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A Reflection on the Changes in the Resort Industry

November 22, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Bud Surles

Editor’s Note: Campground Consultant Bud Surles provided the following editorial titled “The New Paradigm: A Reflection on the Changes in the Outdoor Hospitality and Resort Industry.” Surles is a seasoned business executive with an award-winning career in natural resource planning, design, development and management of public lands and private resorts.  He has won national recognition for his management, development and leadership accomplishments. He has won a national award as a state park director and formerly served as chief of concessions management in the National Park Service. He has planned and developed parks and resorts in Arkansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Texas. He completed planning and design development of Mill Creek Ranch Resort in Texas, which in its first year won many local and national awards. For information concerning Bud Surles’ Consulting Group contact Amie Mersmann at amersmann@budsurles.com, call (832) 494-7862 or visit www.budsurles.com.

Several years ago when I first heard a professor use the word “paradigm” I laughed to myself. The prof obviously saw the scowl on my face and asked, “Mr. Surles, do you know what ‘paradigm’ means?” And in my cynical wit, I said – “Twenty cents.” The class gave me the intended laugh and the professor was duly embarrassed. But the real laugh was on me. For what I belittled that day has become a very important concept for all of us to understand. A paradigm, of course, is a model, but never lets us believe it is a constant unchanging model. I am old enough now to have seen these models or paradigms shift whenever there is a major event. And we have had a major event in our land because of the economic meltdown. That means what was the model for planning, investing and operating yesterday in the Outdoor Hospitality industry won’t work today. And what works today will be out of sync tomorrow.

I graduated from Texas A&M in 1968 and thought I had the education to conquer the world. But the world did not stay stuck in 1968. It changed. And the changes left in their wake were many businesses that refused to acknowledge and learn from the change. And because of the economic collapse 40 years after my graduation, I find the industry must brace for change once again. For those in the Outdoor Hospitality and Resort industry, let me offer how I believe we should we respond to be ahead of the curve of the new paradigm.

First of all, I believe with the increased price and quality of RV rigs, RV properties must be ready to meet the challenges of better, more modern facilities, with increased security and plenty of things to do. Rare will be the time when low amperage hookups, on unleveled ground, with low hanging limbs, be the fare for these very expensive new units. Resorts and parks who want these folks as customers, must be co-investors with them in making the experience work.

Second, with the conventional lending market all but dried up, we must be creative in attracting the mountain of cash that investors are sitting on. No one living through the last political campaign could be unaware that there is a lot of money out of circulation. And the only way to get it back in is to have a creative and exciting paradigm changing ideas to attract it.

Third, I believe that as we increase our constant drive toward urbanization, outdoor-loving Americans will have a higher desire to experience an outdoor experience. That means that resorts must think of ways to let all kinds of outdoor users to enjoy and experience that innate desire. A larger percentage of cottages, giving those who can’t afford or have no ability to store an RV the same opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors as their RVing counterparts are essential. I even see resorts with cottages only being a trend of the future.

Fourth, I believe that parks and resorts must be environmentally friendly. “Green” is a word that will not go away. And parks and resorts that choose to turn their backs on “being green” will find that it won’t take long for the word to spread. Environmental awareness must permeate planning, development, and operations of every resort.

Finally, customer service must be as friendly as the most aware “ma and pa” and as sophisticated as the best of corporations. No longer is good customer service just a warm friendly smile and a firm handshake (but never forsake those), it is fast Wi-Fi, seamless reservations, recognizable uniforms, and so much more.

There are many things which will change as we struggle back to economic stability. The successful operations of tomorrow will be those whose eyes are not locked on the paradigms of yesterday.

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