Even without an organized effort to get along, pure economics may end up leveling the playing field between the public parks and private parks.
So surmises Jeff Sims, director of state relations and program advocacy with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
With most states under budgetary pressures, rather than subsidize their state park and campground budgets with tax revenue, Sims says, “a lot of parks and campgrounds are generating their own revenue and becoming more in line with the market.”
A look around the states yields various findings.
CONY Proposes that Privates Run State Facilities
In New York, where the private campground industry operates between 45,000 and 50,000 campsites and the state operates about 15,000 sites, the privates have suggested the cash-strapped Empire State turn over operation of state-run campgrounds, which currently undercut the private operators, to concessioners.
Donald Bennett Jr., president and CEO of Campground Owners of New York (CONY), floated the proposal during testimony to a State Assembly committee on tourism, the arts, state parks and sports development on Jan. 15.
The plan would create a more level playing field in New York because in order to cover items such as wages, taxes, insurance and utilities, the rates at public parks would have to rise accordingly, Bennett said.
“If the burden were put on someone else, the state could take the money to subsidize camping and put it toward capital improvement projects,” he noted.
Bennett conceded to Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) that the odds of state approval of the CONY proposal are “slim and none, but it’s an idea we’re putting out there. We have asked the state to take a look at it.”
CONY revisited its proposal during a lobbying effort on March 5 in Albany.
Like other states, New York has fallen far behind in campground maintenance and has troubles funding its parks. The New York park system is one of the nation’s oldest park systems. “Capital monies to resuscitate all historic sites and parks is not as plentiful as they need to be,” he said.
The idea of fairness also enters into the CONY proposal.
“We’re subsidizing 45% of the campground stays and yet we’re constantly hurting our own (private parks’) budget,” he said. “And the other thing that gets me as a tax-paying New York citizen, we’re subsidizing a lot of out-of-staters’ vacations. If the state wants to look at an in-state discount, I would be OK with that.”
The CONY proposal has support with the state’s ski industry and private golf course owners who see similar unfair competition from state-run ski resorts and golf courses.
Scandal Further Clouds CalARVC Stance
The relationship between California state parks and the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) is “non-existent,” says CalARVC Executive Director Debbie Sipe.
“We were developing a relationship until the mess at California state parks last year,” she explained. The “mess” was the threat to close 70 state parks due to budget woes and then the discovery of an uncovered hidden slush fund, which led to the resignation of Director Ruth Coleman. Many non-profits then decided to pull their funding support for state parks.
Coleman served under “2 ½ governors (administrations), even through change of parties, which showed what a good job she was doing at state parks, theoretically,” Sipe recalled.
In December, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed a retired Marine general, Anthony Jackson, to replace Coleman.
Jackson, a veteran RVer, now spends time each week in the field, visiting state parks in his RV.
When contacted by WCM, Sipe was preparing a welcome letter to Jackson, stating in part “when you get a breather, let’s talk.”
“He has so much repair work to do, I don’t expect to hear form him for years,” Sipe said, not entirely in jest.
“I think he has been brought in to get things in order but I don’t expect a long-term relationship,” she said.
Aside from the ongoing turmoil at the state level, Sipe says the competitive issue is not nearly as significant as it is in other states.
Of California’s 270 state parks, 100 have camping facilities. “Right now, state parks are charging a fairly competitive market rate for their sites, so that is a good thing. We’re not competing with them on a price basis. But with a new governor and a change in leadership, that could change.”
Other threats loom on the horizon, however.
State park funding has been slashed by 40% over the last four years, Sipe said, and there is no consistent or reliable funding. “It’s always at the whim of the budget and the current legislators in place,” she said. “State parks are still trying to find out how to move forward and come up with a reliable and consistent level of funding. And they still have a ton of deferred maintenance.”
“The challenge,” she added, “is that because they are so revenue-starved, they’re looking to our industry to see what they can do to bring in increased revenues. They would like to expand their (lodging) offerings with yurts, tent cabins, park models, etc,” she said.
She concluded, “They still have a long, long row to hoe. I wish Anthony Jackson well in trying to evaluate everything.”
Communications Improve In the Sunshine State
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott created a bru-ha-ha in 2011 when his state park director, Donald Forgione, proposed bringing concessionaire-operated, RV-friendly campgrounds to Honeymoon Island State Park. After a massive public outcry, which included opposition from the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, Scott dropped the plan.
At the time, Florida ARVC Executive Director Bobby Cornwell told WCM he was uncertain how the ill-fated plan would affect future relations between his association and the state. “I hope we still have an open relationship and work together when we can. Hopefully, it will be status quo and we can co-exist.”
Since 2011, that relationship has improved for the better, Cornwell said.
