Evanne Schmarder

Editor’s note: Want to know more about marketing your RV park or campground online? Evanne Schmarder, principal and founder of the RV industry-specific digital marketing firm Roadabode Production, has a new book to help you do just that. Marketing Your RV Park/Campground Online is available as an e-book at your favorite online bookseller or in print at Amazon.com.

It finally happened. My niece and nephew, part of the Millennial generation of Schmarders, messaged me asking for advice on full-time RVing, their next chapter. It’s not surprising. What used to be an unusual choice — both full-timing and RVing in general — has rapidly gained popularity, fueling incredible growth. With renewed interest in the RV lifestyle, business in our sector is booming.

I think it is safe to say that a large number of your guests this season will be new to this type of travel. They might be full-timers, like Will and Velvet, or they might be weekend warriors. Maybe they have decided to bring the family back to nature or are kicking around a retirement lifestyle. Regardless, there is a lot to learn and they’ll be looking to you, park owners and operators, to set the stage for their (and indirectly, our industry’s) success.

Give Them What They Need

We can start with a few basic assumptions. Unless they are/were truck or bus drivers, maneuvering a larger-than-usual vehicle is a challenge they will have to meet. Navigating is different and, if not careful, they can quickly find themselves in a tight (literally) situation. Even the simple act of driving down a small road can turn trees into obstacles. RV systems are different than they are used to in a house or hotel and while they will expand their knowledge with time and experience, human nature never lets us forget those first faux pas. It is in the handling that makes us cringe or chuckle when looking back. This is where you come in. If our goal is to create loyal, lifetime customers, it is up to the entire outdoor hospitality industry to help new RVers ease in, bumps and all, and deliver the relaxed memories we’re selling.

Depending on the type of property you run and your location, you might consider partnering with local RV dealers to provide shakedown cruises, the first outing in a guests’ new rig. This allows the buyers close proximity to the sales and service team they purchased their unit from in case of need. But, if your location doesn’t lend itself to this proven program, other things can be done to attract and aid this burgeoning market segment.

Develop package stays aimed at new RVers. These might include designated easy in/easy out sites, a welcome package with useful items like tank chemical and TP, a level, and something branded like koozies and a staff member to help them with their first hook-up.

Offer educational opportunities. These can range from a full-blown boot camp taught by someone on staff or brought in for the occasion, small group seminars with ample Q&A time or a personal hands-on tech team. Guests might also be interested in booking a laser-focused, all about them hour with a knowledgeable RVer to learn from others’ experiences in a more structured setting than a campfire.

Show Them What They’ll Want

While the practical stuff can’t be overlooked, much of the RV magic is found in the experiences at your park. If you operate a transient park, stock a little grocery in your office, have local restaurant or delivery menus handy and provide a map with walking routes. You’re also in an excellent position to give something like a handy license plate number business card for their wallets, reminding them of your park each time they complete a new check-in form.

Take some time to think about what’s new and different in an RV and how you can help build memories and skills around this new traveling style.

Everyone’s got to eat and cooking at the campsite can be a challenge. Take it up; teach campfire cooking, how to make meals in a rig, tips and tricks for stocking an RV pantry and fridge. Offer cooking demos, hands-on classes, even a wine tasting if you operate in wine country.

Different from the go-go-go pace, camping invites guests to slow down. This can be a difficult transition for some. Help them enjoy their time at your park (and maybe even find their passion) by providing hobby or recreational skills instruction. This can range from knitting kits to orienteering to fishing, kayaking and bird watching.

Integral to the camping experience, relaxing around a campfire is often what comes to mind when people think, “camping.” Make this dream come true with a short how-to on building a campfire, making s’mores and storytelling. Share entertaining card or other campfire games. Make it easy to get firewood with at-site deliveries.

Live and in-person happenings not in the scope of your operation? You can still make a lasting impression. Choose three topics we’ve discussed above and create handouts a.k.a. tip sheets. These can be single-page or mini-booklets. They can consist of images, stories and checklists. You can include recipes, resources and top tips. If you have a robust online presence, convert these printed products to digital for download. But no matter what you choose, you must always follow two rules: it must be pleasant and entertaining and it must contain your branding (logo, park name, contact information).

Each Outing Counts 

Whether you market your park as a newbie haven, are in a high-demand area or along the highways and byways of America, there’s a very good chance that new travelers have chosen your park for one of their first outdoor hospitality stops. This makes you a benchmark, a measure for all others that come after. Yes, there is the obvious look and feel of your property, first impressions matter. In the end, however, it’s the way a stay makes new RVers feel that matters most. Aim for better prepared, confident and thrilled.

Being out on the road for the first time can be exhilarating, like a breath of fresh air. But it can also be frustrating and a little scary. It’s up to us, the outdoor hospitality industry, to live up to the hype. After all, Will and Velvet only know what they’ve heard. We’ll have to show them the rest.