CampgroundViews founder Mark Koep

The future of the campground industry is bright and only growing brighter, as more and more people are discovering the affordable fun that a camping trip can provide.

A number of familiar reports support this claim including the “2018 North American Camping Report,” a study commissioned by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), showing the number of camping households in the U.S. is now estimated at more than 77 million. In addition, after more than 500,000 RVs were sold last year, the RV Industry Association (RVIA) is forecasting nearly 540,000 will be sold in 2018.

All of these new campers need a place to set up camp, and it’s the mission of CampgroundViews.com to show them – literally – some amazing places where they can pitch a tent.

“Our goal is to make camping more fun and easier. How we do that is by connecting people with campgrounds they’re going to love,” said Mark Koep, founder and CEO of CampgroundViews, an online database of public and private campgrounds that includes photos and standard and 360 videos, as well as a provider of website development and digital marketing services.

As further evidence of camping’s surging popularity, Koep reported that people are flocking to CampgroundViews.com. This past February – typically the slowest month, along with January, in terms of page views – saw twice the amount of traffic as last August, one of the biggest months. In total, the videos on CampgroundViews.com have been viewed more than 2 million times.

“I’m not going to kid anybody. These are just videos of campgrounds and RV parks. It’s not like they’re viral videos. These are just people actually looking for places to stay,” Koep said. “There’s this new generation of campers that is now out there, and they want this data. This is why we started the site. We knew they were coming. They want what we’re providing. They’re using our tools to find campgrounds and RV parks.”

Woodall’s Campground Management caught up with Koep at the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) convention earlier this year, and he took time to answer a few questions.

WCM: How did CampgroundViews begin?

Koep: It started about eight years ago when my wife, Katarina, and I bought an RV and got out on the road. We started looking to find places, and what we found is – and this goes for a lot of guests – we were traveling to places we’ve never been. We don’t know the area. We don’t know the parks.

You know it’s hard if you’re in an area where you don’t know anything about it. So we start reading reviews, and it was like measuring tealeaves. You’re wondering if this person is legit. It was just a nightmare.

I was like “Man, if only we could see a picture and a video.” That was where the idea for CampgroundViews came from – this idea, this frustration, of actually finding a place to stay.

WCM: So, how does CampgroundViews actually work?

Koep: My background is Internet marketing and web design, so we started working on the site about five years ago – we were about three years into our travels by that time.

Originally, we thought we’d get it up really fast by buying some directories and combining them, and having this list of campgrounds. But what we found is that there was actually no good database of campgrounds and RV parks. The high-level data collectors combine mobile home parks with RV parks. And as far as public parks, unless it’s a national park, the city parks and regional parks are not even listed.

So we spent the first two years physically building our database, city by city, state by state, going through and actually finding the information and putting it in there. We have over 16,000 parks, and we’ve checked them all. We know that these are places that somebody can go and stay.

On top of that underlying database we started adding videos and pictures. We have our users submitting pictures, videos, and reviews. As of right now, we’ve got about 3,600 individual parks on video. These are first-person video tours. Some of them are great, some of them aren’t. They’re people with their cell phones who get there and they pan and show us the sites, and we share it with others online. In addition, we have 26,000 photographs of parks. And then as I mentioned, we now have about 320 of the 360 video tours.

And so, for park operators, what does that mean? That means they need to make sure we have good information, that we have pictures and we have video, because that’s what people are coming to our site to find.

WCM: What are your services from a campground owner’s perspective?

Koep: To make it really simple, we help parks grow their occupancy. We bring more campers in. Period. And we can prove it. We’ve done it.

It starts with what your goal is. As a campground owner, you obviously want as many guests in there as possible, but the worst thing you can do is have guests that don’t want to be at your park. They’re going to go out and leave a bunch of negative reviews about you and never come back again. What you want is people who will love your park.

How do you reach those people? The easiest way to do that is via the Internet, and there are a few things you need to do. No. 1, you have to have a website, and it has to be a clean website with certain items that people look for. You want great pictures of your park, not fake pictures of your park. Don’t hire some glamour photographer to come in and make your place look amazing with wonderful sunsets if that’s not how it looks. It has to show your real park, otherwise people will be upset because it wasn’t what they were led to believe, and they’ll leave bad reviews.

Then even more important is video. We actually found a stat, and it supports video. One of the things that campers do when they’re looking for a place to stay is they do research online. We found that, on average, they visit 28 different sites over 56 different sessions – that’s the number of times they’re going online, trying to do research. They go to third-party sites like Yelp, Google and RV Park Reviews, trying to read reviews. What that tells you is that the information they’re finding on your website must not be very good, so they’re trying to verify it via third-party sources.

Then we throw that number up against another statistic that blows our mind, which is that 73% of affluent travelers will immediately book when they see a video on somebody’s site. Why? That video actually showed them the park so they can see whether or not it’s nice and it will fit their needs.

So what we’re able to do for park owners is we develop that entire toolkit of online marketing that allows them to be seen by the people that want to stay there, and gives them a path to reserve their stay.

And we have proof with Bakersfield River Run in California. We did everything that we’re talking about for them; we did pictures, video, 360 tour and a website for them. Launched it all, and got them all set up. First year they grew their online reservations by 107%. Boom, right there. It’s a nice park, but with the changes we made it just blew it out of the water.

WCM: So when you’re putting together a website for a campground, what’s your goal?  How do you want it to look? What do you want it to do?

Koep: It all comes down to your guest. What do they want? That’s the first question we ask. Who are your guests? Are those the guests you want to reach? And if they’re not, then who are the guests you do want to reach?

So then we look at who that audience is. Who are they? Are they weekend campers traveling with their family? Are they retirees looking to stay somewhere for a long period of time? Are they seasonal campers? Once you know who that customer is, then you design your website around it.

There are some basic things every website needs to have, obviously, like a home page, amenities, rates, and “contact us” information and directions. And with “contact us” and directions, you need to be very specific because – and this is a new trend we’re starting to see – as we’re getting a lot of new RVers into the space they’re not familiar with how to navigate a big rig. So you need to be very specific; some people even have a PDF where they can download turn-by-turn directions. But at a minimum, you want your address and, if you’re in a rural area — which most parks are — precise GPS coordinates.

The other thing you would want on your website is great photography and great videos that show your park for all the reasons we’ve talked about.

WCM: You and your wife are still on the road, traveling in your RV. What are you seeing? Are you noticing any trends among the campgrounds you see and stay at?

Koep: One of the things we’ve seen in the industry over the last three years, is it’s going crazy. Everybody’s jumping into it. We’ve seen an overall improvement in private parks. They’ve increased their amenities and so forth. A lot of folks – and I’m the same way – when they’re going camping, they’d look at a state park or national park first. But that’s kind of changed a little bit. We look at private parks also, because they have pools and water facilities. We have a 5-year-old son now, so we’re looking for something with a playground or with restaurants and stores nearby.

WCM: And you say the camping boom will continue?

Koep: The future of camping is it’s going to keep going nuts. Everybody’s jumping into it. You’ve got the retiring Baby Boomers and you’ve got the new generation of Millennials that people are talking about, and you’ve got everybody else. They all recognize it’s an affordable way to see the country and it’s pure fun. You go to a campground and people are in a good mood. It’s a good time. The biggest limiting factor to the industry is there’s a breakdown between the marketing of RVs and the actual experience for the campers. That issue needs to be worked through. But overall, it’s very promising. There are a lot of opportunities.