“Communications between Florida ARVC and the State Park Director, Donald Forgione, have increased, and Mr. Forgione seems to be understanding of our concerns regarding the unfair competition issue,” Cornwell told WCM. “We try to meet on a regular basis to stay in-touch and to discuss any concerns or issues we may have. At times we may have differing positions, but at least communications are open and I believe there is more of an awareness now how the actions of government may have unintended consequences by negatively affecting the private sector.
“We also know we are basically in the same industry and in most cases serve the same customer. Through our discussion we have realized we have similar problems, issues and goals, and it makes sense for us to try to work together if possible.”
Marketing Gains In Colorado
In Colorado, relationships remain fine, says Mari Garland, outgoing president of the Colorado Campgrounds and Lodge Owners Association (CCLOA).
The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife joined CCLOA as one public lands associate member within the past two years and the parties see each other at many state level tourism meetings.
“One of our board members represents the whole outdoor recreation sector on the Colorado Tourism Office and Tourism Industry Association of Colorado Boards,” Garland noted. “CCLOA is marketing the state parks in our Camp Colorado guide and as a single listing on the CampColorado.com website. We would like to pursue more joint marketing opportunities as we develop the relationship.”
The two entities are not producing a joint camping guide as of yet, so distribution of the CampColorado brochure is still 80,000 for 2013.
“In 2011 Colorado State Parks and Colorado Wildlife merged and that merger has been a consuming distraction for folks from both entities. We are hopeful that our ability to work together toward our common good will increase as their internal issues decrease,” she said.
When the much-feared federal government’s sequestration went into effect on March 1, Jimmy Felton was fit to be tied.
The owner of the Misty River Campground in Townsend, Tenn., a 72-site campground on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, wasn’t certain of his park’s immediate future, thanks to the sequestration (or sequester) which brought forth several campground closings in the nearby national park and numerous other cutbacks across all federally owned lands.
Felton, who also is president of the Tennessee Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, stated, “The campgrounds in Tennessee will be happy to accommodate everybody looking for a camping spot. We still want you to enjoy your vacation. If Uncle Sam doesn’t want you in their campgrounds, we would love for you to come to ours.”
Felton was undoubtedly speaking for all private campground owners in the U.S., both those located near national parks as well as those located on popular routes leading to the national lands who stood to lose business if fewer travelers make their ways to the federal lands this spring and summer.
“In two weeks this will probably be over with,” he said with a tone of optimism. “The lucky part for us in Tennessee, we’re in the off-season. Until springtime, this (cutbacks) won’t affect us much. If this is still going on Memorial Day weekend, that may be different.”
“The main problem is none of the politicians on either side (party) are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re behaving like spoiled little kids. If private industry worked like the government, we’d all be in trouble,” he said.
Across the outdoor hospitality industry, others may not have been as upset as Felton as they saw sequestration join the list of factors, such as a tepid economic recovery and unseasonably high gas prices, that could bite into the coming camping season. But there was still concern.
Max Hammer, owner of Beaver Lake Campground in Custer, S.D., was preparing for the opening of his 2013 season on March 15 and was hopeful the sequestration would be a non-factor.
His 99-site park is located in the Black Hills in the southwest corner of the state, in the shadow of Mount Rushmore National Monument and within a 90-minute drive of four other national parks or monuments.
“A great deal of our guests come to the Black Hills because of the national parks. If people are concerned about national parks being open, they will direct their summer trips somewhere else, like the Wisconsin Dells or Branson, which would affect our park,” he speculated.
“According to my source at Mount Rushmore, who was allowed to speak freely, there will be no impact at our five state/region federal parks until about May 1st. Park managers are then planning scaling back elective or proposed programs equal to funding. The public will not see a difference. Rather, they will see 2012 again,” Hammer told Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM).
“The word ‘closed’ will not be used in any fashion for any facility. Hours of operation may be shortened, ranger-led programs may not be scheduled as often and tour times may not be as often for smaller facilities such as the Minuteman Missile Site,” he explained.
“In this scenario,” Hammer concluded, “I do not fear the sequester – I welcome it. I do fear the mainstream media hype to a ‘sky is falling’ scenario.”
As the sequestration surfaced, Hammer was anticipating a good season.
“Reservations are very strong. Our campground is starting to develop into quite a destination. Half of our traffic is repeats, returns and referrals,” he said.
Traffic counts were up around 5% in 2012 across the state and he anticipated a good year in 2013 as well.
“Everybody has settled into higher fuels prices and getting used to it,” he said. In fact, he predicted that traffic counts “will remain the same or grow a little more statewide, even if there are reductions in National Park Service (NPS) services.”
At his park he made many improvements for the coming season to better serve his guests, some of whom stop there on their way to and from Yellowstone National Park.
Impact Around Yellowstone National Park Could be Huge
RV parks and campgrounds located at or near the gateways to Yellowstone National Park were still closed for the season when WCM tried to reach them and thus unavailable for comment, but the impact could be considerable there.
