Editor’s Note: The following story by Kristopher Bunker appears in the June issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.
While park models retain their stronghold on the destination-camping market, some OEM destination trailers continue to make noise.
Ambiguously referred to as everything from park models to “extended-stay trailers” — and, now, augmented by a new wave of “destination”-style hybrid towables generated by an array of North American recreational vehicle manufacturers — the growing trend among outdoor enthusiasts to own a unit that can be left at a campsite all season or all year may be the newest wrinkle in camping, but the units themselves are not for the most part altogether new in general concept.
Park models have, in fact, long been a reliable source of income for campground owners. More or less permanently located at a campsite, park models are a good way for campgrounds to not only cater to RV owners looking for a more residential-type camping experience, but also to draw in the non-RVing crowd to stimulate their bottom line with overnight fees that tend to dwarf those of average sites.
Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) have reported that demand for park models has risen dramatically over the past year, with registration revenues climbing to around 20% in both cases for 2012.
Given the scope of the market, it’s not surprising then that manufacturers of more “traditional” RVs have definitely taken notice, with a number of them beefing up existing models — or creating entirely new ones — in order to join the fray.
Coined “destination trailers,” these towables are generally larger and heavier than their conventional counterparts, and also include residential touches like bay windows, patio doors and larger refrigerators.
But should they be considered true park models, or do they even want to be?
A park model is defined by the ANSI A119.5 standard as “A vehicular-type unit primarily designed as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping or travel use, which either has its own motive power or is drawn by another vehicle.” NEC Article 552 goes on to add that to be considered a park model, a unit must meet the following criteria: “Built on a single chassis mounted on wheels, and having a gross trailer area not exceeding 400 square feet in the set-up mode.” We’re no doubt accus- tomed to seeing the 12-foot-wide park models at campgrounds, whether they’re bungalow-type units, casitas or even yurts (to some extent), but it may be difficult to discern one of the “new breed” of park models, especially considering they’re built on 8- or 8 1/2-foot wide footprints.
This new breed of destination trailer, however, does offer a distinct advantage.
“One of the major advantages an 8 1/2- foot-wide trailer like the Bay Point Destination Park Trailer has over a 12-wide park model is the ability to affordably move or transport the trailer yourself or have any small truck transport company move the unit for you,” says Terry Hiser, sales and marketing director for Recreation by Design RV. “The 12-wide park models require a large commercial transport truck and a CDL-licensed driver at significantly higher freight costs.”
One of the primary draws of destination trailers — in addition to the fact they don’t generally need to be professionally transported and set up, as do park models — is price; buyers can get a unit with a more “residential” feel without the associated year-round campsite rental fees or steeper up-front costs.
“A unit from our DST lineup is generally more affordable than a typical park model unit,”explained Ben Johnson, Jayco’s Jay Flight brand manager. “It’s also more versa- tile in how customers can use it,” he added. “Our DST comes standard with holding tanks, for instance, so owners can use them in a more traditional campground space. And while DST certainly isn’t considered a lightweight product line, it’s much lighter than most park model lines, making it easier to move around when someone wants a change of scenery.”
Despite the continued presence of these OEM-designed trailers, however, conventional park-model builders don’t seem too concerned when comparing the two customer bases. “There will continue to be two separate markets until campgrounds up-grade their parks in lot size and sewer systems to accommodate the 12-foot units, and that is costly,” says Larry Weaver, sales manager at Dutch Park Homes, which builds both park models and destination trailers.
Echoing the industry sentiment that the destination-trailer market shouldn’t have too much of an impact on park model sales is Gary Duncan, general manager of Forest River’s Park Model division. “The two products tend to attract two different types of customers,” he said. “The towable customer is most likely buying that product because they do indeed intend to tow it from one destination to another, even if only occasionally. The 12-wide buyer is a single-destination customer, looking for a ‘home away from home’ to be located at heir favorite campground, park or other property.”
Destination-trailer manufacturers, for their part, aren’t exactly declaring war on park-model builders; they also consider their trailers a niche-market offering with little overlap. “To a certain extent they compete — but they are also two separate markets,” said Jim Mac, communications director at Keystone RV. “Park homes are made to be placed and permanently sited; a destination trailer can be permanently parked but has the option of being easily moved should the owner need a change of scenery.”
One advantage park model manufacturers do claim to hold over destination trailers is more durable construction. Park models, they maintain, are often built with larger, more residential materials such as 2 x 4-insulated exterior walls and engineered roof trusses. “We build a very heavy product that I believe is safer and gives owners a more ‘like home’ feel,” noted Dick Grymonprez. director of park model sales at Cham- pion/Athens Park Homes. “Whether you are looking for a second home, a weekend getaway or something to rent in an RV park, you just can’t beat a park model RV.”
But destination trailers — not exactly lit- tle tear-drop trailers — feature some of the same rugged construction of the park model lines. “Keystone destination trailers are built on 12-inch I-frame beams and typically weigh in excess of 10,000 pounds,” said Keystone’s Jim Mac.
Whether a park model or a destination trailer, most agree, the most important thing is exposing people to the great outdoors. “Park models of all types can benefit from the explosive growth in popularity of destination camping and RVing,” said Dan Allgyer, owner of Fork Creek Homes.