Bambei Addresses New ARVC Conference
Paul Bambei, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), paused during a busy day in mid-August to discuss the national trade association’s revamped national convention – ARVC’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Savannah — and other insights some seven months after the marketing and business development expert and entrepreneur entered the picture as head of Larkspur, Colo.-based ARVC.
WCM: Tell us, if you would, about the changes ARVC members will find at the Savannah convention.
Bambei: If I look at the pillars that should attract people, I start with education. We have completely revamped the educational program and there are double the number of educational seminars this year. Barb (Youmans) has redesigned the CPO program in favor of a five-stage certification program meant to be more outdoor hospitality industry-oriented.
We turned our program upside down and looked every way to make it more universal. Additionally, I feel we can do a better job shouldering side by side with our suppliers. We will unveil at Savannah some things to show the suppliers much more gratitude and respect on the floor. We will embrace them as a very important part of this conference.
Another one of the highlights at Savannah will be the Low Country Boil on Wednesday night sponsored by Good Sam Enterprises. A lot of things are being planned around that event. It will be a relaxed atmosphere with a lot of great entertainment and should give all registrants a chance to informally catch up and recap the year that is coming to an end, as well as plan the new year about to start. Other new enhancements include a 5K walkathon for the ARVC foundation.
And, for the first time ever, we’re running a Kids’ Camp, at cost, to allow adult members to enjoy the conference without worrying about their children. And finally, we just negotiated a new room rate at the Westin, down from $189 to $159.
WCM: What are some of the key issues that will come up at the conference during the ARVC business meeting?
Bambei: We’re concerned about growth of the organization. The trend in the past several years has been negative in terms of membership, down about 12% since 2008, not a steep decline, but enough to make me take notice. We’re looking at ways to bring in new members.
For example, we’re looking at master contracts to gain a healthier participation among multi-state, multi-park operators. We’re also trying to respect the ARVC bylaws, which have stated for many years that state public parks are able to join the association, and we’re welcoming them. We’re pushing hard on non-members in the U.S. and Canada, educating them on the benefits of ARVC, and we’re trying to pick up as many non-members in both affiliated and non-affiliated states through some new and innovative marketing tactics. Those are all business issues wrapped around the subject of growth. It is an important one for ARVC.
WCM: You extended the hand of membership this summer to members of the National Association of State Park Directors and their president, Joe Elton. Do you expect some state parks to attend your conference?
Bambei: I am expecting them to show up to some degree. Joe is welcome, as are the state park directors. We want them to attend. We went to their conference in Custer, S.D., this month.
WCM: What feedback have you received on this marketing outreach to attract public parks? Not all private parks are sold on this, are they?
Bambei: Nothing in life is ever perfect and neither is this. There are park owners within ARVC who are scrapping every day to make a living and don’t believe any alliance with a nearby state park can help their cause. I respect that.
However, if nothing were to change, these same private parks would most likely look up 10 or 20 years from now and never know what could have transpired through collaboration.
In the eyes of the consumer, we both have a wide host of amenities that can attract the camping consumer if positioned properly. I personally see the glass as only being half full and there are many members within ARVC that view it the same way too. I have to believe the forefathers of ARVC who wrote public park admission into our bylaws saw that. I am just acting on it.
I know there are disparate histories as you go from state to state, political issues that have transpired, like in New York and Florida, going way back. I don’t look at ARVC as being magicians and our ability to automatically turn the tide overnight. All I can do is accentuate the positive and show what can happen if we work together. I want to focus on the states that are collaborating, talk about their success stories. Maybe the other states will see the light and maybe they never will.
WCM: With all these new features at the conference and lower room rates, are registrations coming in at the pace you had hoped?
Bambei: It’s never fast enough for me but it’s ahead of last year, both in terms of sponsors who have signed up for booths as well as attendees. Room nights booked are ahead of last year. What we did seems to be working. We hope people understand the importance of what this conference means to their business and the learning that comes from it. It pays for itself in many ways.
WCM: This year’s conference will feature many changes from past years. Have you considered holding two conventions, one on each coast, to ease travel expenses for your members, or other changes?
Bambei: I’ve heard mention of it. It’s an awesome goal to undertake. One conference really is enough to occupy my staff for several months. Two of them would be more convenient for the membership perhaps, depending on when it was held, but I’m not sure it would improve the attendance exponentially and I’m not convinced it would be the right thing to do…
As we look at 2013, the first year we are not locked into a hotel contract, we will seriously entertain the idea of doing a much more open conference that allows people to drive and conveniently park, with their RV, rally-style. We would need the right venue, like a county fairground, with buildings to accommodate speakers and all the necessary under-the-roof amenities, but the goal of replicating the look and feel of a hospitable campground is certainly do-able. It would allow attendees to walk outside and socialize with one another, in their RVs parked on the grounds.
For people who want to stay in a hotel, they could be located on the periphery. We put out a request for proposals for 2013 for cities that have the required facilities and we’re starting to get those back right now.
WCM: Any other changes in the works that we ought to know about?
Bambei: We are moving ahead with a new version of the ARVC Report. In August we went to an electronic version. What we’ll be seeing shortly is a new look that we will be unveiling in October-November time frame. It will really change the face of that publication. We didn’t do this blindly. We surveyed the membership to learn what is important in terms of content.
Using technology to our advantage, we will begin embedding video stories into a flipbook style software, which gives the reader the ability to flip pages much like a magazine. When you can embed video, you can capture the wonder of sight, sound and motion by letting video do the reporting for you.
We will focus on education and best practices, creating member and supplier profiles, and generally avoiding hard industry news, which is better left to the trade press.
For those members without Internet or an active e-mail address, we have decided to print three-times-per-year wrapup issues of the best, most popular stories that will then be mailed to our members’ physical address. Some people like the physical touch of a printed publication, so we’ll try to accommodate that.
WCM: How do you think you’re doing thus far at your new job?
Bambei: I am enjoying the ability to make things happen. I’m really excited about the future of ARVC. I understood this was a year of change and we needed to do some things to break out. I know one perception of me is I’m moving too fast for some people, but if they knew me over the last 20 to 30 years, they would understand this is what you get in me. There is a plan. I have a good staff and board that understands what that plan is. I’ve been very happy with the success, but I’m not content to stop when there’s so much more that lies ahead.