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Gorin On SEO, RV Park Plans, Associations

August 19, 2015 by · 2 Comments 

The following Industry InSites column by David Gorin appears in the August print issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

Gorin-with-arms-crossed-copy-200x300There’s a lot of disparity of opinion on the value of search-engine optimization (SEO) for websites from two long-time industry expert companies in the campground market. Those have shown up over the last few months on the Woodall’s Campground Management website as well as other industry online publications.

Given the differences in opinion, I thought I’d turn to my expert — and fellow WCM columnist — Evanne Schmarder. Evanne is the architect of the industry-first Digital Marketing Benchmark Study for Outdoor Recreation, and coauthor of “Unconventional Wisdom Works,” the industry’s premier digital marketing handbook. She has been active in outdoor recreation marketing for more than a decade. Schmarder is an international digital marketing speaker most recently addressing audiences in Germany, France, Australia, and the National Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) in the U.S., and a go-to resource for online marketing in outdoor recreation.

Here’s Evanne’s two cents on the “SEO: Yes or No?” question.

“Regardless of what SEO camp you belong to — snake oil, significant tool, or somewhere in between — appearing on the first page of search engine results still matters and search-engine optimization still plays a significant part in online success. Keyword stuffing, non-relevant links, and multiple pages of meaningless content among other tactics are no longer effective.

“Instead, longtail keywords, specific title tags and H1 headers, video and social content, and mobile functionality rule today’s SEO world. Smart businesses take advantage of analytics, researching how a site is being found, how visitors are flowing through the pages, and the entrance/exit pages. They stay on top of relevant, valuable content (including curated content), are active on relevant social sites, optimize their YouTube videos, optimize their site speed, and review their competitor’s SEO strategy. It is in these small-but-critical details that businesses can benefit from hiring a web-aware SEO practitioner, all the better if they are familiar with the outdoor hospitality industry. “

RV Park Development Heating Up

As I’ve written in earlier columns, as RV sales continue on a six-year runup and as RVing and camping continue to gain popularity in the press, social media and product marketing (see the recent series of credit-score ads being run by Expedient, all set in an RV), developer and landowner interest in building new RV parks is heating up. There is certainly a need for new parks in many areas of the U.S., but I think a word of caution is called for at this point.

In my opinion, developers should exercise extreme care in evaluating opportunities for new RV parks. With the recession of 2008-2009 still fresh in mind, very conservative planning is how I am approaching clients with an RV development in mind. In fact, in recent months, I’ve discouraged several developers from moving forward when my analysis of property or location caused concern and raised a red flag of caution and higher-than-acceptable risk.

I’ve recently reviewed several development prospectuses and have been surprised by some of the plans I’ve come across that are being touted as “sound investments” by some of my consultant colleagues.

  • I continue to be amazed at a projected $100 million RV park project that is planned to be essentially a time-share or membership park in St. Augustine, Fla.
  • A proposed high-end luxury RV park with more than 400 sites located midway between Phoenix and Los Angeles anticipates selling 100 sites prior to construction. This projection is being circulated to potential buyers or partners who to get into this deal. I’m on the sidelines on this
  • On another project, I recently saw a fundraising or feasibility study prospectus that used a property appraisal from 2007 to justify today’s valuation.
  • And one of the industry’s long-term condo developers, whose successes go back to the 1970s, is back at it again in Jupiter building a new park with sites proposed to sell into the mid-$250,000s. And he’s back to the class A motorcoach-only model that severely limits the market and to be successful has to be located in the best of the best locations — Naples. Fla., Hilton Head, S.C., Napa, Calif., Aspen, Colo. — places like that where the rich and famous like to hang out. Jupiter, Fla., is nice but the location of this project is a sizeable drive to the beaches, is not waterfront and is not on the higher-end Jupiter Island.

While the time is surely right for new park development, conservative planning is the key word. Take it easy, plan carefully, study and know the market and innovate in small increments with small risk.

What Are the Industry Associations Up To?

The three leading industry associations involved in RVs and camping are the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) representing the RV manufacturers, the RVDA representing exactly what their name says, and the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) representing that group.

To some degree with some more-or-less openness, each organization reports in some form to its members what it is up to in programs and activities, how much money they collect from each source of income, how they spend the money on salaries, programs, tax-exempt activities and on non-exempt activities.

Members and others who want to know the real scoop on how the associations are operating can access the annual Form 990 Tax Return each organization is required to file with the Internal Revenue Service. These returns are supposed to be available upon request to any member or to the public. The returns are also available at Guidestar.org, an organization that tracks non-profits and their subsidiaries.

