Butschek said.
Further east, Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring and Timber Ridge RV Village in Tomball are already booked for the winter season, said Gwen Craig, who co-owns both parks. She said she has waiting lists for her seasonal sites, although she has kept a few overnight sites available for travelers.
“Every year we’ve outperformed the prior year in occupancy and revenue,” she said, adding that this year is again shaping up to be stronger than last year.
Thousand Trails RV Resort at Lake Conroe is also seeing a strong winter season, fueled both by Winter Texans as well as families from Texas that come to the park on weekends to take part in organized activities and special events.
“We’re seeing younger crowds,” said Terry Munoz, resort manager of the 360-site park. “Even during the winter the locals come out on weekends, so long as we have mild weather. We do a lot of themed weekends and activities.”
RV park managers in San Benito, Texas, fear a new ordinance could open their financial records to the city and unfairly penalize them if their count of mobile homes and park models doesn’t match the city’s count.
The revised ordinance, which took effect Monday, imposes a $10 monthly water fee on mobile homes and park models, The Brownsville Herald reported.
The law can “permanently” charge RV parks additional fees if their tallies of mobile homes and park models differ from the city’s counts, Curtis Richardson, maintenance supervisor at First Colony Mobile Home and RV Park, said.
The ordinance describes such discrepancies as “violations” and “theft of services.”
“They can come in here and open up our financial records and see what kind of business we’re doing,” Richardson said.
Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board, denied the accusation.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), an Arlington association that lobbies for RV parks, wants to know if the ordinance violates Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841, the laws passed in 2005 that prohibit cities from charging water fees to unmetered RV sites, said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director.
“It is incredible,” Schaeffer said. “We had a problem with the general access to a park’s books. They want auditing rights over your books. We’re going to see if it violates the law and if we need to tighten up (the law) because this is ridiculous.”
Claudio said the city will not apply the penalties unless parks misrepresent their numbers.
Campground operators say they’ve had a good summer camping season, fueled by travelers as well as increasing business activity.
“All over Texas, our members are telling us their year-to-date business levels have surpassed last year’s figures,” Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), stated in a news release.
Gwen Craig, co-owner of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring, in the Woodlands area north of Houston, is a case in point.
“We had our best summer ever,” she said. “Lots of people just vacationing, lots of people selling houses, building new ones. Lots of people moving to the area. Lots and lots of new RVers.”
Allan Hughes of Traders Village RV Park in Grand Prairie attributed the improvement in part to milder summer weather.
“Last summer was brutal,” he said, noting that northern Texas suffered 71 days in a row of 100 degree plus days. This summer, however, the weather was much better. So much nicer, in fact, that Hughes saw more tent campers than normal this year.
People also weren’t as affected by fuel prices. “We didn’t have that as an issue,” Hughes said.
Joe Moore, general manager of The Vineyards Campground and Cabins in Grapevine, near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, said he was surprised by the strength of the 2012 camping season.
“We’re seeing a 10% to 15% increase over last year’s revenues,” he said, with RV sites increasing by 10 percent while revenue from the park’s new park model cabin rentals increased by 15%.
Moore added that advance reservations for cabins at The Vineyards remain strong. “We’re very strong over the next three or four months. We have a lot of requests or long-term stays at the campground, more so than in the past. We’re hoping it stays strong.”
Some Vineyards campers, in fact, are booking their sites nearly a year in advance. “We only have a handful of reservations left for July 4th next year,” Moore said.
Weather was also improved in the Texas Hill Country, where campgrounds catered to tubing, rafting and kayaking enthusiasts.
“We had the best summer we’ve ever had,” said Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan, which opened in March 2001.
He attributed the strong business levels to the abundance of water. “The river was in the best shape we’ve had in about five years,” he said.
Based in Crowley, TACO publishes and distributes the Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas each year. For more information about the 2012 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 www.texascampgrounds.com and www.texascabinrentals.net.
Ever since Don Temple and a group of investors purchased Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas seven years ago, they have constantly worked to improve park, investing more than $1 million in improvements.
And, according to a press release, their efforts are clearly paying off.
