b'COVID-19 Crisis BY SHERMAN GOLDENBERGKOAs CEO Toby ORourke Navigating Company Through UnchartedWaters as COVID-19 Continues to Impact the Campground SectorPrivate RV park and campground operations like Billings, Mont.-based Kamp-grounds of America Inc. (KOA), the nations largest network of franchised and com-pany-owned parks, currently totaling 524 facilities, havebeen facing a virtual hailstorm of pandemic-induced head-winds regarding reservations and government-imposed clo-sures in some locales.All of that has put KOA President and CEO Toby ORourke,whos still relatively new to the companys top job since suc-ceeding Pat Hittmeier in March of 2019, in a relatively high-pressure position as she works to steer her privately-heldcompany through the current tumult toward a calmer timethat she and others foresee down the road.Toby ORourke ORourke, who recently joined the board of directors of theRV Industry Association (RVIA), took a break at her home of-fice for a Woodalls Campground Management (WCM) interview. Here are the edited comments from that interview:WCM: Theres no question, Toby, that creasing. So, its not all bad news by anywereallwakinguptoanunprece- means, but its definitely not an idealdented moment in American history. state for our system right now.Whats your take on all this? WCM: We assume youve been in theTobyORourke: Well,itsobviously forefront of the industrys lobbying ef-turned everything upside down for the forts with both state and federal gov-whole hospitality industryfrom air- ernment officials.lines and cruise ships to hotels, and ORourke: Yes, absolutely. Ive sent let-there are mass layoffs of employees and ters from KOA on behalf of small busi-people canceling travel. ness and on behalf of campgrounds asAnd within the campground indus- a central business to every governor, astry, its really no different. Were starting well as ranking members of Congress. Some KOA parks have seen an uptick in the number of long-term RVers due to the COVID-19 crisis,to feel the effects of it, too. Weve defi- And then when we hear about actions according to ORourke. Photo credit: Orlando Southwest KOA Holiday.nitely seen an uptick in our cancella- being taken at a county or city level. Ivetions over the past week and a half. And been reaching out to mayors, city coun- For example, we have some long-term doors, camping and socializing again.now were at the point where a lot of cilmen, and county commissioners as campers in Santa Cruz, Calif., who can And weve already seen from our annualcampgroundsaretryingtodecideif well. So, were trying to tackle those is- stay where they are. But we cant take any research that more and more people arethey can stay open based on local or sues as they pop up. new business and the campground for attracted to camping and the outdoors.stateorders.So,werenavigating I am in very close contact with the all intents and purposes is closed. So, once this passes, we expect peoplethrough that world right now. Things are National Association of RV Parks and WCM: So, we assume that you and to return to their normal activities and Ivery challenging at the moment. Campgrounds (ARVC) and the RV In- your management team are operating think there is going to be a huge surgeWCM: So, all of your affiliated parks dustry Association (RVIA) as well, and onacrisisfootingsotospeak,even in camping and RVing, and I think thatare staying open if they can, right? were talking several times a day and try- thoughyoureworkingfromremote were going to bounce back very well.ORourke: Yes.Rightnow,camp- ing to then coordinate lobbying efforts. home-office locations? Infact,werestillveryoptimisticgrounds, at least the KOA parks, are all Again, were focused mainly at the state ORourke: Yes,weshutouroffices about the upcoming summer season.staying open unless theres some ordi- level, trying to get some of these (clo- down last week. We will be closed as of Like I said, the majority of our cancella-nance at a local or state level that is re- sures) overturned. And that team has now through April 10 in line with the tions are happening in April and March.quiring them to close. So, as of today, we definitely had some success in partner- way our county is approaching business We are still ahead in advanced depositshave 11 campgrounds that are closed ship with some really active state asso- closures. So, were home for the next for business over where we were lastbased on some of those government ac- ciations in the past week, most notably couple of weeks. We are meeting daily year, and our summer season seems totions, and the rest of our system is open. in Pennsylvania and New York. and are definitely working around the be holding on strong. In the past severalOf course, everything changes every day. Yet, there are another 10 or 11 states clock trying to do everything we can to years, frankly, fall has been stronger thanNow, granted, a lot of our northern that are putting in place these different help our franchisees and also take care spring for us. So, while no one actuallyparks hadnt opened yet for the season; shelter-in-place ordinances. So, were of our campers. knows how long all of this is going to last,a lot of the northern parks open up in sifting through those and then typically, At the same time, weve been putting if things clear up by early- to mid-sum-mid-AprilandMay.So,wedohave on every single one, we have to clarify in place a few different measures such mer, I think well have a very strong sum-some parks that are closed, but thats what it means for campground owners. as a new temporary cancellation policy mer and fall camping season.just due to natural seasonality that hap- So,thatsdefinitelywhatIvebeen that applies for our campers in March WCM: Anything to add to that?pens every year. spending a lot of my time on. and April to provide more flexibility for ORourke: Yes, I think the most impor-WCM: So, at this pointand we dont campersandtotakecareof tant thing we can do is work toward in-mean to understate thingsit certainly them during this very difficult dustry unity right now, and thats whatdoesnt sound like a worst-case scenario timewiththeirtravelplans were seeing happen. Were definitelyfrom your perspective? changing. seeing the RV dealers, manufacturersORourke: Well,itsnotideal.Even Then, weve agreed to reim- and campgrounds coming together tocampgrounds that are open are having burse the franchisees for all lost tackle this, particularly in lobbying ona lot of cancellations. Eighty-six percent deposits and cancellation fees the legislative side. Everybodys workingof our cancellations that have come in during these two months. Thats together in order to promote RVing andMarch have been for March and April an example of some quick ac- camping and take care of those thingsbusiness. So, these two months have tion were taking to take care of within our nation, because we do thinkdefinitelybeenheavilyimpactedby ORourke has been advocating along with various groups our system. campgrounds are essential businesses.cancellations. to keep parks open. WCM: So, what, bottom line, Not only do long-term campers liveNow that being said, I have heard would be KOAs message to the at these parks, but we also host travelingfrom some campgrounds that theyre WCM: Has KOA had to step into any RV and campground sector with regard nurses and other medical professionalsseeing a lot more long-term business situations where campers have been to the long-term future? at many campgrounds. We have storescoming in than they had before. People displaced? ORourke: Well, I think that from both thatareopentothepublicthatsellI think are looking for places where they ORourke: Not quite yet. Were moni- a short-term and long-term perspec- propane. In times of crisis, any timecan park and stay for a chunk of time toring situations where it appears that tive, that as soon as this crisis passes the people are displaced for one reason orbecause that seems to be the nature of long-term campers could be displaced. nations campgrounds are going to play another, some come to campgrounds.where the countrys headed right now. But in most of the parks that weve had a very important role in the recovery of And we just feel in general that this in-They want people to stay in one spot. closed down, the long-term campers North America in dealing with coron- dustry can provide an essential serviceSo, we do see some of that increasing, have been able to stay. The park just avirus. in weathering this current storm andwhile our short-term business is de- cant take any new business. People are going to want to be out- the recovery afterward.WCM28 -May 2020Woodalls Campground Management'