A quick look at the three organizations returns provides one interesting finding: RVIA is of course the big Kahuna with an annual budget in excess of $15 million. The surprise is that ARVC has surpassed RVDA in the No. 2 position among our industry organizations. ARVC reported revenue of $2.284 million in 2014 while RVDA reported $2.075 million.

Lots of other interesting facts and tidbits are available on these forms for those interested in learning more.

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC, former executive director of the Virginia Campground Association and is the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. You may contact him at david@davidgorinassociates.com.

Gorin Refocuses Business, Leaves The VCA

September 8, 2014 by · Comments Off on Gorin Refocuses Business, Leaves The VCA 

David Gorin

David Gorin

David Gorin Associates LLC (DGA), a leading consulting company exclusively serving RV park and campground investors, developers, owners and buyers, announced a refocusing of the company to better enable it to meet the increasing demand for high-level professional consulting in the park industry — a move that includes David Gorin stepping aside as executive director of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA).

“As the RV industry, the accommodations sector and all related outdoor hospitality and recreation sectors experience significant growth, the interest in the industry has expanded dramatically,” said Gorin, founder and president of the company and columnist for Woodall’s Campground Management. “To meet the growing demand for services, it’s necessary to refocus attention on the most important segments of our business – consulting with investors and developers who are eager to explore opportunities in the park business.”

In the first two refocusing steps, Gorin announced that he and DGA are ending its 12-year management relationship with the VCA and simultaneously announced that Jayne Cohen, a long time campground owner and former president of Adventure Bound Camping, is joining DGA as a senior consulting associate.

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 11.41.57 AM“It’s been a pleasure being associated with the Virginia Campground Association and we’re going miss the day-to-day relationships with many great Virginia park owners,” said Gorin. “Serving as the VCA executive director was an honor and I hope we were able to be of help in growing and developing the association. There will be a smooth transition to a new executive director who will take over the management of the association on October 1,” said Gorin.

Gorin said he expects that the association will be managed by Derek Dick, a former membership services associate with the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) in Evergreen, Colo. Dick recently moved with his wife to Virginia.

“Jayne Cohen has a strong and creative background in all phases of park operations, management and marketing and will enhance DGA’s ability to provide to quality services in these areas. Jayne will continue to operate her own consulting firm, Jayne Cohen Associates, while serving DGA clients with special needs for her services,” said Gorin. “Jayne is a dynamic individual with energy and enthusiasm and experience in the park business and will add a new dimension to DGA associates.

“These two steps, moving away from association management and bringing on a new senior associate with deep operational experience, will enable DGA to respond more effectively to our growing client base and new opportunities in the industry,” said Gorin.

Cohen joins with other senior consulting associates at DGA including Donald Westphal, a veteran land and site planner based in the Detroit, Mich., area with more than 30 years experience in RV park and mobile home community planning; Douglas Campbell, an architect with Perkins Eastman who has assisted DGA in the design and planning of many RV parks over the last 12 years; and Jack May, a CFP with Lara May LLC, a financial and tax planning firm that provides fiancial planning services to DGA clients as needed.

“I anticipate additional announcements about the refocusing efforts to further strengthen our ability to respond to the growing interest in the RV park, campground and outdoor hospitality business,” said Gorin.

David Gorin Associates and David Gorin can be reached by email at david@davidgorinassociates.com and by phone at (703) 448-6863. The company maintains offices in McLean, Va., and Longboat Key, Fla., and serves clients throughout the United States. For more infomation, visit www.davidgorinassociates.com.

Gorin – Are We Complicating Owners’ Lives?

September 10, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. This column appears in the September issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

This question popped up on a LinkedIn discussion group recently:

Here is our scenario: We have “unpaid” part time workers who are provided expense allowance stipends up to $1,200 per month. They receive free lot rent, housing, cable TV, all utilities, and are reimbursed for gasoline expense. They purchase supplies and materials with corporate credit cards. They are not required to work a regular schedule with the exception of the first 5 days of each month (5 hours per day.) They do not wish to be sent a 1099 form as an independent contractor. #1: Are they independent contractors?; and #2: If they are not, are we OK not to have them on the payroll? Please offer any thoughts you may have. Thanks.

Questions like this come up all the time at park owner meetings, conventions and in publications. There are as many interpretations of how to treat workcampers as there are campgrounds. There are three important principles to keep in mind when dealing with this group of part-time workers.

