Campground Industry News
NEWS IN FOCUS
Campground Directories: Solid Marketing
For 2016, the Michigan Association of RVs and Campgrounds (MARVAC) has turned to a new company, VP Demand Creation of Traverse City, Mich., to produce a new printed directory, revamp the website and conduct its social media efforts.
Gary Becker, president of Indigo Bluffs RV Resort in Empire, Mich., and a member of the MARVAC board of directors, told Woodall's Campground Management the goal is to create a synchronized experience for consumers who can now not only make reservations at a member campground, but also discover other nearby events and activities they can enjoy during their stay.
“Camping is a great event and activity, and it’s about exploring some of the surroundings. That’s why people choose some of the locations that they do. They go there because it’s close to whatever activity it is they’d like to be doing, but they also like to discover new things,” Becker explained.
Certainly the goal of MARVAC — or any state association’s directory, website and other marketing efforts — is to generate interest and exposure, but ultimately it’s to drive campers to member campgrounds.
And it all starts with the directory because, as Becker pointed out, that publication often serves as the “kick-off point.” People will pick up a copy at an RV show or request a copy sent to them through the website.
Usually produced by a statewide association of private campground owners, these directories include, at the very least, a listing of campgrounds, maps, contact information and amenities — in short, what campers need to know to discover a campground in a given locale.
For the most part, the listings include the same basic information such as the campground name, address, and contact information as well as details about the park including number of campsites, dump station availability and whether there’s a camp store on the premises. Beyond that, the directories begin to differentiate themselves with additional information, such as Wi-Fi availability and whether the park is pet friendly, as well as advertising from member campgrounds.
The Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association (PCOA) directory is a good example of an easy-to-use publication that provides campers with just about everything they would need to know in order to make a decision.
Its directory is divided into six color-coded regions, and each region begins with a two-page map that pinpoints that region’s campground locations. Ensuing pages then lists the campgrounds’ name, mailing address, phone number(s), driving directions, and available facilities and amenities. Laid out in a grid pattern, the campground listing also includes further details such as the number of pull-through sites, Wi-Fi availability and whether the park is pet friendly. Each region’s section concludes with advertisements from campgrounds within that region.
“Probably the most important thing is people want it to be easy to read. We get many, many compliments on how we have it laid out,” explained PCOA President Beverly Gruber. “If you decide you want to go to Presque Isle Passage RV Park in Erie, we have a grid system where you can know the number of sites, know if they have 50-amp service, know if they have rentals, laundry and other sorts of things that campers want to know. People love that. The directory should have all the information a camper would ever need to know.”
While some directories offer only the basics, others have gone so far as to turn their directory into a de facto travel magazine with dozens of pages of feature articles on such things as regional events, dining options and other tourist attractions.
For example, the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) has a 142-page travel magazine that, in addition to the campground directory, is loaded with articles on all sorts of things people can do while in Texas.
TACO President/CEO Brian Schaeffer, whose Texas Advertising firm also produces the directories for the Illinois and Missouri campground owners associations, said having gone to a travel guide format has produced enormous dividends.
“Every year we have a different theme ranging from the foods of Texas, to the history of Texas, to unique and fun places to visit and so forth. It really gives you the flavor of, ‘Oh, I can go to New Braunfels. I can have a great day at Schlitterbahn. I can do this. I can do that. And at the end of the day I can go back to my nice cottage at Hill Country RV Resort,’” Schaeffer explained.
“It gives people more reasons to come to the state if they’re not in the state, and more reasons to move around the state if they are from Texas,” he continued. “And when they get to a particular area, we want them to stay longer and we want them to come back. To the extent that the guide provides all of those things, we’ve done a good thing.”
Filling the Campsites
Regardless of size and scope, the goal of every directory is the same: Drive campers to member campgrounds.
“Our whole goal is to bring campers to our campgrounds and the directory really, really helps,” said PCOA’s Gruber.
Don Bennett, executive director of the Campground Owners of New York (CONY), agreed, saying the directory is “one of the most identifiable pieces with the association.” He said the directory should funnel people to the campgrounds. “We want to get campers in our members’ campsites.
