Editor's note: The following article appeared in the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) "Coffee Talk" newsletter to members outlining plans for several special events throughout the state over the next year in lieu of reviving its convention and trade show.
CalARVC suspended it's convention and trade show in 2010. The traditional convention just doesn’t work any longer for the RV park and campground industry here in California. Park owners and managers are just too busy to break away.
California is huge and no matter what we do, half the attendees have to fly to get to the event and spend extra days traveling. CalARVC was competing for space and room nights in some of the world’s premier destinations. Prices became too much of an obstacle for the average RV park or campground.
Instead, California held its first RV Park Day in Paso Robles last spring. The event was repeated Tuesday (Jan. 28) with 75 registered attendees as of this writing. The entire event is structured to facilitate & develop connections between attendees. There is a coffee bar in the morning, networking lunch, table-talk dinner, reception and campfire.
The afternoon session is a non-traditional format for sharing of expertise. Speakers, park operators, CalARVC staff and vendors are all equals, sharing and learning together.
Due to its success, CalARVC has now scheduled two additional events for 2014, each the same, and each unique in their own ways.
The CalARVC RV Park Vendor Day is scheduled for Newport Dunes RV Waterfront Resort, Newport Beach on Thursday, April 24. The primary mission of the event will still be to facilitate & develop connections. It will just have a special focus to connect park operators and vendors.
What we are trying to do is remove the traditional “table” that sits between a park operator and the vendor in a trade show format. We hope that park operators will change their perception of vendors as salesmen. We want them to come to rely on them as resources for information as much as resources for products or services.
To that end we will keep a couple of common elements from yesterday’s Winter Getaway: a coffee bar and networking lunch. The evening events are similar, but we change it up in the evening with a beach barbecue and campfire. The morning session will be a joint session for park operators and vendors with topics and take-aways for each.
After the networking lunch, we will have a beachside table top show. The goal for each park operator and vendor will be to build the foundations for lasting relationships, before we all head to the beach for the barbecue and campfire.
The CalARVC RV Park Fall Getaway agenda will return to the same format as our Winter Getaway. It is scheduled for Sept. 23 at Far Horizon’s 49er Village RV Resort located in the quaint gold-mining town of Plymouth just east of Sacramento. Far Horizon’s is situated in the middle of “Zin” country.
Some of California’s top Zinfandels come from one of 30 wineries within 10 miles of the park.
We already have most of the experts scheduled with great options for the morning session being debated. One of our Winter Getaway experts heard about our plans and has offered up a rather unique experience for participants. Lucas Hartford of Evergreen USA will be flying in live Maine lobsters for the table-talk dinner. I say that is something to “talk about!”
Editor's Note: The following tips come courtesy of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) which published them in the current edition of "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates" e-newsletter.
Now that Labor Day has come and gone along with the official end of the camping season, this is not the time to sit back and relax. It is the time to keep the momentum going. This is the time to implement a shoulder season marketing campaign. Camping won’t be the top-of-mind this time of year. You will have to remind them. Use the digital tools at your disposal:
- Electronic Newsletters – If you have been using them all along….Great job. If you haven’t, now is the perfect time to start. It’s time for your fall season edition. There are several enews programs on the market with iContact or Constant Contact being some of the most popular. Retreive as many email addresses as you can from your front office software. It may take a bit of work to get the first issue out, after that it’s just writing the content.
- Promote the unique “fallness” of your region in your eNews and on your website. What is the best about your region in the fall? Is it the local pumpkin & harvest festivals? Is it the best weather at the coast? Is it the fall colors? Is it the relaxed season without the crowds? Whatever it is, campers will want to come take advantage of it if they know about it.
- Host a wrap up camping weekend. Bring in a local technician to talk about winterizing RVs. Allow the technician to schedule individual assessments with your guests for a fee. The technician can get reimbursed for his time and the camper will get an objective evaluation of work that needs done on his rig.
- Join the trend and have a Halloween weekend with costume parades, best decorated campsite, ghost stories around the campfire. Many parks have several “Halloween” weekends because the event has become soooo popular. For ideas of what other parks across the country are doing to extend their shoulder season, click here>
- Sign up for Camp-California’s $50 weekend event. Receive promotion on Camp-California.com and through traditional press releases along with social media coverage.
- Make sure to keep your social media conversations going. Continue to post regularly to your Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other pages. Need help creating a social media plan? Theresa Christian of MyCampMate guides you through the process in our Social Media Summer Series. Link to Theresa’s articles
- Invest in digital advertising campaigns. Unlike print advertising of the past, your advertising campaigns were year round. Now you can create seasonal campaigns promoting the unique season and activities. Click here to contact a Camp-California Advertising consultant.
