b'Q&A CONVERSATIONS BY BEN QUIGGLEKOASeeing Strong Year After Initial COVID Slowdown,Focused on Innovating and Keeping Ahead of the CurveToby ORourke With the holidays upon us, there is no doubt that 2020 has been a stressful, butbusy year for many park owners and operators, and most are looking forward toa productive 2021. Woodalls Campground Management (WCM) caught up with Toby ORourke,CEO and president of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), as the company waspreparing for its Virtual Conference in mid-October to get a picture of how thecompany weathered a turbulent year marked by the COVID crisis. On the heels of its recently released Growth of Camping Amid COVID-19: AFall 2020 Update, KOA is still adding parksit now has over 500 parks in its sys-temand finding ways to assist its franchisees in all aspects of their businesses. Normally, WCM would sit down for an end of the year chat with ORourke atthe conclusion of KOAs conference, but the virtual aspect of the conference in2020 prompted us to adjust our typical sit down to an earlier date. Following is our edited conversation.WCM: How did the KOA system fare date business is up. Since the springin 2020? Did you see improvement over was bad for everybody, I think morethe summer months? and more parks will try to use the Fall toToby ORourke: Weve done very well. I make up for that.like to look at our business in terms of For the past few years, Fall has beenthree phases: pre-COVID, then the de- busier than spring for KOA, largely duefinedstay-at-homeperiodwhenthe to Halloween and Fall events. They havemajority of states were under stay-at- been a big deal in some parks, whichhome orders, and finally a recovery pe- havesixorsevenweekendsofHal-riod. That recovery period, I trace it back loween activities, because its becomingto mid-May, is when we started to see such a popular way for people to enjoycamping open back up. From there on, the holiday. I know people are having towe are flat compared to 2019 during do things a little differently this year,that same period, which was a record but those weekends are still immenselyyear for the business. We came back popular and driving a lot of business.strongconsideringthatsomeclosed WCM: KOA has always been a very Focused on mitigating the impact of the COVID crisis this past Spring, KOA has shifted its focus tostates like Michigan and California were forward-thinking company and you once again push innovation and stay ahead of the curve. not even underway until mid-June.oftenfindwaystoimplementnewTo be flat compared to last year is a ideas. Has that slowed due to COVID?big deal during that time period. As a Are you still finding ways to work onsystem, year to date, were just down new projects? about 6% right now compared to last ORourke: Particularlyearlyintheyear. pandemic, we were extremely focusedIm pretty impressed with that con- on mitigation of the current crisis, butsidering that during the three-month weve definitely gotten back to a lot ofstay-at-homeperiodweweredown our pushing innovation across the sys-43%. To come back and fight and be tem.Alotofcampgroundsusetheclose to last year is phenomenal.springtodoimprovementstotheirThe fall has been healthy, too. We parks.Weawardedgrantstoafewlooked at September, plus the last week campgrounds to pursue campground-of August. We had Labor Day in there as of-the-future ideas and were encourag- KOA credits its ability to constantly reforecast its business projections as one of the reasons ita comparison to last year, and that was ing modernization that way. was able to make it through the COVID crisis in a strong position.up 19% over last year. Our September I would say the innovation has notnumbers, and I anticipate our October slowed down. Here at the home office continue to try new things and then media and targeting, and its definitelynumbers,aregoingtobejustas we are in the midst of finalizing all of our hopefully good ideas keep spreading an important part of our business. healthy. Advanced deposits right now plans for next year. So, very future fo- throughout the system.Were continuing to encourage KOAare 30% up over where they were last cused and that spans across all aspects Another thing we do at our conven- Pet Sitesin our system, were continuingyear. Everything is pointing to Fall being of our business about how were going to tion is our Idea Xchange. And this year to encourage patio RV sites and glamp-huge for camping and thats going to continually innovate and improve and we have a couple of franchisees giving ing continues to be increasingly interest-further pull our business up in compar- stay ahead of the curve. I dont think you those talks. They are based off of Ted ing to a lot of people. We see a lot ofison to last year. can be at a standstill and survive, and Talks and focus on new ideas. Were unique accommodations going in andWCM: Do you have any of your camp- this pandemics proven that you have to continuing to source ideas from the obviously the cabins we really believe in.ground owners who are looking at trying keep being innovative. We are continu- systemfromoutsidecampingand Continuing to push the fundamentalto extend their seasons a little bit beyond ing to move forward. bring those in and just look for new ways and continuing to improve themwhat they normally would have? WCM: YoumentionedtheCamp- ways to grow. with things like patios or pet areas is aORourke: I dont have those numbers, ground of the Future Grants as a way WCM: Whataresomeofthenew smart move for our franchisees.but I do definitely see in these numbers to innovate and try new ideas.ideas that you are excited about imple- WCM: You opened your new glamp-beingplayedbackthatbusinessis ORourke: When we did the Camp- menting in the future?ing park, Terramor, later than expected,doing very well. Depending on where ground of the Future program last year, ORourke: Werecontinuingtoad- but it is finally open. How is that parkyou are at in the country, if the weather we wanted to keep that going and fos- vance our technology. That is so essen- doing? is holding out, that helps extend the tering creativity. We had asked for any- tial in this day and age. We are getting a ORourke:We have been really pleasedseason. So, in short, yes. Half of our body to submit an idea that they may lot more disciplined around revenue with Terramor. We did want to open inparks right now, exactly 50% are either have to advance business and then we management and thats inherent defi- June, but we moved that out to August,up or flat compared to last year. Every chose a few and awarded those grants. nitely in the hotel industry. Theres a lot but weve had really high demand andweek that number continues to grow Were excited to see those things come more innovation in our marketing ap- are just working out some of the kinksbecause more and more people are tak- to fruition. Well continue with that pro- proach. It can get complicated to talk of opening a brand new business, anding in this record Fall business. Year-to- gram because thats just a way we can through the different ways were buying were pleased with the way thats devel-28 -December 2020Woodalls Campground Management'