Tang: 'KOA Has Done Well in Tough Times'
Top-ranking officials with Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. said at a Thursday night (Aug. 19) company picnic that the business is performing well, even through recent tough economic times, the Billings Gazette reported.
Oscar Tang, chairman of the holding company that owns KOA, said the company was hit hard at the beginning of the recession but made a quick recovery.
“We’ve done quite well in a very difficult economy,” he said. “It hit us hard in 2008 because of the price of gas, not only the price but how it rose to $4 a gallon so quickly. That was during the height of our season, in August and September. But in 2009, when the economy was at its worst, we were strong.”
KOA runs nearly 500 franchise campgrounds in North America, including 26 it owns. It was founded in Billings in 1962 along the banks of the Yellowstone River.
A national emphasis on staying closer to home while on vacation, affordability and improved facilities, amenities and features at the campgrounds has helped fuel two strong years for KOA, Tang said.
CEO Jim Rogers said a recent survey of campers at KOA sites showed that 58% had stayed at their own homes the night before coming to KOA. He also said camping reservations for the coming months are up 13%.
“We’ve had to build more of a destination, activity-based campground,” he said. “It’s an affordable, experience-based vacation.”
Those improvements, he said, include putting on things like ice cream socials and barbecues for campers, adding on-site stores and creating more activities for them.
But it wasn’t all business for the KOA officials and employees Thursday. After more than a day of board and business meetings, the evening’s event was more social, with games, plenty of food and the chance to meet other people in the company.
Tang, who bought KOA in 1980, brought along about 20 family members. KOA employees and campers wandered underneath several large tents at the back of the KOA on Garden Avenue in Billings.
“I look at this company, and it’s a wonderful franchise, wonderful people,” Tang said.
A special guest was also on hand. Steve Holcomb is the driver of the USA men’s four-man bobsled that won a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics earlier this year. KOA was an official sponsor of the team, and Holcomb came partially to say thank you for the support.
“It’s been a great relationship (with KOA) so far,” Holcomb said. “The support there has been excellent.”
But he also got the chance to get back into one of his favorite pastimes — fishing. Before Thursday’s picnic, he fished the Yellowstone River near Columbus and hauled in seven fish, including a quartet of rainbow trout.
“I’m coming off a serious fishing drought, like over the last five years,” Holcomb said. He had been training for the Olympics for the past 12 years and spent the past five as the team’s driver.