Do state park campgrounds unfairly compete with private campgrounds? A bill in last year’s Virginia General Assembly suggested the answer might be yes. A new study says no.
According to a report by the Fredericksburg.com, the Board of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the state parks, last fall commissioned Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business to do a report on what motivates campers to choose where to camp.
The report suggests that campers make choices based on a variety of factors, but that the price of a campsite does not rank highly as a factor that drives a camper’s choice.
It also says that the more camping amenities there are in an area, the more likely it is that people will visit that area to camp.
The report has been posted on the website of the Virginia Association for Parks, an organization that covers various state parks support groups and opposed legislation in last year’s General Assembly that would have limited public parks’ offerings.
The question of competition between private and public campgrounds was first raised publicly by those bills, filed in the 2012 legislative session by Virginia senators Bryce Reeves, R–Spotsylvania, and Tom Garrett, R–Louisa, and Del. Peter Farrell, R–Henrico.
Those bills—which were later withdrawn—would have required state parks to set their fees at or above fees charged by private campgrounds in the area, and would have barred state parks from expanding new camping areas unless they could show that the nearby private campgrounds were at capacity.
The bills were spurred by Bill Small, who runs Small Country Campground in Louisa County and feels that state parks unfairly compete with private campgrounds, undercutting them with low fees and offering comparable hookups to attract large RVs, rather than just primitive camping spaces.
According to the Virginia Tech report, in October, “a private campground owner, who is an appointed member of the board, made a presentation to the board [asserting] that there is competition between public and private providers of camping and that the fees charged for camping in Virginia state parks undercut the private campgrounds.”
It doesn’t identify Small as that board member, but as a result of the presentation, the board decided to ask a third party to review the issue of competition between public and private campgrounds.
The Virginia Tech report was done by Vincent Magnini, a professor in the school’s hospitality and tourism management department. Magnini’s report says that the public prefers a variety of camping options, and that people’s decisions about where to camp may change depending on what they want from the camping experience.
“Because campers possess varying motivations in their camping experiences, particular customer segments are prone to be attracted to certain types of campgrounds that best match their motivations,” the report said. “In other words, a campground cannot be all things to all people.”
Price, the report said, is just one of many criteria—people also consider shade, proximity to water for fishing, isolation from other campsites and other factors.
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Virginia Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, has pulled his bill that would have required state parks to raise their camping fees to avoid competing with nearby private campgrounds.
Reeves asked the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee to kill his bill because the director of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has promised to look at the issue, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, reported.
Reeves, along with Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, and Del. Peter Farrell, R-Henrico, had filed the bill at the urging of private campground owners led by Bill Small, who runs Small Country Campground in Louisa County.
Small said state parks are increasingly competing with private campgrounds by building new camping areas and providing more amenities, at cheaper rates than private campgrounds and without the expenses private campgrounds have.
Opponents of the bill, led by Virginia Association of Parks President Johnny Finch, said state parks are underfunded as it is, and that the state shouldn’t be requiring them to raise rates in an effort to drive more business to commercial campgrounds.
Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, the committee chairman, said the panel would set aside the bill “with the understanding that we are going to be working with DCR to review this issue again to make sure that we are not unfairly competing with the private sector.”
Garrett said afterward that there had been talks among the legislators, the DCR director and the private campground owners.
“We feel like we can address this without legislation,” he said. “What we don’t need to do is pass a bill just to pass a bill.”
Six state parks from across Virginia have joined the Virginia Campground Association (VCA), according to a press release.
This is the first time that individual state parks have become members of the association and will provide opportunities for state parks and private campgrounds to better promote all of Virginia’s camping opportunities. The award-winning state park system is managed by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
“We have long worked with state parks to promote camping across Virginia and we welcome the first state parks as full members of the state association,” said VCA Executive Director David Gorin. “Having these individual state parks join as members participating in the industry’s association and on our board was the next logical step in strengthening our relationship to better promote all of the commonwealth’s outstanding camping opportunities.”
Claytor Lake (Pulaski County), First Landing (Virginia Beach), Holliday Lake (Appomattox County), Kiptopeke (Northampton County), Natural Tunnel (Scott County) and Westmoreland (Westmoreland County) are the six member state parks.
“Camping is part of a recession resilient outdoor recreation industry that is critical to our struggling economy,” said DCR State Park Director Joe Elton. “I personally believe it is essential that public and private campgrounds work collaboratively to promote their mutual goals and the value of camping.”
Increased promotion of all Virginia campgrounds is expected to be a result of this partnership. Joint appearances at camping and RV shows and marketing national camping events like the Great American Backyard Campout held each June are examples. State park staff will also explore taking their nature and history programming from their parks to nearby private campgrounds.