Yellowstone Park managers have to trim $1.75 million from Yellowstone’s $35 million annual budget, which will delay the opening of most entrances to America’s first national park by two weeks.
Local tourism industry leaders are not happy with the decision, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. A delay in the park’s traditional early May opening and other service reductions could mean millions of dollars in lost tourism and tax revenues for small, rural towns in Montana and Wyoming.
“I think it’s counterproductive, and I expect a lot of people to be raising hell,” said Mike Darby, whose family owns the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, Wyoming, at the east gate of Yellowstone.
A two-week delay in Yellowstone’s opening means Cody will miss out on more than 150,000 visitors spending an estimated $2.3 million, according to figures released by the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce. Similar shortfalls in four other gateway towns around the park could put total losses from a two-week delayed opening at more than $10 million.
Plenty of Camping Options In California
Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), said she anticipates the sequester could help CalARVC parks located near national lands.
“We suspect those parks will see an increase in reservations more because of the uncertainty the consumer sees rather than what reality might be,” she said, meaning that campers may gravitate toward private parks out of the assumption that campgrounds on federal lands are closed.
“One of our biggest fears is just the bad publicity. The public hears ‘Campgrounds Closed at National Parks’ and to be honest, the average person doesn’t know the difference between a national park, a state park and a private park. We were concerned about that last year when the California state parks were going to close. That’s just negative press the consumer sees and concludes, ‘We’ll go to Disneyland this year instead.’”
The reality Sipe and CalARVC are stressing as the sequester begins is that there are “plenty of camping options” at the 800 commercial campgrounds in California.
Kevin Fallon, owner of the 99-site Crescent City KOA near Crescent City, Calif., agrees with Sipe’s conclusion. Fallon’s park is within walking distance of Redwood National Park, and he sees the sequester as a double-edged sword.
“Some of that business will come our way,” he says, speculating that as campers are deterred from finding sites to camp in the national park, they’ll turn to private parks like Fallon’s.
His park features some 10 acres of redwoods, so campers who want to see redwoods might as well come to his park anyway, he reckons. He frequently turns away campers during the peak season when the national park and an adjoining state park are bursting with tourists.
“But as time progresses and budgetary restraints remain in place, then it will affect the national park’s ability to attract and serve guests, which WILL affect our county and the area,” Fallon said. “If the public perception is there is no money to maintain a reasonable level of services for people who desire to come to this area and camp, they'll probably look somewhere else.”
The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) issued a statement on March 6, stating that it was working alongside the U.S. Travel Association and others on several fronts to develop a strategy to help end this man-made crisis. The coalition is:
- Engaging media to voice the travel industry's concerns.
- Communicating directly with Congressional offices to inform them of the deep impact the sequester will have on travelers and its ripple in the economy.
- Activating a grassroots mobile messaging campaign that easily bridges frustrated travelers with lawmakers.
- Developing economic research to paint a picture of the realities stemming from these reductions.
ARVC further stated that it was aggressively engaging with media outlets aimed at both policymakers and the public. Statements from the Travel Association on the sequester have already received widespread media coverage. The association is also considering select advertisements to highlight the impact of the sequester on travelers and to ask Congress to “Draw the Line” – travelers have waited long enough.
ARVC also stated that it was communicating directly with Congressional offices, particularly those in districts where travel has a particularly strong economic effect, informing them of the deep impact the sequester will have on American travelers and its broader effect across the economy.
ARVC members were also invited to the National Issues Conference for an opportunity to meet face-to-face with Congress.
The Unkindest Cuts of All
Skeptics might have seen the sequester coming.
The White House first proposed the sequestration plan in 2011 to avoid a debt limit debate. A reluctant Congress went along with the administration’sU proposal. President Barack Obama signed it into law and even threatened to veto other proposals aimed at averting these cuts.
Back in 2011, few lawmakers, if any, thought deep and indiscriminate spending cuts, totaling about $85 billion and now starting to kick in, were a smart idea.
The across-the-board cuts, set up as a last-resort trigger and based on a mechanism used in the 1980s, became a reality largely because President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, failed to find a way to stop them.
Republicans, influenced by Tea Party and other conservative factions, insisted on just spending cuts to narrow the deficit. Tax increases were out.
Obama and the Democratic-run Senate didn’t budge from a mix of cuts and increased tax revenues.
Despite the administration’s barnstorming tour days before the March 1 deadline, Congress could not reach a compromise.
Department of Interior officials who oversee the national parks dispensed a laundry list of cutbacks at all 397 national parks, forests and recreation areas.
Across the entire park system, 900 permanent positions that currently are vacant will not be filled, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said March 8 in a memo to the entire agency.
“In an organization with 15,000 permanent employees, 900 vacant jobs have a profound effect. Every activity will be affected. Some impacts will be immediate, others will accumulate over time,” Jarvis said. “Fewer law enforcement rangers and USPP (United States Park Police) officers mean lower levels of protection and longer response times. Fewer maintenance personnel mean that parks may have to close facilities completely when breakdowns occur – and that the $12 billion maintenance backlog will continue to grow.”
