Instead of pitching a tent or roaming the great outdoors in a recreational vehicle, travelers increasingly are interested in staying in plusher accommodations in campgrounds — we are talking private bathrooms, kitchens, air conditioning and even flat-screen television sets, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Rental units — sometimes small cabins and sometimes prefabricated transportable units made to look like small cabins — are gaining traction with travelers and campground owners across the U.S.
“They do extremely well,” says John Croce, a managing member of a collective that owns and operates nine campgrounds in the western U.S. At Yosemite Pines RV Resort & Family Lodging in Groveland, Calif., his group has installed about six new rental units every year for the past several years. These now occupy 30 of the campground’s 200 RV sites, he says. But those rental units account for about 39% of the campground’s revenue, says Croce. Rates for the campground’s rental units range from about $80 to $200 per night. Depending on their size, the units can sleep four to eight people. By comparison, a basic tent site costs about $25 a night, depending on the season.
Campground owners and franchisers say the rental units are attracting a new kind of camper — one interested in the great outdoors, but happy to sleep in a bed and have access to a private bathroom or other amenities. “You are sleeping on a pillow-top mattress and you have a flat-screen TV,” says Mike Atkinson, director of lodging at Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), which owns and franchises 475 campground locations. “But you can still go outside and have s’mores.”
Most popular with campground owners are the pre-fab transportable rental units, known in the industry as “park models.” That’s because those units are officially considered RVs, and therefore don’t require building permits or other regulatory fillings to install, reducing their capital cost. The cost for a park model ranges from about $30,000 to $50,000, depending on amenities, furnishings and transportation costs. To keep up with demand, KOA campgrounds installed about 371 park model units this year, up from some 225 in 2009, and about 190 in 2008, says Atkinson.
While camping overall has proved resilient in a down economy, revenue from the rental units is particularly strong. Last year, the number of occupied nights in rental units rose 8% at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts campgrounds, while traditional camp site nights rose only about 1%, says Rob Schutter, chief operating officer of Cincinatti-based Leisure Systems Inc, which franchises 76 of the campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada. Leisure Systems is a subsidiary of Park River Corp.