Near 70 campground and RV park owners gathered at the Benbow Kampgrounds of America (KOA) in Garberville, Calif., to attend the RV Park Day Fall Getaway education and networking event hosted by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
The Oct. 2 event included a mix of educational sessions and informal roundtable discussions, with half a dozen experts who provided park operators with information on topics ranging from safe propane handling to tiny homes.
Larry Brownfield, director of franchise development for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), led an educational session in which he encouraged park operators to develop mission statements that clearly differentiate their parks, and their businesses, from their peers.
Ideally, a mission statement is a single powerful sentence that describes your park’s reason for being, your core business and operational values, the type of experience your park provides for your guests, and the characteristics that differentiate your business from other campgrounds or RV parks.
A well thought out mission statement not only guides day to day park operations and investment decisions, but sets the tone and positioning for a park’s marketing efforts as well.
A mission statement should serve as a strategic statement for your business.
“Don’t waste your time with a bad mission statement,” Brownfield said. “Get it out of your life. Make it useful or don’t bother.”
Unfortunately, he said, “The vast majority of mission statements are meaningless hype. I want you to struggle with uniqueness and differentiation. (Your mission statement) shouldn’t look like the guy’s across the street. It should be something that is uniquely you. Ask yourself, what makes you unique?”
A park’s mission statement should be unique enough so that other campgrounds and other businesses can’t use it.
“A good mission statement defines what your campground does for your guest,” he said.
It should also tell a market defining story.
“Know your story,” Brownfield said. “Do you know your personal story and how your personal story relates to your campground? What makes you unique? What are your core values? What are your foundational and operational values?”
Brownfield also talked about the difference between a mission statement versus a vision statement, which identifies a park’s aspirational goals and what it endeavors to become in the future.
He said it’s important to develop statements with passion and noted that it’s imperative to operate your business with passion.
“If you are not passionate about your business,” he said, “put somebody in charge who is!”
CalARVC’s second educational session was led by John Elliott, of the Benbow Historic Inn and Benbow KOA, who talked about revenue management and “dynamic pricing,” which is the practice of raising or lowering prices depending on current demand to capture more revenue than would otherwise be the case if parks left their rates unchanged.
He said American Airlines was the first company to use dynamic pricing to raise prices for airline tickets and the practice is now used widely in the airline and hotel industries. Dynamic pricing is also increasingly being used in the campground industry.
“You need to think about your sites, your cabins, as perishable products,” Elliott said, adding that revenue management is “a way to build revenue without adding inventory.”
Elliott said there can be some pushback from longtime guests when dynamic pricing is first introduced, especially if they notice significant differences in prices they pay for an overnight stay or differences in the prices they pay for different nights of the week.
But negative guest reactions can be overcome by talking to guests about it, by noting that dynamic pricing is increasingly being used these days during periods of high demand and by empowering front desk staff to reduce rates for guests who complain about it if that’s whats needed to keep them happy the first time they experience dynamic pricing.
“Let guests know the price may be higher, or closer to what they experienced, next time they come,” he said.
Elliott said most of the Historic Benbow Inn’s guests were repeat guests, but it was possible to introduce dynamic pricing and retain most of the hotel’s long time repeat guests by explaining the new pricing model and by offering initial discounts and other enticements as needed. Benbow sometimes offered bottles of wine or chocolates to let guests know their business was appreciated.
“Over 60% of our guests when we started were guests who had been there before. We had a high interest in keeping those guests happy,” Elliott said.
Elliott said it is imperative that parks study their booking data to know how dynamic pricing can be used at their park.
“Data is everything,” he said. “You can’t reasonably raise your prices on a random day if you don’t know how busy that day will be.”
Elliott also said that parks can use discounts and promotions to encourage early bookings and build new business.
“List price ranges on your rate card. Give yourself some wiggle room to work within that,” he said, adding, “If you are selling out months in advance, your prices are too low. You haven’t filtered out enough lower paying guests to have your higher paying guests find their way to you.”
Informal breakout sessions included presentations by Brownfield, who further discussed ways to formulate mission statements and Elliott, who further discussed dynamic pricing and some of the forecast models the Historic Benbow Inn uses to determine its pricing.
Other roundtable experts included Theresa Christian and Rebecca Lipe, of Rocklin, Calif.-based Tytanium Ideas, who talked about social media marketing; Erin Their, of Inn Town Campground in Nevada City, who discussed visual storytelling; Cesar Ponce, of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, who talked about regulations involving tiny homes, as well as ADA accessibility requirements as they pertain to campgrounds, RV parks and resorts. Lynette Brinkman, of Blue Star Gas, also talked about the importance of having staff members use special protective propane gloves when handling liquid propane.
After the informal roundtable discussions, Brownfield provided an overview of KOA’s annual North American Camping Report, which is independently compiled by an outside research company.
The latest report, issued in March of this year, found that 61% of U.S. households camp, but that only 26% of people camp in privately owned and operated campgrounds.
The private park growth potential is, therefore, enormous, Brownfield said, adding that Millennials account for an increasingly important share of the campground business, growing from 3% to 12% within the KOA system during the past year.
Wi-Fi is also becoming increasingly important amenity, one which Brownfield described as “the fourth utility.”
“People will extend their stay up to three days if they can check their email at the campground,” he said.
Looking to the future, Brownfield said the growth potential for the campground business is significant, with 446,000 RV sales projected for this year alone. He noted that 33% of RV buyers did not use a trade-in vehicle at the time of purchase, according to a manufacturers representative that Brownfield has spoken with, which suggests that many of them were first time RV buyers.
And as more RVers hit the road, demand for RV sites will increase, especially for the more lucrative overnight RV sites.
“If you’ve got monthly and seasonal occupancy, start realizing there is a need for (overnight) campsites,” Brownfield said.
Demand for rental accommodations also remains very strong, with 27% of new campers camping in cabins, yurts and tipis, Brownfield said, citing the KOA report.
CalARVC’s next educational events are scheduled for Feb. 27 and 28, at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula.
The Feb. 27 event, the first of its kind in the campground industry, will feature four software vendors who will spend an entire day providing product demonstrations, and holding question and answer sessions, and roundtable discussions, that will enable park operators to understand the unique capabilities of each software system so that they can determine which product best fits their needs.
Attendees will also learn about disaster planning and other types of emergencies, and how to prepare for them and respond to them, such as Amber alerts, situations involving human trafficking, hazardous materials spills and threats to homeland security.
CalARVC selected Feb. 27-28 as the dates for the workshops so that they do not conflict with other campground industry conventions, which typically take place later in spring.
For more information on these seminars, please visit http://www.calarvc.org/education-networking.