The first National Network Conference of Best Parks in America (BPA) convened in Orlando, Fla., for two days of network planning and sharing among affiliated parks.
Over 60 people attended, representing 26 affiliated parks spanning the country from California to New Hampshire. There are currently 72 affiliated Best Parks in America.
Highlights of the conference follow, based on a news release.
In kicking off the first-ever national Best Parks conference, Gorin sounded two themes. The objective of Best Parks in America is to become a household word among first RVers and then among the general outdoor recreation and travel enthusiasts. The second objective during 2013 and beyond is to build bridges between BPA and every part of the park industry the consumer, RV manufacturers, dealers, the media and travel writers, and consumers
In a break from the usual keynote address, the Best Parks conference opened with what the organizers called a keynote conversation. Instead of a single speaker trying to address a broad range of topics, the conversation featured four experts addressing the overall hospitality business, branding, technology and demographics.
Paul McManus, retired president and CEO of Leading Hotels of the World, moderated the conversation and kicked it off with an overview of Leading Hotels of the World and drew lessons from that experience that are appropriate for Best Parks.
McManus shared a few of his experiences in building and operating a network of very independent and successful entrepreneurs and high-end hotels around the world. With less then 175 affiliates when McManus took over as CEO, the network grew to over 475 properties that are unquestionably the top of the hospitality industry. Leading Hotels is an association of properties and Best Parks is being built on the same association model.
Joe Opp, the senior vice president of membership development during McManus’ tenure as Leading Hotels CEO, described the importance of building the brand name and consumer recognition that is essential to making the network of independent properties work together.
Evelyne Oreskovich, president of HER Consulting, and a long time senior executive with hotel companies and Leading Hotels, addressed the role of technology in building guest loyalty by enhancing the guest’s experience before, during and after the visit. Using real life examples, Oreskovich described a start to finish role for technology in hospitality environments.
Laura Mandala, president of Mandala Research and the former vice president of research for the U.S. Travel Association, presented important demographic information and trends that are emerging and likely to impact on the hospitality business. She described ethnic segments as well as many niche market segments including culinary travel, agri-tourism and the international markets.
Leading Campings of Europe
Wednesday morning was kicked off with special guest, Alessandro Sgaravatti, owner of Union Lido, Venice, Italy, and president of Leadings Campings of Europe, an organization similar to Best Parks in America. He shared insights on how to manage a brand within the independent property environment as well as organizational structure of Leading Campings. The attendees were eager to understand the brand benefits that Leading Campings brings to its affiliates. Equally impressive was learning about the European camping environment and the similarities that exist between the two organizations.
From Good To Great: Best Practices Among Best Parks
Drawing on the expertise in the Best Parks network, one of the most significant sessions at the conference was the opportunity for key park owners to share how they’ve taken their businesses from good to great and to describe the best practices they’ve learned.
Led off by BPA Strategic Partner Eric Stumberg, CEO of TengoInternet, Eric shared many of the lessons and insights he’s gained as the CEO of a start up business that has been on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing small companies.
Other panelists included Randy Packard, Pines Acres Camping Resort, Mass. (expansion projects); Bill Harvey, Cross Creek RV Resort, Fla. (seasonal operations); Mike Gurevich, Cherry Hill Park, Md. (facilities management and park operations); Tripp Keber, Bella Terra RV Resort, Aa., (ownership resorts); Steve Cross, Cross Creek RV Resort, Ohio (administration and management); and Greg Sidoroff, Emerald Desert, Calif., Best Park’s newest affiliate (technology).
Loyalty, Making Data Driven Decisions, Soft Branding Round Out Seminar Program
“The afternoon sessions on the second day were focused on utilizing the power of information and data to make better informed business decisions by leveraging the national brand,” said Best Parks vice president Deb Kohls. “By identifying key areas where independent operators can take advantage of consumer feedback, loyalty and reservations systems, Best Parks in America is well positioned to connect affiliates with consumers … and that’s our single most important objective,” said Kohls.
At one session Kohls presented the Best Parks vision for the development of the Best Guests in America loyalty program that will be instrumental in the brand’s future growth. Building repeat and referral loyalty are the well-known paths to business growth and Best Parks expects to grow and develop the Best Guests in America program into a powerful loyalty group.
In another seminar, a research company with roots in the park industry, and a long time Best Parks Strategic Partner, Sure Vista Solutions President Blake Ashdown presented the program available to park owners which uses deep research data to help the business owner understand their customers satisfaction and to use the research data to make decisions in every part of their business.
Throughout the conference there was considerable discussion about “soft branding,” the idea of having a single business’s primary brand being its own, but having a second softer brand that links the single, independent business to a broader network.
Tom Derzopolski, a marketing and communications expert and president of Bow Stern Communications in Tallahassee, Fla., provided an overview of the role brands play in purchasing decisions among consumers. Opp talked about the many lessons Leading Hotels of the World have learned as they have implemented the Leading Hotels brand as a soft brand as well as the importance of promoting the soft brand within the individual properties.
“I can’t speak for others, but from what I heard during the evening receptions and in the buzz among attendees during the meeting, I think Best Parks has raised the bar on network conferences by presenting outstanding experts who have been instrumental in building networks very similar to Best Parks,” said David Gorin, Best Parks founder and president. “The level of expertise brought to the meeting will play a very important role in building Best Parks into a powerhouse brand that consumers will recognize as the safest way to identify the highest quality outdoor hospitality locations in the U.S.,” Gorin said.