Former Owner Looks at RV Parks As A Guest
Mary Arlington is an avid RVer, former RV park owner and a lifetime certified park operator (CPO). Since selling her RV park in west Kansas, Arlington now teaches and consults with small businesses through her marketing and management company, MMCC Inc. Find her online at www.MaryArlington.com. This column appears in the April issue of Woodall's Campground Management.
Traveling by RV before buying a campground provided me with great insight for our own operations when my husband and I bought our park. We wanted to make sure our guests didn't encounter the “issues” we experienced as RVers.
Sadly, traveling by RV after selling the park also provided me with great insight. So many parks still don't get it!
Before I proceed with some Uh-Ohs, let me say that nearly all parks did many things very well. If you want a “feel good” article about what you're doing properly, you'll need to look elsewhere because in this chapter of life, I’m focusing on helping people strengthen and grow that which their passions started before they were blindsided by exhaustion from striving to achieve success. This means finding new ways of doing things and new ways to grow revenue, which often involves change in many aspects of the business, including how they find their guests and what they offer to their guests.
So, how did some parks fail me as I traveled by RV? Please remember, I owned, managed and fully operated an overnight park for a decade. As I experience Uh-Ohs, I have a bit of an idea of your side of the counter, as well. Change isn't easy, but are you in business for you? I hope it's for your guests!
Some parks greatly limit the length of time a guest can use the Wi-Fi. I understand the need to limit things, but you're turning off your vacationing travelers (especially foreigners; I was traveling in Canada for part of my trip). Even at a limiting park, my evening Wi-Fi time can look like this:
- Read and respond to internet-based emails.
- Check tomorrow's weather for my travel plans.
- Research tomorrow's route, activities and road conditions.
- Locate my next campsite (or determine I should extend my stay right here).
- Read and post a bit on social media to keep in touch with my family and friends.
- Post reviews of my last-night's camping experience; sometimes in multiple places because I have my favorite review sites and parks often have their own method.
With that list, assuming I don’t have something new to surf for, such as RV service, church schedules, news stories or a friend’s new blog, you can see that limiting me to 60 minutes is simply too limiting.
If you must limit usage, if at all possible, please let the overnighters or short-stays (those who happen to be paying the most per night) have less-restricted use of the Wi-Fi.
By the way, I usually checked online again in the morning, checking new e-mails and confirming the weather forecast. And later that evening, I'd be back at all again, only this time I'd be rating my stay at last night's place. If it was your place, you'll likely hope my review is favorable! Did you limit my Wi-Fi too much?
If your answering machine says, "We're sorry but we're on the other line, so please leave a message and someone will call you right back,” then please mean it. Why? Because I'm the driver, navigator and caller. That's right. We don't all travel in pairs or in families.
When I placed the call that gave me that greeting, I had stopped somewhere specifically to make the call. Therefore, based on the recorded assurance of a prompt return call, I stayed put for it. After 30 minutes of waiting, I called again and heard the same message. I then chose to drive the hour, on a wing and a prayer, hoping for a site (my plans had changed unexpectedly, thus I wasn't as prepared as I would normally have been). Upon my arrival, 90 minutes after my first call, I suggested they throw away the message from me since I was now there. They informed me they had just retrieved their messages, having been out of the office all day. My advice, "change the message."
Please keep your voice messages up-to-date, respond to voice mail and e-mails frequently and check all other means of communication as often as possible. Your guests may be using out-of-country precious minutes of cell phone time, or might be traveling in areas with weak phone signals or driving alone. If you’re in business for your guests, be there for them, and make your posted/recorded greetings relevant.
Some fellow RVers I met this summer were using Skype and Facebook to see if parks had openings for the same day or the next. WOW! Kudos to those park owners!
On a side note, while I was at that non-responsive park, I became very ill. I called the office to alert them of my extreme illness. I was traveling alone, in Canada, and felt they should be alerted in case I needed emergency care (I knew at my park I’d have wanted to know). I left a message but wondered when it might be heard. Later I left another message, informing them of a bit of progress. The next morning the manager came by to say they'd just received my messages. I am grateful I wasn't calling with a more dire need!
Unfortunately, my list of Uh-Ohs is quite lengthy. Look around your place. Look at it with fresh eyes, or invite a friend or hire someone to study your park from the guest's perspective. No park is perfect (yep, not even mine was), so use the pre-season time to see how many of your Uh-Ohs can be fixed before the RVers point them out to all their online friends.