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Gorin: Wi-Fi Takes Over Top Spot in His Poll

June 18, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He provided the following column which appears in the June issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

My informal poll now shows that after many, many years in first place, sewers have been knocked from the top spot. Wi-Fi has replaced sewers and sewage as the No. 1 topic among park owners these days. As sewer systems, treatment plants and related issues were often the bane of the park owner’s existence, in many cases that headache has been replaced by Wi-Fi. In fact, I’ve even heard park folks saying they’d rather unclog a sewer line by hand than face a customer with a Wi-Fi complaint. And it’s no longer a matter of talking about needing to have Wi-Fi, it’s now moved into the more sophisticated areas of bandwidth, repeaters, controllers, towers and other technology issues. And of course, is it free or do we charge for it?

Best practice in the hospitality industry today calls for facilities to provide reliable high speed Internet access where the guest wants it – in the hotel business that means in the guest room; in the park business that means at the site and inside the RV (or cabin or whatever).

Once that standard is accepted, then the only remaining question is who pays for the service. The park owner? The guest? A combination?

Often heard at these discussions is that lower priced hotels are giving Wi-Fi away free while high priced hotels are sometimes charging quite high fees.

The guests at the lower priced properties are assumed to be shopping price and looking to get the best deal for the money. So with Wi-Fi being a highly valued amenity in today’s world, lower priced facilities use it to attract guests who are price sensitive but also have indicated their desire for Wi-Fi.

At the high priced properties, guests are assumed to be making decisions based on the overall higher end facilities, amenities, location and other similar factors. While Wi-Fi is important, it doesn’t factor into their decision-making at as higher level as it might for the traveler/vacationer who is more price driven.

Here’s another thought: A 200-site park open year round with a 40% occupancy rate is going to pay $15,000 annually to provide high speed Wi-Fi to their guests. That works out to just 51 cents per occupied site night. Add a $1 a night to your site rate and you’ve more than covered the cost.

Another way to thinking about this: It’s going to cost you $20,000 to install and operate a reliable Wi-Fi system. At a $50/night rate, that’s 400 site nights. If you have an A+ Wi-Fi system that works basically flawlessly, will that produce 400 site nights each year? Looking at it another way, if you don’t have a flawless system, what might that cost you in lost repeat guests over the year?

There are lots of ways to skin this cat but the bottom line remains the same. The best practice is to provide high quality, reliable and fast Internet connectivity at your sites. How you skin the cat will depend on your particular approach to your business and your guest experience.

Superior Quality Parks

Thumbing through the recently distributed ARVC Member Handbook, I came across an interesting logo that caught my attention – “Superior Quality Park” in the shape of a seal with five gold stars in the middle.

Reading through the accompanying text, it became apparent that ARVC will be awarding this designation to parks where the owners, managers or other key employees had completed certain certificates in the new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP).

Karl Littman, chairman of the ARVC Foundation and president of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA), had reported in passing to the VCA board in early April that such a designation might be coming so I was somewhat aware of the idea, but I was unprepared for it when I saw it announced in print in the Member Handbook that had obviously been to print well prior to the ARVC Board and Foundation meetings in early April.

It seemed to me that a designation as strong and clear-cut as Superior Quality Park seems to be – complete with its five stars in the logo – is not something that should be introduced to the park industry without some pretty broad discussion.

Barb Youmans, ARVC’s senior director of education and membership, responded to an inquiry about the new designation. Here’s Barb’s take on the SQP.

Just so we are clear, this designation is not intended to be a “rating” for the park, but rather a designation that recognizes a park owner’s commitment to improved quality service and guest experiences overall through learning supported by OHEP. We believe strongly that individuals who successfully complete the criteria for an OHEP certificate will grow personally and professionally. With enough full-time (seasonal and year-round) employees receiving certificates, we also believe guest experiences will be positively impacted.

We want to recognize parks who have demonstrated their commitment to developing their employees, who are the ultimate ambassadors to the consumers and that strive toward better delivering operational excellence and experience through those ambassadors and their participation in OHEP.

This was an internal arvc decision that was made for the purposes of recognizing efforts in this area. The program was presented to the board at the recent Spring Board meeting as part of the Foundation and Education update given by Karl Littman.

Barb’s explanation of the desire to recognize educational achievements is certainly appropriate, laudable and no one would quibble with that.

Just to be clear, if awarding the designation of “Superior Quality Park” is not offering a rating, exactly what is it? As a consumer, if you saw that seal on a park, what would be your logical conclusion? If it’s not a rating, what is it and what information is intended for the consumer?

Participation in the OHEP is one way for a park to demonstrate a commitment to developing employees. Is it the only way? I don’t think so. Is it the best way? Maybe but the OHEP program is brand new and is essentially untried and untested at this point.

Is this a designation that signifies an educational accomplishment of an individual? What happens when the individual, maybe the owner, sells the park or employees leave the park? Is it no longer a Superior Quality Park? What’s the connection between the educational attainments of an individual or a group of individuals to the overall quality of an RV park? Sure, we expect that educated individuals might operate good RV parks and campgrounds and may have an understanding of quality service and facilities, but knowledge as we all know doesn’t automatically translate to a “superior quality park.” Operating a superior park involves far more than a certificate from OHEP or elsewhere.

Awarding such a rating or designation is a quantum leap into new territory for ARVC. The park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations should not be done lightly. Do the members feel that a decision to award such a designation should be an internal staff decision or is this move sufficiently significant that the ARVC board should be involved and that perhaps membership input might be warranted?

I could be way off base but I don’t think so. An ARVC designation of a Superior Quality Park on the Go Camping America website and then in individual park marketing could be an important competitive edge and certainly needs more careful industry discussion.

Combining ARVC’s Guest Reviews program with Superior Quality Parks designations on the GCA (GoCampingAmerica) directory and in individual park marketing certainly seems to be moving the national trade association into the rating business.

Your thoughts?

 

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