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RVers Prefer Private Parks to Wal-Mart Lots

July 6, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Editor’s Note: Chuck Woodbury, editor of RVtravel.com, published the following column in the current issue of his online newsletter.

Most RVers would rather pay for a campsite than stay for free in a Wal-Mart parking lot. In a May edition of this newsletter we asked if you would rather pay $10 for a no-frills campsite in an RV park or stay for free in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Nearly three-quarters of you answered you would rather pay.

This is significant because in an earlier survey, 57% of you said you have stayed in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

When I wrote about this before, I received letters from several RV park owners, who said they could not afford to offer a $10 campsite. They listed reasons that basically boiled down to “how could we distinguish the $10 campers from those paying the going rate?” They explained their need to cover their overhead: there were restrooms to clean, pools and a dump station to maintain, Wi-Fi to pay for, etc.

Frankly, their responses were predictable.

It’s a whole lot easier to maintain the status quo than to change. A combination lock on restroom doors would keep the $10 campers out. With no password, they couldn’t use the Wi-Fi. Few of them would want to use the pool anyway: they’d just want to park and sleep. Charge them $5 to dump.

Put the $10, self-contained campers in a corner of the park or overflow area with a self-pay box like at Forest Service campgrounds. I bet 98% of them would play by the rules. And some of those folks would return again if they liked the park — paying the going rate next time to stay awhile.

IF I WERE A CAMPGROUND OWNER I would ask myself, “Is it really THAT hard to provide a $10 no-frills service?” I would then address the problems and see if they were insurmountable. If I knew that every night there were 20 RVs down at the local Wal-Mart, I’d try my best to lure some of them my way. I could dispatch an employee there to put a flyer on their windshields: “Next time stay with us in a safe, secure place for $10.” And provide them with a two-for-one coupon for the next time they’re in town.

If five of them stayed a night for 200 nights a year, that would put an extra $10,000 in their piggy bank with no effort. I bet some of those folks would buy a quart of milk at the campground store. And if 10% of them came back once a year paying the full rate, that could add another $35,000 to the pot.

Soon — maybe in a year, maybe two, maybe five — Wal-Mart will post NO OVERNIGHT PARKING at all its stores. It will happen, for one reason or another. And then all those freebie campers will stay by the road, in rest areas, in truck stops, in supermarket lots, on city streets — anywhere to avoid paying $30-$40 for one night in an RV park when they want only to sleep and then move on. For RVers on a tight budget, not having a free or cheap place to stay on occasion might force them off the road.

A creative, “can do” business person needs to come forward with an innovative plan to find a way to enable cheap, safe overnight RV parking in campgrounds across America. I know I will get letters from RV park owners saying it’s impossible. I say it is not. It’s easy to say “Can’t.” It takes vision to say “Why not?”

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