Profile – A Look at Two Bar Harbor KOA Parks
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) owns and operates two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island – the land mass that juts off the coast of Maine and is home to the world famous Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
One man – Jeff Goins – runs both campgrounds: the 214-site Oceanside Campgrounds that rests on Western Bay and the 135-site Woodlands Campground that sits just 1 1/2 miles down the road.
KOA acquired Oceanside in 2002 and Woodlands in 2005 when they came on the market. They are among 26 company-owned KOA campgrounds.
The challenge of running two campgrounds in a very competitive market (there are 17 campgrounds on the island) keeps Goins, who is in his first season there, hopping between the two properties from early May until two weeks after Columbus Day. Likewise, new campground hires are told they will work at either campground whenever they are needed.
Oceanside, because of its popularity, opens first and closes last.
The Oceanside campground, established in 1961, is considered one of the jewels in KOA’s system because of its location. “We think it’s one of the prettiest campgrounds in our system because of the setting,” notes Pat Hittmeier, KOA president. “It’s quite striking.”
It has 3,500 feet of Atlantic Ocean shoreline and offers 17 deluxe cabins and six Airstream traveler rentals among its 214 sites. Salt water laps at the rocky beach that borders one side of the park. Some campers contend that because they can’t see the open seas from their site, it’s technically not on the ocean.
That’s a moot point for visitors who enjoy the smell of salt air (it’s omnipresent), a fresh lobster dinner (an independent entrepreneur cooks lobsters right on the campground every night) and accessibility to one of the prime tourist areas on the East Coast.
Goins, 62, relishes the task, as he has all the assignments he’s taken since entering the RV lifestyle in 2001 when he retired after a lengthy career in the auto design business. He became a workamper with KOA that summer and loved it.
“I wish I had found out 30-some years ago you could do these kinds of jobs at campgrounds and make a living,” he recalled of his workamper career.
He joined the management ranks in 2010 when he took over at the KOA in Albuquerque, N.M. The park earned KOA’s Founders’ Award in 2011, and Goins earned Manager of the Year honors for company-owned properties in 2012.
“I poured everything I had into that park,” Goins recalled.
He’s doing the same at the Bar Harbor KOAs, where the pace was already frantic by Memorial Day. The season so far has been strong with solid bookings into July.
Quoting his region manager, Goins summarized, “The first year the campground manages you; the second year you manage the campground.”
Still, Goins is able to put himself in the shoes of his guests and anticipate their needs.
“I’m a camper from the beginning,” said Goins, a Michigan native. “The things that impressed me through the years at the campgrounds I recall best are things we tend to offer. KOA’s attention to detail is outstanding.”
For example, this attention to detail is evident at The Woodlands when late arrivals need firewood but discover the camp store is closed. How many campers don’t think of firewood until the last minute? Many, says Goins, so the campground provides a phone number late arrivals can call for late-night deliveries right to their campsite.
In training for management, Goins said, KOA asks the question of its managers, “Who do you work for?”
Some will say they work for KOA.
“The correct answer is,” Goins explained, “We work for our guests.”
Goins tends to look at the two campgrounds as one. Oceanside gives campers the ocean feel, while Woodlands resembles a more traditional park. In fact, he calls Woodlands “out of this world. It’s like another planet.” Heavily wooded, the grounds are peppered with little cabins and primitive tent sites spread throughout, although some tent sites have been upgraded.
“For the true tenter, this park will satisfy them,” Goins said. “You can get out of the rat race really fast.”
The campground also has a new bathhouse.
“We’re as proud of our parks as we can be,” he said.
Goins is part of a family team that works at the campgrounds. Gloria, his wife, is the office and store manager, while their daughter, Rachel Plaga, is the activities director.
Branding and Demographics
Revenue at Oceanside was up 14.7% in 2012, making it one of KOA’s top performers, noted Hittmeier, while revenue at Woodlands, which lacks some of the glamor of its sister park down the road, was flat.
At the time of publication, KOA had decided to brand Oceanside as a “holiday” park under its new branding system but had yet to decide on Woodlands’ brand.
