RV Park & Campground News
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Catherine’s Landing Offers Welcome Landing Spot
Editor's Note: The following story appears in the September issue of Woodall's Campground Management.
Not that long ago, Jeff Love and his wife were sitting on a beach in Huntington Beach, Calif., when he got the call that brought them to Hot Springs, Ark., and Catherine’s Landing, an RV resort that’s part of the RVC Outdoor Destinations chain.
Love, a Navy veteran who had recently left the hustle and bustle of the corporate world as an executive with Best Buy, and the phone call was a job offer to become the general manager at Catherine’s Landing.
“When we left Best Buy — my wife worked there, too — we traveled the country in an RV for a year-and-a-half, and during those travels we met Ian Horgan, RVC’s vice president of operations,” Love mentioned. “Next thing you know they’re giving me a call and saying, ‘Hey, listen. We like your pedigree. Would you be interested in coming to work for us?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely. This sounds like a great opportunity.’ My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Arkansas? Well, we’ve never lived there before so let’s give it a try.’ So here we are and we’re really enjoying it.”
Sitting on 400 pastoral acres and a mile of water frontage on Lake Catherine, Catherine’s Landing is just a 15-minute drive to downtown Hot Springs, Hot Springs National Park and other tourist attractions. The resort features 142 sites — 117 RV sites, 14 cottages, seven yurts and four tent sites — and a host of activities and modern amenities, including a recently opened zip line course, yet offers travelers a tranquil setting.
“What I enjoy about it is what our customers enjoy about it, and that’s just the beauty of it,” Love pointed out. “When they come into Catherine’s Landing, it’s landscaped and really beautiful. All of our RV sites, cottages and yurts are there to really accommodate any need for anyone, from an RVer to someone looking for a high-end hotel. “Everything’s clean,” he continued, “the bathrooms are clean. The RV sites are nice. We’ve got good Wi-Fi. I mean, altogether it’s the kind of experience you’d want to have, but you still have that outdoors feel.”
First occupied by local Quapaw Indian tribes because of the location’s abundance of fish and game, in 1911 the property became a dairy farm serving Hot Springs and the nearby community. The dairy farm closed in 2005, and RVC Outdoor Destinations spent $11 million to transform the property into Catherine’s Landing, which opened in 2011.
Amenities Enhance the Guest Experience
Love said besides the natural beauty of the resort, pet-friendly Catherine’s Landing also offers a number of on-site amenities sure to entertain any guest, including hiking trails, disc golf, kayak and pontoon boat rentals, fitness center, convenience store, 55,000-gallon saline swimming pool, children’s playground, concierge services and premium coffee, beer and wine available for purchase.
The newest amenity is called “Adventureworks Hot Springs Adventure Zip Line Park,” which opened earlier this spring. Created in partnership with Adventureworks, which has developed three other aerial adventure courses in Arkansas and Tennessee, the two-hour course includes a sky bridge with observation deck, as well as 12 zip lines varying in length of up to 800 feet and heights of up to six stories.
Cost for a two-hour tour is $64 for adults and $48 for kids, and Love said it has quickly become one of its most popular attractions for guests and non-guests alike.
“The zip line is the cherry on the top of everything we have here. In fact, you do not have to be a registered guest to do the zip line. We have people coming to use it from all over because it’s becoming so well known,” Love said, explaining many newcomers are pleasantly surprised with the resort and the area. “What we typically hear is, ‘Wow, I had no idea.’ The word of mouth is really getting around among RVC properties — and it’s getting around locally, too; our local footprint was very small so an initiative of ours was to really go out and expose our property to the local residents and introduce them to ‘staycations.’ So people are coming over who live just down the street. They were popping in with their RV and staying two or three days with us. They don’t have to drive so far, yet they feel like they’re so far away.”
Of course, one of the attractions is nearby Hot Springs National Park, which preserves and commemorates the soothing thermal waters that have attracted people throughout the ages to heal and relax. Rich and poor alike came for the baths, which inevitably led to bathhouses, and soon a thriving city built up around the hot springs.
Besides the national park north of town, the city Hot Springs offers a number of attractions such as Funtrackers Family Park, Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum, Belle of Hot Springs Riverboat, Arkansas Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo, Mid America Science Museum, Superlift ORV Park, Magic Springs Theme Park and Crystal Falls Water Park, and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, a thoroughbred horse racetrack that Love said helps to bolster the resort’s nonpeak season from November to April.
“It’s just such a cool little eclectic town that our customers can really truly get into over the course of two or three or even four days. They can really see a lot of stuff, do a lot of things and learn a lot of history — and there’s a ton of history in Hot Springs. That’s really what most of the feedback is from our customers; they go into town and find out about the mobsters, the horse racing and the bathhouses, and then just the beauty of the Hot Springs National Park.”
As mentioned, Catherine’s Landing offers 142 sites, including 117 RV sites that feature level concrete pads and pleasant landscaping. Each RV site includes full hookups, barbecue grill, picnic table, fire ring, 30/50 amp electric, Wi-Fi and cable.