Principal 1: Don’t mess with the IRS. Among the most stressful things a small business owner can come up against (after death of a spouse and a divorce) is a window envelope addressed to you from the IRS. Rarely does this envelope contain good news.

Principal 2: There are very few ways (I actually cannot think of any ways) to compensate a non-family member who works for you that do not involve some tax obligation to the payee or the recipient, or both. In the scenario above, seems to me to be hard to call these folks “upaid” workers.

Principal 3: The tax issues and needs of workcampers are their problem, not yours. No matter how good they may be, or how good you think they will be, meeting your business needs and protecting your business and family always comes first.

As a small business person for many years in retail, campground and consulting businesses, one key objective I most want is to avoid any state or federal audits by the IRS, the state employment commissions, state tax authorities, etc.

I’ve found the best way to avoid these unpleasant and time consuming experiences is to avoid, minimize and understand any gray areas such as are associated with independent contractor rules, insurance and workers comp liabilities and issues, undocumented workers, sales tax collections and disbursements, tourism taxes, volunteer workers, etc.

When it comes to staffing an RV park or campground, the process I’ve used with some success is to first establish a personnel plan and realistic budget that will enable me to staff the park properly and adequately and provide the level of service, standards and experiences I want my guest to have.

The second step is to then consult with human resources and, tax and insurance experts as to how best to implement the plan. The primary objective should always be to legally hire the absolute best people to do the jobs that need doing and not to finagle (?) around with dubious schemes that may lead to unnecessary problems and hiring based on the wrong criteria. The individual tax avoidance or reduction issues of potential employees is their problem, not yours or mine. Let’s not make our lives any more complicated than they already are.

The cost of strict compliance with tax and related laws is far less then the cost of the stress and legal fees associated with trying to defend oneself in a fight with a federal, state or local government entity.

Another Thought on Temporary Workers

In today’s business world, so much is being said and written about the experience the business provides to the customer and how customers are seeking superior experiences in all of their life activities. A JD Power survey recently found that customers will pay up to 20% more for outstanding experiences (and outstanding products) than for a lesser product or experience.

That’s a pretty compelling reason to focus on the guest experience.

For the most part, in my experience, temporary workers and/or workcampers are not usually capable of providing the level of service and the type of experience that a regular employee – whether full or part time – can provide. The temp is not often familiar with the area in which the park is located. The temp or work camper have too many conflicting interests, business or things to do that distracts them from truly learning how to best serve the parks’ guests. Adequately serving guest needs and interests and providing the level of experience that makes the visit to the park truly outstanding is simply more difficult for the temp worker.

As we’ve heard from many sources over the years, hire or engage the best possible people to represent and be the face of your park. And that’s incredibly hard to do when interviewing and hiring over the phone or via Skype and the individual you’re trying to interview is only going to be with you for a limited period and for limited hours during that period. Hard to get a temp or workcamper to “invest” in your business when they know they’ll be moving on and that the “camper” part is more important than the “worker” part.

 

Gorin: The Park Industry Needs Modern Product

August 8, 2013 by · Comments Off on Gorin: The Park Industry Needs Modern Product 

David Gorin

David Gorin David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. The following In Sites column appears in the August issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

Just about every industry, product or service I can think of, from the mundane like breakfast cereals to the most sophisticated technology products like mobile phones and tablet computers, go through regular innovation and new product introductions from brand new products to a “new and improved” version of their reliable long term products.

The RV industry thrives on introducing new products ranging from totally new RV models to new and improved versions of old reliable rigs that have sold well for years. The recent recession sparked innovation among RV manufacturers to make their product lines more in sync with the new market emerging from the ashes of the recession. Smaller RVs. Lighter RVs. New floorplans. Island kitchen counters. A renewed emphasis on travel trailers. An emphasis on rigs designed for long-term camping in a single location. Engines with greater energy efficiency. And on and on.

For every RV manufacturer that fell victim to the recession, a new one emerged with new product for new times.

The RV industry lives in two worlds. World one is the world where the manufacturers try to grow the market and get more Americans to go camping and buy RVs. Thus, we have Go RVing.

World two is the world of innovation that drives committed RVers to purchasing new and improved rigs to meet new needs and wants and to entice the RVers to upgrade or buy that new rig with the latest design, efficiency, floorplan, technology or whatever.

The key is product innovation to keep the rigs in sync with the various markets and to keep consumers interest in the newest and best. We all want the latest and greatest whether its cell phones, televisions, cars, fashion, kitchen, home appliances, RVs and so on.

