18 - February 2018 Woodall’s Campground Management Q&A CONVERSATIONS ARVC Chairman Al Johnson Reflects on Challenges Facing the Campground Sector level and they provide benefits, adver- tising and marketing tools as well; they do an excellent job. The last adminis- tration loved to implement regulations and ARVC really worked with camp- grounds and government officials to help the outdoor recreation industry survive and we came out okay, but there are plenty of things to work on. We need to continue working to set a single standard of what a campground is. I do business in 10 different states and each one has a different idea of what a campground should be. We need to lift a national standard, NFPA 1194, and a goal would be to get the first state to adopt that standard. ARVC is doing very exciting things with education for its members. It really is gaining a reputation in the industry. I want to see that continue and I want to see more educational opportunities that help members run their businesses better. I think when you put it all together it really is easy to justify the yearly dues if you’re a campground opera- tor. With all the benefits that you receive and the things that ARVC does in the public affairs arena. WCM: U.S.Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stayed busy in 2017, rolling back land monuments,work- WCM: You have been in the camp- ground arena your entire life.What is it like to see the growth that the sector is experiencing right now? Johnson: I have been blessed to be a part of this industry and I am happy to be a part of this surge in growth we are experiencing.This is the strongest growth the outdoor recreation indus- try has experienced since the 1960’s and 1970’s. We have had nothing like this since then.We are also seeing the most active campground construc- tion phase in 40-50 years. WCM: What is ARVC’s role in making sure the momentum keeps moving in a positive direction? Johnson: ARVC has really come alongside campground and resort operators by paving a way through the regulations that operators and camp- ground developers deal with.We must continue working with local, state and federal officials to show them that we deserve a place in their communities, showing them that RV owners are driv- ingexpensivepiecesofequipmentand that they can be assets to the commu- nity, not blight. WCM: What are the issues you want to focus on as ARVC’s chairman of the board? Johnson: ARVC was formed to give campgrounds a voice at the national ing with the Outdoor Recreation In- dustry Roundtable (ORIR) and talk- ing extensively on the idea of private concessionaires potentially operat- ing campgrounds in national parks. What is your take on Zinke and the idea of private/public partnerships when it comes to national parks? Johnson: I am cau- tiously encouraged by what I am seeing from Zinke. I think the ORIR is doing a great job of lifting the entire industry. When we talk about investing moneyinournational parks we also need to look at how that will impact private camp- grounds that are nearby.Campgrounds at national parks do need some help after 50 years of neglect, but private camp- grounds have also built around those areas to fill the voids that were left there. So, if the federal government moves to meet the needs of the national parks, private park owners around those areas could lose out on the investments they have made. At the same time, the national parks need attention to remain the attrac- tions that private parks rely on to attract people to their parks. I am in favor of these private/public partner- shipsifwehavediscussionsabouthow it could impact private parks that surround these areas. We need to find a way for both entities to co-exist. WCM: Are you concerned about the lack of campground sites available nationally compared to the demand? Johnson: The market drives growth and there always is a little lag. I think we are seeing growth with large companies and multiple owners get- ting involved in the industry. We are also seeing families and entrepre- neurs entering the market. In the 1970’s when we saw a lot of growth, the market was overbuilt, so I think we need to watch the market and see what the limits are. WCM: Everyone is talking about the surge in Millennials,they have re- ally embraced the camping lifestyle. Your thoughts on how they will im- pact the industry moving forward? Johnson: Millennials are ecologi- cally aware and by working with both the park service and the RV industry personally, I know firsthand that they are looking for remote places to camp on public lands — that is where they start with their tents and if they really enjoy it, they will buy RVs. Increas- ingly people are longing for that “small town” feel — and with more people becoming urbanized that is harder to find. But they can achieve that feel at an RV park. They can let their kids have that freedom to play. On Halloween they can let their kids go trick-or-treating around the park without having to be afraid that something will happen. ARVC has also been doing a great job of engaging the younger genera- tion of campground operators and workers. It is exciting to see the num- ber of millennials that are working in our industry. — Ben Quiggle WCM J.Alan (Al) Johnson is the third generation in his family engaged in the outdoor hospitality industry in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His grandfather, Otto Johnson Sr., operated a “tourist camp” cabin group on the banks of Bear Butte Creek in Sturgis. His father, Otto Johnson, developed the second private campground in the Black Hills and was a charter member and the first president of the South Dakota Camp- ground OwnersAssociation. Al was voted NationalAssociation of RV Parks and Campground’s (ARVC) chairman of the board in November and is the executive vice president of development and public affairs for RecreationalAdventures Company (RAC),Kampgrounds ofAmer- ica’s (KOA) largest franchisee. The company has 12 campgrounds in 10 states, along with a reservation call center utilized by more than 100 KOAs. In addition, Johnson is president of Forest Recreation Manage- ment Inc., which has the permit to operate U.S. Forest Service camp- grounds and recreation areas in the Black Hills.Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) interviewed Johnson about his experiences in the industry and what he looks forward to accomplishing as the new ARVC chairman of the board. Here is the edited conversation. Al Johnson has worked in the outdoor recreation industry and the Mount Rushmore KOA for almost his entire life. Tents enjoy sitting by a lake at Mount Rushmore KOA, which Al Johnson helps manage as part of his role with Recreational Adventures Company.