When campers pull into the 10-site UcamP Express campground off Interstate 57 in Salem, Ill., the first notable observation will be the absence of any staff or management. Instead the campground — with its 60-foot, paved, pull-thru sites — greets campers with an automated check-in-and-pay kiosk.
Owned by Becky and Sam Phillips, of Salem, the campground is a fully automated RV experience.
It is a concept Sam and I talked about for years,” stated Becky. “When we traveled, we wished we had places like this (automated) all across the country and there were none.”
She lamented that the couple got tired of check-in lines and waiting for service in the middle of the night when they would arrive at a campground.
“Many times, it was a real hassle,” she said.
With this automated version, campers never have to wait or wake someone in the office, they just pull into the kiosk, pay and pull through to their campsite. In addition, the expectations of service are less demanding, allowing owners more freedom to work full-time jobs.
“To give you an example, we both are working at full-time jobs and on the road traveling, and the campground is running perfectly without us being there,” she shared. “We think this is the future of campground management. Especially for small campgrounds just off the interstate like ours.”
Phillips said that with the proximity to the interstate and being just six hours from the world capital of RV manufacturing — Elkhart, Ind. — they get many owners of Class A and luxury fifth wheels on their way north on the I-57 corridor to get maintenance for their coaches.
“When you are traveling long distances you just need a hassle-free option to stay one night,” she explained. “When you come to our campsite you pull in, pick immediately the open site you want, you go set up, take the dog to the dog park, let the kids out and at your convenience go up to the kiosk and check into your campsite and pay with your card.”
On the bottom of the receipt the kiosk prints the push-button codes for the Wi-Fi and the bathroom. There is no gate to pull into, just ten sites in a well-kept field. Security cameras everywhere in the campground record what is going on at any time and provide the Phillips with views from every angle that they can view from wherever they are.
“We can see every site, every license plate and every part of the campground with our top-notch security system in real-time,” she reported. “Right now, I am six hours away and watching the campground on my phone. I now know that three guests have left, and I will call our part-time staff to come and check for any trash, dog stools or any other needs.”
UcamP Express is just $44 per night, which represents 24 hours from check-in. Weekly stays are $275 per week. Handicapped and extra parking is available. Additional amenities include fully serviced sites, high-speed Wi-Fi, pet-friendly space with a dog park, handicap restroom and an RV dump service available at any vacant site.
Free firewood is included and there is a larger fire pit in a shelter on the property. Each site has a 65-foot cement walkway to keep campers out of the mud. Each site also has a chiminea and a four-person picnic table.
She stated that proper signage is a very important aspect of the automated business model.
“You must have signage at each site that gives the directions of what site number you are in and how to go up to the kiosk and pay,” she explained. “Then there is also signage up by the kiosk, signage on the building as to where everything is and when you come into the campground there is a sign saying, ‘take any available spot’”
The Phillips worked with a commercial parking garage kiosk manufacturer to customize the kiosk specifically for their needs.
“It is like a kiosk that you would find at a parking garage,” she said, “but we worked with them to modify it for our needs.”
She concluded that she does have three employees on call to stop by and check on the park, clean the bathroom, pick up the sites and sometimes interact with full capacity situations to answer any questions.
“We try to be hospitable even though we are not there most of the time,” she said. “One night, we had $7 million worth of high-end Class A coaches in our little campground. I think it’s pretty impressive for a little town our size to pull those kinds of visitors off the interstate.”