“As far as the RV portion, the orientation of the RV and the space you have around it is class A,” Love said. “You’re really not going to find an RV park that has as much room in your area than this particular resort, and the property is set up so that it’s easy to navigate.”
The resort’s seven yurts — circular, framed, tent-like structures that include wood floors, windows, comfortable beds with fresh linens and climate controls — range in size and sleeping accommodations. To give guests a sense of outdoor serenity, Catherine’s Landing has located its yurts in a semi-private space enclosed by trees. This “Yurt Village” includes a picnic table, deck and fire ring for each site.
“Yurts provide a fresh overnight experience while eliminating negatives associated with camping: extreme temperatures, rain, bugs and dirt. Better yet, a skylight at the peak of the roof might be the yurt’s coolest feature, allowing guests to gaze into the night sky,” Love said, mentioning yurts are the perfect accommodation for glampers.
Customized by RVC Outdoor Destinations, the 14 resort cottages at Catherine’s Landing are fully furnished with flat-screen TVs, bathrooms, fully appointed kitchens and fresh bed linens and towels. Like other site types, cottages also include a barbecue grill, picnic table and fire ring. Select units will also include a loft as well as washer and dryer. Cottages can sleep up to four adults and two children with the bedroom, loft and fold-out sofa.
The four tent sites feature level grounds and pleasant landscaping on a spacious 16-by-16-foot pad. Each tent site includes concrete pads, grill, picnic table, fire ring and Wi-Fi.
Love said the resort is at about 75% occupancy during peak season, but has been steadily gaining in reservations as of late. In fact, he said 57 customers were on a waiting list for Memorial Day Weekend.
“That was so crazy for us and we were sad that we couldn’t help them. We referred them to other parks in the area. It’s hard to tell them ‘no,’ but we want those customers to remember us,” Love pointed out, adding “we are currently engineering and pricing a Phase II expansion.”
Customer Service is Another Key
Catherine’s Landing recently added two more people, bringing its full-time staff to 14. Of that, four work in maintenance, four in housekeeping, and six at the front desk. Love said that might seem a little high, but the current and future demand warrants it.
“We were at 12, but our growth has dictated to us that we needed to add two more. But instead of just bringing on occasional seasonal employees, which we’ve done in the past, we decided to focus on bringing in more people full time who can live the values of our particular resort.
The key is to hire the right kind of people, Love explained. Staff members at RVC Outdoor Destinations are known for their over-the-top customer service, and that’s something he looks for when looking at job candidates. And the key to a staff providing good customer service, he added, is to make sure the employees are happy.
“First and foremost, we really step up to the plate and take care of our staff,” he explained. “All of our employees, everybody, we really work hard to take care of each other first. We do come first, because if we’re happy and everybody’s happy on the staff, our customers are happy. We will do anything for each other, and it builds that confidence level that exudes from there. They’re confident to work directly with the customers to make decisions and they don’t have to sit and wait for the manager. They’re empowered, and that’s really what RVC has done. They’ve empowered their people with the right leadership to make sure we’re giving the very best experience possible to our customers.”
Employing people year round helps reduce the time and expense of hiring and training new workers, Love mentioned. The key is to give them every reason to stay with the resort.
“It’s very rare in this particular industry to hold people year round. So what we do is we pay fair wages based on the local market. We give time off when time off is due. We do everything we can to listen to our employees so we have regular meetings, and we’ll give feedback to what they have to say. We schedule consistent hours, too,” he said, and “that makes a huge difference. They know, and can rely on, that we’re doing well enough to maintain a certain level of hours per employees.
“So when we’re bringing an employee on, we’re able to keep that employee on, and then we can move forward because we’re making decisions based on growth,” he explained.
“They also love the recognition they get,” Love continued. “They get a lot of recognition from (RVC Chief Operating Officer) Yale Spina, (RVC CEO and General Partner) Andy Cates and all of the senior leadership. Everybody gets a birthday card from Andy and Yale. They just feel like people care about them. It all adds up and makes a big difference.”
Love said this philosophy of the taking care of employees has made a big difference at all of RVC’s properties, and the proof is in the customer feedback given both in person and online at various travel sites such as TripAdvisor, which awarded Catherine’s Landing a Certificate of Excellence in 2015. The resort was also a “Top Rated” park by Good Sam last year, and was featured in a USA Today article titled “Where’s the Best Camping in Arkansas?”
“It’s just all the essentials, like waving to all the customers when we go by them. We might wave to the same customers 50 times a day. We say hello to each other every time we pass each other, and that just bleeds over to our customers. We’re always asking others how they’re doing and asking for constant feedback,” Love continued.
Still being fairly new to the campground sector, Love said he is learning as he goes.
“I’m really enjoying it. It’s a really fun industry. I’m only 45 years old. I’m going to be working in this for a really long time. I’ll be able to perfect my craft and understand it,” he said. “That’s why I’m with RVC. I just feel like they’ve got something that’s going right. It’s exciting, and I think we’re blessed with smart leadership. They’re doing so much for the industry — and there’s a lot of other campgrounds that are, too, but I’m just grateful I’m on board with RVC. I don’t want to sound too corny or anything, but I really am.”