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Luxury RV Resort Sector Continues Its Growth

January 31, 2017 by   - () Comments Off on Luxury RV Resort Sector Continues Its Growth

Succeeding at providing a luxury RVing experience today can be summed up as old-school customer service that meets 21st-century needs, and it’s something more and more RV resorts aim to do.

“Customer service has been paramount, which is why I think we have had such good success in the Gulf Shores area,” said Courtney Osborne of Bella Terra of Gulf Shores in Foley, Ala.

“Typically in our area we have motorcoach competition, so we are always trying to offer that ‘crème de la crème’ experience, but we also try to be cognizant of the rates that others are offering. We are always trying to be competitive.”

To remain competitive, RV park operators need to understand the shifting demands of campers. Osborne seems to have a good idea of what today’s luxury RV customer wants.

“With this new era of coaching, it’s a younger community,” said Osborne. “They are Baby Boomers ready to explore the open road. They want to be served, to be entertained. They are more willing to indulge themselves.

“Today’s RVers saw their parents be very frugal; now this community wants to seize the moment. We have raised the level of competence to that customer, so they can see the accommodations have stepped up.”

Marie Duginski of Mountain Falls Luxury Motorcoach Resort in Lake Toxaway, N.C., agreed that the luxury RV resort audience has evolved to expect and enjoy a higher level of luxurious amenities. Market demographics are changing to a younger and younger age category. There is also a higher demand for shelters and coach cottages to extend people’s ability to entertain at their resort sites as well as extend their season, she told Woodall’s Campground Management.

We talked to a variety of luxury RV resorts across the U.S., and below is what they had to say.

Bella Terra aims high

Bella Terra Online Marketing Manager Brian Jacobson elaborated on the evolution of their consumers — and the luxury RV resort guest in general.

“As more Baby Boomers retire, given that the stock market has done well, they are retiring with more money,” said Jacobson. “They are investing in luxury lifestyle ownership or vacation rentals. Our RVers are still down-to-earth people, but they are much more luxury conscious and tech savvy than in the past.

“People today want an encounter, an event. They are more active. You see more and more, whether it is a cruise ship or RV park, providing more of an experience. In our case, we try to create an experience for them along with a sense of community and people are appreciating our accommodations.”

The park is responding to how the demographic of the RVer has changed. The customers’ standards are very high and the park works on keeping up by offering an ever-increasing level of service and amenities.

“Glamping is really the trend now,” said Osborne. “It’s glamorous camping. It’s your tablecloth and your floral design for the picnic table. It’s real wine glasses and complimentary craft beer at events we host. It’s a step above.”

Bella Terra offers full concierge service, including greeting guests by name and introducing them to other guests. This helps them make friends at the park with whom they sometimes return. Sometimes they continue their travels together when they leave the park.

“We feature oversized properties designed with the RV enthusiast in mind,” said Osborne. “We hear people say they enjoy the space. They start at around 3,500 to 4,700 square feet. Our 6,000-square-foot clubhouse has 24/7 access and features a fitness center, dry sauna, private locker rooms and our own movie theater that seats 14 comfortably.”

The community pool has complimentary amenities such as an outdoor kitchen and fire pit. There is also a catch-and-release fishing pond at the resort. Bella Terra is also adding pickleball courts, which are in high demand by RVers.

“We are trying to provide as much as you can to all RVers while remaining very focused on our core customer,” Jacobson said. “We offer anything from a standard lot to mini houses that provide a whole different RV experience for people.”

Along with luxury accommodations, to be a 21st-century RV resort means helping customers stay connected with the best Wi-Fi, even while they are venturing into nature.

“Our park offers exceptional Wi-Fi service,” said Osborne. “The RVer is getting younger and younger. They telecommute. Some come out of retirement, but work remotely. Our being able to offer them the ability to work remotely is paramount. That is one of the first questions they ask before they make their reservation.”

Better Wi-Fi access also allows guests to use apps like RV Village to communicate with each other. Jacobson said Bella Terra is looking for more ways to leverage technology to improve the mobile experience for people to find the resort, research it and make a reservation. Today, 50% of their reservations are made on a mobile device.

The Park is using an enduring form of technology by presenting a unique radio program to highlight what is going on in the Gulf Shores area.

