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.