“As corny as it might be, I refer to the directory as a menu in a restaurant. How many times do you really order off the menu when you’re at a restaurant? If your campground is not in the directory, then you’re missing out. You need to have your campground in the guide so that you’re on the menu, so to speak,” Bennett said.
Bobby Cornwell, executive director of the Florida Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (Florida ARVC) said his association uses its directory, CampFlorida, to spread the word about how Florida “is the best location in the world to camp and RV and staying at a Florida ARVC member RV parks is the best way to enjoy your Florida camping experience.”
Getting the Word Out
Associations use lots of opportunities to get the directories into campers’ hands by distributing them at RV shows as well as through RV dealers, tourism offices, chambers of commerce, welcome centers along state highways, and fulfilling single-copy requests made on the association websites or via magazine advertisements.
Florida ARVC, for example, prints 300,000 copies of its directory, which is distributed through the state tourism coalition at all the Florida Welcome Centers, RV parks, RV dealers, chambers of commerce, RV shows throughout Florida and the nation as well as by direct mail.
Likewise, Gruber said PCOA prints about 170,000 copies, 12,500 of which are set aside for single-copy requests. In addition to that, PCOA sends 50,000 to legislators and chambers of commerce and tourist promotion agencies; 20,000 to member campgrounds; 40,000 for consumer shows; and 45,000 to state welcome centers.
Associations also turn to private companies, such as Pennsylvania-based Anderson’s Brochure Distribution Service, for what often amounts to a significant geographic reach for a relatively small outlay.
Beyond that, associations have become clever at discovering additional distribution methods.
For example, 25,000 copies of the 2016 MARVAC directory were mailed to qualified households in northern Indiana and Ohio.
Also, CONY partners with a Canadian-based tourism office that distributes the directory to consumer shows in Montreal and Quebec and other venues. That same agency also will mail single-copy requests emanating from Canada, a huge cost-savings for CONY because it avoids international postage.
“It’s been a great program for us to get more stuff across the border, and at the same time it’s been great for us to get a lot more visibility up there,” Bennett pointed out.
In fact, CONY, which prints 175,000 copies and will typically run out by the time summer draws to a close, enjoys a bit of a financial break because its directory is printed by Kenyon Printers in N.Y., which also prints the directories for the Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut campground owner associations — all Northeast Campground Association (NCA) members. Those associations have their directories shipped together to several of the same consumer shows, including the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, and thus are able to share shipping costs.
By the Numbers
As mentioned earlier, the cost to produce a directory can soar past $100,000. But helping offset that cost is paid advertisements from not only member campgrounds, but non-member businesses that would very much like to place their message in front of families looking to spend several days on a camping vacation in their neck of the woods.
The TACO directory brings in about $500,000 in revenue, Schaeffer said, easily covering its $250,000 production cost.
Bennett said determining the New York directory’s production cost is a bit elusive because staff hours aren’t easily extrapolated. CONY visits every member campground each year, and part of that visit is to discuss the park’s directory listing and/or advertisement. He did say, however, that the CONY directory brings in just shy of $200,000 in advertising revenue each year.
“The directories, honestly, are a support mechanism for all the associations, and some make more on the guide than others,” Bennett disclosed.
“It all comes down to money,” Schaffer pointed out. “Either the guide becomes a revenue generator for you, or it is revenue neutral meaning you’re breaking even but you’re providing a nice benefit for your members and also the traveling public, or the guide is a drain. When we first converted to a magazine we knew the first couple of years it was going to be a bit of a drain, and it was. But then we turned a corner and everybody’s been really happy with that guide since then.”
Of course, the benefit to a campground that has a display advertisement in their state association’s directory is a greater opportunity for that park to get noticed by the camper — especially since the typical campground listing contains only the most basic information, or at least as much as space will allow.
“We can’t put everything in the grid system but they can take an ad out and say anything else that they want to say,” Gruber explained, adding that nearly every advertising campground in the PCOA directory does so year after year.
