Editor’s Note: Cyndy Zbierski, executive director of the Northeast Campground Association (NCA) spoke with Woodall’s Campground Management about how NCA was doing in 2018 and some of the recent trends she has noticed in the campground arena. Zbierski has been involved in the campground sector since childhood. Her father, David Tetrault, was the first executive director of NCA, which is a regional campground owners association that serves multiple state associations along the northeast portion of the U.S.
WCM: First off, how are things going at NCA?
Zbierski: Right now NCA is strong with 1,026 members in 2018 and I just recently participated in the Campground Association Management Professionals (CAMP) spring meeting in Hershey, Pa. That is important for me as an executive director to make sure I know what is working and not working for other state executives.
I continue to reach out to parks in Rhode Island and Delaware, as they do not have active state associations right now, so they’re able to join NCA as an associate member. I’m always letting them know what we can do for them between music licensing, movie licenses, presence on our website under their state name and the other pieces that we have to offer, so that is ongoing throughout the year.
WCM: In your opinion, why is it important for the state associations to join NCA?
Zbierski: There’s multiple layers to that. First of all, we feel as a philosophy that together there’s information to be shared and that in promoting our region we can reach out to more campers. That’s part of it. We also make sure to keep owners and state leaders in touch with one another through the NCA board meetings and at other times, because often, whether it’s legislative or in-house, some of the same things are going on, so they need to be able to share resources.
WCM: Legislative issues are obviously a big issue in every state. Keeping track of issues for owners is one of the critical roles you play, correct?
Zbierski: Yes, and that is at the state level. Every state association deserves kudos for what they are able to do. Some have paid lobbyists, some do not. Whatever help is there to make sure they are watching bills happening that will impact a campground owner in any way. That is another major reason why a campground owner should belong to their state association, because that is just so important for them not to be surprised at something that comes along.
WCM: In your time with NCA, what are some of the changes that you’ve seen over the years?
Zbierski: On the fortunate side, many of the campgrounds that I grew up with, going to meetings with decades ago, are still active businesses and so that is a wonderful thing. Few and far between have gone out of business and are no longer being operated as a campground, so that is a wonderful thing for the industry.
We have seen often now campgrounds changing ownership from a family owned facility to a corporate owned. That changes dynamics, as far as making sure that NCA is in contact with that onsite manager, because that’s often the person that would be needing to go to conference and need our buyers guide.
Obviously, the size and shape of many of the campgrounds have gone through major overhauls. In the past campgrounds were very wooded and there were smaller RVs, travel trailers and tent sites, and that is not true today. We were worried about transporting our brand new 30-foot travel trailer back in the ’70s and early ’80s and that’s not the case anymore. They need to hold a huge array of sizes and shapes, and they’re doing that and I’m very proud of them for that.
With that there is the ongoing issue of owners making sure their various systems can handle today’s RVs. Whether it be septic or electric. That has changed tremendously, but paying attention and whether it’s at their state meetings, at national, at regional, that they know what’s around the bend and for the most part, as long as their acreage can handle it, their making sure they are ahead of the curve.
WCM: What are some of the challenges that you see the industry facing?
Zbierski: Well, some of my smaller park members, small to medium, which is the majority, for them it is often capital. They want to make sure they have what today’s camper needs and that takes money. Often, those campground owners have a full-time job and a campground to pay the bills, because they need to stay relevant and so that is a struggle often for these families as the cost of everything rises and as they are raising their children.
Sending their children to college and making sure their campground has what it needs secondly to their family, it can sometimes be a very challenging thing, but for the most part, they are able to make decisions that make sense for who their guest is and maybe that means sometimes they have to make some hard choices and for the most part, from what I see, they really do it with their guest in mind.
There might be a new pool put in, but maybe some other activities might be cut back and that’s okay, because that has to happen so that they can stay a viable business.
WCM: Campground capacity issues are a hot topic right now. What is your take on the capacity issue, are there enough campsites for everyone moving into the future?
Zbierski: There are some new developments. Top of mind are ones in New Hampshire, Maine and New York, just to name a few, and currently I am looking into the thought of not enough campsites in the next decade or so for the camping public. My thought today is that the northeast is open for business and we have over a thousand campgrounds, so depending on the area that a person needs to visit, there are a lot of options and there are empty sites.
I know there’s availability. There is our the top 100 that are full out of my thousand every weekend, the most popular ones are filling, but there is availability. Now that is off the top of my head, so those numbers aren’t researched.
WCM: There are a lot of different age groups really getting interested in the campground arena at the moment. What is your perspective on the future?
Zbierski: I think that owners need to keep their eyes open and to make sure that their campgrounds are marketing to all types of guests. Whether it is in the pictures in their brochure, so that they look inclusive to where they are marketing, because we know that only 28% of Millennials, for instance, are on Facebook anymore.
We need to keep updating our campground owners to those big key items and hopefully, some, not all have a marketing company working for them. They are deciding on what newspaper they might be in or if they’re going to renew a boldfaced ad in a phone book. Whether they’re doing Facebook ads. What their Google listing looks like. All of those pieces and it’s truly all over the board depending on how a campground feels they’re finding their guests.
They just need to cover their bases best they can so that they are never forgetting a population.