The past few days have been busy for Jeff Sims, senior director of state relations and program advocacy at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (National ARVC), as he worked with National ARVC’s Advocacy Team to talk about key issues and tout the outdoor recreation industry on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.
He spoke with a number of Senators and Representatives as part of RVs Move America Week and the advocacy work officials from both the RV industry and RV parks and campgrounds sectors were taking part in.
Perhaps, the largest announcement coming out of this effort was the re-classification of RV parks and campgrounds as ‘Essential Businesses’ by the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. An effort that Sims has been working on, along with partners at the RV Industry Association, the RV Dealers Association and Kampgrounds of America Inc., since the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020.
This new classification allows RV parks and campgrounds to operate and continue serving Americans in a health pandemic or natural disaster, a time when they are able to provide a critical source of temporary lodging, social distancing activity, access to essential goods and services and much more, noted ARVC officials on Wednesday (June 8).
“The agency actually agreed to this in October, but it took until this past Monday to see them make the change on their website,” he noted to WOODALLSCM.com (WCM). “I’m looking to the future and saying this needed to be done for the next generation. We are probably going to see more natural disasters. Hopefully, we will not see another pandemic like this, but we are ideally suited for natural disasters as well because we accommodate displaced families. We accommodate the essential business workers along with traveling medical personnel and people that are restoring power grids and all those types of things. We found that we had essential services, like laundry facilities, propane, groceries and those type of things. So it just needed to happen.”
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many state and local jurisdictions ordered mandatory business closures, under penalty of law, for all entities other than those deemed “essential businesses.” Due to the unique and severe nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, some state and local authorities applied overbroad standards for such business closure orders and only thereafter acknowledged that additional business entities should be deemed “essential” and permitted to remain open.
RV parks and campgrounds were not exempted from such orders — and accordingly deemed “essential business” — thus causing an issue nationwide.
Still, some park owners have questions about what this change means when it comes to providing emergency services. Several park owners expressed to WCM concerns about whether local, state or federal governments could force parks to remain open during an emergency now that they are classified as ‘Essential.’
Sims told WCM that ARVC will have to explore a little more on that issue, but that it historically hasn’t been the case.
“That has never been an issue, but they wouldn’t shut them down is the main thing,” he explained. “Whereas when we got into the pandemic, we found that they were closing campgrounds left and right because they weren’t considered an essential business, because RV parks and campgrounds had been classified under outdoor events in the Commercial Facilities Sector under CISA guidance. So, as a result, every governor seemed to copy and paste directly from those guidelines, even though CISA said, ‘Well, this is just guidance.’ And I said, ‘Well, yeah, but they’re writing it into their executive orders.’ It became apparent that two things had to happen. No. 1, we need to get moved out of outdoor events into the lodging classification, which had already been moved into essential business, and No. 2, we had to get classified as an essential business.
“Also, because our industry is diverse, we wanted to make sure that we incorporated the terminology of RV parks and campgrounds just to cover all the bases in an effort to eliminate the interpretation at the local level if it happens,” Sims added.
Some owners were also worried that the reclassification may tie RV parks and campgrounds in with trailer parks or other housing parks, something the industry has tried to avoid so that park owners have the authority to remove guests when needed. Sims said that park owners shouldn’t worry about that and noted that the classification is under the same section as hotels and motels, and not combined with apartments or other rental-type parks, which are classified under “Real Estate.” To see the classifications, click here.
“That’s a whole separate issue,” he explained. “Some of that came to light during the pandemic, where people couldn’t move from place to place, and I’m hoping that’s behind us.”
Sims said this was a priority that he wanted to be finished with before his time at ARVC was complete — although he noted to WCM that he doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon.
“Hopefully, moving forward elected officials will see this in black and white and allow parks to remain open,” he explained. “As with anything, there’s always going to be interpretations, and there’s always going to be somebody out there that wants to come up with their own definition. But the reality is that now it has officially been included into the CISA.”
Another priority for Sims is ADA website compliance lawsuits. An issue he spoke with elected officials about this week.
“We have been supporting a bill on ADA website accessibility lawsuits and I’m meeting with the sponsor of the bill,” he said. “Basically, what it does is give a business a 90-day window to correct something before the person can file a lawsuit. It is an issue, there have been numerous lawsuits in the campground industry on this and we’re trying to combat that. The Department of Justice hasn’t been totally clear on exactly what it means to have an accessible website. They’re working their way through it. We just want to make sure that if a park unknowingly has some problem with that, they have the opportunity to correct it before they get a lawsuit filed against them.”
If you have any questions or concerns on issues related to the outdoor hospitality industry Jeff Sims can be reached at Jeff.Sims@arvc.org.