Among the specific announced cutbacks were these:
- Blue Ridge Parkway will cut 21 seasonal interpretive ranger programs, resulting in the closure of 50% of its visitor centers and contact stations. Eliminating seven stations will put 80 miles between open facilities along the parkway, reducing the interpretive information available to visitors.
- Gettysburg National Military Park will eliminate 20% of its Student Education Programs this spring, canceling field trips for 2,400 students.
- Glacier National Park will delay the reopening of Going-to-the-Sun Road by two weeks. Previous closures of the road resulted in lost revenue for surrounding communities and concessions of $1 million per day, a potentially devastating blow to businesses that depend on the park for tourism dollars.
- Mount Rainier National Park will close its Ohanapecosh Visitor Center permanently, eliminating this resource for 60,000-85,000 visitors annually.
- Grand Canyon National Park will delay the seasonal opening of its East and West Rim Drives, and reduce hours of operation at the main visitor center – impacting a quarter of a million visitors.
- Lassen Volcanic National Park in California will keep its main road and campgrounds closed for an additional two weeks this spring, and close the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center for two days each week. The Red Bluff Daily News reports that this will affect 1,100 schoolchildren who would normally visit the park during these weeks, and the park will lose about $156,000 in revenue.
- Shenandoah National Park has delayed the opening of campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers, as well as the hiring of seasonal employees, park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog told The Daily Progress newspaper in Virginia. Preventative search and rescue operations have been scrapped, eliminating an effective program that placed people at trailheads and on trails, making sure that hikers had water and a plan to keep themselves safe on challenging trails.
“A $110 million cut will not only be devastating to the parks themselves, but to the many businesses and communities that rely on them to drive sales,” said Perry Wheeler, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, in an e-mail. “Our national parks represent just 1/14th of 1% of the federal budget, and they sustain a quarter-million in private sector jobs and generate $31 billion from tourism and recreation alone. Every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates about $10 in economic activity.”
ARC’s Crandall Takes High Road
The prevailing opinion in the outdoor hospitality industry is that efforts to reduce federal spending by cutting back on all government services, including the nation’s public lands, will be bad for private RV parks and campgrounds as well.
“I wish I could tell you there will be no impact,” Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), told WCM. “The impact will be a lot less than a lot of the hype in the media, and less than the impact of rising gasoline prices over the last month.”
However, looking at the situation more as an opportunity and less a crisis, he said the present is a good time for the private sector (RV park and campground owners as well as RV manufacturers) to be proactive with the federal government and help scrutinize their expenditures.
“Owners can sit back and accept those cuts, then complain to members of Congress or they can look for a sustainable solution to become a partner with federal programs we would like to make sustainable, no matter what happens,” Crandall said.
“First of all, whether or not sequestration happens in its current form,” he said days before the March 1 deadline, “we’re looking at a lean period for budgets of National Park Service and other public land providers,” Crandall said. “Sequestration gets all the (current) spotlight, but the overall budget projections for federal agencies that now serve a billion visitors are not good for the next several years. It is an issue that everybody in the recreation field should be looking at.”
The private sector is good at operating on reduced budgets – businesses routinely do so during lean times, Crandall said, but the concept is almost alien to the federal government.
“Most of us had our personal budgets affected by the downturn in the economy starting in 2007,” he said, “but the recovery spending of 2008-2010 allowed the federal agencies to continue without any impact from the recession.”
Crandall opposes across-the-board cuts in agencies like the National Park Service, because such cuts would cut “muscle and bone as well as fat.”
Crandall thinks a smarter approach would be to give the heads of all of the agencies the flexibility to implement these cuts responsibly by eliminating waste and duplication from their departments.
Indeed, Crandall took this opportunity to ask agencies like the NPS, which enacted a $115 million cutback via sequestration, to work with the private sector for the betterment of both.
ARC began asking groups known in the industry as destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as chambers of commerce and convention and visitors and bureaus, located near federal lands to begin deploying some of their financial resources to public lands.
- In Bend Ore., an area with several national forests, ARC suggests DMOs use some of their advertising dollars to help with mountain bike patrols, apps and websites and sponsor joint programs. Rangers could be paid by the private sector to give interpretative programs at nearby privately owned campgrounds.
Something akin to this already occurs on cruises to Alaska in which NPS rangers come aboard the ships in Glacier Bay and elsewhere to talk about glaciers and whales. The cruise lines pay for this service.
“It’s time for campgrounds to say, if it would enhance the experience of our guests by having a park service ranger coming in to give presentations, now is the time we should pick up some of the costs,” Crandall said.
