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How KOA Brings the Small-town Touch to its Guests

July 19, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Chris Mink

Editor’s Note: Chris Mink, manager of the Value Kards Rewards program for Kampgrounds of America Inc., wrote the following story which appears in the current issue of Colloquy, the “voice of the loyalty marketing industry since 1990.”

We like to say that we believe KOA is one of the last small towns in America. Kampgrounds of America is the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public family campgrounds, with small-town atmosphere and camaraderie.

But we realized that our small town had room to grow comfortably. Each year in the U.S. alone, nearly 100 million nights are camped. With 475 locations in nearly every state and Canadian province, KOA accommodates millions of faithful campers, yet receives only a 6% slice of the entire camping night pie.

KOA was founded 48 years ago on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Montana. For nearly half of the time since then, campers have been able to purchase an annual discount card to save 10% off the cost of camping. Discount cards are pretty much the norm in the camping industry, offered by many camping organizations—and KOA wanted something more, something to set us apart. In March 2008, we added camping rewards points to KOA’s Value Kard Program, renaming it Value Kard Rewards. This made KOA the first camping provider to follow the lead of many airlines and hotel chains.

The new program still provides an immediate 10% discount on daily rates, but it’s the Value Kard Rewards points that are getting the attention of more and more campers. To explain why, join us on a tour of our small-town loyalty principles:

Best-customer recognition. KOA’s Value Kard Rewards points are tied to both the nights stayed at a KOA, and the rate paid for those nights. As guests camp more with us, they can reach Bonus and VIP tier status, which offers accelerated earnings potential. For instance, a camper in the VIP program earns at a 25% bonus level over the base member. And as long as members maintain their VIP status, the membership fee is waived. Combining rewards with recognition at the campground creates win-win. In 2009, KOA campers saved nearly a million dollars in camping fees by belonging to the program.

Getting to know our neighbors. Value Kard Rewards provides us with data variables that allow our campground owners and managers to anticipate and respond to guests’ needs and preferences—the site locations they like, the type of camping equipment they use, and even if they travel with a pet. We can employ that individual knowledge to arrange for quicker check-in, and for personalized service and accommodations at arrival. In addition to enabling the personal touch on site, this information allows us to broaden the camping experience through communications tailored to tenters, RVers, and those who stay in lodges.

Fun. Camping is a lifestyle choice, not just a means of travel. We incorporate pictures and stories of real people having fun in all of our marketing materials. Making the points part of the memories created on the campgrounds helps promote a return stay or a future stay at another KOA down the road. And because camping is a communal activity, we extended the social aspect into the social media world. Today, through sites such as Facebook and KOAKompass.com, we’ve built a community that extends to the digital world. Sharing camping experiences, recommendations, recipes, product reviews, and more, we continue to build memories and emotional ties.

Consolidation of tech. Having developed our proprietary computerized campground operating system called KampSight, we were able to tie individual reservation systems together to bring more value. All records of discounts, point accrual and redemptions are linked, providing an efficient and easily administered program.

Consistency of experience. To smooth customers’ transition to our new program, we retain the discount aspect that was both familiar and widely accepted. In fact, though a physical membership card isn’t needed because of our new technology, we still provide one because some campers want to “show their card.” They take pride in their citizenship in our small town.

Today, we’re seeing the desired shift in increased camper nights among our Value Kard Rewards members. “Stays per household’ are up 9% from the previous year, and “nights stayed” is three times greater than our non-Value Kard Rewards campers. Now that’s a program with “staying power.”

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