Ben Carr knows how challenging it can be to fill campsites.
Before launching RedRoverCamping.com earlier this year as a social media marketing tool for the campground industry, Carr spent more than three decades in the campground business, including a four-year stint as vice president of operations for Ocean Canyon Properties, a Texarkana, Texas-based membership resort chain with eight properties in five states.
Carr and his wife, Pam, also owned and operated Higgins Hills RV Park in Roscommon, Mich., near Traverse City, for 14 years.
Carr was also a member of the founding board and chairman of the board of regents of the National School of RV Park and Campground Management in Oglebay, W.Va., where he also served as a teacher. He started his career in campground management with Thousand Trails in the 1980s.
Carr has, thus, seen the evolution of campground marketing from primarily a print directory-based approach to a much more diversified marketing effort that includes a combination of print and online outreach tools with a growing emphasis on social media.
But while the campground industry has tended to take a fragmented approach to Internet-based marketing – with each campground or campground chain setting up their own websites and online communities – Carr hopes to use RedRoverCamping.com to create a national community of RVers, campers and park owners who not only communicate with one another through a single website, but use the site to book campsites, cabins and other rental accommodations as well.
Carr said Red Rover will be rich in camping resources.
“We are building Red Rover not just to help parks find new customers, but we are creating an online community for the RVers, campers and cabin-stayers of the country where they can go and learn everything from how you freeze blueberries that you hand pick while camping in Maine to how you open an abalone that somebody gave you while you were camping in Southern California.”
Campers will be able to use RedRoverCamping.com to share comments about their experiences camping at different parks and they will be able to post their own camping photos.
Carr Sets His Company’s Goals
“We want it to be literally a community for the RVers, for the campers and for the folks that come and stay in rental accommodations,” Carr said, adding that he is aiming for RedRoverCamping.com to create a larger community of camping enthusiasts than individual parks or campground chains can create on their own.
“We want to become the point of communication (between campers) so they can begin to see what others are doing out there in the RVing and camping world. And so, part of what we’re looking to do is say, ‘OK, we can put people not just in touch with what’s going on in the industry, but we can put them in touch with others who have similar likes to them.’”
Red Rover can also help park operators engage in ongoing social media outreach, particularly when they don’t have time or staff available to engage in social media outreach on an ongoing basis.
“To become involved with Red Rover just takes one campsite,” Carr said. “You put it in our system and you build within RedRoverCamping.com a new set of web pages about your park that includes pictures, text, local events, activities – all those types of things – so that as people navigate through the Red Rover system they’re going to be able to not just learn about what you have, but they’re also going to be able to book sites at your park through Red Rover.”
Parks that want to use RedRoverCamping.com to book their campsites will need to decide how many campsites, cabins or other accommodations they want to assign to the website, but they can alter the number of campsites or accommodations they assign for online booking at any time.
Red Rover itself gets paid a fee when a campsite or rental accommodation gets booked online through RedRoverCamping.com.
Carr acknowledged that the campground industry is served by multiple online reservation booking systems, which are not compatible with each other. Red Rover, for its part, is not planning to adapt its system to become compatible with every other booking platform in use today.
“There are so many reservation systems out there that for us to try and electronically interface with all of them is a little beyond where we really want to go with this,” Carr said. “However, this doesn’t preclude us from doing an interface with another (major online booking platform) so that electronically everything funnels into a single system.”
He said Red Rover will determine the companies it interfaces with in the coming months.
Carr added that while individual campgrounds and campground chains already have online marketing programs in place, most should have room to incorporate Red Rover into their Internet marketing efforts.
“If you have vacant sites, you have room for Red Rover in your marketing program,” he said. “There is nobody I know in this industry who sits from the day they open until the day they close with 100% occupancy.”
RedRover on Show Circuit
Carr added that the campground industry’s response to the Red Rover marketing tool has been phenomenal.
“We were at the CONY (Campground Owners of New York) show and were absolutely overwhelmed with the response from the campground owners once they began to fully understand what we are doing,” Carr said in a November interview, just prior to making a major launch of the Red Rover marketing tool at ARVC’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo in Las Vegas.
“Even with a prototype display booth and only a beta test site to show folks, the response was amazingly positive with campgrounds deciding to sign up prior to the site even being online. Almost everyone we talked to committed to signing up once the site was up, with comments like ‘why wouldn’t we sign up’ and ‘it’s a no brainer,'” said Carr’s business partner, Robert Bouse.
“We already have several large campground groups who have committed to Red Rover and we are in discussions with several other large groups, companies with 10 or more resorts,” Carr said.
Red Rover is also planning to hit all the major campground industry shows, including the Tampa RV Supershow in January, the Northeast Campground Association and Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners shows in March, the spring meeting of the Texas Association of Campground Owners in May and many others that focus on both campground owners and campers.