Texas Campground operators, hurt by the state’s hot, dry summer, are anticipating a rebound this season because of “winter Texans,” those out-of-state residents who migrate to the warmer parts of the Lone Star State to avoid the coldest weeks back home.
“Many of our affiliates are reporting much higher bookings for the winter season than they experienced last year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
According to a report in the American-Statesmen, Austin, this summer’s drought hurt many RV parks and campgrounds, particularly those located on lakes or rivers.
“Last summer was the worst summer I’ve had in years due to the drought,” said Doug Shearer, owner of Parkview Riverside RV Resort in Concan, near Uvalde. “But our winter is looking good.”
Shearer said reservations were running 10% to 15% ahead of last winter.
Bryan Kastleman, managing partner at Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels, said his bookings are up because of more than just winter Texans. He said the surge in the San Antonio economy is creating a need for workers to find temporary places to stay.
“It’s looking really strong,” Kastleman said of the winter bookings.
Teri Blaschke, who co-owns the Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy, just southwest of San Antonio, said she’s expanding because of temporary workers looking for housing.
“We’ve been full for the month, and there is no end in sight, which is wonderful,” she said.
RV parks that have park models are attractive to temporary workers.
Park models typically are 300 to 400 square feet, with the option of an additional 150 square feet of loft space for children. Some come with porches. Decks can be added once the model is anchored, its trailer hitch detached and its underside carriage hidden by skirting that matches the building’s exterior.
Ken Butschek, who owns La Hacienda RV Resort near Lake Travis, said his park models are attracting winter Texans who don’t want to drive their RVs over wintery roads.
“I’m getting a lot of people renting my park models this winter because they don’t want to rent an apartment or sign a lease,” Butschek said. “Here they don’t even have to turn on utilities. They just bring their clothes and food, and they’re good.”
Butschek said he is considering adding eight park models next year to his stock of 21 because of the winter traffic.
“It’s a market I didn’t plan on,” Butschek said.
The San Benito, Texas, city water fee ordinance violates a state law that prohibits cities from charging RV parks for water at empty sites, residents at Fun N Sun RV Resort said Tuesday (Dec. 20).
According to a report in the Brownsville Herald, Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 841 require that cities charge RV parks only for water that is used, Bonnie Dominguez, manager at Fun N Sun, said.
An ordinance passed by commissioners in October sets a monthly $10 base fee for water to individual units at RV parks and apartment complexes, and applies to unoccupied spaces at RV parks and to vacant apartments.
On Tuesday, Pete Claudio, chairman of the city’s utility board that recommended the charges, said he was unaware of the law.
After weeks of complaints, officials said they would review the ordinance as it applies to the unoccupied RV sites.
“It’s in black and white. The ball is in their court,” Dominguez said Tuesday. “They’re supposed to only charge for usage, not unoccupied sites.”
Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), an organization that sponsored a 2011 version of the law known as House Bill 1210, recommended that Dominguez present city officials with the legislation.
“Basically these bills establish state law that RV parks can only be charged for actual usage,” Schaeffer wrote in an e-mail to Dominguez.
“As a result of these laws,” Schaeffer wrote, “we have had cities and water boards stop the practice of individual site billing, particularly phantom billing (empty sites).”
He added that the city “will probably resist and try to make up a number of lame excuses to avoid following the law. We’ve heard them all.”
Fun N Sun residents were outraged to learn that city officials were unaware of the law.
“I think it’s pretty cut and dry. San Benito is in violation of state law,” Ed Jones, a retired teacher who lives at Fun N Sun, said. “The parks are to be charged like any other business. When they add that $10 surcharge it singles out that business. The park cannot be charged for water that it doesn’t use.”
Resident Donald Boyd said the city ordinance has sparked the park’s hottest controversy in years.
“I would say this is the worst thing that’s happened to get people fired up,” Boyd, a retired inventory specialist, said.
Residents are concerned they will be stuck footing the bill at the park whose 1,400 units will be charged a total of $168,000 a year.
Dominguez has said as many as 300 of the park’s sites remain empty year-round because they’re too small for bigger, late-model mobile homes and RVs.