Crandall said the NPS collects $300 million in fees annually but could expand that by more than enough to offset the 5% cutback that is coming through sequestration just by making entrance fees more reasonable. The biggest parks charge $25 per vehicle, no matter whether it contains two people or eight people and no matter whether they’re staying for an afternoon or a week.
An airport charges for parking based on length of stay; parks should begin doing the same, he said.
“It’s time for us to say if you go into Yosemite and spend a week, you pay more than for a family that spends an afternoon there. The American public is willing to pay more in entrance fees and to campsites if they know the agencies will give them good value,” he said.
The NPS derives 93% of its operating funds from government appropriations; that percentage should come down as users pay more of their fair share, Crandall argued.
In a similar vein, “International visitors probably should pay more or not be able to buy an America the Beautiful pass that is good for a year for $80. International visitors need to pay something (a premium) that reflects that American taxpayers are helping to pay for national parks. It’s time to no longer subsidize those visits to national parks.”
He raised this argument again when he addressed the RVIA’s annual meeting in Florida in early March.
Statue of Liberty Dilemma
The government’s outdated way of doing business in times of disaster, such as following Superstorm Sandy last fall, is another example of how the federal government should amend its spending ways, Crandall said.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which provide the federal government $20 million in concessioner franchisee fees annually, were closed immediately following the storm and remain closed. The closing has led to the layoff of 500 workers who manned the ferry service and work with private concessioners. The ferry service was halted because docks on the island were damaged.
Yet, the day after the storm hit, concessioners met with NPS officials and offered to rebuild the docks. NPS said “thanks” but let’s wait until the Congress acts with disaster relief, Crandall explained.
Eventually, Congress passed legislation to provide the funding to return the island to normal.
“Sometime before 2014, we’ll have the Statue of Liberty reopened to the public,” Crandall said, but it could have been much sooner if the government had followed private enterprise’s lead.
Similarly, Crandall said the Statue of Liberty could be run more like a business if its hours of operation were extended. Until the storm hit, the last boat of the day left at 3:30 p.m.
“If we kept the Statue open until 10 p.m., you could see beautiful sunsets over New York Harbor and increase annual visitation of 4 million to 5 million or 6 million,” Crandall estimated. This increased visitation would raise current venue of $80 million by another $20 million to $30 million, he said.
In the meantime, campground owners like Jimmy Felton in Tennessee are thinking the fallout from the sequestration, no matter how long it lasts, will not be too great.
“There is always the risk that the public will get scared,” meaning that some will opt not to go camping this spring. But, he quickly points out that the private sector campgrounds usually offer so many more amenities than the public lands that the campers who frequent the more primitive sites in national parks aren’t the same ones that patronize the private campgrounds.
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) is urging its members to vote "Yes" on a referendum next week to renew California’s Marketing Referendum.
"Visit California is working. But we need your help to ensure that California is able to continue marketing its unique brand to potential visitors throughout the world," CalARVC states in this week's issue of "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates."
Visit California is an industry-led partnership with the state that requires a renewal every six years. The last renewal passed with 91% support, an indication of how valuable Visit California is to the industry, CalARVC notes. Without your YES Vote, Visit California will cease to exist and the marketing efforts that have been so successful will end, the association stated.
Visit California uses its resources very efficiently – 92% of its budget goes to brand marketing and reserve. Visit California’s low overhead contributes to its incredible 231:1 return on investment. And as a result of legislation passed in 2006, the rental car industry contributes 81% of the total Visit California budget.
Over the last 15 years, Visit California has become one of the nation’s premier state marketing agencies — promoting California travel and tourism. In 2011, tourism in California generated a record of $102.3 billion in direct travel-related spending, which in turn produced $6.3 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly supported 893,000 California jobs.
This month, please vote YES on the renewal to keep California travel and tourism strong
Agency Seeks Support
Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of Visit California, urges support on the agency's website. She states in a current web posting:
"Since its inception more than a decade ago, Visit California has become one of the nation’s premier state marketing agencies – promoting the California brand and helping to increase tourism and travel-related spending. The marketing campaigns Visit California creates are among the best in the country and have developed a strong brand for our state. Even through the recent tough economic times, with Visit California’s efforts, this year tourism grew 7.6% from last year, generating $102.3 billion in spending in California in 2011.
Additionally, Visit California functions as an extremely efficient operation. They have a proven track record of spending money wisely, with more than 85% of the $50 million budget going directly to marketing. This marketing brings visitors from all around the world, benefiting California businesses and the economy.
This March, assessed businesses will be asked to approve the renewal of their assessments that help fund Visit California. Without the renewal, California would drop to dead last among state tourism marketing budgets – eliminating virtually all tourism marketing for California. Currently, $300 million is allocated for the next six years for tourism marketing. This funding will allow Visit California to continue bringing visitors to our great state. With your support, we encourage you to vote ‘YES’ on the 2013 California Marketing Renewal."
