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ARVC Survey Reveals Industry Health

January 22, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Editor’s Note: This account was adapted from a story written by Cheryl Cothran, of the Hospitality Research Center at Northern Arizona University which prepared the survey for the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). Her story appears in the current ARVC Report.
Once again, ARVC members have survived another round of the National Operations and Economic Impact Survey of the RV Park & Campground Industry. Heartfelt thanks go to all those who took the time to participate in this very important process. The survey was conducted this year by Northern Arizona University’s Hospitality Research Center, which had previous experience with Arizona RV park surveys. As a sign of the times, the entire process was conducted online, smoothly and efficiently, using adaptable E-software that allowed the survey to be completed in several sittings, not all at once. The response rate of 33% and 410 completed surveys was one of the highest ever; with parks of all sizes well represented in the sample, the end product is high confidence and reliability in the results.
The states with the largest number of parks had the most respondents – Florida, California, Texas, Michigan and Arizona – but all regions of the country were well-represented.
Survey Highlights

  • One third of parks changed ownership in the past five years, and another third are either currently for sale or have plans to sell in the future. Thus, it appears a new generation of park owners is taking the helm.
  • With an average of six acres available for expansion, and much more in some parks, properties still have room to grow. While two-thirds of all parks are seasonal-only, two-thirds of the largest parks are open year-round.
  • The industry occupancy rate of 62% is certainly acceptable, but the 50% annual occupancy achieved by parks of 0-100 site parks could be improved.
    What will be needed to attract new guests or younger generations of park visitors? More premium sites, more value for money, more recreational or other amenities? Generally, the larger the park the more amenities are offered; the trend toward intergenerational travel by family groups suggests the need to offer something for everyone – pools, playgrounds, restaurants/snack bars, health and fitness centers. Currently, only a minority (one-fourth) of parks offer restaurant or food & beverage services. Will these be in greater demand by younger generations who are more used to eating out? Also, while only 20% of parks and campgrounds with food service currently serve beer or wine, will the demand for this service increase, especially among retiring Baby Boomers?
    Other Findings
    Parks have certainly entered the Internet age:

  • 79% of parks now offer Internet service to guests and 82% of these make it free-of-charge. While office operations today are pretty thoroughly computerized, even more technology usage is probably on the way. Is it time for greater adoption of point-of-sale systems to track store and restaurant sales, now at only 4% of parks?
  • Most parks and campgrounds have little or no competition near them from public lands or other free camping, yet they understand the value of pro-active marketing. Currently, 95% of parks have a website for guests to check rates, reserve sites, etc. – so critical to today’s marketing.
  • Half of parks and campgrounds spend most of their ad budget on national directory placements, about 20% each on state directories and the Internet, and 15% on billboards. Will more be shifted to the Internet to reach younger guests?
  • In addition, it is impressive that two-thirds of managers actively track leads, whether from the Internet or directories.
  • Despite these challenging economic times, this is no time to be complacent; businesses must invest to stay competitive. In fact, three-fourths of parks do make investments and improvements annually, spending an average of $150,000/year on landscaping, roads, recreational and other amenities.
  • An equal number of parks have invested in green/sustainable practices that will yield bottom-line benefits over time – fluorescent bulbs, recycling, reduced water usage, and use of native drought-tolerant plants.
  • It remains the exception for parks to sell RVs and trailers; only the largest do so. Those that do have sales typically sell only 8-13 units per year, and sales of recreational park trailers constitute the lion’s share. What does this trend to park trailers signal for the industry – growing demand for luxury services and amenities such as towel and linen services, decreased mobility and reaction to higher gas prices, or something else?
    All of this underscores the importance of ARVC continuing to track industry trends over time.

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