“If the park gets hit paying for empty lots, it’s going to at least pass part of the cost to us,” Boyd said, adding that higher fees could force some Winter Texans to leave parks in San Benito.
“If people feel like they’ve been cheated, they will make adjustments and go elsewhere,” Boyd said. “I think you’ll see people sell out and not come back.”
Boyd warned that some residents could boycott city businesses.
“It’s going to hurt all the business in this part of the Valley because people aren’t going to spend their money,” Boyd said.
The city’s new ordinance would generate about $348,000 a year from the $10 charge for about 2,900 park sites and apartment units, boosting the city’s coffers during a time when the national recession has driven sales taxes to a six-year low, Claudio said.
City officials argue the ordinance makes RV parks and apartment complexes shoulder part of the burden of high water rates that have climbed since 2004. Single-family homes bear the brunt of average monthly base water and sewer fees of $49.68, they said.
Texas wildfire evacuees are seeking temporary shelter in campgrounds and RV parks while their homes and neighborhoods are inspected to see if and when it will be safe for them to return home.
While more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed in the wildfires during the past week, others have sustained partial damage or smoke damage that must be repaired before families can return to their homes, according to a news release.
“A number of parks are filling up with evacuees, insurance adjusters and others involved in the wildfire cleanup effort,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“We were already nearly 80% full when the fires began, but now we have filled the park up with evacuees and insurance adjusters,” said Juanita Voigt, co-owner of 128-site Highway 71 RV Park in Cedar Creek.
Voigt said some of the evacuees staying at her park had borrowed RVs from family members. Local church groups were also making two RVs available to families in need of temporary shelter.
Voigt said her park was also providing two weeks of free camping to evacuees who had not yet received insurance compensation or were otherwise facing immediate economic hardship as a result of the fire.
Gwen Craig, co-owner of Rayford Crossing RV Resort in Spring and Timberline Village RV Village in Magnolia, said she has been receiving evacuees and insurance adjusters at both of her parks. “A lot of (evacuees) called who were really upset. They didn’t know if they would have to stay or not” because of the uncertainties involving the fires.
Craig said she invited several evacuating families who called her to come to her park with their kids on Sunday. “We opened our pool area up to people who just needed to take the kids and have a fun day,” she said, adding, “We normally try to assist and help in situations like this.”
Craig said her guests have also been participating in food, water and snack collection efforts for firefighters. “We’ve been collecting protein bars, snacks, bottled water and Gatorade,” she said, adding that the donations are taken to a collection point for fighters who have been working the Magnolia fire.
Smoke from wildfires 50 miles away cover the horizon on the edge of Austin, Texas.
Craig said she’s continuing to receive calls from evacuees and that some callers are looking for long-term campsites, which means they probably will have to camp out for several months while their homes are repaired or rebuilt.
“People are still in shock,” said Dale Slaughter of the Hobo Camp in Bastrop. “They don’t know how long they’re going to need a place.”
At least one Texas campground was also damaged by the wildfires.
Toad Hollow RV Park, a 30-site park in Bastrop, was largely destroyed by the fire. “Our main building and bathhouse survived, but everything else is gone,” said Judy Horn, the park’s owner, adding that many of her guests had lost their RVs in the fire. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) were at her park today (Sept. 13).
Park operators aren’t doing enough to attract a diverse business base that reflects America’s changing demographics, said Larry Brownfield, a senior business development consultant for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).
“Do we want to survive?” Brownfield asked Tuesday (May 3) during an educational workshop at the spring meeting of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO). “We’ve got to be aggressively targeting ethnic diversity.”
According to a news release, Brownfield shared a KOA handout that included 2010 Census data showing that white Caucasians account for only 66% of the U.S. population, while African Americans and Hispanics make up 17% and 12% of the population, respectively. Five percent of the U.S. population is Asian.
White Caucasians represent 87% of American campers, however, according to a 2009 Outdoor Foundation survey, while Hispanics, African Americans and Asians represent a mere 6%, 3% and 4%, respectively.
And if you fast forward to 2050, the U.S. Census estimates that white Caucasians will account for only 46% of the population, while Hispanics, African Americans and Asians will account for 30%, 15% and 9%, respectively. “It’s a wakeup call for us,” Brownfield said.
