CONY 2021

Representatives of more than 40 campgrounds attended CONY’s 57th Annual Exposition for the Outdoor Hospitality Industry in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Park operators are pictured here during a dinner honoring inductees into CONY’s Hall of Fame.

The Campground Owners of New York (CONY) inducted former Adirondacks Jellystone Park owners Mike and Gina Lenhard into the association’s Hall of Fame during its 57th annual exposition and tradeshow — and its first during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Peter O’Connell, CONY’s longtime lobbyist who represented the association throughout his four-decade career, was also inducted as a Fellow of Distinction.

The induction ceremony was a highlight of the Oct. 31-Nov. 3 convention, which also included educational seminars, government affairs and association updates, and a tradeshow. The event took place at The Conference & Event Center in Niagara Falls, N.Y., drawing 105 campground operators and 44 vendors.

CONY’s exposition began Sunday, Oct. 31, with certified pool operator training. Monday’s activities included pool water rescue training, CPR and first aid training and other educational seminars.

Christine Taylor, a principal partner at The Towne Law Firm, P.C., led two seminars, including one titled “How the Law Helps and Hinders: Permits, Guest Ejections & The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act.” Taylor also held a seminar to discuss CONY’s Legal Hotline, which provides association members with one free 30-minute legal consultation each year. Taylor provided examples of the types of questions she typically receives from park operators along with the answers to such questions.

Ed Marden, CONY’s longtime treasurer and an accountant for H&R Block, led a seminar on budgeting for campgrounds. Deborah Stevens, assistant director of Greenberg Traurig, LLP, led a seminar covering new and pending legislation affecting campgrounds which involves paid leave, wage laws and COVID-19 mandates.

Jeff Crider, CONY’s publicist, led seminars involving CONY’s media outreach efforts and the importance of obtaining good photography and videos to promote one’s park.

Other seminar topics included dynamic pricing and site locking fees, by Paul Bandstra, of Campspot, and trends in camping and the guest experience by Nichole Poisson, franchise development manager for Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), who noted that 14 million new camping households have entered the camping market since 2014, with most of them trying camping for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The demographics of campers are changing,” Poisson said, adding, “They’re younger. They’re more diverse. The majority are traveling with kids.”

Fifty percent of new campers are under age 40. Sixty percent are ethnically diverse, and three out of four have children, she said. “Take a look at the amenities you offer,” she said. “Is there something you could add? There are 4.8 million Gen Z campers right now. The majority are camping in tents. They are going to become your future RVer, the ones who stay in your cabins.”

Poisson also said KOA has tracked a 121% increase in campers camping three or more times a year and that campers are willing to travel further to camp, typically within a 150-mile radius of their home.

Ron Rosenberg, of QuickTalk, led sessions titled “Get Customer Focused and Dominate Your Market — Now and in the Future.”

Mike and Gina Lenhard

Mike and Gina Lenhard, center, are formally inducted into CONY’s Hall of Fame by CONY President and CEO Donald Bennett, Jr., left and Scott Sherwood, right, CONY’s chairman.

“Your job is to get people interested in what you have to offer and to deliver the experience that keeps them coming back,” he said, adding that park operators need to ensure that the key messages on their websites distinguish them from their peers in the industry.

“What is different about what you provide or how you provide it that sets you apart from the competition? Why should prospective guests stay with you compared to all the other options they have? If you can’t answer (those questions), neither can your customers.”

Rosenberg added, “Don’t reduce yourself to a commodity. Otherwise, you will be interchangeable.”

Rosenberg also led another seminar titled, “Beyond Time Management: How to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time.”

In terms of board action, CONY’s board of directors voted to realign CONY’s regions to align them with the state of New York’s tourism marketing regions. The change reduces the number of CONY’s board positions from 12 to nine with one at large director.

CONY also presented marketing awards to parks in the following categories:

The board also presented CONY President and CEO Donald G. Bennett, Jr. with the chairman’s award recognizing his exemplary efforts on behalf of private park operators during the pandemic.

During CONY’s annual membership meeting, Treasurer Ed Marden noted that the association is in a very strong financial position. He also noted that that CONY had raised more than $39,600 in its silent and live auctions.

CONY is considering holding its fall 2022 conference in the Albany area, potentially from a Wednesday through Sunday, although the dates and location have yet to be finalized.