Last week, the riverfront resort won the “Park of the Year” award in the large park category from the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) for the third year in a row. Guadalupe River RV Resort has also won top ratings from the nation’s leading campground directories, including 5W ratings from Woodall’s North American Campground Directory and 9.5/9/9 ratings from Trailer Life.
The park, which borders the Guadalupe River, has 212 RV sites, including pull-through sites with 30- and 50-amp service as well as wireless Internet and cable television service. It also has 46 park models, 17 cabins, three swimming pools, including an indoor heated pool during the winter, a hot tub, a dry heat sauna, a steam sauna, exercise room, laundry rooms and two large recreation halls, plus an attractive onsite bar with indoor and outdoor seating.
“We’re still the only RV park in Texas with a liquor license,” Temple said, adding that the onsite bar is a popular amenity for RVers who like to enjoy their drinks without having to worry about getting back on the road. Temple also has barbecues on weekends, which are always well attended.
But while the improvements and amenities and fine customer service ensure repeat business for his park, Temple said the ratings and awards help put Guadalupe River RV Resort on the map. “People pay attention to ratings,” he said.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) raised a record $48,000 Monday (May 7) night in its annual auction, which provides funding for the association’s government affairs program.
According to a press release, the auctioned items included vacations at a Texas dude ranch, major advertisements on TexasCampgrounds.com and in the 250,000-circulation Texas RV Travel and Camping Guide, and a park model cabin donated by Athens Park Homes.
The Monday night event at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas, capped a second day of activities at TACO’s Spring Convention and Tradeshow.
The day began with a membership meeting, during which time TACO officials reported that the association is in strong financial health and the organization is making continued investments to bolster its membership and improve its online marketing efforts through TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net.
The association’s trade show was held at the neighboring Inn of the Hills, with 35 vendors in attendance, including TengoInternet, Athens Park Homes and representatives from several front desk management and online reservation systems, including Campground Automation, Leisure Interactive, Mission Management Information Systems, and RMS North America. Electrical product vendors included Eaton Corp., Peak Energy Technology and Utility Supply Group.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) launched its annual Spring Convention and Tradeshow Sunday with a keynote address by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) President and CEO Jim Rogers, who provided park owners with statistics indicating that Texas is experiencing the strongest campground business in the country.
“Texas is doing better than everybody else,” Rogers said, citing KOA statistics, which showed Texas parks experiencing a 4.7% increase in camper nights and a 1.3% increase in revenue in 2011, compared to the previous year.
According to a news release, the only other area in the country to experience overall increases in business in the KOA system last year was New England, which saw a 2.7% increase in camper nights and a 4.8% increase in revenue, Rogers said, noting that KOAs in the rest of the country experienced modest declines.
With roughly 475 parks across the United States and Canada, KOA statistics provide a powerful indicator of business trends in the campground business and are closely followed by park operators across the country.
But while Texas was clearly in the lead in terms of the overall strength of its campground business last year, Rogers said parks across the Lone Star State also mimic trends that are being observed elsewhere in the country. For example, he said, 59% of the business Texas parks receive is generated by Texas residents as opposed to people coming from other states.
That’s a trend that’s happening across the country, Rogers said. “Our traveler is changing,” Rogers said, noting that people are camping closer to home in response to rising fuel costs and increasing time constraints from work schedules and children’s sports activities.
Texas parks are also seeing rising demand for park models and other rental accommodations, Rogers said, adding that KOAs will continue to add more rental units to the KOA system because they are a great way to introduce people to camping who haven’t camped before. He added that deluxe cabins or park models in the KOA system typically pay for themselves in 3.5 years.
Rogers also told Texas park operators that the future is bright for the campground business, not only in Texas but across the country, citing a recent joint study by KOA, The Coleman Company and The Outdoor Foundation, which estimated that only 15% of Americans camp.
That statistic alone means there is tremendous opportunities for growth in the campground business, Rogers said, adding that the opportunities are even greater when one considers America’s changing demographics and the very small numbers of African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics who currently camp.
TACO’s Spring Convention and Tradeshow is being held from May 5-8 at the Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) began its three-day Spring Convention and Tradeshow Sunday (May 6) with good news for the association’s members: TACO is growing, having added 24 more parks as members so far this year, and the association is continuing to strengthen its government affairs and marketing programs.