Savvy park owners and operators in the campground and RV park business introduce new products – activities, services, sites, cabins or whatever – each year to keep and excite past guests to come back regularly and to entice new guests by assuring them that the resort is keeping up with the times. New park products and services – premium and upgraded sites, site food service delivery, water play features of various kinds, new cabins, new and more entertainment, golf cart and other rental recreational amenities, new and enlarged RV sites, introduction of accessible sites, new and upgraded restrooms – are some examples of new products and services featured in many parks under the heading of “new for this year!”

And, of course, in the RV industry and in the park industry, new product often allows increasing fees and prices.

One thing savvy business people also realize is that innovation and new product introductions always entail some level of risk. Regardless of the innovation, there is always a cost and there is always some uncertainty of how the innovation will be received in the market. Risk and innovation go hand in hand in every situation. Risk can be minimized but every time something new is tried, there is a risk associated with it. By the time six or eight RV models had slideouts in them, the market data reduced the risk of the next RV introduction with a slide out. After a dozen or so RV parks introduced water slides and other park owners could visit the parks and talk with the owners, the next water park built was less risky than the first.

Risk and innovation are what keep industries alive and growing. If there are no risk takers, there is little or no innovation and little if any growth.

In the park industry, the ultimate innovation and risk is the development of a new RV park. Totally new. Built on land where none previously existed.

In my view, the RV park and campground business needs new RV park products. Not just older parks with new restrooms or a new clubhouse, not one upgraded with Band-Aids, water slides or other adjustments. Brand new.

Survey Results

In June, I surveyed state campground associations to find out how many new parks have come online between 2003 and 2008 and since 2008. Eighteen states responded to the survey and the results are interesting. And this period included the peak years of new RV sales culminating in 2006 with a 25-year record of 390,000 sales.

Between 2003 and 2008:

• One state indicated that three new parks were built, opened and are operating during that period.

• Six states indicated that they could locate just two new parks during that period.

• Eleven states reported either zero or one new park.

Since 2008, the picture is pretty much the same except that only one state reported two parks and the others reported either zero or one. Now, again, remember that this period included the recession years where RV sales plummeted to the 165,000-level, the financial markets busted and funding for construction generally dried up.

Why so little new park construction prior to the recession and post-recession?

I think the answer lies in what RV park owners consider to be the extreme risk that lies in new construction and business development. Park owners (and many other business people) want immediate cash flow to cover loans and generate immediate NOI. They are unwilling to take the risk associated with development and opening of a new business and potential for larger profits or bankruptcy. Development requires zoning and permitting, site planning, construction budgeting and funding and a business plan based on opening a successful new business that will develop revenue sufficient to pay back the construction loans, carry a mortgage going forward and develop a stable and superior income within a reasonable period of time. And provide an opportunity to refinance in a reasonable period of time so the investors can recover their investment.

Prior to the recession, the best new parks that came into the market came in as condominium resorts where sites could be sold for prices high enough to pay back loans as sales were made and where the immediate income was sufficient to allow the park to be built to a high standard that surpassed almost anything on the open to the public market.

The biggest players in the park business – Equity Lifestyle Properties (Encore or ELS), Carefree RV Resorts, KOA and Sun Communities, for example – grow their business by acquiring existing parks. Not one of these companies has introduced innovation and new products into the industry in the form of new parks built to a modern standard. They tend to buy, Band-Aid, raise rents and occupancy, refinance and repeat the process – more Band-Aids, higher rents and occupancy, etc.

Given the successes of these companies, it’s certainly hard to take issue with their model.

In the survey noted above, I asked what were the primary obstacles to building a new park. The responses were pretty much as expected. Access to funding was mentioned more frequently than any other reason. This was followed by regulatory issues, especially water and waste water concerns, and the length of time to gain regulatory approval for a project.

Industry Needs to Address These Issues

As an industry, I think several issues need to be addressed.

• First, can we agree that the park industry needs new product in the form of new, modern RV parks and campgrounds that can attract the new, younger outdoor enthusiasts, new RV owners, families and empty nesters?

• Second, there is a need for very clear and accurate operational and cost of doing business data on which sound business plans can be built that will provide developers and bankers with reliable information on which to base decisions.

• Third, we need a business model that allows a new park to develop sufficient revenue and profits to make building a new campground as attractive as building a new hotel. Campgrounds require considerably lower investment to develop – let’s say 50% less. So if site fees are set at 50% of nearby mid-range newer hotel fees, and if occupancy can be built to approach hotel levels (60% or so), developing and operating a new park could be a feasible business idea.

