Marking its 45th year of operation, the Northeast Campground Association (NCA) drew a strong member contingent as it hosted the annual Northeast Conference on Camping and Trade Show March 19-21 in Springfield, Mass.
Executives for the Stafford, Conn.-based organization reported that attendance at the event, held for the first time at the Springfield Monarch Place Hotel, showed a slight increase over last year. NCA is comprised of associations representing 11 states throughout the Northeast region.
“Our numbers were solid,” said Cyndy Zbierski, NCA conference coordinator. “We were up from last year, which was our goal, especially after hearing that some of the other shows were down around 40%.”
She added, “As in past years, we offered people the option of purchasing a one-day pass or staying for all three days. I think the great weather really worked in our favor because a lot of members took advantage of just coming for the day and attending the trade show.”
The conference, working under the theme “Come for the Experience, Stay for the Fun,” provided numerous cracker barrel sessions along with 17 CPO seminars spanning a host of pertinent industry topics – many coming through suggestions from members, according to Zbierski. In addition, she said that the facility’s entire third floor was booked for exhibitor space that included representatives from the Museum of Family Camping, the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) and the U.S. Forest Service.
“This was the first year we were all under one roof,” Zbierski said. “Previously we were split between the hotel and the convention center. That’s something our members really pushed for and we were able to make it happen.”
‘Cautious Optimism’ Prevails
According to Zbierski, attendees expressed a “cautious optimism” for prospects in 2009 as the industry faces the ongoing challenges of a contracted economy. “The overall mood seemed to be that this season would be as good or better than last year,” she said.
Other comments included:

  • “We are optimistic it’s going to be a good year,” Randy Packard, owner of Pine Acres Family Resort in Oakham, Mass., told Woodall’s Campground Management. “It may not be a banner year, but the year-to-date reservations are exceeding 2008 at this point.
    “The other side is that our ancillary sales could be flat, or maybe even down a little, because people are cutting back on spending.”

  • Donald G. Bennett Jr., CONY executive administrator, noted, “I think the reason for optimism is that camping offers two things – it’s a family activity and it’s affordable. Camping is the perfect way to get the family together again and, for a weekend, it’s not that much more expensive than staying at home. I think the theme for our industry is family.”
  • “I believe we’ll probably be at last year’s levels – maybe down 5% in terms of occupancy,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC president who led one of most highly attended seminar sessions. “But in the scheme of things, that’s not bad compared to hotels and motels. Our sector of the travel and tourism industry is going to hold up OK. People are still going to want to travel.”
    Information Sharing Noted
    Zbierski said that the general optimism was also reflected during Wednesday’s annual board meeting, as representatives from each state offered reports and updates.
    Other areas of discussion included more emphasis on sharing of ideas among state groups along with the need for each state association to provide additional information on their websites for members’ campgrounds. “Many associations are building new websites, making sure their members’ campground information is accessible on the web,” Zbierski said.
    NCA also announced that starting in May the Northeast In-Sites quarterly newsletter would only be available in a digital format as a “cost-efficient way of getting information to members.”
    An overriding theme during the board meeting, and throughout the conference, was the emergence of rental units as an option for people that didn’t own RVs or were not interested in tent camping. It targets the growing trend among consumers to economize by traveling closer to home and for shorter periods of time.
    “My premium cabins are my biggest seller right now,” said Packard. “That’s a 40-foot unit, air-conditioned, with a full-house kitchen and screened porch located on beautiful sites. They rent for $1,500 a week, which is cheap compared to other vacations, and people can come and have a great vacation.”
    “Destination parks are doing fine,” noted Profaizer. “We are seeing people camping now Thursday through Monday – maybe a little longer weekend than in the past. They may not be camping as many weekends, but they are spending longer weekends in one spot. One factor may be that some people are without jobs.”
    “Rentals are going extremely quickly this year,” said Marcia Galvin, human resources director for the 450-site Normandy Farms Campground, Foxboro, Mass., who also conducted a seminar on motivating employees and being a good leader. “You are seeing a lot more families who aren’t accustomed to RVing, but they are looking to find an affordable vacation with their families. We have cabins and yurts, and those are very popular.”
    Zbierski noted that the trend was particularly beneficial to NCA member groups due to the close proximity of the northeastern states. “If people travel in a 200-mile radius, it’s possible they could be in several different states,” she said.
    NCA Board Elections
    As part of official business during the gathering, NCA elected its slate of new board members. Those include: Executive Director David R. Tetrault; President David L. Berg, Red Apple Campground, Kennebunkport, Maine; Vice President Michael Irons, Ole Mink Farm Recreation Resort, Thurmont, Md.; 2nd Vice President Roger Druck, Pine Cradle Lake Campground, Rome, Pa.; Treasurer Mark Wright, Terrace Pines Campground, Center Ossipee, N.H.; Past President Janice LaFrance, Sodom Mountain Campground, Southwick, Mass.