Mark Koep is a name that many in the outdoor hospitality industry probably recognize.
He is the founder of CampgroundViews.com, a search engine of sorts that hosts profiles of campgrounds across North America and features video tours of parks that allow campers to see specific campsites before they book them. On top of that, he is the curator of multiple Facebook groups, the most popular of which, the “RV Park/Campground Operators and Managers Operations & Marketing Forum,” has over 2,800 members.
“CampgroundViews.com started because we were full-time RVers traveling the country and trying to find a place to camp, and the information sources that were out there just didn’t have useful information,” Koep said. “It was all review-based and reviews are only as good as the people leaving them. You either have really amazing reviews or really bad reviews, and you have to guess. The entire concept behind CampgroundViews.com is to provide a visual experience through photos and video.”
Overseeing all of this is a full-time job — one that Koep loves.
“Several years ago, we started providing professional marketing services, specifically video production services, to campground owners,” Koep explained. “We’d come in and produce these various videos to help them market because video is the single best way to market a campground or location. There are data points out there that show 73% of affluent travelers will book immediately upon seeing a video. We started doing these video productions for campgrounds and they started measuring these insane results. Parks started to report to us that they were seeing 70 times more revenue than what we were charging for our services and those numbers repeated over and over again.”
In the beginning, the website relied on campers or owners using their cell phones to submit photos and now the website features over 3,000 videos and more than 50,000 photographs of RV parks and campgrounds across the country. However, Koep realized that he could do so much more with video and listened to the demands of campers, introducing 360 videos a few years ago.
“Those videos were transformative to the booking experience,” noted Koep. “It increased online bookings. One park measured a 244% increase in online bookings and they dropped their call volume by 40%. The reason being is people can now see the parks, its campsites, and if the park has a good online booking engine, they could go figure it out and book instead of having to call.
“That continued for a few years, but we started getting feedback from consumers that wished they knew exactly what site they were looking at and they wished there was more information on it, to help augment the experience,” he added.
Koep and the team at CampgroundViews.com listened and took an even more “revolutionary” step this past Spring when they began introducing Virtual Tours that incorporates 360 video technology and includes a “new augmented layer that allows the viewer to interact, click on a site for more information and then click the site to begin the booking process.”
Unlike Google Street View, where users click arrows to progress through the map, Koep’s technology plays like a slow-moving video as it winds its way through a parks layout — showing users the layout of the land and each individual site. Users can put in their desired booking dates and icons on each site indicate whether they are available to book for those days. If the sites are bookable, the user clicks on the icon to learn more information about the site and to start the reservation process on the park’s reservation platform.
“We have been pushing to make this thing a reality and it has been a long, hard push,” he explained. “Honestly, nobody believes me that this is what campers want because most people in the space just aren’t solving the campers’ problems, they’re solving their problems and not looking at the campers. We knew what the campers wanted so we just kept building. We’ve now created this technology and put it out into the space and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive on what we’ve created and how we built the site.”
Right now, Koep is working to add Virtual Tours of parks at Recreation.gov, which features campgrounds in the National Park System, U.S. Forest Service, some state park systems and other public park systems. Utilizing the website’s API feed, Koep and his team can capture the videos they need, create the experience and then integrate it with the availability information.
In the private sector, Koep noted there are a bunch of reservation companies, which makes it more difficult to integrate the technology with, but Koep says he is working to partner with reservation systems to offer the same experience he is putting together for public parks.
“I think you are going to see consumers demanding this so much that reservation systems and campground owners will want to find a way to integrate what we have been working on,” he said.
Koep said the process of videoing a park for a virtual tour is more than just using a phone camera, which is why Koep works with a professional team to ensure each video is done right.
“Our goal is to fundamentally improve the way people find and book campsites,” Koep added. “In my opinion, the biggest barrier to our industry growing is and has been the unknown. People don’t know what they’re getting into, so they guess, and then if they show up at a park that’s not right for them, they end up having a bad camping experience. If we can eliminate some of these barriers, campers will have a better experience and our industry will continue to grow.”