If the Supplier Expo at the Florida RV SuperShow is any indicator – and many in the industry would say it is – the campground sector should brace for another banner year.
Two buildings at the SuperShow, held this year from Jan. 17-22 at the Florida State Fairgrounds, were devoted to the Supplier Expo, which featured 400 exhibitors. Exhibitors connected to outdoor hospitality were virtually all upbeat and optimistic about the upcoming camping season.
Don Bennett and his wife, Lisa, who own Anderson Brochure Distribution Service, had a large booth at the show. Based in Pittsford, N.Y., the company has been serving the campground and travel industry since 1981. Bennett also serves as president and CEO of the Campground Owners of New York and is a partner in the Conesus Lake Campground in Conesus, N.Y.
“We’re seeing great traffic,” Bennett said Thursday (Jan. 19) from his booth at the Supplier Expo. “Giving kind of an update on some of the other shows we’ve done already, we weren’t sure what was going to happen going into a recession – if we’re in one or not – but we did Cleveland, back at the IX Center. Great numbers. Amazing amount of material and interest in the campground area. Pittsburg was a great show with terrific attendance there, too.”
Bennett also distributed brochures at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, along with shows in Allentown, Pa., and Boston, all of which, he said, were “lights out” as far as attendance and interest.
“Overall, every place has been strong so far,” he said. “And we weren’t sure what we were going to see. Some of the dealers have been telling me the middle and upper-end stuff is what’s selling and the entry-level stuff is a little soft.”
As far as campers go, Bennett foresees a busy season.
“Reservations are up,” he said. “They’re still a little choppy, making sure that they can get into places. But I think the one thing that the pandemic has impressed upon not only the new campers but the seasoned veterans as well, is to try to make reservations as early as possible. And I know a lot of campgrounds are seeing an uptick in reservations as of January and a lot of that goes to – if the campground allows it – that they do year-over-year reservations.”
He noted that many campgrounds are working to improve.
“A lot of parks that I talk to are working on expansions or additional amenities – park models, yurts, some of the glamping things, Conestoga wagons – just lots of the experiential stuff.”
But overall, Bennett believes the industry will survive whatever turmoil the economy may see, if any.
“The industry in the past has been pretty recession proof and I think it’s gonna pull through again in any slowdown we might experience,” he said. “People want to get out. If they bought an RV, they want to use it. And those who don’t buy can get into an RVshare kind of set up and they’re still camping. The nice thing for a campground owner is, if the RV is idle, someone else can be using it and that’s the goal – to fill the members’ campsites.”
Larry Schultz serves as a show director for Escapees RV Club. He and his wife put together teams to attend shows like the one in Tampa and assemble groups of Escapees members to talk about the club.
Escapees RV Club is one of the oldest and largest RV membership organizations in the world offering a network of discounts and services under one umbrella, including mail forwarding, roadside assistance and educational resources.
“Last year was a little bit dicey, it seemed like, but this year it seems to be coming back,” Schultz said. “And so far we’ve had a really, really strong show here. This show’s much stronger for us this year than it was last year. A lot more activity and we’ve done a lot more business. The Hershey show we were just at was busy, so things seem to be going great guns.”
Mackenzie Scott, a marketing assistant for Sunlight Resorts, echoed others in the Supplier Expo who see good things on the horizon.
“We are absolutely rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ I would say, especially right now,” she said. “Peak season for us is January, February and March. The Resort at Canopy Oaks, which is our location that has been open for two years now, is at 100% occupancy, which is amazing.”
She said reservations generally start to taper off after the peak, but that current occupancy couldn’t be better.
“Champions Run is our newer property. That one opened about seven months ago,” she said. “So, it’s still kind of getting its notoriety, but it’s definitely full as well, which is really great for us. Business is very good.”
She said Sunlight Resorts sees campers from younger families to retirees.
“We see a really good mix, especially at Resort at Canopy Oaks,” she said, noting that after COVID, the resorts saw an increase in bookings from the younger demographic.
Karl Littman, general manager at Candy Hill Campground in Winchester, Va., also had a positive outlook.
“We’re, of course, in the off-season because we’re up in Winchester, Va.,” he said. “But we’re already off to a great start. We’re seeing reservations up and lots of people interested in coming to Winchester.”
Littman said Candy Hill attracts a good mix of older and younger campers.
“We get more of the retired this time of year and then as we get into the summer, we get the families more and more coming out for weekends and vacations,” he noted.
He said he currently is tracking reservations to see how they compare to last year, which was “fantastic. So we’re hoping this year will continue to improve.”
With 1,100 campsites, Lakewood Camping Resort in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is gearing up for a busy season, said Courtney Mauldin, front office manager.
“We’re a mega park, so obviously during the Christmas season – the holiday season – we ramp up for the families,” she said. “But we have our snowbirds in there now to sort of fare through the weather for three months, so we can’t ask for anything better.”
Compared to last year, the resort’s capacity is pretty much the same this year, she said, adding “We’re probably, 2% more occupied than we were last year at this time, but when it starts getting warmer, occupancy starts kicking up. We’re already 100% booked for our July Fourth week. Our summer season is our best season.”
As for the demographics of her campers, she said she was surprised last year to see – even in long-term stays – an increase in the number of young families.
“These were families that just full-time RV,” she said. “They homeschool their kids. They sit outside of our playground, do their homework and then go play, just like they would at a school.”