• Fourth, how can the industry help control construction costs? This seems to be the most risky park of building a new park – uncertainty of bringing the project in on time and on budget. The best way to achieve this is to attract experienced developers to developing parks.

The job of a developer is to acquire land, entitle the land for a particular purpose, build the infrastructure and then perhaps sell the entitled, developed land to a builder/operator, or to build out the project for an operator who agrees to either buy or lease the new park without the development risk – a build-to-suit model similar to that used in commercial real estate.

The recession has created some outstanding opportunities to locate new RV parks and campgrounds in some very desirable locations – high quality tourist and recreation areas where land prices have come down to earth from very high pre-recession prices that made new development difficult if not impossible.

It would be to the benefit of both the park and the RV industries if new 21st century parks designed and built to meet the needs and wants of today’s market can be developed. You can’t build and grow either industry without innovation and new product. And with the new and vibrant interest in outdoor recreation the time seems right for innovation and taking modest risk for future rewards. No risk, no innovation, no growth.

 

Gorin: Go Camping America/Go RVing Revival

July 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Gorin: Go Camping America/Go RVing Revival 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. The following column appears in the July issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

First, a little history.

In the beginning there was Go Camping America (GCA), a joint venture of the (then) National Campground Owners Association (NCOA), the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). The name Go Camping America and the original GCA logo were developed by KOA and given to NCOA sometime in the mid-1980s.

The objective of GCA was to spread the word about camping and RVing to the general public and to provide information to the media about camping in the U.S. As opportunities for promotion developed, each organization provided a share of the resources necessary or contributed talent, information or other in-kind support.

In the early 1990s, the RVDA decided to withdraw from GCA, leaving the program to RVIA and NCOA/ARVC.

Spurred on during these early years by NCOA and ARVC leaders Erv Banes, Al Daniels, Bob London, Conrad Dumke and several others, there were some significant accomplishments.

• A partnership among GCA, Kmart and the Coleman Co. led to the distribution of tens of thousands of Go Camping America Vacation Planners in over 2,000 Kmart stores.

Go Camping America momentos

• The Go Camping America Festival was a year-long camping promotion encouraging parks across the country to reach out into their communities and market areas with special events at campgrounds. The Festival kicked off on the “Today Show” with RVIA President Dave Humphries, the director of the National Park Service, the NCOA President – me – and the “Today Show” hosts Bryant Gumbel and Debra Norville camping, canoeing and talking camping at a campground at the Delaware Water Gap on the NY/NJ border. 1-800-SUNNY, the toll free number for GCA received over a 1,000 calls requesting the Camping Vacation Planner in that one day.

• A National GCA Fishing Contest was sponsored by GCA and fishing tackle manufacturer Abu Garcia.

• The introduction of the Go Camping America Credit Card was promoted to park owners and campers as a vehicle to fund Go Camping America. At its peak, there were over 5,000 cards being used and GCA income was around $25,000 the first year of the card.

• The introduction of the Go Camping America ATT Telephone Calling Card – remember them? Parks sold thousands of cards generating additional funding for Go Camping America.

• And as the worldwide web and Internet began to gain acceptance, ARVC created the Go Camping America online directory that remains today as the primary GCA vehicle for marketing ARVC members.

Go RVing Debuts

And then there was Go RVing, an RVIA and RVDA effort to unite the manufacturers and the dealers in a national promotion program to educate, motivate, entice and sell RVers to a larger and larger share of American consumers.

If my memory serves me correctly, the campaign to unify the RV industry around a national RV promotion program was initially spearheaded by Coachmen Industries’ Tom Corson, industry executive Jim Sheldon (then with Holiday Rambler and subsequently with Monaco), Tom Faludy of Carefree, and RVIA President Dave Humphries. Together with Bob Strawn, president of the RVDA, dealers Tom Stinnett and Rick Horsey and others, this group fashioned the Go RVing Coalition and promotion campaign into a model of industry unity that has become both a powerhouse driver of RV sales growth and the envy of many other big-ticket recreation equipment manufacturers – especially the boating industry.

Since Go RVing’s inception in 1994, the number of RVs owned by 35-54 year olds has grown faster than all other age groups, consumer attitudes toward RVs have improved very significantly and recall of RV advertising has grown every year. The number of likely RV buyers grows annually, driven by the Go RVing advertising and promotion.