Click here to see a well-known TV and movie star lobby for Visit California support.
Two Groups promote Travel
Interestingly, California has two organizations to promote travel in the state
Each has different funding structures and each serve vital roles. Why does California have two organizations? Simply stated, “To remove funding control from the California legislature," CalARVC explained.
For years, CalTravel fought to preserve funding for the Office of Tourism. At times when the city of Las Vegas had an annual budget of $100 million, California only had $7 million for the entire state. Some years, it was $1. CalTravel’s leaders decided the industry needed to tax itself in order to create a steady stream of revenue and to control how it was spent.
After the first statewide industry referendum, the California Travel & Tourism Commission was formed. The industry must approve the ongoing existence of the commission every 6 years. Three referendums later with a budget of $50 million annually, tourism is California’s fourth largest employer and fifth largest contributor to the gross state product.
The first reports about the California RV Park Winter Getaway held this week at the Wine Country RV Resort in Paso Robles, Calif., give a big "thumbs up" to the inaugural event.
In the morning session, "Making the Most of Your Marketing," Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), gave an inspiring seminar on orchestrating the experience of your customer and how to incorporate the experience into a park's marketing strategy, according to a CalARVC report.
In the afternoon session, “Ask the Expert," six industry experts participated in roundtable discussion eliciting ideas, sparking conversation and sharing advice and insights on topics relevant to running your business. The conversations started here were picked up and carried on at length throughout the evening.
Roundtable member Evanne Schmarder posted on her Facebook page on Wednesday: "Enjoyed a fabulous California Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds meeting yesterday at the beautiful Wine Country RV Resort – great hosts, great event! The day was full of education and networking. I was honored to be one of six "experts" participating in the rotating roundtable sessions. Kudos to CalARVC's Debbie Sipe, Susanne White, Mari Dudash and Wine Country's Megan Whittington and Cheryl Eckrote Taylor. This team rocked the Central Coast and attendees were thrilled from start to finish. Nice work!"
The day-long event also featured a wine-tasting tour. "This will probably go down as the most unique Park Tour on record: four different wine tasting stations were set up throughout the campground," Supe stated. "Wine Country owners and staff walked us through their beautiful park and at featured locations we met representatives from local wineries who brought samples for all. We learned about the region, the wines and admired the resort amenities, including a cozy secluded spa with a waterfall feature."
Hart, King & Coldren sponsored the “Tabletalk” dinner. After dinner, dozens of attendees gathered around the campfire until late into the night for extended conversation, laughter and campfire pies.
Editor's Note: The following New Year thoughts appeared in this week's issue of "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates," an online publication of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
January: The nationally scheduled time to reflect, review and evaluate. Mostly we focus on our personal lives. While this is critically important, I suggest you spend some time evaluating your business as well. How is the park doing? Is it sound financially? Am I providing outstanding customer experiences? Visually, how does my park look? Structurally, what capital improvements should I be considering? Is this what I imagined when I bought/built this campground? What will by customers want or expect in this next year?
Below you will find links to different articles that have appeared in recent months in three leading online news services. They have similar messages about the evolving expectations of the new RVing consumer, active and engaged, seeking entertainment and amenities to match a busy lifestyle.
After reading these articles, ask yourself the same set of questions from above. Have your answers changed? Whether you realize it or not, camping is all about the experience. The real question is what kind of experience are you providing? What changes do you need to put in place to ensure the “experience” is what you intend? Then make sure to measure, measure, measure your efforts with a guest satisfaction survey tool.
Recent articles in the CalARVC News have discussed the Experience Based Economy. To learn more about today’s consumer, click here to read a summary of Gilmore & Pine’s concept which was published in the Harvard Business Review under the title "Welcome to the Experience Economy."
Thanks to some very generous sponsors, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) will be able to host a regional meeting in Paso Robles in California's Central Coast region on Feb. 26, the association announced this week.
Wine Country RV Resort in Paso Robles will be the host campground. CalARVC will bring in a couple of guest speakers, hold some roundtable discussions and take a tour of the host campground.
Editor's Note: The following announcement appears in this week's issue of "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates," an online e-newsletter published by the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
Despite the success of the Vegas event (ARVC convention in Las Vegas) and the desire and interest of CalARVC’s staff and Board of Directors, a decision was made to put CalARVC’s convention on a hiatus. The reason: attendance. The financial and resource commitment to produce a convention is well over $100,000. Documented attendance at CalARVC and other industry conventions has been in a steady decline over the past six years. You entrust us to spend your dues dollars wisely. Producing a convention is no longer a wise use of your membership dues.
Our members have always brought home valuable information and insights from the convention. They have always connected and built relationships with each other and vendors. In this day and age of the internet, smart phones and social media, fewer and fewer people are willing to take time off of work and invest in off-site meetings….even when they admit it has always been worth the time and investment in the past.
