Schaeffer: Times Have Changed; Keep Smiling
Brian Schaeffer is president of AGS / TXAD Internet Services. AGS and TXAD Internet Services are divisions of Texas Advertising, which serves over 800 RV parks and campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada. For more information please call Brian Schaeffer at (817) 426-9395 or visit the websites – www.TXADInternet.com or www.AGSPub.com. The following guest column appears in the November issue of Woodall's Campground Management.
First, I am thrilled to be authoring a guest column for Woodall’s Campground Management, an obvious leader in the business of getting information to campground owners everywhere. What I'd like to cover here is all that we have to be grateful for as the most exciting segment of the hospitality industry.
When we look back over the last couple of decades, we have seen three U.S. presidents preside over the best and worst of economic and geo-political times. Yet, camping is alive and well. Why is that and what does it mean to those of you on the “inside” of the industry?
I think I can offer a unique perspective because I'm kind of an outsider, who doesn't own or operate a campground, yet I am blessed with knowledge from inside the industry. It started when Debra, my wife and partner of 25 years, and I entered the wonderful world of camping as full-time RVers. We still have a motorhome that we take out occasionally, but moreover we have full-time RVing sales teams servicing campgrounds all over the U.S. and Canada. These teams are experiencing very strong support for campgrounds from local merchants who want to have "new customers" from the campgrounds come to their businesses, especially if their community has experienced economic downturn.
Also, we serve as executive directors for the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), the largest state campground association in the country where our owners tell us there is no lack of enthusiasm for camping. In fact, there are many studies that indicate the more high-tech our society becomes, the more folks long for the simplicity of a camping trip with the family. Campground owners across the United States have figured this out and they are capitalizing on the concept of selling a fun experience at their parks, while offering enough amenities for their guests to stay in touch, such as free Wi-Fi.
Of course, park owners have become highly adaptable in terms of marketing, operations and overall image. The fastest growing segment within the industry is cabins and/or cottages, which do not require an RV at all. Marketing techniques are refocusing and expanding upon proven print media to include web-based advertising, social media and premium incentives (giveaway items) to reward loyal campers. Furthermore, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our campgrounds as most of you DID build your businesses!
In the past 20 years our industry has seen diesel fuel prices fluctuate from $2 per gallon to over $5 per gallon and back down to $4 per gallon. This didn't cause RVers to park their rigs; it merely altered their trip planning to involve a few less miles. In fact, in the face of rising fuel costs, campers who were surveyed kept adjusting the target upward when asked the question, "How high would fuel prices get before you stop camping?"
So is everyone in the industry smiling? Perhaps not. We lost numerous manufacturers and dealers during the latest recession. But, we have seen attendance increase significantly at RV shows in Texas. The same is true at shows across the country where the RV Travel & Camping Guide to Texas is distributed by Anderson's Brochure Services. Best of all, the surviving dealers are smiling again because they are exhibiting and selling units.
Some of our largest industry players have undergone significant change. We no longer have Trailer Life or Woodall's directories, but we do have a Good Sam Directory. My latest Good Sam Magazine has a picture of their CEO, Marcus Lemonis, on the front cover smiling from ear to ear.
Certainly times have changed. Airlines have gone bankrupt. Hotels still haven't recovered from the worst recession since the great depression. Cruise ships have sailed half empty and amusement parks had to shorten their seasons. Meanwhile, park owners across the country are putting in more sites, more cabins, and upgrading their overall amenities. And campers keep showing up. I would simply encourage you to realize as tourism goes, we are truly blessed. Stay tuned and we'll chat about more things that will have you smiling!