Linda Profaizer

Editor’s Note: Linda Profaizer, a Colorado resident and immediate past-president of ARVC, is a columnist for Woodall’s Campground Management. She can be contacted at [email protected] Having stepped away from her association duties at the end of 2010, she welcomes input on topics of importance to campground owners for upcoming columns.

2012 marks the year that everyone born in 1994 (Gen Y a.k.a. the Millennial Generation or Echo Boomers) turns 18. Why is that of note? 1994 was the year the worldwide web was born, which makes 2012 the year the first true 100 percent Internet generation comes of age. They have integrated social media into their everyday lives, sharing opinions and seeking recommendations from across their social networks on a daily basis. More than eight in 10 say they sleep with their cell phone by their bedside. Three out of four have created a profile on a social networking site. By comparison, only 50 percent of Gen Xers and 30 percent of Baby Boomers have done so.

Gen Y is an important target audience. They are between 18 and 32 years of age and number some 80 million strong. Why does this matter to you? It’s simple. They are a large target market and Gen Y is traveling frequently and looking at user-generated content before they book. They rely very strongly on social media for planning purposes. This goes beyond online information provided by websites and ratings, and extends to photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube. Mobile phones are also big tools for young people who use them to book or research travel. Online travel sites are frequently used by over half of Millennials.

Gen Y Makes Up 12 percent of All U.S. Leisure Travelers

According to the U.S. Travel Association, Gen Y currently makes up 12 percent of all U.S. leisure travelers and those traveling in this group take an average of 3.9 leisure trips per year and spend an estimated $200 billion a year. As they age, this demographic will become increasingly important. Here are some interesting facts from a study done by Bazaarvoice (company connecting consumers and brands through social networking) in January 2012 comparing Gen Y to Baby Boomers:

  • Gen Y consults user-generated content before making large purchases, including travel.
  • 51 percent of Millennials are less likely to trust reviews from family and friends over those with relevant experience versus 34 percent of Baby Boomers feeling this way.
  • 84 percent of Millennials say reviews from strangers have “a lot” or “some” influence versus only 70 percent of Boomers.
  • 22 percent ask for purchase opinions via social media – three times that of Baby Boomers.
  • 78 percent engage with social media versus only 43 percent of their parents and grandparents.
  • 39 percent of Millennials are going to consult user-generated content when making an accommodation purchase.

Word of mouth, particularly via social media, is very powerful with Gen Y. That makes review sites, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, etc., very important. Young consumers still believe their peers before they believe advertisers and marketers so you want word of your park to spread virally as that social media “buzz,” which is what will get you noticed. Additionally, video appeals more to Gen Y than print so consider engaging with Gen Y on YouTube and consider creating a video blog in addition to or rather than a traditional blog. While you can’t control the content being generated on review sites, you can have some influence on them by making reviews easy to give and find for your park. If you don’t offer the functionality to leave reviews on your website directly (something you can do on ARVC’s www.GoCampingAmerica.com website via Guest Reviews), it might be beneficial to have a link on your website and in your print media highlighting another source’s reviews – sites like GuestRated.com, RV Park Reviews, Campground Report and Trip Advisor among others.

Be Assertive in Gathering Reviews

Another way to influence reviews is to get reviews from your customers and ask them if it is OK to post to your website. Happy customers generally will write positive reviews, but are not as likely to write reviews on their own as those with negative experiences. Try putting a call to action for reviews at the bottom of your e-mail messages to your guests after their stay. Remember that if you engage your customers pre- and post-stay, they will be more likely to generate positive content about your park.

So what’s the hook for reaching this generation? Focus on the user experience for your park. Reach them where they already are: online. Make your marketing messages catchy, not stuffy. Gen Y is looking for an experience that will wow their friends and earn them bragging rights upon their return. Consider some of the hotel accommodations coming online recently – they may be a bit on the “extreme,” but they do appeal to the Gen Y group. Take a look at the Drainpipe Hotel in Austria created out of repurposed municipal drainpipes, or the Dog Bark Park Inn in Cottonwood, Idaho (a B & B) where you can stay inside the world’s biggest beagle, or the Hemp Hotel or the Capsule Hotel.

Many RV parks and campgrounds offer unusual accommodations. St. Louis West/Historic Route 66 KOA (koa.com/campgrounds/st-louis-west) offers a caboose; www.thetreehousecamp.com in Rohrersville, Md., offers tree houses; TreeBones Resort in Big Sur, Calif., (www.treebonesresort.com) offers yurts and one of the most unusual accommodations I’ve seen called a Human Nest; Lake in Woods Campground in Narvon, Pa., (www.lakeinwoodscampground.com) offers a variety of rentals including a boat, caboose and English bus among many others.

Think about the way you are promoting your park to the Millennial. You might consider creating a microsite to kick off a Gen Y promotion campaign so you can target your message to that audience without affecting your overall brand image. Consider using input from your Gen Y employees, if you have them, or your own children or relatives to appeal to this market. To ensure that your targeting is correct, check out websites of companies popular with young consumers such as MTV, the CW Network, etc., as well as TV ads and magazines that target Gen Y. Then emulate some of these marketing tactics using their colors, fonts and image styles on your micro site.

An interesting aspect of Gen Y is that just one in five is married, but one in three are parents, owing to the high percentage of single moms in this age group. Create promotions and highlight benefits that will appeal to singles and single parents.

Another fact is that exercise is a big part of their lives, with 56 percent saying they had gotten vigorous exercise in the last 24 hours, compared to only 46 percent of the overall population. If your park has a special appeal to physically active people, tell them about it. Do you have hiking trails or are you near some hiking trails? Do you have exercise stations in your park? Are you near rock climbing or biking trails?

Of course, promote the fact that you have Wi-Fi and if offered for free, note that!

Millennial will be attracted to camping as a low-cost vacation alternative. They are very cost-conscious which isn’t surprising when you think about the effect of the economy on young people, the high cost of education, low wages, cuts in benefits, difficult lending and the litany of economic issues facing our country now and in the future. Market affordable trips and affordable family fun to show them that travel and recreation doesn’t have to break the bank. Offer coupons to encourage return visits.

Millennial are more likely to spend higher amounts of time on Facebook than older generations. In fact, Millennial are more likely to trust a “brand” when they can connect with that brand on social networking and social media sites. So if your park isn’t active online and never gets active online, your user base is eventually going to die off and your park will suffer. Consider your social networking strategy and get involved. It’s not going away!

NOTE: There’s an interesting 100-plus page report by Pew Research Center titled “Millennials, A Portrait of Generation Next” available online at www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf.