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.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has launched a new website they say “helps RV enthusiasts pinpoint campgrounds that are located near Dallas Cowboy Stadium and other popular special event venues” just in time for the Super Bowl, WOAI-TV, San Antonio, reported.
“Our visitor traffic has already tripled since we launched the website last fall,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the statewide campground association, which is best known for its TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net websites.
There’s still some space at area campgrounds and RV parks for SuperBowl weekened. But don’t wait too long. Park operators expect campsites to book up quickly once the final teams are selected for the SuperBowl.
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.
The Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) is printing 250,000 copies of the 2011 RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas, a free, four-color glossy magazine that lists more than 400 campgrounds and RV resorts in Texas and New Mexico.
“Half of these directories are being shipped this month to campgrounds and RV parks, RV dealerships, chambers of commerce, visitors bureaus and Texas Travel Information Centers,” Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Crowley-based association, said in a news release.
The remaining directories will be distributed at upcoming RV shows, including the All Valley RV Show, which takes place Jan. 13 to 15 in Mercedes.
RV and camping enthusiasts can order the 150-page directory online by visiting www.texascampgrounds.com. The 2011 Texas RV Travel & Camping Guide will also be posted on the website later this month in Maga-zooms page-turning format.
The 2011 directory, which features a welcome message from Gov. Rick Perry, provides detailed descriptions of more than 400 private campgrounds and RV resorts, or roughly two thirds of the private parks in Texas. A small number of New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas parks are also included in the directory.
The directory is broken up into seven sections, each representing a distinct region of Texas. An eighth section is dedicated to New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Locator maps are provided at the beginning of each section, with numbered listings of the campgrounds for each region. Campgrounds are also alpha-indexed by city and park name.
Each campground listing includes a grid that lists the park’s facilities, services and amenities as well as driving directions, a miniature locator map and many parks have panoramic photos showing off what campers can experience.
The directory also features a Texas Saver Card, which provides 10% to 15% discounts at participating parks.
The 2011 directory also includes a separate four-page section listing campgrounds with cabin and cottage rentals as well as a listing of park model manufacturers.
Recreational park trailers or “park models” are 400-square foot, movable resort cottages. Typically upscale in appearance, they often include hardwood floors, bay windows and lofts as well as cherry, oak or maple cabinetry. And because park models are technically classified as recreational vehicles, they can be set up on leased or purchased sites in campgrounds and RV parks and used as weekend retreats or seasonal vacation dwellings.
Schaeffer said almost 25% of Texas campgrounds have cabin or cottage rentals. Many of the parks that offer cabin and cottage rentals also have sites for lease or for sale to park model owners.
The 2011 guide also includes two-dozen pages of articles and pictures highlighting things to see and do in specific regions of Texas as well as information about various camping clubs, including the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), the Good Sam Club, the Woodall’s North American Campground Directory and the Trailer Life RV Parks, Campgrounds & Services Directory.
The Texas Association of Campground Operators 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, please contact Brian Schaeffer at (817) 307-0129 or visit www.texascampgrounds.com.
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 Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has developed a packed legislative affairs agenda for 2011 and is planning initiatives to protect private park owners from everything from higher taxes to cutbacks in tourism funding and efforts to extend the school year, according to a news release.
TACO attorney Casey Erick briefed association members on details of several laws previously put on the books that are RV park-specific, including theft of service and trespass codes. TACO legislative consultant Ron Hinkle reviewed the 2011 legislative affairs agenda during the “Texas Parks on Tour” meeting at La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin.
Brian Schaeffer, TACO’s executive director and CEO, said the state of Texas is facing close to a $25 billion deficit and is going to be looking for ways to raise taxes and cut programs. “We don’t want them coming to us for fees such as occupancy taxes,” Schaeffer said, although the association may support minor broad-based tax increases that are applied to everyone and every industry, such as minor increases in gasoline or sales taxes.
But TACO does not want to see any cutbacks in state funding to promote Texas tourism to out-of-state residents. TACO is also gearing up for a fight to prevent school districts from extending the length of the school year.
“We obtained legislation a couple of years ago that prevents school districts in Texas from starting the school year before the last Monday of August. But now we’re seeing some creep on school ending dates,” Schaeffer said, adding that TACO would support legislation to govern school ending dates as well.
