Campground Industry News
NEWS IN FOCUS
Here's The Latest In RV Park Recreation
More and more, today’s campers — especially those with children — are looking for high-profile outdoor recreation amenities such as immersive water parks, massive play structures and spectacular miniature golf courses.
These can be extremely expensive — prices can run well into six figures for some equipment — but they can make the difference between an average camping season and a record year for business.
They key is to know your target market, one expert said, and then align your amenities and marketing efforts to appeal to that type of camper.
“When you’re talking about competing with other campgrounds, apples to apples, you do need to ask, ‘What makes us special? What’s my draw?’ And depending on the clientele you serve, or would like to serve, you need to target that market,” said Cebe Schneider, a recreation specialist for Miracle Recreation Equipment Co., one of the nation’s largest outdoor playground equipment manufacturers.
Schneider is also a Certified Playground Safety Inspector. Between the two jobs she has been to countless RV parks and campgrounds, so she has a unique insight into the outdoor recreation trends evident in the industry today.
While some parks and campgrounds are fortunate to have a natural amenity, such as a world-class trout stream to lure anglers, she said others are forced to resort to man-made amenities. Certainly, there are dozens of options available, but three in particular — water parks, playgrounds and miniature golf — seem to have become the most popular for campground owners.
Many campgrounds have a swimming pool, but in the last few years companies have developed products that take water-based play to a whole new level – several levels, in some cases. With their giant dumping buckets of water and kid-controlled spray jets, water parks and splash pads are now making their way into many RV parks and campgrounds.
Both water parks and splash pads come in various sizes, and some water parks are available with structures and multiple levels. All are available with a wide variety of accessories, such as jets, pumps and tipping buckets. Costs range considerably, from a few thousand dollars for a small splash pad to well into the six figures for a multi-level, feature-laden water park.
Joe Ventura, a “sorcerer” with Wizard Works Product Development Co. in Albany, N.Y., said they started installing their multi-level spray structures at campgrounds back in the mid 2000s. Since then, the company has expanded to offer “Crazy Lazy Rivers,” “Spraygrounds,” “Hydro Storms” and something called a “Human Pinball Water Ride.”
“When we were kids, it was a swimming pool. ‘There you go. There’s your swimming pool. Get wet, get cool, splash around, but don’t run,’” he said. “But a water feature is so commonplace now. It’s almost expected.”
A decade ago Wizard Works was installing one water park at a campground about every 12-18 months. Ventura said in the first 30 days of this year they already have four campgrounds scheduled for a water park installation.
Another company that has capitalized on this water park trend is Rain Deck LLC of Mesa, Ariz., which has made a name for itself with its splash pads and splash parks.
Ryan Vaughn, co-owner of Rain Deck, said splash pads are nice because, unlike swimming pools, most are zero-depth, meaning they don’t present a drowning hazard and therefore don’t require lifeguards. These are perfect for campers whose children want to spend the entire day in the water. At a pool, parents would need to supervise them, so their day is completely tied up.
“Now, parents can sleep in and have breakfast and the kids can play in the splash pad and no one has to worry about anyone drowning,” Vaughn said, adding splash pads are less expensive, easier to maintain and offer more enjoyment than a swimming pool.
Rain Deck offers do-it-yourself (DIY) splash pad kits as well as turnkey projects, and Vaughn said the size and scope of a splash pad is usually determined by budget and amount of children a park owner is looking to entertain. A typical splash pad for campground is 1,000 square feet and has 20-30 spray jets and as many as seven above-ground features. Splash pads are available as a recirculating water system as well as a fresh water system. There are pros and cons with either system, he said.
Costs vary, ranging from $3,000 for a DIY splash pad up to $200,000 for a large pad installed by Rain Deck. Vaughn added that splash pads offer a remarkable return on investment.
“I’ve got many campground owners who absolutely feel this is what has turned their business around,” he said. “Their occupancy is up. Campers are much happier, too.”
Water parks and splash pads have a secondary benefit as well. Both will draw the kids away from an over-populated pool, so older campers can finally enjoy some poolside peace and quiet.
“A splash pad is literally like a magnet for the kids,” Vaughn said. “It literally pulls all of the kids out of the pool and onto the splash pad. So now older adults can enjoy themselves by the pool as opposed to dealing with little Billy and Johnny doing cannonballs all day.”
Like swimming pools, playgrounds are nothing new to campgrounds. But companies have become very creative in improving the ho-hum slide and swing set.
“If they haven’t looked at play equipment lately, I think campground owners will appreciate how intelligent the playground industry has become in taking care of any safety concerns,” Schneider said. “They make it so simple they can just go in and pick something and no matter what they pick it’s going to be a good choice. It’s so much easier now.”