Addressing other topics, Brownfield noted that today’s consumers are increasingly demanding and more informed than ever, thanks in part to the Internet. We are living in an “experience economy” and park operators need to pay attention to the type and quality of experiences they offer their guests. “It’s the value that the experience holds for the individual that determines the worth of the offering,” he said.
Brownfield added that KOA owners or managers who meet with their guests receive much higher guest satisfaction scores than those who do not, according to KOA’s Kamper Satisfaction Surveys.
Park operators also need to pay attention to their pet friendliness. Brownfield noted that families account for 26% of KOA’s Texas campers, while campers traveling with pets account for 41%. Nationally, families account for 34% of KOA’s guests, while people traveling with pets represent 35%.
Brownfield was one of several campground industry experts who gave educational presentations at TACO’s Spring Convention Tuesday at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville.
In addition to providing a keynote address, Lori Severson of Severson & Associates and the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners led a class on maximizing employee potential, while Casey Erick of McKamie Krueger LLP held a session titled, “Facing Legal Challenges.”
Wade Elliott of Utility Supply Group talked about strategies park operators can use to provide recharge services for travelers with electric cars and Bob MacKinnon provided updates on the GuestReviews online survey program as well as a session on how to deal with a negative review. Michael Moore and Matt Taylor from Texas Advertising also led a marketing session titled “Playing the Google Game.”
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) announced the winners of its annual awards competition during a luncheon Tuesday (May 3) at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas.
The awards presentation came during TACO’s annual Spring Convention.
According to a news release, winners included:
- Small Park of the Year: Johnson Creek RV Resort, Ingram.
- Medium Size Park of the Year: The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, Grapevine.
- Large Park of the Year: Guadalupe River RV Resort, Kerrville.
- Rack Card of the Year: Alamo Palms Manufactured Home and RV Park, Alamo.
- Brochure of the Year: Hill Country RV Resort, New Braunfels.
- Website of the Year: The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, Grapevine.
- Supplier of the Year: Texas Advertising, Crowley.
Past President Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan was also recognized for his years of service, while Guadalupe River RV Resort was given a host award for hosting TACO’s Spring Convention.
A “Lifetime Achievement Award” was presented Monday to Mac and Bettye McLaughlin of Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has signed legislation that would prevent water agencies from gouging RV parks with exorbitant fees.
The legislation, sponsored by the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), requires water agencies to bill RV parks for the amount of water they actually consume instead of using formulas that jack up water rates by applying residential rate structures to each RV site, according to a TACO news release.
Park operators attending TACO’s Spring Convention at Guadalupe RV River Park in Kerrville received the good news Sunday (May 1) during a legislative briefing by Ron Hinkle, the association’s lobbyist.
“Until Gov. Perry signed this legislation, some water agencies had been billing RV parks using a per-site allocation method with residential rates, which had the effect of tripling water costs for RV parks in some jurisdictions,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO.
Other TACO legislative successes include obtaining approval on an amendment to an omnibus funding bill that would require the Texas Department of Transportation to use a bidding process for tourism related highway signage and to ensure that new tourism related signage is installed within 60 days.
Schaeffer said the amendment would result in lower fees and faster installation times for highway signage park operators purchase to direct travelers to their parks.
TACO is also continuing its efforts to suppress the introduction of new bills designed to extend the school year further into summer. TACO secured passage of legislation two years ago that requires school districts to start their school years no earlier than the fourth Monday of August in an effort to preserve the summer camping and travel season.
Schaeffer said statistical evidence proves that tourism businesses suffer from early school start dates, while school districts wind up paying for much higher air conditioning costs.
In addition to receiving a legislative update, the first day of TACO’s Spring Convention included a roundtable discussion for first-time park operators. The roundtable covered do’s and don’ts involving buying, building and marketing a campground or RV park.
The marketing session included discussions on the merits of Groupon discount coupons, e-newsletters as well as using Craigslist to market cabins and rental accommodations. The session also included a discussion about the merits of having a liquor license.
