It's Conference Time in Campground Sector
“March Madness” takes on a different connotation for the campground industry, as the month by default has evolved into an unofficial jumping off point to prepare for the summer season.
At least 12 established state associations, headed by the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO), will assemble during the month to review plans for the coming year, to spend time at educational seminars and attend vendor trade shows and expos.
Add in the Northeast Campground Association’s (NCA) 10-state Northeast Conference on Camping in Sturbridge, Mass., that occurs the same week as a bevy of meetings for franchisees of Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI) and you have a very busy month.
WACO Convention – Biggest of Them All
Nothing is busier than the WACO convention, set for March 20-24 in Stevens Point, Wis. The convention will outdraw the national conference in terms of campgrounds and vendors. WACO Executive Director Lori Severson anticipates attendance will top 600.
Special speakers include ARVC CEO Paul Bambei, who will address the luncheon on March 21, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who will speak at the banquet that evening. A number of state officials and outdoors representatives also are booked to address the massed audience and in smaller seminars.
Veteran campground consultant Bud Styer of Bud Styer & Associates, Lodi, Wis., and a WACO board member is a big booster of the WACO convention. “We have the largest trade show in the country,” Styer told Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM). “The ARVC show has 117 vendors. We average 195. And in 2013, we’ll have 50,000 more square feet. Our hope is to have 250 vendors by March. We’ve invited all our neighbors (parks in neighboring states).
“They have shows, yet the vendors only have one thing on their mind: they want buyers in front of them who are ready to buy,” added Styers. “We’ve designed our show so that we want our people to come with trucks and trailers prepared to buy things and haul them home. We want our vendors to have show specials and understand our people are here to buy. So give us a great product and give us a great price and everybody wins.”
NCA Conference Meets in Sturbridge
Another major March event, the Northeast Campground Association’s 49th Northeast Conference on Camping March 21-23 in Sturbridge, also is expected to attract a large crowd. The three-day affair, held at the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Conference Center, is annually one of the nation’s largest gatherings in the outdoor hospitality industry.
Jim Rogers, CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) is the keynote speaker on Mar. 22, while motivational speaker Tim Richardson also is scheduled to speak during the conference. The two-day trade show should be one of the industry’s largest. On the final day of the conference, state associations from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont will hold their respective state association meetings.
“We are very excited about our program for our 49th annual event – Invigorate 2013,” reported Cyndy Zbierski, NCA executive assistant and conference coordinator. “NCA has made sure to present a program that is useful, fun and important to the business plan of all owners in the camping industry. This includes the smallest campgrounds with even fewer than 50 sites to the largest parks up to 1,000 sites.”
Focusing on business best practices, NCA has invited Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert, to speak, and Corissa St. Laurent, the Regional Development Director of Constant Contact, to speak on social media marketing.
NCA represents more than 1,100 member campgrounds in 10 Northeast states: Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Meanwhile, LSI, franchisor of Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, packs four meetings into the first week of the month for its franchisees at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Covington, Ky. – those for Yogi Advisory Council members, the Spring Meeting for owners and operators, the CARE Conference for the recreation directors and a Certified Pool Operators training. The Spring Meeting will focus on updates from the system and industry and will close with a Leadership Seminar led by Jim Cain.
“The CARE Conference will continue to explore leadership with Dr. Cain as well as new fun activities that we can all bring back to our parks,” reports Kelly Jones, LSI’s director of franchisee development. Sessions will also focus on prioritizing multiple projects and theme weekend planning. LSI will also be hosting a Certified Pool Operator training for franchise locations.
Three States Participating At the Mid-Atlantic Event
From March 5-6, between 40 and 50 campgrounds will be attending the Mid-Atlantic Coastal States Campground Conference at Dover Downs Casino Hotel in Dover, Del. “Most attendees are from Maryland and New Jersey, but we would love to get more Delaware campgrounds there, but they do not have a state association so it is difficult to reach the campground owners individually,” said Joann DelVescio, executive director of the New Jersey Campground Owners Association (NJCOA), who organizes the annual event.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of the East Coast in October, the conference will be logically focusing on emergency preparedness and response. This year’s theme is “Getting to Know You,” so attendees will be quizzed on facts and minutiae on the states of New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.