Pay attention to what you are doing now. Replicate this process in the spring. All you have to do is change the messaging. Continue to use your enewsletters, website, social media and digital advertising to promote local events, Easter and spring break activities, spring wildflowers, wildlife viewing, and even offer a spring cleaning session….Bring your RV and Shake off the Winter Cobwebs. Bring in a local service technician to talk about annual maintenance. All the “dudes” will love tinkering on their rigs together, sharing tips and suggestions, and asking advice from others.
California Association of RV parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) member parks and campgrounds have a unique opportunity to be listed in over 500,000 copies of the state of California’s Official Visitors Guide & Travel Planner.
RV parks & campgrounds have the opportunity again this year to be on an even playing field with hotels, motels, resorts, inns, etc., according to CalARVC's "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates" e-newsletter CalARVC has once again secured a discounted price for a listing in the 2014 Official State Visitor Guide & Travel Planner published by Sunset Magazine.
These guides are distributed to visitors from California, states surrounding California, the rest of the United States and the world. Additionally, your listing is duplicated on www.visitcalifornia.com with over 2 million visitors annually.
The redesigned guide offers an easy-to-read grid which lists RV parks and campgrounds along with other types of accommodations. Each region also features articles promoting interesting things to do, along with easy-to-read maps.
Deadline to participate is Sept. 3.
Any questions, please contact Mari at (530) 885-1624.
Camp-California Marketing, a division of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC), is preparing to publish in 2014 the 39th annual edition of its Camp-California Guide! The Camper’s Guide to California, a four-color glossy magazine that lists nearly 800 campgrounds and RV resorts throughout the Golden State. And to do so they are pairing up with big names in the industry.
Camp-California Marketing is partnering with Wolfgang Neuwirth of Advanced Media Marketing Group and Southeast Publications, according to a news release.
Neuwirth comes with 20-plus years’ experience in marketing and publishing, first with Cygnus Business Media and later with Milo Media. “We are pleased to be working with Camp-California again to produce their 2014 edition of the Camp-California Guide! The Camper’s Guide to California,” reported Neuwirth. “As we begin our third year, we are already discussing changes and improvements for next year’s Guide.”
Southeast Publications comes on board this year in charge of sales and marketing. “Southeast Publications is a 27-year supporter of the Camping Industry,” Sales Manager Brian McGuinn stated. “We are so honored and proud to be working with such a strong supporter of the camping industry. The Camp-California Guide and camp-california.com website are such a wonderful way for campers to explore the great state of California and get a sense of the spectacular differences between all of vastly unique regions within California.”
Southeast Publications' five sales teams are traveling throughout California and manning the national sales desk. Members are: Ed and Teresa Herbert, Jim and Jacqualine Moore, Lynn and Kathy Holland, Bill and Kathy Freeman and Michael and Susan Faelin.
More Details Abot the Sales Teams
Ed Herbert used to be vice president of communications and marketing for a large healthcare system. But recently he needed more flexibility with his schedule to take care of his aging parents who live in different parts of the country. So Herbert started working as a traveling sales rep for Southeast Publications. He also sells advertising for Camp-California.
Herbert and his wife, Teresa, live in Tennessee, but they travel to Delaware to take care of Herbert’s dad and to Port Charlotte, Fla., to look after his mom.
“It’s wonderful to get to see them,” Herbert said.
It’s also worthwhile selling advertising for Camp-California.com and Camp-California.
“I focus on the entire marketing opportunity, trying to connect California with businesses that do business in that state,” Herbert said. “If you are an OEM or an RV manufacturer, what an opportunity to get your brand in front of people camping in California.”
His clients include a Florida company that sells an eco-friendly fire starter.
Jim and Jacqualine Moore live in Palm Springs but like working for Southeast and Camp-California because they can travel frequently to the San Francisco Bay Area to visit their son.
“What we learned is that you really have to evaluate where your goals are and what your concentration needs to be and you tailor your travel schedule to that,” Jaqueline said.
Having a flexible work and travel schedule is also important to Lynn Holland, who has been working with Southeast since 2007. Based in Brentwood, in Northern California, Holland primarily covers campgrounds in the Monterey Bay area north to Ukiah in his 35-foot Safari diesel pusher.
While his wife, Kathy, occasionally joins him on the road, Lynn Holland said he usually handles the sales and marketing tasks for the team, while Kathy’s primary function is to provide back office, set up and follow up support for Lynn.
But that flexibility gives the Hollands the ability to build bonds with their grandkids while they also work with campground owners. “Kathy is a full-time granny,” he said. “We live two miles from our grandkids on purpose. She’s got drop off and pickup duties three or four days a week and our grandkids spend the night quite often.”