We need to find a more dollar efficient method of delivering education while still allowing our members that face to face interaction that makes this industry so much of a family.
Over the course of the next 12-18 months a task force will be created to explore new models for delivering education to California parks, providing needed ways to network, and connecting vendors to California RV parks and campgrounds.
The CalARVC decision is disappointing to many as it comes just days after a successful industry event, the ARVC convention in Las Vegas. In that same issue, CalARVC had glowing comments on the just-concluded ARVC convention in Las Vegas.
More than 50 delegates shared stories, hugged old friends, made new friends, celebrated Dan Wright’s election to the ARVC Board, sipped some spirits, chewed on munchies and just had a great time during the California reception held in conjunction with ARVC’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo!
“I can’t believe how great it was to see so many members,” said Mari Dudash, CalARVC’s Director of Member Services who was attending the conference for her first time. "You don't see folks at other conferences hugging old friends like you do in our industry."
“Sponsors really stepped up to finance the event,” according to Debbie Sipe. “I was thrilled so many of our vendors and members wanted to support the gathering of Californians!” Our vendors were so generous; we have enough funds to seed a regional meeting somewhere in California. Wine Country RV Resort of Paso Robles was quick to offer their park located in the midst of the Central Coast wine region. Planning has already begun!
The California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has published its 2011 Statistical Report on campground occupancy.
Fifty-eight CalARVC parks submitted at least six occupancy surveys in 2011, according to an association release.
In addition to its two traditional sections – Occupancy & Rate Data – the 2011 edition has been expanded to include three new sections – Campground Site & Amenity Comparisons, Retail Gasoline Prices and the Economic Impact of Camping.
CalARVC notes that campground owners can use this data to:
- Apply for loans.
- Determine the value of your campground.
- Project your camper nights with greater accuracy.
- Justify expansion of your park to local permitting agencies.
- Lobby local and state officials.
- Compare your operations with neighboring campgrounds.
Each of the parks which provided data is eligible for a complimentary copy. For all other campground and professional members, the cost is $25 and for suppliers or non-members, the cost is $50. To order a copy email Mari@calarvc.com.
Camping enthusiasts across California aren’t ready to pack up their tents and RVs just yet.
Neither are the state’s privately owned and operated campgrounds, many of which are filling their September and October weekends with activities ranging from Oktoberfest celebrations to pre-Halloween costume and campsite decorating contests, according to a news release.
“Late September and October are great times for camping because that’s when we have some of our best weather,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which hosts Camp-California.com, the statewide travel planning website.
She added that campgrounds offer an affordable way for people to have weekend getaways. “Even if you don’t have a tent or RV, many of our affiliated campgrounds have cabins and cottages as well as RV rentals,” Sipe said.
Here’s a sampling of some of the activities taking place at privately owned and operated campgrounds, RV parks and resorts in California this fall:
- Campland on the Bay in San Diego: This park has numerous scheduled activities throughout the fall, including games of capture the flag, dodgeball and pickleball. The park also has arts and crafts classes, tie dye T-shirt classes, kayaking classes and adult dart tournaments.
- Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert: This park has several special events planned throughout the fall, including a Halloween-themed weekend Oct. 26-28 with Halloween inspired drinks for adults and kids, a pumpkin carving contest and a costume parade to visit decorated campsites.
- Far Horizons 49er Village in Plymouth: This park, which is located in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has a “best scream” contest as well as Halloween costume and campsite competitions scheduled for Oct. 18, 19, 20 and 21 as well as Oct. 25, 26, 27 and 28.
- Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton: This park, which has RV sites as well as park model cottage rentals, has several activities on-site, including the 3rd Annual Buellton Vintage Trailer Bash held this past weekend. Vintage trailers and vehicles were on display. The event coincided with the 76th Annual Danish Days celebration in neighboring Solvang, which scheduled a parade, street dancing and other Danish-themed activities.
- Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet: This park’s fall activities include classes in water aerobics, water volleyball, Tai Chi, Yoga, as well as groups that regularly gather for arts and crafts and square dancing. Car shows and craft bazaars are scheduled for the first Saturdays of October and November.
- Lake Minden RV Resort in Nicolaus: This Sacramento Valley park’s fall activities include a mystery weekend Oct. 12-14 with a mystery puzzle competition and a mystery scavenger hunt. Hydroplane boat races are scheduled to take place on the weekend of Oct. 19-21. The park is also planning its first ever Halloween Zombie Walk and hayride and Thriller Zombie Mob Dance on the weekend of Oct. 26-28.
- Lake of the Springs RV Resort in Oregon House: This park’s fall activities include a Fall Line Dance Festival Oct. 14-15. The park will also celebrate Halloween on Oct. 27 with campsite decorating, pumpkin carving, costume contests and a kids’ fishing derby, plus a tailgate trick or treating event.
- Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina in Newport Beach: This park will have Halloween crafts, a parade and costume contest on Oct. 27. The resort also offers bicycle, golf cart, kayak and sailboat rentals in addition to guided kayak nature tours and kayak and sailboat lessons. Resort accommodations include 24 park model cottages and 382 RV sites.
- Palm Springs RV Resort in Palm Desert: This park will have a Halloween parade as well as prizes for the best costumes and best decorating campsite on Oct. 26.
- Rancho Oso RV Resort in Santa Barbara: Guests at this park can watch stock dogs herding sheep and cattle every Saturday. The park also offers a bucking bull demo with “baby” bulls that are being prepared for future work in rodeos. The resort’s accommodations include five rental cabins, plus several covered wagons, which are arranged in a circle around a campfire pit.
- San Benito RV Resort in Paicines: This park’s activities include an Octoberfest celebration Oct. 13 with root beer tasting and an Octoberfest dinner. On Oct. 27 the park will have a Halloween parade followed by a Halloween carnival.
- Santa Cruz KOA in La Selva Beach: This park plans to host “Howlin’ Halloween” events on Oct. 19-21 and Oct. 26-28 with people and pet costume contests, a campsite decorating contest, a haunted house and trick or treating.
- Smithwoods RV Park in Felton: This park plans to host a Halloween spaghetti dinner with Halloween related activities on Oct. 27.
- Springs at Borrego RV Resort in Borrego Springs: This park’s fall activities include Friday night wine tastings. Future events will also include evening star parties with world-renowned astronomer and sky photographer Dennis Mammana on Oct. 6 and Nov. 4.
- Stockton KOA in Stockton: This park is planning a military vehicle collectors weekend on Sept. 19-24 that will include a swap meet with hard to find military collectables.
- Wilderness Lakes RV Resort in Menifee: This park’s fall activities include an Octoberfest celebration Oct. 13 with free German beer to guests over 21 and root beer tasting for kids. A costume contest, pumpkin decorating, trick or treating and a haunted house are slated for the weekend of Oct. 26-28.
Of course, these are just a sampling of some the activities and special events taking place at campgrounds and RV parks across California in the coming weeks. Consumers can find private campgrounds in their area by checking CalARVC's website at www.Camp-California.com.
Northern California campground operators expect to stay busy well into September and October, thanks to a record salmon run, a later than usual wine grape harvest and some of the best weather they’ve had all year, according to a news release.
“This is the time of year when the North Coast has some its sunniest weather,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), which operates the Camp-California.com travel planning website. “And while inland nights will gradually start to cool off, the days are typically bright and sunny.”
“We call this our Indian summer,” said Scott Adams, owner of the 78-site Bodega Bay RV Park in Bodega Bay, which has been family owned and operated since 1967. “You’ll see less fog, less wind and more sun. It will be nice here until the first rains of December,” he said.
Adams added that are festivals and special events taking place at wineries throughout Northern California. “They’ve already started harvesting some of the white grapes. The red grapes are still on the vine.”
Cooler weather has delayed the wine grape harvest slightly, but visitors from the Bay Area, Sacramento, Stockton and elsewhere are coming into wine country to check out the festivities.
“We’ll have some foreign tourists who come here from France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Denmark. We also get some snowbirds working their way down the coast,” he said.
Many of California’s wineries from the Sierra foothills to the famous vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties have special events for the next several weeks, including festivals and grape crush events ranging from the Annual Cruisin’ Calistoga Beer & Wine Festival Sept. 22 to Amador County’s Big Crush Harvest Festival Oct. 6, which involves 37 local wineries.
Late summer and fall are also big times for music festivals, such as the 6th annual American River Music Festival, which takes place Sept. 14-16 in Coloma.
Meanwhile, scores of fishing enthusiasts are heading north to the Klamath River to take part in the largest salmon run on record, which is resulting in three to four times as many salmon as the Klamath River had last fall.
“It’s incredible,” said Aaron Funk of Kamp Klamath in Klamath, adding that his park is filling up on weekends with people hoping to catch King salmon. “We’re going to be seeing this last into October. We have kids out fishing and catching. It’s becoming a family activity,” he said.
Other Northern California campgrounds also report surging business this fall.
“We’re looking a lot better compared to last year,” said Dusty Dillon, owner of the 24-site Sportsman’s RV Park in Fort Bragg.
“We’ve got a lot of return clients and people stopping by to check us out,” he said, adding that people are fishing for both salmon and halibut.
Other park operators are similarly upbeat.
“We’re actually pretty full the next few weeks,” said Vince Moreno, a customer service manager for the 32-site Riverpoint Landing Marina Resort in Stockton.
Consumers can find private campgrounds in their area by checking www.Camp-California.com, the travel planning website of CalARVC in Auburn, Calif. The site includes links to RV parks and campgrounds, which provide their own “activities” or event calendars, which can help you figure out which parks have activities your family will enjoy.