Last year, 45 vendors participated in the trade show and a similar number is expected this time around, DelVescio said.
For the third time, the Maryland Association of Campgrounds (MAC) will hold its annual spring meeting at Dover Downs on March 4 just prior to and in conjunction with the Mid-Atlantic Coastal States Conference. “The decision to hold the meeting out-of-state was not an easy one to make, but the trip can take six hours in good traffic with no snow for some of our members,” said Deb Carter, MAC executive director. “Each year is determined by a vote of the members. The decision is two-fold. It’s a great location for extending a business trip with a pleasure trip. Horse racing, casino, spa, fabulous food and tax free shopping are on site – with much more to explore in Delaware's historic Capital City, Dover.”
It also helps to build attendance at the conference, noted Carter, national president of Campground Association Management Professionals (CAMP) three years ago who then served as the representative for the affiliated states on the ARVC board for a three-year term.
“Our MAC attendance has been great and growing each year,” she continued. “We average 18 to 20 campgrounds in attendance at our meeting, roughly 70% of our members, plus several associate members. Our meetings cover many areas – legislative issues, best practices for advertising, use of social media, ARVC policy/benefits and much more. Always included is a very lively roundtable discussion of what's going on in our campgrounds. We share ideas and information, learn from each other (the good and the bad) and enjoy the relative peace and quiet before the season officially begins. Each of our members knows that way beyond their membership dues, their attendance, ideas and input are crucial to the success of our organization.”
Other Early Meetings Worth Knowing About in 2013
Other Midwestern states holding conventions in March include Ohio and Michigan.
The Ohio Campground Owners Association (OCOA) is holding its 2013 Spring Conference and Trade Show on March 8-9 in Columbus. Between 80 and 100 attendees are expected, reports Kristy M. Smith, OCOA executive director.
Addressing the group will be Barb Youmans, ARVC’s senior director of marketing and education, who will be discussing “Using Industry Trends to Make Smart Business Decisions.”
Other topics on the table at the Ohio meeting, which is expected to feature about 30 vendor exhibitors, will include maximizing relationships with the Ohio Tourism Department, ADA requirements, social media, successful campground operations and management, keeping campgrounds fun and safe and improving retail operations. The Ohio EPA will also be holding a full-day wastewater course for certified operators in coordination with the conference.
“Due to the successful turnout from vendors last year, we have increased our trade show from 89 booths to 108 booths for 2013,” reports Lori Thews, new executive director for the Michigan Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, which will hold its Spring Convention & Trade Show March 25-27 in Lansing, Mich.
“There were approximately 50 campgrounds in attendance that included roughly 100 participants. Through added promotion this year, we hope to increase participation by more than 20%,” Thews added.
Special guest speakers include Jeff Sims, director of state relations and program advocacy for ARVC; Scott Everett, legislative consultant, ARVC Michigan; and Steve Yencich, president/CEO of the Michigan Tourism & Lodging Association.
A new certification course titled ServSage is being offered this spring.
“If your campground prepares food for guests, at least one member of your staff needs to be properly certified,” Thews explained. This course will be offered on Monday, March 25, starting at 8 a.m. The ServSafe Certification is an 8-hour course and costs an additional $130, course book is included. The deadline to register for this class is Feb. 15.
The theme for the Colorado Campground and Lodging Owners’ Association (CCLOA) convention is “Making a Better Impression,” reports Dana Foran, CCLOA administrator. Sessions will include “Making a Better Impression Through RV Park Reviews” and “Making a Better Impression Through Your Rack Cards/Brochures and Printed Materials.”
Following a March 11 reception, the convention gets in full swing on the 12th with a full day of educational seminars, cracker barrel sessions and visits with the vendors. The day concludes with a dinner banquet followed by the live auction. Seminars and a second visit with the vendors will continue on March 13, and the convention comes to a close with a noon luncheon on Wednesday.
Other associations holding meetings during the month include Missouri and Louisiana.