Kohls: Camping a Major Part of Tourism Industry
Deb Kohls is an outdoor hospitality and recreation expert on travel industry systems. She is vice president of Best Parks in America. She also serves on the Camp California board of directors, a wholly owned subsidiary of CalARVC. She can be contacted through www.linkedin.com/in/debkohls or at (714) 269-1264. Her column appears in the December issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.
A recent Drive Travel survey conducted by travel industry participants, including hotels, campgrounds, consumer clubs and travel technology companies, focused on understanding consumer behaviors, trends and preferences in the drive travel market. Clearly, we are in the Drive Market and the survey was beneficial in terms of the information gathered, but what was more interesting was to listen to comments generated by the participating groups from travel who were genuinely surprised and had “ah-ha” moments of “I never thought of camping as a contributor to travel.” Wow! Really?
RVs Have Wheels
Upon reflection, it seems that our industry is underestimated and underappreciated by our travel colleagues for the economic impacts we have on the travel industry. Why is that? After all, our entire business is based on “going somewhere” outside your neighborhood! And you don’t buy an RV to just use it in your backyard!
So why don’t we find our voice? Travel has long been considered a vertical market that innovates to create efficiencies for both the consumer and the supplier. As one of the early adopters of moving business processes to the Internet, the general travel industry has led in adopting new ways of connecting with the leisure traveler. That early adoption enabled the industry to quickly adjust business models, which more easily connect consumers with hospitality and travel suppliers. And today the travel industry continues to adapt to meet consumer expectations through social media, mobile applications, user-generated content and location-based services.
Outdoor Travel IS Travel
It’s easy to make a case that we are in the outdoor recreation market and therefore not in the travel and hospitality market. Yet, our business operations, processes and challenges are very similar to the general travel suppliers. How, then, can we be a more recognized contributor in the travel industry? Have we created our own challenges with a “wait and see” philosophy that keeps us from stepping into the spotlight and getting the credit we deserve?
Mom Influenced the Way We Make Travel Reservations
Maybe a look at how the travel ecosystem evolved would provide perspective and perhaps teach us a lesson. Before the Internet became a channel for business, the general travel industry learned to collaborate in order to afford systems that enabled a more efficient connection with the consumer. It all started with the airlines that needed to automate the process of ticketing with travel agents. Since travel agents were the intermediary and the channel to the consumer, it was important to create a system that eliminated the manual process of connecting the two. Thus, the airlines formed an alliance that created central systems, which enabled travel agents access to inventory for sale. Today these systems are called Global Distribution Systems (GDS, for short). Ultimately, the hotels and the ground transportation (rental cars) participated in expanding these systems so that multiple sales channels gained access to inventory for the entire trip planning.
These systems have given the travel industry the ability to market to the consumer and to provide convenience for both the travel supplier (air, hotel, car) and the consumer (users of the services). Automating processes generated information and knowledge about consumer buying behaviors, which allowed the industry to be more responsive and able to adjust to consumer trends and demands.
As part of the travel industry, the challenge is to keep our unique identity and maintain our authenticity with the consumer. Yet how can we get engaged and learn from the general travel industry to create similar ecosystems which benefit us all? Collaboration is not a foreign concept to us. The GoRVing coalition is an excellent example of how we’ve worked to create exposure for the “lifestyle” experience. We should use this example of collaboration and leverage what we’ve learned to have a voice in travel.
Next time, we’ll discuss travel distribution channels and opportunities to connect outdoor recreation/hospitality to travel.