ARVC's Paul Bambei Putting Out Industry Fires
As high profile wildfires burned public lands across the state of Colorado in June, Paul Bambei, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), was busy putting out some fires of his own.
From his office in the Denver suburb of Centennial, Bambei couldn’t see any of those wildfires which captured media attention and prompted some well-timed damage control efforts from both ARVC and Camp Colorado, the state campground association. But he could feel the heat that some ARVC decisions – even one made before he joined the association as CEO late in 2010 – were creating.
In particular, Bambei had what he called a serious discussion around Memorial Day with Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), over ARVC’s decision not to provide moderate financial support for Go RVing Coalition activities. Historically, that support ranged between $50,000 and $100,000 annually and was delivered by Bambei’s predecessor, Linda Profaizer, during RVIA’s Committee Week in June each year.
“The association (ARVC) felt it needed some recognition for the contribution and that was a way to get it rather than just sending in a check,” Profaizer explained to WCM. “For several years early on, ARVC members contributed more than dealers to the program,” although the campground sector has generally been lukewarm in its support of the RV-centric Go RVing marketing campaign because of its focus on recreational vehicles. There was a feeling for a period of years that the Go RVing advertising did not adequately reflect campground settings. It reflected RVs in neutral settings.
The last check presentation came in 2010 after which time the ARVC board voted to drop such support from the ARVC budget and leave funding up to individual member parks.
Starting in 2011 and continuing in 2012, member parks could send donations to the ARVC office and a single check was written to Go RVing, usually in June. That check totaled $6,000 in 2012, Bambei said. No check had yet been written for 2013 when Bambei was interviewed by Woodall’s Campground Management on June 27.
The absence of a moderate contribution from ARVC was addressed by the RVIA behind closed doors during RVIA’s Committee Week in early June in Washington, D.C. Ahead of that, an ARVC board member alerted Bambei to RVIA’s concern, and he called Coon.
Following is Bambei’s recollection of that discussion.
“I applaud what Go RVing has meant for our industry. Anything that stokes our industry and makes our industry more relevant to the consumer is something I am in favor of,” Bambei said. “And ARVC will always support it.”
But in explaining the board’s decision in 2010, Bambei said, “What they were trying to do was push the decision for funding for Go RVing to the members within ARVC who are the direct beneficiaries of it. They are encouraged to write a check and fund it if they see value. And if not, then they don’t.
“ARVC’s role is to promote the program, which we do on our website and we are the funnel that administers the funding that comes from our members back to RVIA. What got some of the RVIA folks a bit excited was that the funding levels have dropped.”
Bambei agreed the drop in financial support is “dramatic” but quickly added, “We make decisions each day on a much more limited budget. Ours (budget) is about one tenth of what RVIA’s is. It’s a completely different dynamic for us to be able to write a big check out of our pockets for something that is a branding investment that mostly RVIA gets a benefit from. The program is geared to people who are thinking about buying an RV. Does this program necessarily translate into somebody showing up at one of our member parks? You can argue both sides of that. As we track those leads, it is the members themselves who see it more than anyone else. If they’re not seeing that, they are not compelled to write a check.”
ARVC Still Supports Go RVing
“The important thing I want to stress is, we still support Go RVing. It’s just an individual business decision by each member whether they want to support it. ARVC as an organization supports it. Our Go Camping America website is the search engine for Go RVing. We didn’t ask for any contributions to redevelop GCA’s website when we were paying for that upgrade the past year. It’s reciprocal. It’s all for the common good.”
Reviewing his discussion with Coon, Bambei concluded, “We vowed to do a better job of communicating. Speaking for myself, I haven’t done a great job of that. I invited Richard to our conference in Knoxville in November and to our ARVC Business Forum (which meets during the conference). There are a lot of things we should be cross-channeling. We will try to do that more often and do a better job of it. What’s important is, we both awoke to a mutual concern. He told me he would take our discussion back to his board and he said they wouldn’t be happy. I said I understood that. I’m just sorry it didn’t get clearly communicated back to them.”
Coon, for his part, acknowledges that he has worked to build a better dialogue recently between the recreational vehicle industry and the campground sector in the hope that the entire industry can more closely work together – something that’s never really occurred in the past. “Look, RVIA has been working over the last couple of years to build more unity with the industry, not just our sales,” Coon said.
Coon says it’s consistent with other initiatives RVIA has undertaken over the past two or three years in its effort to better unify the industry. “We've done a good job in the areas of bringing Canadian people with us so we understand the Canadian market and their needs,” he added. “We've done a good job bringing the park model people back to the association, which are a big part of the industry. But one of the elements that is missing in the big picture is the campground industry, which we haven't had a lot of communication with in the past.”
'Superior Quality Parks' Issue
Meanwhile, Bambei and ARVC did some backpedaling on a decision announced earlier this year that ARVC would assign a designation of “Superior Quality Parks” to any ARVC member park where the owners, managers or other key employees had completed certain certificates in the new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP).
“The original designation was meant to acknowledge a park’s commitment to education and improvement through their staff,” Bambei told WCM. “We don’t want to rate parks on anything else. We leave that to others. I don’t want to be the one with white gloves that determines whether a bathroom is clean. But we have a new education program that is being heralded by the people who use it and understand it. We want to recognize parks that try to improve through that program.”
Former ARVC president David Gorin took ARVC to task when he heard about the new designation. His viewpoint appeared in his In Sites column in the June issue of WCM.
By the time that column appeared, Gorin and Bambei had already spoken and Bambei agreed the precise designation could be amended.
ARVC subsequently renamed the designation “Superior Quality Staff.”
“We have communicated the change to all the state executives, to our board, the ARVC Foundation and to all our members. Everybody seems to be satisfied,” Bambei said.