Bill Freeman and his wife, Kathy, have been working for Southeast Publications for the past five years. Bill previously spent 42 years working as an insurance industry executive, but now he and his wife are full-time RVers who travel California in their 40-foot Monaco Camelot. Their advertising sales territory includes California’s Central Coast from Ventura northward to Half Moon Bay as well as portions of the northern Sierra Nevada, including the Gold Country. “We love the freedom of movement, constantly seeing new places and new people,” Bill Freeman said.
“It’s a great job to travel and make money at the same time,” added Michael Faelin, a full-time RVer based in Fallbrook who worked in commercial property development before joining Southeast Publications two years ago. Faelin’s sales territory for Camp-California includes portions of San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Faelin and his wife, Susan, travel in a 41-foot Keystone Fuzion 5th wheel toy hauler with their 12-year-old-son, Brennan, and their 6-year-old daughter, Kiera. The Faelins use the garage portion of the vehicle as their office, which also doubles as a bedroom for their daughter.
“We homeschool the kids and they love the field trips they get in every place we visit,” Michael Faelin said, adding, “I am thankful that I get to spend so much time with my kids as the whole family explores the world together.”
Campgrounds across California are offering a wide range of Memorial Day weekend activities, from parades and barbecues to outdoor concerts and luau style events.
“Campgrounds are filling up over Memorial Day weekend, but there are still a few vacancies here and there,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, which hosts Camp-California.com, the statewide travel planning website.
According to a news release, visitors to Camp-California.com can find campgrounds in every region of the state and access their websites for detailed information on activities and entertainment. For the latest information on campgrounds that still have vacancy for Memorial Day weekend, click on the “Discover California” tab on the homepage of Camp-California.com, then click “Places to Go” and “Memorial Day Weekend.”
Here’s a sampling of Memorial Day weekend activities and entertainment taking place in campgrounds, RV parks and resorts across the Golden State:
- Anaheim Resort RV Park in Anaheim: This park is offering a 20% discount based on availability from May 23 – 27. Neighboring Disneyland will also be open 24 hours on May 24.
- Casa de Fruta RV Resort in Gilroy: This park, which is located near Pinnacles National Park, will have an antique trailer pull event.
- Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert: This park will have a red, white and blue poolside happy hour on Friday; a barbecue pool party on Saturday, kids crafts and live music provided by local talent.
- Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton: This park will have a Friday night barbecue with live entertainment; a Saturday movie night by the pool with make-your-own ice cream sundaes; and a poolside breakfast Sunday and Monday.
- Kamp Klamath in Klamath: This park’s activities include barbecues, live music, bonfires and guided tours. Pay for two nights and get the third night free.
- Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort & Marina in Newport Beach: This park’s weekend activities include a hula hula luau, crafts, including tie dye T-shirt making, volleyball and horseshoe tournaments, a movie on the beach and a dance social.
- San Diego RV Resort in La Mesa: This resort is kicking off Memorial Day weekend with a luau on Saturday with hot dogs, burgers and various games, including a hula contest.
- Shady Oasis Campground in Victorville: This park will have live music, kids movies and bingo each afternoon on Saturday and Sunday.
- The Springs at Borrego RV Resort in Borrego Springs: This park will have a free concert on Saturday in the resort’s new amphitheater with the Alice Wallace Band. On Sunday night the park will have an evening star party with famed astronomer Dennis Mammana.
- Twentynine Palms Resort in Twentynine Palms: This park is offering a one week stay and play golf package for $399 that includes one week of golf with a golf cart at Roadrunner Dunes Golf Course.
- Wilderness Lakes RV Resort in Menifee: Activities include Karaoke on Saturday and live entertainment Sunday with a group called Hit Men. Wilderness Lakes has rental trailers and cabins in addition to RV sites.
Since the mid-1980s, the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) has collected, analyzed and shared the occupancy and rate data of its members. At its high point, the survey had a consistent 30-33% participation rate from CalARVC parks.
Today, only 16% to 18% of members share their occupancy data on a regular basis, the association reported in this week's issue of "Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates.
“On a statewide basis that return rate isn’t that bad,” reported Debbie Sipe, CalARVC executive director. “However, due to California’s diversity, that data gets broken into the 12 tourism regions. When only 40-50 parks report their data, it is no longer reliable when divided out amongst the regions.
So, CalARVC has opted to drop the survey for now.
“We are hoping to re-instate the survey sometime next year,” reported Sipe. “CalARVC is renovating its current member database management system. As we implement new technologies, we are exploring more efficient systems to collect member data. My wish is that by next January we will be announcing the return of the Occupancy Survey along with a new streamlined reporting system that will encourage member parks to participate in this critical industry data.”
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.