Recent ARVC Meetings in Washington, D.C., Prove Once Again that 'The World's Run by Those Who Show Up'

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June 6, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Whatever the reason, this year's ARVC National Issues Conference had a special energy, says Beltway Consultant David Gorin. Those attending sensed that this was a new era in ARVC's presence in Washington, despite the fact that the national trade association moved last year from the D.C. area to Colorado

 Two recent back-to-back events in Washington, D.C., go a long way toward highlighting the value of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. The annual spring meeting of CAMP – the association of professionals who staff the national and state campground and RV park associations – took place just prior to the annual ARVC National Issues Conference.   

These two events have been held in conjunction with each other for a number of years now and while the attendance is far from ideal for either meeting, the value of the meetings has grown each year.

This year, under the sponsorship of Evergreen Insurance, the members of CAMP had the opportunity to attend a one day everything-you've-always-wanted-to-know-about-association-management boot camp program on the nuts and bolts of operating an association. The second segment might also be called a "boot camp" on the explosion of social media and its potential for adding value to marketing of businesses of all kinds.

Evergreen and its president, Lucas Hartford, are to be congratulated for recognizing the value in providing training for the key individuals who manage the industry's associations and for bringing in two outstanding speakers on the subjects covered. All of the association executives present at the one-day "CAMP College," as the program was called, soaked up the wisdom of the two guest experts. The associations they manage, ranging from the largest, ARVC, to the smallest present, probably Vermont or Georgia, are almost assured of some measure of improvement because of this special day. And any improvement in association operations can only be of benefit to the entire industry.

In the world we live in, associations play a very important role in representing their slice of the American economy or profession, in providing information and educational support to the industry, in offering a forum for like-minded people to share experiences and knowledge and perhaps, most of all, serving as "an address" for the industry and for consumers, media and government.  The more efficient and effective the associations can be, the more the park industry benefits. It's a little sidelight to the park industry, but imagine the industry without the association structures that serve it.

 If you are not a member of your state and national association, in my view, you need to be. As some wise sage in the park industry once said, your association membership dues are the rent you pay for the space you occupy in this industry.

If your state association is not represented in CAMP, or if your state association head is not actively participating, your trade group is missing out on great opportunities to do a better job for the industry.

National Issues

Addressed in D.C.

Immediately after CAMP College was the annual ARVC National Issues Conference, a gathering of ARVC members called, first of all, for members to learn about national legislative and regulatory issues that might impact the park sector.

Secondly, the conference is an opportunity for the park industry to do its part in running the world — a world that's run by the people who show up. Coming to Washington to be seen and to meet with legislators and their staffs and to be seen by the many speakers who come to address the conference provides the RV park and campground industry with its sole chance to present the industry in person to many who are at the center of making or effecting national policy.

This year's conference, as mentioned in the news story in this same issue, focused considerable time on the number one issue facing all business and consumers right now: the economy and its impact on parks, RV manufacturers, dealers and consumers. To emphasize the significance of the issue and the conference, consultant Aubrey King and yours truly brought an impressive array of political, economic, and industry speakers to the table to address the economic issues.

On the political side, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who represents Elkhart, Ind., the heart of the RV industry, talked about his district, the RV industry and congressional efforts to provide some stimulus and tax breaks to help the stricken industry. 

An overview of the state of the economy and the travel industry national economic outlook was offered by David Huether, chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers, and Suzanne Cook, senior vice president for industry research of the U.S. Travel Association. And as a report on the state of the RV industry and a perspective on the future, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) President Richard Coon and Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) Vice President Phil Ingrassia both talked candidly about their efforts to help turn around the RV industry, find credit and money for RV buyers and prepare for a resurgence of sales in the coming months.

Both expressed confidence that the industry would bounce back and that RVing was as popular as ever.

 Also on the agenda was the annual small business legislative review offered by John Satagaj, president of the Small Business Legislative Council. SBLC plays a major role for an association like ARVC that on its own is probably too small to impact significantly on critical small business.  SBLC represents some 70 national small business organizations and ARVC has long been a vocal participant in this important coalition of small business groups.

In addition to these speakers, ARVC took the opportunity to present its annual National Public Service Award to U.S. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.). The award was presented by Debbie Sipe, executive director of California ARVC and a long time family friend of Farr. The congressman, who was recognized for his many years of congressional leadership on behalf of the travel and tourism industry, is co-chairman of the Congressional Travel & Tourism Caucus and has been an outspoken supporter of federal support in all forms for the travel and tourism industry.

Conference Dates Back

To its 1988 Inception

The National Issues Conference has its genesis in the spring of 1988 when the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) was attempting to create the Scenic Byways program and called together a group of recreation-related associations to learn about the proposed program and to create a show of support for that bold new measure.

A group of state associations responded to the call to come to Washington to attend the ARC-convened meeting and to meet with the new staff of the association, then known as the National Campground Owners Association (NCOA).  As a result of that first meeting, the National Government Affairs Conference was created and eventually evolved into what is now the National Issues Conference.

 In the intervening years, the conference has been held in conjunction with Great Outdoors Week, the Sheldon Coleman Award Dinner, RVIA Committee Week and other notable Washington events. A few years ago, it moved out on its own. Attendance has varied. The National Public Service Award has recognized members of Congress and the Senate, secretaries of the Interior, and assistant Interior secretaries. Congressional breakfasts have attracted numerous members of Congress and key staffers. And the annual visit by state leaders to the offices of their U.S. representatives and senators has become a mainstay of ARVC's presence in Washington. The list of speakers, events, subjects and related activities has really become a fixture in ARVC.

This year, maybe because of the magnitude of the issues facing the nation, business, consumers and the park industry combined with a new direction brought by a new president, the conference had a special significance that may signal rejuvenation and a new energy for the future. Eighteen states were represented – more than in any recent year. The new meeting location of the all-new Capitol Visitors Center added a special dimension, especially with the chance to catch a glimpse in an adjacent room of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton dedicating a statue of Sojourner Truth, who was famous for her acts in civil rights and fighting against slavery. Then, there was the beautiful nighttime image of the U.S. Capitol as we left after dinner.

 Whatever the reason, the conference had a special energy this year. Those attending sensed that this was a new era in ARVC's presence in Washington. Despite moving from the D.C. area to Colorado, ARVC's presence and participation in national affairs seems more critical than ever. As industries and interests stake out new positions with the new administration, as business in general and small business in particular move to the forefront of the legislature and the media, and as the focus grows on health and its connection to recreation, ARVC has a unique opportunity to expand its presence and influence.

Never before has the meaning of the world is run by those that show up had more meaning. The country is experiencing a rebirth of interest in government and public service, and it is ever more important for the park industry to be present, showing up and sitting at the table.

No one but ARVC can speak for the park industry in Washington. No one but ARVC is the national address for the industry. Now's the time for the association and the membership to boost the national image of the industry in Washington, and now's the time for the association to aggressively advocate for the park industry. If we don't do it ourselves, it is certain that no one will do it for us.

State associations — large, small, medium in size – think about the wisdom of setting aside the budget resources to be sure that your state campground industry is represented at next year's meeting. Plan now. Don't wait until the last minute. This is one area that ARVC and only ARVC can serve the industry, but it cannot do so without the grassroots support of its members once a year in Washington.

David Gorin, former ARVC CEO, is president of David Gorin & Associates, providing management consulting services to the outdoor hospitality industry. He's also a partner in King & Gorin, specializing in Washington representation for associations and businesses in travel, tourism, transportation, recreation and public lands. Contact him at or at (703) 448-6863.

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