RV Park Development on Tribal Lands Eyed
The first ever conference designed to help Native Americans develop and operate RV parks and campgrounds is scheduled for May 13-14 in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Many Indian tribes have identified RV parks as being viable economic development projects and have included campground development in their Tribal economic development plans,” said Bob McNichols, president of Rez Builders LLC and a retired official with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), who is assisting Premiere Project Management in organizing the conference on behalf of Arizona Public Service, a public utility.
“Often tribes have world class natural attractions on or near their reservations that will invite RVers to tribal locations. Also, tribes see RV parks as being complementary businesses that will benefit other tribal retail ventures,” McNichols said.
In an interview with Woodall’s Campground Management, he said a lot of Native American campgrounds are run by “seat of the pants management,” but tribal leaders are “looking for ways to be more professional and profitable.”
McNichols has attracted a number of major players in the campground industry to speak at the conference. Among them are Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC); Pat Hittmeier, vice president of systems development for Kampgrounds of America (KOA); Kathy Palmeri, director of franchise sales for Leisure System Inc. (LSI; Bruce Hoster, president of Affinity Group Inc.’s Coast-to-Coast and executive director of Camp Club USA; and Bill Dawson of Thousand Trails Inc.
Other speakers will speak on topics such as park design and development, finance, insurance, camp store and related retail operations and marketing.
McNichols expects to have around 120 tribal leaders and program managers in attendance representing 70 to 80 Indian tribes across the country. He said the formation of an association of Native American campground owners will be considered at the conference.
McNichols has no accurate figures on the number of Native American-owned and operated RV parks and campgrounds in the U.S. He sent out letters last year to the 540 federally recognized tribes in the U.S. and received responses from 30 who indicated an interest in forming an association. “If we started out with 30 or 40 tribes in an association, we could do a lot of good, particularly with marketing,” he said.
The Native American RV parks run in conjunction with gambling casinos have the highest profile, he said, but he surmises there are many other smaller campgrounds that are viable but less successful.
McNichols, who retired from the BIA 2 years ago, has done RV park consulting work for several tribes in the Southwest and Northwest. “There seems to be so much interest in it that thought we should show tribes how to put together, step by step, develop, market and operate a successful RV park,” he said.
The timing is ideal to sponsor such a conference and not just because of the spread of Indian casinos, McNichols explained.
“A lot of people are interested in Indian culture, and tribes are just beginning to learn to tell their own story in their own way,” he said. Some people will follow the “pow wow circuit” across the Southwest and hit major gatherings on reservations to soak up the Indian culture, he said. “If you had an RV association, you could set up tours from one park to the next all summer. Then you have the other group, the ‘casino folks.’ RV parks seem to be a complementary venture for a casino. Together they supplement each other.”
He noted that tribes that have been successful in casino management are looking to help other tribes on economic development. “RV parks seem to be a natural for some of these reservations,” he said.
McNichols expects participants to come from all parts of the U.S. and did not rule out reservations from Canada, although they would not be eligible for the federal grants that will be discussed at the conference.