TACO is also working with the Texas Rural Water Districts Association and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop standard billing rates for rural water districts, which have increasingly tried to charge Texas parks residential billing rates.
In other business, TACO members elected several board members for its 2011 term, including Robert Crockett of Spring Branch RV Resort in Spring Branch; Allan Hughes of Traders Village in Grand Prairie; Joe Moore of The Vineyards Campground in Grapevine; Don Temple of Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville; Doug Shearer of Parkview Riverside RV Park in Rio Frio; and Ed Welliver of Oleander Acres RV Resort in Mission. Officers for 2011 will be selected in January.
The meeting also included a tour of La Hacienda RV Resort by park owners Ken and Lydia Butschek. This resort recently expanded from 60 RV sites and a handful of cabins on five acres to 240 sites with 15 cabins on 35 acres with majestic amenities and meeting facilities. Fall tour sponsors included Wilcor International, Parkview Riverside RV Park, TengoInternet and Texas Advertising.
An industry built on wanderlust is surviving on the notion of “wander less.”
Texas RV campgrounds are part of a national trend of anchoring specialty vehicles, called park models , which look and feel like small cottages, for rent or purchase, according to the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman.
Forty percent of Texas recreational vehicle campgrounds have introduced the models, twice the rate of five years ago, to appeal to a broader market and to increase revenues, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“There’s a good segment of the population that wants to experience the campground experience but don’t own an RV, and they don’t want to sleep in a tent,” said Brian Schaeffer, the association’s executive director.
Consider the state of the RV manufacturing industry, as compiled by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA): One in 12 vehicle-owning U.S. households owned a recreational vehicle in 2005. Shipments of new RVs of all kinds were down more than 57% in 2009 from the industry’s record year in 2006. And the continuation of an uptick in shipments this year depends on a healthy economic rebound — something that’s not at all guaranteed.
At RV parks, however, the story is brighter.
Despite the recession and fluctuating fuel prices, reservations at RV parks were up 8% in 2009, and rentals of park models were up 20%, according to the industry, as many people were looking for cheaper, shorter vacations.
“The idea of driving to the Grand Canyon isn’t happening as much as it used to,” Schaeffer said. “They are looking for something nearer to home.”
To campground owners and managers, the park models make sense as an alternative to hotels.
“People who had been in the business a lot longer than me said everyone in the business should have them,” said Bryan Kastleman, president of the management company for Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels.
He said the owners have invested $1 million in the park, including adding 33 park models, in the past two years.
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 the underside carriage hidden by skirting that matches the building’s exterior.
“They’re not cabins,” said Ken Butschek, the owner of La Hacienda RV Resort & Cottages, on Hudson Bend Road on the way to Lake Travis. “They’re little houses.”
The cottages are free-standing (no common walls) with full kitchens, wood laminate floors and high ceilings. They are typically equipped with the comforts of home: high-definition televisions, air conditioning, linens, microwaves, coffee pot and dishes.
“Bring your clothes and your ice chest, and you’re good,” Butschek said.
Butschek said he started with two models when he opened in 2004, has 15 today and expects to add more.
Austin Lone Star RV Resort, which has been in business for 40 years at Interstate 35 and William Cannon Drive, has just taken delivery of its first park model, manager Sharon Knopf said.
“We’re looking to sell them,” Knopf said.
The national chain, Carefree RV Resorts, bought the local site four years ago. The chain, Knopf said, has a track record of selling park models and leasing the plots where they are anchored.
“They are very popular in Florida,” Knopf said.
Rents for the models vary by size, season, locale and duration of your stay. Daily rents can range from $80 to $195, as opposed to $20 to $50 for a spot for an RV. Weekly or monthly rates are cheaper. The larger cottages can sleep eight.
Butschek doubles as a dealer for Athens Parks Homes. He said a basic model, including setup, could cost $28,000 to $42,000, plus customized finish-out.
Leasing a plot at La Hacienda, which is about a quarter of a mile from Lake Travis, would run $475 to $600 a month. “You can have a lake house for under $60,000,” Butschek said.
One perk: no property taxes, because a park model is legally a vehicle — albeit one that doesn’t move very often — instead of real estate.
