Gerken: Productive Sessions at National School

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February 25, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Tom Gerken

Ninety students attended the 2010 National School of RV Parks and Campground Management Feb. 17-22 at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, W. Va., home to the annual event.

The school is a 50-hour, intensive two-year program conducted for one week each year. The school offers park owners, operators and managers a structured program covering a wide array of management and operations topics, including finance and administration, marketing, customer service, recreation management, maintenance, personnel management and retail and food service operations.

Of the 90 students enrolled, there were 50 for year one, 25 for year two and 15 in the graduate program.

“Had the public sector funding come through (along with the 12 additional students) enrollment would have slightly surpassed last year’s enrollment,” noted Tom Gerken, chairman of the school’s board of regents. “As it turned out, enrollment was down by approximately 10%. Similar schools (non-campground related) which are also held at Oglebay saw declines in enrollment as high as 30% this year, primarily due to the economy, so we are pleased with our numbers and believe that this further illustrates the resiliency of the camping industry, even in difficult economic times.”

Gerken, an independent USI consultant and outdoor hospitality industry specialist, said the students represented of 58 campgrounds, plus two public sector recreational facilities.

“There were nine attendees who do not own or work in campgrounds or recreational facilities but who are either building, looking to buy parks or simply exploring opportunities in the camping industry,” he said. “Also included was a supplier to the industry who was seeking further understanding of things from the campground owners perspective in order that he could better serve them. There were 12 additional public sector attendees expected, but as a result of the prior weeks snowstorm and days of government shutdown in D.C., their funding did not come through.”

Gerken feels all in all it was a very productive school this year.

“Students were upbeat and engaged, absorbing a wealth of knowledge from a combination of the written material, classroom presentations and just as importantly, as a result of the interaction among themselves,” he said. “Even though there was a rigid daily classroom schedule from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, more than 40 students routinely attended optional fireside chats late into the evening where a variety of topics were discussed.”

Also of note is that the school recently became accredited by Northern Arizona University. Students who wish to enroll separately with NAU can now receive college credit.

The national school is co-sponsored by the ARVC Foundation, an affiliate of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), and the National Training Center for Public Facility Managers.

The school is a fast track to earning the professional designation of Certified Park Operator (CPO). Students who attend both years obtain 50 of the 75 credits necessary to earn CPO accreditation. The graduate level program builds on the knowledge gained in the first two years, and attendees earn 15 credits toward their CPO certification or recertification.

Bob MacKinnon

Bob MacKinnon, board regent, an instructor at the school, and president of MacKinnon Campground Consulting, Murietta, Calif., spent around 10 hours instructing the students.

“My time was really structured as marketing 101, which is such a broad topic, but I wanted the students to understand that marketing is a lot more than advertising,” he explained. “I spent a lot of time discussing market research, strategic planning, and pricing strategies, as well as how advertising and promotions fit into that.”

MacKinnon said the board meets annually in mid-April to evaluate feedback from the school.

“We listen to what the students have said and think about things that need to be changed or fine-tuned,” he said. “Overall this year’s school was very successful and we look forward to next year’s school.”

Twenty-three students have already pre-enrolled for next year’s school, which will be held Feb. 22-26, 2011.

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