“Both are sort of destination parks, but have different amenity packages,” Hittmeier noted. The Bar Harbor competition doesn’t do much with tenting, so KOA decided to develop that at Woodlands and stresses tenting on its website and elsewhere.
“We improved our tenting spots and added more options for covered areas, like camping cabins,” he continued.
The average length of stay at Oceanside is 3.3 nights, a little higher than the system average, which is indicative of a destination park, Hittmeier said. Some 70% of the Oceanside guests come from over 250 miles away and 30% come from as far away as 700 miles, according to KOA demographic research.
Woodlands campers come from shorter distances (60% come from over 250 miles) and stay shorter periods of time (2.7 nights) than Oceanside. Almost half of the Woodlands’ revenue comes from tenting, compared to just 15% at Oceanside. Because of the heavy tenting emphasis, the average age of campers at Woodlands also is much younger, Hittmeier added.
Campers at Oceanside can experience the nostalgia and romance of camping in an Airstream travel trailer. The campground has six fully equipped Airstreams that sleep up to four people, and include a queen bed and two twin beds.
“From the campers who use them, I’ve heard more than 10 times campers call this ‘a camping experience.’ The Airstreams seem to tickle them more,” explained Goins.
Oceanside is also the only campground on the west side of the island so campers can “watch the sky melt into sunset pastels from their waterfront site,” the website notes. Whale watching and fishing boat hires are available to campers. Oceanside offers 50-amp service at many sites, Wi-Fi, fishing , plus kayak and bike rentals.
Acadia National Park attracts 2 million visitors annually and 55,000 unique visitors come to the island every week during the summer. There is no noticeable drop in traffic on the island between weekend and weekdays during the tourist season.
This steady influx of tourists could prove disruptive to many campers driving bulky RVs up and down the winding roads of Mount Desert Island but thanks to the Down East Transportation Co., which runs a daily shuttle service on the island, campers can hop on the Island Explorer that runs to Bar Harbor and the national park every half hour.
The Island Explorer features eight bus routes linking hotels, inns, and campgrounds with destinations on the island and operates June 23 through Columbus Day.
Riders can even bring their bikes and their dog. KOA advises that, “If someone already seated on the bus has an allergy to dogs, you may be asked to wait for the next bus!”
Businesses pay a fee on a sliding scale to underwrite the service.
Goins loves the service but wishes it could start earlier in the season. “I believe our business would be a lot bigger if there were more shuttles available sooner,” he said. He understands that public school bus drivers pick up the shuttle routes in summer and can’t start until schools dismiss for the summer. He’s hoping a compromise can be reached to lengthen the shuttle’s period of service starting in 2014.
Until this year, there was a big difference in TV reception between the two campgrounds: Woodlands had cable service but Oceanside did not. This was a key point for many campers and a burr under the saddle for KOA. In early June, DirecTV began burying cable service to about two-thirds of the RV sites and all the cabins and Airstreams at Oceanside, Goins said.
“Nobody is more excited about this than I am,” he said. “Campers my age are looking for cable. I understand it.”
Goins hopes to market the KOAs more to the millions of campers in the Canadian market, which is located less than a half-day’s drive away, and especially to Quebec. But he understands he will need to market his website in French to attract the potential in Quebec.
He also hopes to beef up the cabin inventory at Woodlands, which already has 17 cabins, and is looking for ways to boost the campgrounds’ shoulder seasons.
“Woolands is listed in the KOA Directory to close on Sept. 21. However, I will keep the campground open as long as we have guests showing up. I plan on growing the business for next year to cause opening earlier and closing later,” he said.
KOA Oceanside Campground
Season: May 6 to Oct. 20
Layout: Fronts on the Western Bay of the Atlantic Ocean, 3,500-foot oceanfront.
Facilities: 214 sites (152 RV sites, 35 tents sites, 17 cabins, 10 “other” (no road access but available for bikers and motorcycle campers)
Good Sam Directory Rating: 8/8.5/8
Contact: (207) 288-3520
KOA Woodlands Campground
Season: May 23 to Sept. 21
Layout: Located in heavily wooded area.
Facilities: 135 sites (45 RV sites, 73 tent sites and 17 cabins)
Good Sam Directory Rating: 8.5/8/8.5
Contact: (207) 288-3520