La Hacienda’s amenities include a covered pavilion, two saline swimming pools, hot tub, spa, fitness center, laundry, cable TV and Wi-Fi Internet access.
Besides modern-day convenience, RV park owners are selling what they call the “campground experience,” which is a mixture of summer camp, Bohemian lifestyle and communal hearth.
“On a scale of one to 10, it’s an 11,” said Barbara Roach, a retiree who’s been based at La Hacienda for more than three years.
The widow drives her 30-foot motor home with Jeep in tow between Montana, Fla., and Austin to visit grandchildren. “It’s a cheap way of living,” she said.
Donna Holzhueter and Kevin Lassing, still in their 40s, left Madison, Wis., for the road two years ago.
“We were thinking of buying a house,” Lassing said, “but my wife thought it’d be fun to travel until we’re broke.”
To Holzhueter, who had worked 24 years in government, “what’s important are the experiences, not the stuff you’ve collected.”
Despite the vagabond lifestyle, she’s joined the segment of the economy that works from home — though from her RV. She does online technical support for a company.
Her husband is a “work camper,” who trades part-time work at the RV campgrounds for rent.
A few yards away, at a party building, a band is rehearsing in the middle of the afternoon.
Freddy Powers, a singer-songwriter who toured for years with Merle Haggard, is preparing his band, Stop the Truck, for an appearance at Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July picnic.
Powers and his wife, Catherine, sold their house and donated his memorabilia to Texas State University in San Marcos after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
They are now living the RV lifestyle.
“He’s lived most of his life touring on a bus,” Catherine said of her 78-year-old husband. “I wanted to keep him on the road.”
La Hacienda serves as their base, but when there’s gig, “we just secure and go,” she said.
“We love living here,” she added.
If the road ever stops calling, there’s always a cottage that’s just across the park. It’s not going anywhere.
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) is considering changing some of the duties of association and CEO after the current president and CEO, Linda Profaizer, retires at the end of this year.
“Our current president and CEO has vast responsibilities and we may consider some realignment of duties going forward,” said ARVC Chairman David L. Berg. “We are looking at all staff positions and responsibilities within the organization and may restructure some positions.”
Berg talked about staffing and other initiatives underway at ARVC in an address to members of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), who had gathered at Guadalupe River RV Resort in Kerrville for TACO’s annual spring meeting and convention. Their convention began Sunday and ends today (May 18).
In a subsequent interview, Berg cautioned that no final decisions have been made about the approach ARVC will take to replace Profaizer, who retires Dec. 31. “We want to make sure that our selection process enables us to recruit the best possible candidate for this position,” he said.
In his address to TACO members, Berg also said that ARVC is heavily promoting the GoCampingAmerica website with both print and online advertising initiatives.
He also said ARVC is continuing to take steps to improve communication with its state affiliates and that the national association hasn’t given up on the idea of having TACO become an affiliate of ARVC once again. “We’d like to have you back in the family,” he said, adding, “We (ARVC) need to improve our communication and treat the states as equal partners.”
Berg also lauded former ARVC Chairman Jeff Sims, also in attendance at the meeting, for his volunteer work reaching out to non-ARVC member parks to educate them about the merits of ARVC membership. As of mid-May, Sims had personally visited more than 400 parks at his own expense.
Monday’s TACO meeting also included a presentation by Bob MacKinnon of Murrieta, Calif.-based GuestReviews. “Texas has strong participation in the (GuestReviews) program,” he said, adding that Texas parks had an average score of A-minus in overall guest satisfaction.
Monday’s activities included a tradeshow with roughly 40 vendors, including Topeka, Ind.-based CrossRoads RV, Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries Inc. and Athens Park Homes of Athens, Texas, each of which had park models on display.
The day’s activities also included a seminar on Wi-Fi marketing by Frank Drew of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet and a seminar on “Expanding Your Park” by Kathy and Tony Palmeri of Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Estes Park, Colo,. and Leisure Systems Inc.
When times are tough, the tough get packing for budget vacations. Family trips to Texas’ many rivers or parks have led to a surprisingly recession-proof niche: RV parks, according to the San Antonio Express.
To capitalize on what has remained a profitable venture in tough times, area campground and recreational vehicle park owners are spending money to hang onto and grow their share of the hospitality market.