“We recently implemented a new feature with a local radio personality called ‘Belle and Tarra,’” Jacobson said. “It is in the spirit of the Lake Woebegone on ‘A Prairie Home Companion.’ We pitch what is going on off site with these two fictional characters. It is really picking up steam on Facebook.

“You can find it on our website. We have a series of radio programs we use in conjunction with events. We also offer newsletters about events going on around our area.”

Just north of the park, a large development is under way that should bring even more customers to Bella Terra. The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is developing 500 acres into a family-friendly entertainment complex. The tribe has a very large presence and will name the complex Owa, which means “Big Water” in the Muscogee Creek language.

Along with a 14-acre lake, the site will also contain multiple hotels, amusement park rides, a very large roller coaster, shopping and dining. Bella Terra has already seen an increase in traffic as a result of the site before it has even opened.

Bella Terra’s latest project, Reunion Point, began in May and is a luxury RV port home development located seven miles from Bella Terra Resort in Foley. It combines a small-footprint vacation home with a Class A motorcoach. When complete the development will contain 45 homes ranging from 1,709-2,755 square feet. Home and lot combinations start at $250,000.

“Reunion Point is for people who are taking it to the next level,” Osborne said. “It is more on par with what you would find in a 5-star hotel.”

Mountain Falls works to rise to the top

For Mountain Falls Luxury Motorcoach Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, a little southern hospitality goes a long way. The North Carolina resort has a dedicated hospitality team to ensure customers are treated to experiences like cocktail hour every Thursday evening and weekly social events with live music, open bar and appetizers.

“Our property owners and guests love our activities and events sponsored by our hospitality services team,” said Duginski, of Mountain Falls Partners. “There is a real sense of community that is created.”

Duginski said amenities guests expect include a clubhouse, pool, fitness facility, pickle ball, clubhouse bar and laundry facilities. The nice-to-haves are the golf course, bocce ball, fireside lounge and hot spa, she said, and of course, guests expect excellent customer service.

“We work hard to keep our property owners and guests happy,” she said.
“The word of mouth and friend referral advertising is critical. Our property owners and past guests are our best advocates.”

Also, a combination of web, newsletter and magazine advertising along with rally participation successfully reaches the luxury RVing audience for Mountain Falls.

Mountain Falls has been developing its newest phase called The Ridge at Mountain Falls, and the resort celebrated the grand opening of a brand-new clubhouse and amenities in May 2015. Currently property owners are building coach cottages and shelters and several spec coach cottages are under construction on The Ridge.

“Our lot sales are at an all-time high as is the overall enjoyment level of the Mountain Falls experience,” Duginski said. “The introduction of our hospitality services and outdoor pursuits has enhanced the sense of community. The welcoming and engaging property owners help foster this inviting community.”

Bluewater Key enhances its tech accessibility

Luxury RVers are more tech-savvy today and the Florida Keys Bluewater Key Resort has enhanced its customer care interface so guests can view and reserve a site all day, every day.

“This past year we have made major investments to our website, reservation, Wi-Fi, front office and concierge systems,” said Howard Griffin, chairman of the Bluewater Key Rental, Advertising and Marketing Committee. “Now owners and prospective guests can immediately make their reservations online for the site they have chosen and make the appropriate deposits. We have also expanded our offerings to include a variety of levels of luxury and prices including Bayfront, Canal and Tropical big-rig-compatible accommodations.”

Griffin said today’s luxury RV resorts are focused on amenities that affect and improve the total experience their guests are in search of, like big-rig compatible sites where they can feel at ease getting into and out of their new, very expensive RVs.

“We provide our guests a place where they have room to extend their slides and awnings along with plenty of room to cook outside, park their tow vehicle and motorcycles, bikes or golf carts,” he said.

Bluewater Key guests typically want oceanfront luxury RVing, and while the ocean provides plenty of activities like boating, swimming, fishing, diving and snorkeling, Bluewater Key allows its guest to enjoy these activities right off their own private docks.

Off site, Griffin said everyone enjoys the tremendous selection of internationally acclaimed restaurant offerings and sightseeing in the historic harbor town of Key West.

Griffin said his view of today’s luxury RVer is someone who wants comfort, privacy, safety, convenience, proximity to a variety of entertainment and restaurants, a place where they can enjoy their RV investment and further their relationships with their family and friends.