Schaeffer illustrated the importance for campground owners to consider larger advertisements by relating a story from a few years back. At the time, he was with an RV dealer who was buying a full-page ad in the Texas travel guide.
“At one point he was writing his check and he looked up and he says, ‘You know, I don’t really need this ad.’ I was sort of, ‘Well, great. Why are you taking it then?’ He looked at me and he says, ‘To be honest with you, I like full page ads and I like seeing my name in lights.’ I didn’t say a word and he finished writing his check,” Schaeffer said. “But if you think about it, if you have a 4-by-9 guide (as opposed to a larger magazine size), how many RVs can you really get in an ad? And what if you take it down to a business card size? If you look at the magazine-size directories, the big successful parks don’t take small ads because they’ve got a big story to tell. You can’t tell that within a little tiny ad.”
Print is Not Dead
It’s fair to question the relevance of a printed directory given the onset of the Internet. But even when most associations offer either a digital version of their printed directory or a searchable campground database — or, more likely, both — the printed directory is still a worthwhile return on investment, officials insist.
“We still think directory printing is important,” Gruber said. “We thought by now we wouldn’t have to print that many, but we’ve been printing that many for the last five years so it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. People still want a directory in their hands.”
Cornwell said the digital version of the CampFlorida directory is used and appreciated for those who want the information “immediately.” Therefore it serves its intended purpose.
“However, we have found that nothing can replace the print version. Print is definitely not dead. Campers and RVers still want and need a printed directory,” he pointed out.
Schaeffer was even more insistent on the value of the printed directory, saying that while the Internet has certainly been a disruptive force, people must take into account common sense and facts.
“Common sense says our strongest demographic, at the moment anyway for RV and camping, is still 49 to 64 years old. Granted it’s getting younger each year and everybody from RVIA (the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association) to RVDA (the National Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association) to KOA (Kampgrounds of America Inc.) is working in that parameter,” he explained. “But common sense says everybody who is 49 to 64 isn’t going to be dead tomorrow. And if they’re not going to be dead tomorrow — and many of those folks still like having something printed in their hand — then it’s probably not wise to force them to try to find you somewhere where they are just simply not going to go right now.
“That’s the common sense part of it,” he continued. “The statistical part of it is when you look at Google Analytics on almost any site, the largest portion of usage is something called ‘direct.’ They didn’t wake up and go, ‘Holy crap. I think this is the day I should type woodallscm.com into my browser and see what comes up.’ No, they saw that printed somewhere and typed it directly into their browser.
“Print still has tremendous relevance. It’s not as strong as what it once was and therefore we all need to adapt so now we have online guides and all these other programs I described a moment ago, but it would be wrong and a fallacy to say, ‘Oh, print is dead.’”
The Bottom Line
The hottest items at any RV show are the campground directories and brochures, and there’s a reason for that — people use them. For that reason alone associations will continue to publish campground directories.
Cornwell said most campground owners view the directory as “their main and most effective advertising source and the best way to reach the camping market,” and campers love the CampFlorida publication.
“It is extremely popular and the feedback from campers has been extremely favorable,” Cornwell said. “The guide is recognized as a trusted resource for the most up-to-date campground information. The CampFlorida Directory is viewed as the ‘official’ and premier campground guide for Florida RV parks and campgrounds and it has a loyal following of users.”
Likewise, Bennett said CONY gets a ton of feedback from New York campers, especially at the RV shows.
“Over and over at the shows we’ll hear, ‘Oh boy, I can’t wait to get my CONY guide for the year.’ They are always looking to see what’s new and what the campgrounds have added to their amenities and things like that. From a consumer standpoint, it’s very popular,” said Bennett. “From the campground owners’ perspective, there is a great deal of pride that they take to have their ad in it, I believe. And I think that they definitely see the value to have their advertising in it, or even just to have their listing in it as well. When we make our campground visits in the summer, we hear quite a bit, ‘A lot of people tell us that they get us from the CONY book or on the CONY website.’ That’s terrific, and that’s one of the things that drive me and all the staff to continue to do more for the organization.”