Schneider recommends each playground should have a sliding component, climbing component and a swinging component. “Those are really going to hit your developmental pieces across the board including social, emotional, cognitive, physical – all of those pieces are going to get addressed by having those different play opportunities,” she said.
She also suggests a composite structure because they incorporate code-required separate “zones of play,” which essentially means the equipment effectively keeps kids from running into each other while playing. A composite structure will always have a swinging component separate from other play areas, she said, adding that equipment is also designed to be age appropriate.
Costs vary, but Schneider suggests $12,000-$15,000 is enough to include all three components and be exactly what most campground owners would want. Many campground owners should be able to install the equipment themselves, which also reduces the cost. Generally, no less than 65-by-40 feet of space is required for swings and a composite play structure.
Bob Hansen is the national account manager of Pet and Playground Products in Eclectic, Ala., which is another large supplier of playground equipment and other outdoor recreation products. Hansen suggested that in addition to a playground, campground owners ought to consider the fitness of their campers and the play options for their pets.
Outdoor fitness equipment and fenced-in pet parks, when equipped with dog agility structures, separately provide the exercise both people and dogs need to stay healthy and sleep well.
The two amenities can be combined, Hansen added. Campgrounds can install outdoor fitness stations and dog agility stations, along with pet waste stations, along a trail circling the perimeter of the property.
“Even if campers don’t want to exercise on the exercise equipment, if you’ve got a place for the dogs to be walked you’re taking into consideration the campers who don’t have pets,” Hansen explained.
Lately, more campgrounds are electing to install modular miniature golf courses, said Kreg Krupa of Adventure Golf Services in Traverse City, Mich., which designs, builds and installs miniature golf courses and game courts such as shuffle board, bocce ball and croquet courts.
“Ten years ago everybody was putting in the permanent, larger-scale courses. Now that we offer less-expensive, smaller, portable modular varieties a lot of campgrounds are purchasing those instead since it’s not such a major investment but they can still have a little course,” he said.
Campgrounds need little to accommodate the smaller, modular courses, Krupa added.
“Any surface will do as long as it’s not too extreme and reasonably flat,” he said, pointing out that it can be placed within an area as small as 800 square feet. The more traditional permanent-style miniature golf courses can occupy as much as half an acre.
Another bonus: About the only maintenance required is to occasionally sweep leaves and debris off the course.
Butch Mazaleski, CEO of Scranton, Pa.-based Lomma Championship Miniature Golf Courses, a company founded 60 years ago by his late uncle, Ralph Lomma, said their specialty is creating a miniature course for a variety of budgets.
“Even if you have a small campground, maybe you want to convert an unused tennis court or you have 1,500 square feet set aside, and even you don’t plan on charging people to use the course, we can design you a miniature golf course,” Mazaleski said.
Another recent trend Mazaleski has seen is campground owners converting their video game rooms into indoor miniature golf courses — especially since most kids have their own gaming systems and “most video arcade games can cost as much as $6,000 to replace — that’s a lot of quarters to get that return on investment,” Mazaleski added.
Joe Buckshon, president of Jessup, Pa.-based Mini-Golf Inc. — which was featured on an episode of “The Apprentice” television show — said he’s definitely seen a spike in campgrounds installing miniature golf course over the last few years.
“People have been looking for less expensive forms of recreational activity, and miniature golf is perfect,” he said. “It is one of the few activities left that the entire family can do together and enjoy.”
A typical project for a campground starts with him asking the owner’s budget and available dimensions.
“We’ll then do a layout to scale for you based on your holes choices, and we then price it accordingly,” he said, adding they have many hole choices to choose from. From there, Buckshon will oversee the design and manufacture of the course. Installation generally takes about five-to-six hours.
Hybrids & Other Amenities
At least two companies are introducing new and innovative campground amenities that are a hybrid of sorts. Adventure Golf has come up with SplashGolf and Wizard Works has dreamed up Agua Gaga.
SplashGolf is a miniature golf course with special water effects on each of its nine holes, all of which is mounted on a splash pad made from a patented panel system. The 4,000-square-foot, ADA-accessible, zero-depth splash pad is covered with colorful flexible seamless paving material, which can include any custom design or image.
The patented panels that create the splash pad base provide rapid drainage directly into the reservoir pond below, while the low volume pumps are mounted in a plastic water-control container. All water is treated, filtered and heated.
“There are water parks and splash pads going up all over the place, so for us it was a natural fit,” Krupa said. “It’s the same concept as a splash pad, but we incorporated some of the water features into the course play, such as jets, that can factor into moving the ball and change directions.”
Agua Gaga takes the concept of “Gaga Ball” – an Israeli game that can best be described as a combination of dodgeball and indoor soccer played in a short-walled octagon arena – and adds water.
In Agua Gaga, kids inside the fiberglass arena are playing Gaga Ball, but on a splash pad featuring water sprouting from the floor. Surrounding the arena are interactive water features, such as spray jets, that kids on the outside can use to spray the kids on the inside.