Plus, he emphasized, resorts today must also be pet-friendly, because most guests consider their pet part of their family, which is why Bluewater Key’s grounds include “puppy parks.”

Bluewater Key has been busy keeping pace with modernization by installing and expanding its community dock, replacing Wi-Fi and cable systems to provide excellent service throughout the resort, and improving its pool area and club showers, while individual owners continue to invest in their properties at a record pace.

“The luxury RV resort industry in general has experienced difficulty in the past years because of the sagging economy, but that appears to be improving rapidly,” Griffin said. “The RV and automobile industries are experiencing a rebirth after a major shake out and cleansing. Manufacturers are experiencing tremendous growth in sales, new manufacturing facilities are being built or planned, and larger rigs are hitting the market with more features and functions.”

Motorcoach Country Club resort guests are getting younger

The age of the luxury RVer is definitely getting younger and younger, said Paul Johnson, general manager of Motorcoach Country Club in Indio, Calif., echoing his counterparts from across the country. The lifecycle of the RVer is stretching, he said, which is great for the industry.

“The majority of our members are still in the 55-plus age range, but we have seen a huge increase in our ownership and guests age 40 and below,” Johnson said. “It’s exciting for the industry. A lot of our newer or younger buyers are mobile and want to follow the good weather and work remotely. Rather than the retiree, the electronic commuter is becoming a larger part of our demographic. One thing that comes in with every call is the question – ‘Do I have the ability to be connected?’”

Among this younger age group are whole families living the mobile lifestyle and taking both work and school on the road, which makes reliable Wi-Fi super important. The resort’s premium lots all have Wi-Fi service and common areas are fiber-fed.

“Many of our Canadian families are homeschool families and they want to have online access so they can do their school work,” Johnson said. “We have a couple of families that own a site here and their children are homeschooled. We also have families whose children are part traditionally schooled and part homeschooled.”

Children are becoming a normal part of the landscape at resorts. Johnson said this is a welcome change and something he believes resorts will see more and more.

“This is a huge change, at least in this valley for resorts like ours, and it has been well-received,” he said. “It is refreshing to see families buying or coming to stay for extended stays. Many of our members travel with their grandchildren, also.”

Motorcoach Country Club’s developed lots have been gaining in popularity the last 24 months, Johnson told WCM. These glamped-up lots include outdoor lanais, pools, spas, casitas, televisions and fire pits.

“Our guests call it an extension of their RV. This seems to be what they want now. For a long time it was just a parking space with a lawn area.”

Guests at Motorcoach Country Club also enjoy a par-three golf course, tennis, bocce ball, fitness, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking and sunset cruises, but more importantly the social and community aspect that comes with the RV lifestyle is among reasons people come to the resort.

“It’s a really neat social atmosphere here and that is one of the top reasons people stay with us,” Johnson said.

The resort’s Top of the Falls Restaurant is also a cherished amenity.

“It is our fine dining restaurant open the entire season and it compares with any of the better restaurants in the valley here,” Johnson said.

Motorcoach Country Club is a completely sold-out resort, so it has a resale and a rental program. Johnson said 70-100 owners participate in the rental program when they aren’t there.

“Social media and online marketing tools like Google adwords grab a lot of attention in regards to marketing our rental program,” he said. “We also use traditional print with the coach manufacturers. Based on the size of our resort we don’t have a huge inventory compared to a lot of other resorts, so having a limited amount of availability tends to work in our favor. We have 400 lots: waterfront, golf course or privacy.”

The resort just revamped its main plaza and two of its park areas are undergoing renovations, including the addition of 20 and 30-foot circular fountains with lights, pavers for walkways and landscaping.

“These are two of our pet-park areas that members and guests can use to take pets,” Johnson said. “Pets are extended family and sometimes you can end up with more pets than owners.”

“We are finding people are coming back to our resort earlier and earlier,” Johnson said. “This past year we had over 100 coaches come back in early September.”

Between the growth of Boomers on the road and the influx of GenXers and even Millennials coming to appreciate the luxury lifestyle of RV resorts, all the experts who talked to WCM see bright futures ahead for their properties.

— Leanne Phillips

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