According to a press release, the convention kicked off Sunday afternoon at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas, with 130 registered attendees representing about 60 private parks.
In his opening remarks to park operators, TACO Executive Director and CEO Brian Schaeffer said the association’s growth will further strengthen TACO’s ability to protect park operator interests in the halls of government because there is “strength in numbers,” particularly when TACO represents parks from multiple jurisdictions across Texas. He added that TACO faces continuing political battles to protect park operators from unfair tax practices involving everything from utilities to fire protection.
“We want to be treated like any other business,” Schaeffer said, adding that Ron Hinkle, TACO’s legislative advocate, is fighting to protect park operator interests in “the corridors of power.”
TACO, however, has considerable political clout in Texas, as evidenced by Sunday’s visit by Texas State Rep. Harvey Hildebrand, who briefed association members on the legislature’s recent efforts to balance the state budget. Hildebrand, who serves as chairman of the Texas Ways and Means Committee, said the Texas economy is improving and that revenue collections are up, with the latest projections indicating a $3 to $4 billion surplus in the state treasury.
Hildebrand also said that tourism remains an important funding priority for Texas, and noted that every dollar spent promoting tourism in Texas brings $7 in return.
On the marketing front, Schaeffer said TACO has recently completed significant improvements to the design and search capabilities of the association’s two consumer websites, TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net, both of which are increasingly used by consumers as vacation planning tools.
TACO has also developed mobile versions of both websites to accommodate the growing numbers of campers who access both websites from their cellular phones. As many as half of the visitors to both websites are using mobile phones, Schaeffer said, citing statistics from Austin-based TengoInternet.
TACO was scheduled to hold its general membership meeting this morning, which was to be followed by the association’s spring tradeshow with 35 vendors at the Inn of the Hills, a neighboring hotel and convention center in Kerrville.
William Henderson of Peak Energy Technology was also scheduled to provide a seminar titled “Recycling Energy and Saving Money.”
When the Texas KOA Owners Association invited the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) to attend their spring meeting, they got more than a briefing on TACO’s marketing and government affairs services and other member benefits for campgrounds.
According to a news release, TACO executive director and CEO Brian Schaeffer also presented the group with a donation of a free mobi site from AGS. The donation was auctioned off with proceeds donated to KOA Care Camps, the non-profit charity that provides camping trips for children who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Schaeffer provided the donation on behalf of his company, Crowley-based AGS, which provides guest guides and web services for more than 600 campgrounds RV parks and resorts across the U.S. and Canada.
“It was a nice thing to do and we appreciate it,” said Marshal Gray, who serves as owner of San Angelo KOA and president of the Texas KOA Owners Association, which had its spring meeting at the San Antonio KOA on April 16.
A non-profit charity of the KOA Owners Association, KOA Care Camps provide funding that enables children with cancer to visit camps that are specially designed to accommodate children with cancer – www.koacarecamps.org.
The proposed charge for monthly base water fees charged to mobile homes and fixed RVs in San Benito, Texas, may discriminate against Winter Texans and may constitute age discrimination, the director of an organization that promotes Texas RV parks said Tuesday (April 3).
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) is reviewing the city’s proposal as it considers legal action, Brian Schaeffer, the agency’s executive director, said.
The city’s utility board has proposed charging a base water fee to mobile homes and permanently tied-down RVs, the Brownsville Herald reported.
“I’m still not sure if they can single out a class of customer and implement a surcharge,” Schaeffer said. “It’s not right that you’re attacking a certain class of citizen with this fee.”
But Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board, said the proposal isn’t discriminatory because the charge applies to all year-round residents and apartment tenants.
“We’re not targeting Winter Texans,” Claudio said.
Schaeffer said the city’s proposal may constitute age discrimination and unjustly targets RV parks.
“The demographics on snowbirds is (age) 55-plus,” Schaeffer said. “I definitely think it’s discriminatory against those folks.”
A base water fee would unjustly target RV parks, Schaeffer said.
“Mobile home parks can show you books and records that (show) they’re the most conservative water users,” Schaeffer said. “That’s the craziness of this thing.”
Officials here have conducted an inventory of the number of mobile homes and fixed RVs within the city limits, but refused to release that information Tuesday after the Valley Morning Star filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act.