Coast’s First Membership Camping Conference
Market conditions are ripe for a resurgence of the North American membership camping industry. That was the message broadcast by speakers at the 2010 Coast to Coast Conference Feb. 16-18 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nev.
”We feel there are a lot of factors in favor of growth in (the membership camping) industry,” said Bruce Hoster, president of Denver-based Coast to Coast Resorts, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), who spoke to about 90 park developers and others during the opening session of the first-of-its kind conference.
Coast to Coast, an affiliate of Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), Ventura, Calif., is committed to growing the membership campground industry, not only to the benefit of Coast to Coast but to the industry in general, Hoster said.
”We need more (resort) developers selling in this industry and we need more sales from our current developers, and mostly, we need more awareness and promotion of membership camping,” Hoster said. ”We are very serious about this mission and it’s a mission that we definitely can accomplish.”
Helping to boost that awareness is retailer Camping World, another AGI unit, which has begun promoting Coast’s membership camping parks by allowing local resort owners to set up kiosks in Camping World stores and promoting the industry in its publications.
”We are trying to help educate the Camping World customer base on the concept of membership camping, the value it brings to our customers and hopefully drive customers to the membership camping developers,” Mike Siemens, Camping World vice president of membership services, told RVBusiness. ”It’s always been a good program for customers like ours who want an opportunity to camp around their home, but also when they are on the road.”
Generally, membership campgrounds are privately owned with all or a portion of their sites set aside for use by RVers who pay an initial membership fee and annual maintenance fee to cover operating expenses. Members, in return, receive varying levels of access to the resort they join and reciprocal access to other parks in the network.
The average cost of an initial consumer membership is about $5,000, Hoster reported, adding that while Coast to Coast has 250 member resorts, only about 20% are selling new memberships to consumers.
”If people leave this conference and they are more excited about the opportunities and learned a few things they can take home, it can translate into better business,” Hoster told the assembled attendees. ”The measurement will be more over the long term.”
Membership resort organization such as Coast to Coast serve two different audiences. ”One, obviously, is our members, but secondly, our developers as well,” Hoster said.
The depth of the recent economic recession has caused consumers to change the way they spending their leisure time, Hoster noted.
”While RV manufacturers and dealers struggled, campgrounds were full,” Hoster said. ”That’s because a lot of people looked at campgrounds as a more economical way to take a vacation. They might not have been able to fly somewhere and stay for a week in a condo or go to Disney world, but they were able to go camp.”
So-called ”staycations” also have changed the travel landscape, and should play into the membership campground sector’s hands, he maintained.
”They are the perfect solution — being able to pick up Friday for a long weekend,” Hoster said. ”We hear from a lot of our developers that people aren’t taking the traditional vacations — the one-week or two-week vacation. ”It’s more the three- and four-day getaways. Having a membership in a resort nearby certainly takes advantage of that trend.”
Those trends, coupled with a decreasing number of high-end campgrounds, makes membership camping more attractive, he added. ”There really is a shrinking supply of quality campsites vs. growing demand,” he added. And there are more and more Baby Boomers that are entering our industry and buying RVs.”
Mike Pournoury, president of Ocean Canyon Properties, Texarkana, Texas, with resorts in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, spoke during the opening session on ”Unlocking the Value of Your Resort.”
”It all revolves around getting back to the basics’ Pournoury said. ”Everybody’s going to know everything that I bring up here. The only twist to it is the simplicity of it. Sometimes we take a good program and complicate it for ourselves.”
Pournoury said that key to Ocean Canyon’s success is its relationship with RV dealers who refer new owners to Ocean Canyon properties, which, in return promote the dealership when it comes time for the consumer to buy a new RV.
”Then you become one team,” Pournoury said. ”He sends a good customer to the resort where you sell a membership … and three or four years later, (the member) goes back and buys another RV from the same dealer.”
Consequently, he said, park owners should attend RV shows to show dealers that they want to be actively involved.
By the same token, he noted, membership parks should establish referral programs that reward current members for promoting the park. Ocean Canyon gives $500 to members for referrals resulting in sales.
”The referral program is the lowest-cost marketing and the most profitable program that we’ve got in our organization,” he said.
Upgrade programs for existing members also add to the bottom line, he said. They are easier to market because the customer already has bought into the resort and adding a few extra days or access to more amenities doesn’t cost a lot.
”Last year was hard, but one of the areas where we really excelled was our upgrade program,” Pournoury reported.
”When times are hard, you can’t leave any stone unturned.”
Seminars during the conference included:
- ”Successful Marketing” by Annette Bruzewski, marketing manager for Outdoor Adventures, and Pam Nelson, director of marketing and resort operations for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
- ”Tour and Sales Presentation” by Greg Penrod, COO of Durango Riverside Resort, Durango, Texas, and Charles Youngren, director of sales for Midwest Outdoor Resorts.
- ”Gaining Efficiencies with New Technologies” with Pournoury and Peter Graffman, Ocean Canyon executive vice president and CFO.
- “‘How to Market to Non-RVers” by Penrod, Gene Addink, general manager of Midwest Outdoor Resorts, and Greg King, president, Outdoor Adventures.
- ”Hiring and Developing Successful Salespeople by Robert Topci, sales manager, Travel Resort of America-Gettysburg Battlefield Resort and Youngren.
Subjects of half-hour breakout sessions during the three days included ”Project Renaissance: Restarting Sales at Non-Selling Resorts,” ”Partnering With Camping World,” “Other Revenue Sources,” “‘Creating Positive Members Satisfaction,” “Financing and Closing the Sale” and ”Off-site Selling.”