Tom Cannon, who teaches marketing and tourism at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was not surprised that many campgrounds and RV parks are on a spending binge.
With more people looking for low-cost travel alternatives, providers with the best facilities and most features will prosper, he said.
Teri Blaschke, who operates Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy with her husband, agrees.
For two years, the couple has poured about 75% of their profits into improvements such as new campsites, increased power capacities for selected sites and upgraded wireless Internet features.
Blaschke believes those improvements helped the park stay full almost all winter.
“Private campgrounds and RV parks know they are the most affordable vacation option, and they want to retain their competitive edge against other travel and tourism venues, so many of them are investing in improvement and expansion projects,” said Brian Schaeffer, the executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners.
Campgrounds and RV parks have an advantage when people are trying to be economical and take shorter trips in response to the recession, he said. But travelers also want amenities comparable to what they can find at hotels, such as Wi-Fi coverage, pools and other recreational activities.
“It’s a matter of keeping up with the times, of being competitive with the other venues out there,” Schaeffer said.
“I think we’re going to see substantial gains over last year,” said Kevin McRae, marketing chief for Koyote Ranch, a bed-and-breakfast and RV park in the hills near Kerrville.
Koyote Ranch has spent close to $200,000 on improvements since July, when new owners took over, and the public has responded.
Ranch revenues this spring have doubled over last year, and McRae said inquiries are strong this month.
“People are rediscovering it,” McRae said. “We’ve been really pleased with the numbers.”
Koyote Ranch, which erected an entrance sign and added a cell tower and air conditioning to its special-events facility as part of its upgrade, was highlighted by the association in a summary of campgrounds and RV parks that had spent heavily on their properties despite the recession.
The Vineyards in Grapevine is undergoing a $1.4 million expansion that includes 17 additional RV sites and seven cabins, while new park models and an outdoor kitchen and Frisbee golf course were among the additions at other locations.
A Wi-Fi system was one of the additions at Hill Country RV Resort & Cottage Rentals in New Braunfels over the past two years, but so was the acquisition of 13 park model units. That will give the park 33 park models to rent.
“We can’t get them fast enough,” said Bryan Kastleman, president of the management company for Hill Country RV. “I probably turned away more than 100 prospective guests in the fall and the winter because I was full.”
He said owners have invested more than $1 million in the park over two years. Kastleman is optimistic about the coming year, even though the addition of hundreds of hotel rooms in the New Braunfels market will make it more competitive.
Campgrounds, RV parks and resorts are reporting strong bookings heading into the summer camping season, with most parks expecting to exceed last year’s business levels, according to the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
“We are fully booked for June and July and almost through the second week of August,” said Doug Shearer, who owns the Parkview Riverside RV Resort in Concan in the Texas Hill Country. He said his strong summer business is being fueled in part by the recent rains, which are ushering in the return of river tubers and kayakers.
But the surge is business also follows the best winter he’s ever had since he opened his 95-site park 10 years ago.
Across the state, Gwen Craig is also reporting strong business and reservation levels at Rayford Crossing RV Resort at The Woodlands, north of Houston. She said her business levels are being fueled in part by new activities and special events taking place in the Woodlands area as well as by business people and people who work in various construction trades who want to stay at her park while they work various jobs in the greater Houston area.
The jump in business levels at these parks isn’t unique. In fact, TexasCampgrounds.com is seeing record growth in online bookings this year. “Our website traffic is up about 20%, but we’ve seen a 100% increase in the dollar value of our online reservations,” said Brian Schaeffer, TACO executive director and CEO.
He cautioned, however, that private parks are going through a transition period in their use of online reservations. So the increase in online reservations is fueled not only by growing numbers of consumers visiting TexasCampgrounds.com and making their reservations online, but by existing Texas parks that are making more of their inventory available online as well as other campgrounds and RV parks that are beginning to market their campsites online for the first time.
Schaeffer said that by next year the association should be able to make fairly accurate assessments of the business levels of Texas parks simply by measuring the year-over-year volume of their online reservations.
Private campground and RV park operators across Texas typically book about 15 to 20 percent of their reservations online, though some parks report higher figures, he said.
Chuck Church, the manager of Dallas Metro KOA in Arlington, said his park’s year-over-year first quarter business was up 30%. “It feels like the economy is turning a corner and there are some amazing events in the DFW market place, particularly Arlington that is fueling our surge in business.”