Click here to watch a video, courtesy of WVIR-TV, Charlottesville, Va., about the following story.
How to include RVs in a new state park in the works in Virginia, or even whether to allow them in, was one of the points of discussion in a recent meeting about the park, Charlottesville Tomorrow reported.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle community continues to put its unique imprint on the plans for the future Biscuit Run State Park. A 27-member advisory committee held its third meeting Monday (May 2) after spending two hours touring parts of the 1,200-acre site located south of Charlottesville between U.S. Route 20 and Old Lynchburg Road.
Lonnie Murray is a member of the advisory committee and chair of the Albemarle County Natural Heritage Committee that advises the board of supervisors on land use decisions. Murray has advocated for the park to be used, in part, to provide opportunities to experience native plants and wildlife.
One “invasive species” he hopes will be close to extinct in the new state park is recreational vehicles. Murray advocated for establishing tent camping and RV’s in separate locations, and noted a more natural experience could bring different customers.
“If you don’t include RV’s, we will attract an entirely different sort of person to the park,” Murray said.
The committee discussed eliminating RVs all together as a use, but ultimately landed on language that would recommend development of a “tent-only campground.” RVs might be allowed in a “limited and separate” area.
Johnny Finch is president of the Virginia Association for Parks and a member of the advisory committee.“I am not opposed to separate facilities, but I do think it would be a travesty for a Virginia state park to discriminate against a very viable part of the park industry,” Finch said in an interview. “Some objections seem to be about generators, but here they would have electrical connections and water hook-ups.”
Janit Llewellyn, an environmental program planner at the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the committee planning the park was generating “some really good input.” The committee’s recommendations will be shared at a public meeting on June 6.
“I am looking forward to a large public meeting,” said Llewellyn. “A lot of state parks are more rural, and we don’t get as much feedback.”
The board and members of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA) have voted to accept individual Virginia state parks as full members of VCA and the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
Meeting at the 2010 Annual Fall Convention & Trade Show at American Heritage RV Park in Williamsburg, Oct. 18-20, the members decided that the association would no longer accept advertising in the Virginia Campground Directory from non-members and therefore the state parks could join the association as regular members and be accorded all of the rights, privileges and benefits of membership including listings in the directory and advertising, according to a news release.
In recent years, the Virginia State Parks Department purchased a full page ad listing all of the state parks with campground accommodations and also had icons on the state map in the directory denoting their locations.
“The VCA board and members at the meeting felt that state parks are marketing their facilities in the same manner as the private sector and the state parks are not going away, so it’s best that the private campground industry embrace them, learn from them and benefit from having them in the industry,” said David Gorin, executive director of VCA.
The association presented the new plan to State Park Director of Marketing Tom Cervanek and while he could not speak for the State Park Department, he seemed to embrace the concept of full membership, Gorin stated.
There were 20 campgrounds in attendance and 15 exhibitors. The conference focused on the educational seminars on the topic “Park Marketing for the 21st Century” and was highlighted by three seminars by Blake Ashdown, a longtime RV park entrepreneur and President of Sure Vista Solutions, a technology-based marketing company that specializes in measuring guest satisfaction and incorporating the findings into action plans for business improvement.
A marketing panel described three of the newest marketing techniques. Carol Rust of Yogi Bear Jellystone Park, Luray, Va., described her park’s experience with Groupon, an Internet marketing tool that is designed to attract new customers through limited deep discounting and the broad reach of the internet. Alan Kobran, president of Illumenetics, described his company’s customer relations management system (CRM), a technology solution for tracking and communicating with customers. And special guest Mary Arlington of High Plains Camping in Oakley, Kan., talked about how she turned a small campground into a profitable business through focusing marketing efforts in social media.
In a moving ceremony at the convention’s Monday night dinner, VCA President Karl Littman, Candy Hill Campground, Winchester, and ARVC Board Member Steve Albrecht of Staunton/Walnut Hills KOA, Staunton, paid tribute to Linda Profaizer, retiring president and CEO of ARVC. The association presented her with a special gift in recognition of her 40 years of leadership in the campground industry with Woodalls and then with ARVC.
VCA also bid farewell to Skip and Judy Deegans of Anderson’s Brochure Distribution Service on their retirement, while welcoming Joe Tice, the new owner of Anderson’s.
The small but powerful group of members attending the meeting supported the association by purchasing over $4,000 worth of merchandise at the annual auction.
Karl Littman was elected to his fourth one-year term as VCA president. Other officers elected were Vice President Ray Barker (Tall Pines Harbor, Sanford), Treasurer Bill Rhoads (American Heritage, Williamsburg), Secretary Kristina Crall (Grey’s Point Camp, Urbanna) and Board Chairman Steve Albrecht.