b'TACO Conference Draws Record-Breaking Crowd nBY JEFF CRIDER amount of pent-up energy that really mirrors First impressions are important.whats been happening in our industry overall So, why do so many campgrounds staffduring the pandemic. their front desks with inexperienced peoplePark operators didnt want to miss an op-who lack critical telephone and communica- portunity to meet with industry friends, attend tion skills?the tradeshow and hear roundtable discus-Often, we find owners put the lowest paidsions and educational presentations, like the employee at the front desk. Why are we doingone Poisson put together, which focused pri-that? asked Nichole Poisson, franchise de- marily on the importance of first impressions velopment manager for Billings, Mont.-basedand visual imagery in campgrounds. Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA).While Poisson highlighted the need for park Its a good question and one that a growingoperators to ensure that they staff their front number of private park operators are trying todesk with experienced people who can repre-address.sent their park well, she also noted the equally But this was just one of many questionscritical need to pay attention to the visual as-raised during the seminar portions of the an- pects of the front desk. nual Meeting and Tradeshow of the TexasYour front desk should be clean, organized Association of Campground Owners (TACO).and free of clutter because thats the first im-The Sept. 14-15 meeting, the first of thepression you want to make, she said.The Texas Association of Campground Owners gave attendees updates on various legislative pandemic, drew an all-time record crowd ofPoisson also encouraged park operators toconcerns and offered educational opportunities at its conference in September. more than 300 attendees, including 192 parkpay attention to every aspect of their park be-operators and 115 vendors who gathered atcause guests can take pictures of anythingA picture is worth a thousand words, sheavailable campsites or rental accommoda-the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center inthey see and share it on social media.said,referencingthecliche.Itsactuallytions, regardless of animal breed. The same Conroe.Good or bad, people are going to take pic- worth a thousand nights for campgrounds.rule does not apply to guests with emotional They came despite Hurricane Nicholas,tures at your park and theyre going to bePoissons messages were loud and clear.support animals, however, unless the ani-which made landfall on the Matagorda Penin- shared, she said. You cant control every- So, too, were the warnings of Kelly Jones,mals are trained to perform a specific task, sula, about 140 miles southwest of Houston,thing, but you can control the bathroom theyvice president of operations for The Jenkinssuch as helping its owner avoid anxiety at-just hours before the TACO meeting was settake a picture of. You can control the roadsGroup, the Houston-based company that mar- tacks. to commence.that are crumbling and need repair.kets parks using the Great Escapes brandJones also cautioned park operators that This was our biggestPoisson added that campgrounds that arename.they need to ensure that their workplaces are show ever in the 49-yearwell maintained create a positive impressionJones told park operators they need to payalso ADA compliant to accommodate employ-history of our association,in guests minds. Ninety percent of what weattention to the requirements of the Americansees with disabilities. She also encourages said Brian Schaeffer, ex- process is visual, she said.with Disabilities Act (ADA).park operators to consider hiring a consultant ecutive vice president andThe same holds true for the photos camp- You do have an obligation to make (yourto develop an ADA plan for them that includes CEOofTACO.Onlyagrounds use to promote themselves, Poissonpark and its amenities) accessible, she said.specific recommendations of ADA improve-handful of people couldntsaid, as she showed park operators the differ- Nothing is grandfathered in.ments the park can make overtime to bring make it because of flightence between a photo of a mostly emptyJonessuggestedparkoperatorswalktheir park into compliance with the law. Simply Brian Schaeffer cancellations related to thecampground with leafless trees with a photothrough their park, starting in their parking lot,having a plan that identifies the parks needed storm. He said the highof a big family enjoying their camping experi- and pay attention to the extent to which theADA improvements and its timetable to ad-attendancefiguresreflectanincredibleence in a beautiful setting with tidy campsites.park and its amenities are accessible to peo- dress them can be very helpful if the park ever ple with physical or other types of impair- gets sued for ADA violations. ments. The place you start is the parking lot,Schaeffer kicked off TACOs annual meet-she said. If the parking lot is not accessible,ing with a legislative update followed by a front they cant get in. The next thing is the placedeskmanagementsoftwareseminarby you provide services, the store, the front desk.Patrick Spellman, of Astra, and a workshop Next is the restrooms.highlightingtopcampgroundandwork Jonesalsonotedthatparksandtheircamper insurance claims and risks by Chris amenities and rental accommodations need toHipple, of Leavitt Recreation & Hospitality be physically accessible to everyone.Insurance. If you only have one rental unit, it must beOther presentations included a park model accessible, she said, adding that parks areand glamping roundtable with Dick Grymon-required to provide a percentage of rental ac- prez, of Skyline Champion; Jason Olson, of commodations that are not only physically ac- ConestogaWagonCompany;Johnny cessibletoanyonebutcommunicationSalazar, of Custom-Built Log Cabin Design accessible as well, just like park websites.& Sales; Carol Stevens, of Leland Cabins; SomeparkoperatorsquestionedKellyand Dennis Steinman, of PlainsCraft Cov-about the challenges inherent in making cov- ered Wagons. eredwagonswheelchairaccessiblesinceMeeting attendees enjoyed a late afternoon modifying them sufficiently to provide wheel- happy hour with tradeshow vendors before chair access would alter the covered wagonsitting down for a Texas-style barbecue dinner camping experience to the point where theand TACOs annual auction, which it uses to fundamental experience was lost. In thisraise funds to support the associations gov-case, she said, park operators should ensureernment affairs program. they offer plenty of other ADA-compliant unitsThisyear,however,fundswerealso at their campground.needed to help TACO recover from the loss of Another topic of particular interest to parkits tradeshow displays and tradeshow travel operators involved distinctions between ser- trailer, which Schaeffer said were stolen just vice animals, which are recognized as suchover two weeks ago. by the ADA, and emotional support animals,TACO purchased new tradeshow supplies which do not qualify as service animals underin preparation for this weeks annual meeting the ADA because they have not been trainedand tradeshow, and rented a 12-foot enclosed to perform a specific job or task.U-Haul trailer, which TACO President Randall The distinction, Jones said, has to do withDally, of Rayburn RV Hideout in Brookeland, the training and the function the animal per- towed to Conroe with his Ford F-350 truck. forms. The ADA does make a distinction be- We got everything set up for the show on tweenpsychiatricserviceanimalsandMonday, Schaeffer explained. Then on Tues-emotional support animals, however. For ex- day we discovered that both Randalls truck ample, if the dog has been trained to senseand the U-Haul trailer had been stolen. Thats that an anxiety attack is about to happen andtwice in two-and-a-half weeks! take a specific action to avoid the attack orTACOs auction raised more than $20,000, lessen its impact, that would qualify as a serv- portions of which will be used to cover the ice animal.loss of TACOs tradeshow supplies, travel In terms of private parks, guests with ser- trailer and government affairs program. vice animals cannot be denied access toTACO Conference continued on page 3614 November 2021Woodalls Campground Magazine'