Robert Kennedy of Lubbock RV Park said online reservations only account for about 15 percent of his business. But he can already tell by looking at his online reservations that demand for campsites is on the rise this year.
“I had a really good year last year,” he said, “and this year is looking to be even better than last year.”
An online survey by Texas Campgrounds.com has confirmed what many park operators are reporting: There are more Snow Birds or ‘Winter Texans’ this winter than last winter, and they’re staying longer, according to a news release.
The survey found that 52% of Winter Texans plan to spend as much time wintering in Texas as they did last winter, while 35% plan to stay even longer. Only 13% of respondents were planning shorter stays, according to the online survey, which drew 1,250 responses in December and January.
“I was impressed with the fact that 87% of Winter Texans plan to spend as much time or longer wintering in Texas than last year,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), which markets campgrounds, RV parks and resorts through TexasCampgrounds.com and TexasCabinRentals.net.
“I think you can attribute a lot of those longer stays to some bounceback in the economy,” he said, adding that colder than normal weather in Texas and other areas across the Sunbelt hasn’t deterred retirees from coming to the Lone Star State because it’s a lot colder up north. “All temperatures being equal,” Schaeffer said, “50 is 50 and 5 is 5.”
But the survey also revealed that many Winter Texans are cutting back other expenses in an effort to spend the winter in Texas. In fact, 37 percent of respondents said they were cutting expenses because their income had been reduced, while 52% said their income was the same as it was last winter. Eleven percent of respondents said their income had increased.
The survey also produced some unexpected findings, namely, that only a fraction of Winter Texans spend the season in the Rio Grande Valley. According to the survey, 38% of Winter Texans spend the season in the Hill County, with another 38% staying in parks along the Gulf Coast. Only 24% of respondents said they spend the winter in the Rio Grande Valley.
“This survey pretty much shatters the stereotype of where people spend the winter in Texas,” Schaeffer said. “It also suggests that younger winter visitors are coming into Texas and they’re exploring other areas of the state.” In fact, the survey found that only 26% of respondents planned to stay at one park for the whole season, with 74% of winter visitors planning to travel from one park to another throughout the winter season.
“This survey shows that ‘Winter Texans’ are much more mobile than they were in the past,” Schaeffer said. “This is a group that often travels and is increasingly spontaneous about where they go and how long they stay at each park.”
Texas has had its share of cold snaps this winter. But that hasn’t stopped Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan from having its best winter since it opened a decade ago.
“We’ve had a few people who have left early because of the colder weather. But it really hasn’t cost us because it’s cold all over,” said park owner Doug Shearer. “Our bookings going forward now through May are well ahead of last year.”
Shearer, who also serves as president of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), added that private campgrounds and RV parks across the Lone Star State are having a good winter. “We had our board meeting two weeks ago and everybody is reporting excellent winter business,” he said, particularly in the southern parts of the state.
Here’s a sampling of what Texas parks are experiencing:
- Hidden Valley RV Park in Von Ormy: “We’re doing great,” said park co-owner Teri Blaschke. “Last year we were 70% full from December through February. This year so far we’re 80% full.”
- La Hacienda RV Resort in Austin: “We’re doing better than last winter,” said park owner Ken Butschek, adding that his park is rebounding from the recession. “In 2007, I only had 60 sites and we turned away about 175 winter reservations. So then we added 188 sites,” he said. Then the market fell into a hard recession. But despite the downturn, Butscheck had a net gain of 30 winter visitors last year and 45 winter visitors this year. “Despite the recession, we picked up a net gain of 75 winter visitors,” he said, adding that he has doubled the park’s gross revenue.
- Rayford Crossing RV Resort at The Woodlands: “It’s very, very busy right now,” said park owner Gwen Craig. “We are sold out to April 1.” Craig said some of her guests have also reserved sites as far out as 2014.
- Surfside R.V. & Resort in Port Aransas: “We’re doing real good,” said park owner Charles Rhea. “I’m just as busy as I was last winter and my reservations are looking really good through April. Today, I even made two reservations for summer.”
- Winter Haven Resort in Brownsville: “Business is as good as it always is,” said park manager Rosie McGowan. “We expect to be full through March.”