Editor’s note: David Gorin was the president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) from 1987 to 2001 and was the executive director of the Virginia Campground Association from 2002-2011. He founded David Gorin Associates LLC in 2002 and teamed up with Jayne Cohen to establish Gorin+Cohen Consulting Group in 2015. He has also successfully developed, owned and invested in parks over the last 20 years.
It’s been a long time since I was last inspired to write an article about the campground and RV park business. In my 35 years associated with the industry, the last few weeks have really moved the industry success meter up a few notches.
Three recent occurrences had me grabbing my laptop and writing down a few thoughts.
First, in mid-November, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) reported over 1,000 attendees at its Outdoor Hospitality Expo & Conference. I believe attendance at an ARVC meeting has never been close to this figure and it is a meaningful benchmark against which future conferences can be measured.
Second, my old buddy George O’Leary set a new benchmark in generosity, putting his money where his mouth is with a $1 million donation to the ARVC Foundation to help encourage and grow the National School of RV Park & Campground Management. His generous donation will provide scholarships to students attending the school.
George is the first park owner who really recognized the importance of education and networking with other campground owners, fellow operators, and industry suppliers and vendors as keys to his success. These opportunities coupled with a lot of hard work and efforts by George, his family and his staff surely helped him grow his RV parks — Rincon Country East RV Resort and Rincon Country West RV Resort — in Tucson, Ariz., to such a success that a $1 million gift to the industry was not only possible but a great way to say thank you to the entire industry. George’s generosity creates a new level of awareness of the importance of continuing education and building industry ties.
Thirdly, the recent announcement of the sale of Leisure Systems Inc., the franchisor of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks Camp-Resort, to mega-RV park and mega-mobile home park owner Sun Communities, the parent company of Sun Outdoors, raised eyebrows throughout the industry. Over the years, many large publicly held hotel companies kicked the RV park industry tires but never followed through. Sun is a multi-billion-dollar company, the equal of many hotel chains, and its continued expansion into the RV park world should give smaller RV park owners pause to think about their future.
We only have to look at our industry brothers and sisters in the RV dealership world to see how consolidation in an industry can change the face of the industry and impact significantly those who are left standing alone in the face of such consolidation.
The hotel industry is a good example. As major brand names bought up existing mom and pop hotels and branded them — or built new hotels in prime locations — the independent hotel owners whose properties were not attractive to the brands were squeezed into second-and third-tier locations where they hang on today fighting for a small slice of a big pie.
Some questions to think about:
- Is it time for ARVC to offer a brand to its members who find themselves battling brands like Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Jellystone Park, Sun Outdoors, Margaritaville, Encore, Thousand Trails, and other owners and developers, who are buying or developing and branding parks to serve the new and expanding base of RVers and campers?
- Can ARVC become the home base for both large national brands and independent park owners that are outside the expanding brands moving into the industry?
- Can ARVC’s annual OHCE serve both the big players and the independents?
- Can it grow to 2,000, 3,000 or 4,000 attendees in the future?
- Can George O’Leary’s gift to ARVC be the launching pad for a new ARVC?
- Can ARVC expand its Government Relations program, independent of the RV Industry Association, to deal with state and local issues of importance to members across the country while it continues to work with recreation interests nationally?
No doubt, the industry will never be the same due to some of these recent developments.
The coming years will be exciting for both consumers and operators, especially if the outdoor hospitality industry finds a home for the large brands, the independents and the boutique RV parks so that all can prosper!