Convention attendees finished the day with a Hawaiian-themed dinner and “Casino Night,” sponsored by Rowley Insurance. Bruce Manakas of Golden Eagle RV Park in Eagles Nest, N.M., received TACO’s “High Roller” Award. Manakas received a plaque and a certificate from Outback Steak House after finishing Casino Night with half a million chips.
TACO’s Spring Convention and Trade Show includes the association’s annual business meeting tradeshow today (Monday), while Tuesday’s activities include educational seminars and an awards luncheon.
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.
Spring Break — that traditional week-long relief from textbooks, tests and teachers — generally sees waves of students and their families converging upon resort cities stretching from Ft. Lauderdale to the Bahamas. According to campground owners across Texas and the Gulf Coast, however, the annual hiatus also is filling many outdoor resorts to capacity.
“We have talked to many parks. And if they have any sort of significant location or significant group of amenities, they are sold out,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Many parks said their business levels were especially high because spring break crowds are going to many of the same parks that are used by Winter Texans.
“When you couple spring break with our remaining Winter Texans, this will be one of our busiest weeks of the year,” said Bryan Kastleman, manager of Hill Country RV Resort & Cottage Rentals in New Braunfels.
Parks with recreational amenities are also in particularly high demand.
“We are very busy this spring break,” said Dixie Brandon of Hi-Line Lake Resort on the northwest side of Lake Buchanan in Tow. “Kids are swimming in the pool despite the cold water.”
And despite the continuing drought, she said, the lake level is still at a usable level. “We have people going out in boats and people fishing on our enclosed fishing dock,” she said.
Parks are also keeping busy along the Gulf Coast. “Spring break is a wonderful time in Texas,” said Charles Rhea of Surfside RV in Port Aransas. “Schools are out and parents are footing the bill!”
Some parks are also benefiting from upcoming festivals and other special events.
Rhea, for example, expects to draw business from the upcoming Sand Sculpture Festival in Port Aransas.
Almost Heaven RV Resort in Manvel, for its part, is drawing business from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in addition to regular spring break crowds. Other upcoming Houston area events include “March Madness” and the “Men’s Final Four,” which is slated for April 2nd to 4th at Houston’s Reliant Stadium.
“We’ve been quite busy,” said Randall Hendrickson, president of Horizon RV Resorts, which manages Almost Heaven RV Resort. “We already have several families with us for spring break, the fish are biting in our private lake, and we’re just 38 miles from Galveston and the beaches.”
TACO publishes and distributes the Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas each year. For more information about the 2011 directory, contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit www.texascampgrounds.com.
The Texas Campground Owners Association (TACO) is winning football fans with its highly successful promotion of Dallas/Fort Worth campgrounds and RV resorts with its new website atDFWEventsandCampgrounds.com.
Now TACO is giving sports fans and the Dallas/Fort Worth news media something else to think about: a pre-game interview with Green Bay Packers Hall of Famer Gilbert Brown, soon to be Packer Hall of Famer William Henderson and Bill Schroeder, according to a news release.
TACO secured the pre-Super Bowl interview opportunity with the help of the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), which promotes various charitable events involving former members of the Green Bay Packers.
Brown played with the team from 1993 to 1999 and again from 2001 to 2003, while Henderson was on the team from 1995 to 2006. Schroeder played on the team in 1994 and again from 1997 to 2001.
“We interviewed the players about the Super Bowl, their Texas ties as well as their experiences RVing and camping in Texas and across the country,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO.
Two weeks ago, TACO announced the creation of DFWEventsAndCampgrounds.com, which helps RV enthusiasts pinpoint campgrounds that are located near Dallas Cowboy Stadium and other popular special event venues.
In addition to Dallas Cowboy Stadium, the website includes calendar information about a wide range of special events and links to American Airlines Center, the State Fairgrounds in Dallas, The Ballpark in Arlington, Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Fort Worth Stockyards and Texas Motor Speedway.
TACO markets Texas campgrounds, RV parks and resorts and publishes and distributes the Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide each year. For more information about the 2011 directory or for statistics involving the latest camping trends in Texas and New Mexico parks, contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129. For information on Wisconsin campgrounds or its statewide campground association, contact Lori Severson at (800) 843-1821 and visit WisconsinCampgrounds.com.