Donald G. Bennett Jr.

Editor’s Note: Donald G. Bennett Jr., president of Campground Owners of New York (CONY), wrote the following column for Woodall’s Campground Management.

Across the nation most states have a state campground owners association in their respective state. With the revelation that many of these entities have surpassed or are celebrating their 50th anniversary, let’s take a quick look where it all started and where we are today and what can we look forward to tomorrow?

I would like to begin with the basics: A trade association is defined as (1) voluntary association of business firms organized on a geographic or industrial basis to promote and develop commercial opportunities within its sphere of operation, to voice publicly the views of members on matters of common interest, or in some cases to exercise some measure of control over prices, output, and channels of distribution. (2) an association of organizations in the same trade formed to further their collective interests, especially in negotiating with governments, etc.

In the beginning, these associations were formed to assemble a unified voice to oppose unwanted and unfair regulations, legislation, tax issues, support, and peer-to-peer interaction. Through evolution, education and marketing have been added to the mix. While I believe that the core mission still holds true today through the advent of technology and business complexities, these organizations have evolved to become much more diverse and complete in carrying out their core missions and serving their members.

As a campground owner, you already know that we are in an industry that is marred with government regulations and red tape at each and every turn. In the campground and RV park business, mostly by economic necessity, we try to do as much as possible and be a jack-of-all-trades. We are the plumber, electrician, carpenter, machine operator, landscaper, housekeeping staff, front office, bookkeeper, reservation clerk, activities coordinator and any other task that demands our time and attention in making our customers’ stays more enjoyable while at our facilities. For this reason, we must rely on our state associations to provide us with marketing support, be a watchdog for regulations and legislation that will affect our businesses, and to provide opportunities and venues for fellow park owners to assemble and interact and learn from each other. I do not know of another industry that is as dynamic and progressive as the campground industry in the way that we work together, share ideas, and help each other. I have seen many instances where neighboring campgrounds, which may be direct competitors, work together nicely to try to fill each other’s niche.

Technology has pushed state associations to be more active with the advent of the Internet and websites, e-mailed newsletters, social media and so much more. I have found that these new methods are just extensions on how we communicate our message to the membership. The tried and true print newsletter and directories are still very popular and are instrumental in the complete communication piece to members and the camping consumers that the camping directories are geared towards. In fact I have anticipated that the print camping guides would actually not be as relevant and the circulation numbers would continue to decline. To my surprise, the circulation of printed camping directories, brochures and newspapers has in fact increased. It seems as though social media and Internet has driven requested printed materials to greater quantities than before. My philosophy is to provide the camping and RV audience with as many media as possible to ensure that you are reaching as many consumers in the way that they like to interact – social media, printed camping directory, e-mail campaigns, text message blasts, smartphone apps, the list goes on and on. Associations have had to adopt as many media as possible. In the past, a printed newsletter would suffice to get the word out.

The evolution of higher quality programs and increased member needs have afforded associations the ability to bring in professionals from PR agents, lobbying representation, board training consultants, branding consultants, directory designers and more. In the spirit of increased professionalism and member services, the state executive directors even have created an association much like a state campground association called C.A.M.P. (Campground Association Management Professionals). A great deal is shared from legislative matters, marketing projects, success stories and other association updates. The state directors can then report back to their respective boards as to what was learned and what their peers are doing.

So I am pleased to report that the core mission of why these organizations were formed is still being served and with all of the added benefits and marketing mission, lobbying efforts are relied upon to keep an ear to the ground and help interpret the ramifications of what is to come.

The future of the state association looks very bright. As diverse as each state is, each association is as well (diverse) with varying programs and offerings to assist you in the operation of your business, educate you and your staff, watch out for regulations that affect your operations, and represent our industry with one voice. It is evident that there will always be change. We must continue to embrace change and new technologies as they become available and valid. Stagnation is no longer acceptable in any industry.

To be even more useful and valid, your state association needs you! We need you to join, we need you to attend meetings, we need you to interact, and we need you to volunteer to further your knowledge and your skill set. You need to get involved! I firmly believe that the chain is only as good as your weakest link. If you become a part of your state association, you will learn a great deal on how to make a better success of your campground business. Our sector of the outdoor hospitality industry is a great one. Together we can become the stewards that help make the consumers experience better and better. We all win. I hear frequently that the cost of membership is quite a bit, but they need to realize that the cost of not being a member is so much greater. Sadly, they just don’t know it. Like anything else, you get out only as much as you put into something. Aren’t you and your business worth it?