A key element to Agua Gaga’s success is the modular splash pad on which it rests. The structure is made up of several modular fiberglass pieces connected together and requires a fraction of the infrastructure inherent with typical pools and other water parks. The pieces have integrated pipes so, once connected to a pump-fed supply line, the reclaimed water is sent throughout the Agua Gaga setup. The structure, which is roughly 30 feet in diameter, can be placed on any flat surface such as an unused tennis or basketball court. In addition, the structure is pre-lit so it can be played at night.
Of course, there are plenty of other amenity options for campgrounds that are not a water park, playground or miniature golf course.
One such idea is pedal karts, an idea espoused by Prime Karts of Pensacola, Fla.
“What makes pedal karts unique in a campground setting is that nobody has these at home, so when they see them at a campground, they want to ride them,” said Derek Lother, Prime Kart’s vice president of sales, adding most campgrounds rent them out to their guests to make money with them.
“Not only are Prime Karts a great money maker, but they also attract new guests,” Lother pointed out. “Campers are always looking for new, fun activities that they can do together, plus the more fun activities a campground offers helps keep their guests spending money with them rather than going to a family fun center down the street.”
Another pedal kart company, BERG Toys USA of Lititz, Pa., said the bottom line for park owners is pedal karts are a revenue stream that’s completely in line with their business segment.
“We have campgrounds who’ve done the math for us: They say pedal karts pay for themselves in three months, and they last for as long as 10 years in some cases. Plus they’re fun, they’re green – it’ all pedal power – and they’re meant to be enjoyed in the great outdoors,” said BERG Toys President Kent Julye, adding that he expects his business will double this year due to the interest shown in the string of campground-related vendor shows the past few months.
Some other outdoor recreation ideas suggested by Schneider include:
- Construct a nature trail. The trail could include signage along the way to encourage campers to interact with nature, or perhaps stations to conduct simple physical fitness activities.
- Host an event, such as a 5K or art fair, or align yourself with an existing event, such as an area festival. A chamber of commerce or tourism bureau should have a list of such events.
- Build a tree house.
- Create an RC, or remote control, racetrack. Add extra income by having RC vehicles available for rent.
- Build an open air structure that provides shade and offers a variety of uses, such as a picnic area, entertainment stage, or even just a shelter for sidewalk chalk drawing. The roof can be metal or all-weather canvas that’s easily removed during inclement weather.
- Hide several geocaches in various areas around your park.
Many of these can cost next to nothing and are another avenue park owners can use to attract a specific camping demographic, provided they market their campgrounds effectively.
Having on-site amenities, and effectively marketing those amenities, is a competitive advantage, is key to securing reservations because most campers now go online to research potential campgrounds. Parks that not only have amenities specific to a camper’s but also announce that fact loud and clear stand a much better chance at getting the reservation.
“The marketing side is really critical for campground owners,” Hansen explained. “You’re not the only campground in that area. These amenities that we offer them are really pieces of marketing material that they can use to draw traffic to their location.”
Outdoor Recreation Suppliers
Adventure Golf Services
Design and installation of traditional and water-based miniature golf courses, outdoor play fields and other related products.
BERG Toys USA LLC
Manufacturer and supplier of pedal karts.
Commercial Recreation Specialists
Supplier of a wide range of outdoor recreation products, including water-based (water parks, splash pads and inflatables), land-based (play structures, mini golf and climbing walls), and related products.
Lomma Championship Miniature Golf Courses
Design and installation of indoor and outdoor miniature golf courses.
Epic Outdoor Cinema
Manufacturer and supplier of portable, outdoor theatre screens and systems.
Miracle Recreation Equipment Co.
Manufacturer and supplier of outdoor playground equipment, site amenities, fitness equipment and water-based play equipment. A division of PlayPower, Inc.
Design and installation of pre-fabricated indoor/outdoor miniature golf courses.
Pet and Playground Products
Distributor, supplier and manufacturer of playground and outdoor fitness equipment, dog park and agility equipment and site amenities.
Manufacturer of commercial playground equipment, floating dock systems and lifts for boats and personal watercraft. Wholly owned subsidiaries include Miracle Recreation Equipment Company; Soft Play, L.L.C.; EZ Dock, Inc.; Little Tikes Commercial; and USA SHADE & Fabric Structures.
Manufacturer and supplier of pedal karts.
Design and installation of commercial, light-commercial and residential Splash Pad and Splash Park products.
Manufacturer and supplier of the Fun Cycle Trike Series.
Manufacturer of outdoor play equipment and related products. A division of PlayCore.
Supplier of a wide variety of 6,000-plus camping, recreation and vacation products, gifts, and amenities.
Water parks, splash pads, and other water-based recreational equipment.