Campground and RV park occupancies and revenues have largely kept pace with 2008 figures, despite the recession, according to an informal survey of parks by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).

Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the nation’s largest campground chain with more than 450 locations across the U.S. and Canada, was 1.1% ahead of 2008 occupancy figures systemwide through the end of September, while revenues were up 5.6%, according to Mike Gast, a company spokesman.

Meanwhile, Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises 73 Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, which are mostly located east of the Mississippi River, has experienced a 5% jump in revenues, although its systemwide occupancies have fallen slightly, largely because of wet weather in the Northeast, said Dean Crawford, LSI’s executive vice president.

“The campground and RV park business continues to be the most vibrant segment of the travel and tourism industry,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of ARVC, which represents commercially owned parks nationwide.

“Private parks have performed well in this economy,” Profaizer said, “because they are the most affordable vacation option, they increasingly offer fun family activities, and they are located in the most sought after destinations in the country.” Many private campgrounds and RV parks also offer unique accommodations, such as park model or site-built cabins, yurts, safari tents and teepees for people who don’t have their own RV or tent, but still want to enjoy a recreational experience in the Great Outdoors, she said.

Here’s a sampling of year-to-date business levels and occupancies reported by independently owned campgrounds and RV parks across the country:

  • Branson KOA in Branson, Mo.: Occupancies at this park are up 9% so far this year, although the park has seen a slight dip in lodging bookings. However, the park saw its average length of stay increase this year, from 4.5 nights to five nights, with more walk-ins than ever, said park owner Ralph Newell. “We had the best July and August we’ve ever had, due to our new jumping pillow and kids’ activities. Fall is looking better than last year.”
  • Buttonwood Campground in Mexico, Pa: This central Pennsylvania park reported a 3.2% increase in overnight campers through early September, compared to last year, with big gains in canoe and kayak rentals and cabin rentals. “We have about 170 open sites and cabins and have enjoyed an average weekend occupancy rate of 80% plus for the summer,” said park owner Dennis McFarland.
  • Country Acres Campground in Ravenna, Ohio: This park, located roughly 50 miles southeast of Cleveland, has seen a 9.6% increase in its overall camping business this year. “That is mostly due to an increase in seasonal campers, up 14%, and tenters, up 6%, while RV sites are pretty even to last year,” said park owner Anthony Palmentera, adding that he has seen an increase in the number of young couples in their 20s who are starting to camp with older pop-up trailers or large tents. Palmentera, however, has also seen a 7% decline in bookings for his 10 cabins and park models. 
  • Cross Creek RV Park in Lake Ozark, Mo. This park, which is open April 1 to Nov. 1, experienced an 83% increase in tent camping, a 73% increase in cabin rentals and a 56% increase in RV site usage during the past six months, compared to the same period last year, according to park hosts John and Wendy Peters.
  • Falcon Meadow RV Campground in Falcon, Colo. : This park, located 15 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, experienced a 4% gain in :occupancies during the summer months compared to the same period last year, said park owner Jim Ozburn.
  • Lawrence / Kansas City KOA in Lawrence, Kansas: This park, located 40 miles west of Kansas City, Kan., has seen an 11% increase in occupancy compared to last year. “During the holiday weekends, we had to turn people away because we had a completely full park,” said Harold Hays, KOA park manager.
  • Normandy Farms in Foxboro, Mass.: This park, which is situated about 22 miles southwest of Boston, experienced a 6.5% drop in occupancy in June compared to the same period last year, largely due to rainy weather in the Northeast. However, park occupancies were up 4.6% and 1.3% in July and August, respectively, while weekend bookings remain strong through October, said park spokeswoman Kristine Daniels.
  • Parkview Riverside RV Park in Concan, Texas: This Hill Country park has seen a 2-3% decline in year to date occupancies, largely because of the drought, which has caused the Rio Frio River to fall to levels that were too slow and too shallow for river tubing, said park owner Doug Shearer.
  • Premier RV Resort in Redding, Calif.: This park has seen a 4% increase in gross revenues during the first eight months of this year compared to last year. “We are seeing a nice increase in first-time visitors who are staying from two to four days while they are vacationing in the area,” said park owner Paul Williams, adding that the increase in demand from RVers has prompted the park to add 21 new pull through sites, which will be available in early October.
  • Sandy Pines in Hopkins, Mich.: This 2,220-site park, one of the largest RV resorts in country, saw a 7% increase in camping reservations this year compared to last year, with an 8% increase in rental cabins. “The economic conditions are not very good in Michigan, but camping is still an inexpensive activity for a family and they are doing what they can there with limited money,” said Max Gibbs, the park’s managing director. Sandy Pines is about 30 miles south of Grand Rapids.
  • The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course in Borrego Springs, Calif.: 2009 occupancies are running slightly ahead of last year’s figures at this low desert park, which is located just outside of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, said Daniel Wright, the park’s general manager.
  • Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resort and Water Playground in the Wisconsin Dells: This park reported close to a 10% gain in occupancies this year. However, overall park revenues declined nearly 7% as many of its park guests downsized to more affordable accommodations and campsites. “As we have eight types of outdoor lodging starting at $49 and six types of ‘bear-rific’ campsites starting at $19 for a family of four, there were plenty of alternatives to choose from,” said park spokesman Brent Gasser.