Funded by increasing the price of the RVIA standards certification seal that goes on every RVIA member-produced RV, the Go RVing campaign has had annual budgets as large as $18 million. The campaign generally runs in three-year segments and over the years, promotional themes have ranged from “Wherever You Go, You’re Always at Home,” “Pursue Your Passions,” “Go RVing: Life’s a Trip” and the current “Away” theme.

In addition to the income generated by the RVIA seals, industry suppliers support the program through an annual dues assessment and through a special assessment added to the cost of exhibit space at the annual National RV Show in Louisville. All segments of the RV industry contribute to this powerful program that has worked wonders in building interest, respectability, understanding, support and many other positive attributes for RVs, RVing and the outdoors.

I like to recall that in the mid-1980s when I first became associated with the campground and RV park industry, my somewhat over-educated and over-achieving friends wondered why anyone would want to own and travel in an RV. Over the years, these same people have expressed envy for my being associated with such a “cool” lifestyle and they’ve moved from “I would never buy one of those things” to “I’m thinking about when I can buy an RV.”

In the early years of Go RVing, the campground industry conducted a “fair share” program soliciting contributions to the Go RVing campaign by requesting a fair share contribution based on the number of sites in a park, the number of site nights or the park’s revenue. Participating parks were listed on the Go RVing website as a resource for people looking for places to go camping. For some years, ARVC’s annual support through the fair share and other fund raising techniques of Go RVing was in the $100,000 annual range. And then for some reason, the industry association dropped its support – neither soliciting support from the members nor providing direct support from the association’s budget.

The Bottom Line

So what, you might ask? What’s your point?

Several points.

1. Every RV that’s sold represents a potential of 365 site nights for the park industry. From research I’ve seen, the average RVers uses their RV for about 25 nights a year. For every 1,000 RVs sold, at about $40/night on average, that’s $1 million in potential park revenue. With 10,000 campgrounds, those 1,000 RVs could mean $100 in revenue for each park. If the RV industry can successfully grow from where it is today – approximately 300,000 unit sales to where it was in 2006 – about 390,000 units – that could be $90 million in park revenue. At just 50% of that, we’re looking at $45 million or maybe $4,500 for every excellent, good, fair and poor park in America. Maybe a park would consider a $50 to $100 contribution to Go RVing to earn maybe an additional $4,500 in revenue.

2. With the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) now back under the RVIA umbrella, it stands to reason that the RVIA and the RV dealers are likely to take an increased interest in the RV units represented by park model manufacturers. These units are rapidly expanding as rental units in parks and as seasonal camping units of choice. RVIA has already launched a public relations effort to spread the word about park model RVs and park rental units. Soon, I’d expect that these units will be promoted more aggressively by RVIA public relations activities and may be included in future Go RVing promotions and advertising.

3. Go Camping America needs to be re-established into a national promotion program to reach out and excite more and more people about camping. Go Camping America is a good online camping directory but it can and should be much, much more. Industry promotion is an important role for a national trade association and ARVC needs to step up and take on this role.

In my view, the two key roles for an association are government affairs activities that protect the industry from unnecessary and unfair legislative and regulatory actions, and to promote and build an ever-growing consumer base for the industry’s products and services.

4. There should be a way to integrate and coordinate Go RVing and Go Camping America. Selling more steel (RVs) and putting more steel onto more sites (building more camper nights) go together. The more people own RVs, the more RV owners get out and use their vehicles, the greater the number of camper nights and the greater likelihood that they will buy another and another and another RV – and the more often they turn over their rigs, the more they use them – and the more camper nights that are developed. I urge the park owners and the leaders of ARVC to become more aggressive in figuring out how to take advantage of the great successes of Go RVing and how to ride that wave with Go Camping America. Two promotion programs have got to have a greater impact than just one. I recently heard that the ARVC Board of Directors voted for the association not to provide any support for Go RVing. If that’s the case, what a shame!

5. ARVC member benefit programs to save parks money through group purchasing are valuable. But isn’t it time to now focus on how to get the parks to use their savings they’ve achieved through ARVC benefit programs to fund GCA promotion programs to expand the number of camper nights, grow the camping market and increase park revenues? How many park owners would balk at kicking in $50 to $100 for an ear-marked $200,000 to $400,000 GCA promotion fund – not to drive current campers to the GCA website, but to promote camping as an activity and to try to build new camper nights from the public? I’ve no doubt that integrating GCA with Go RVing and putting money up to make it happen would be a big win for the park industry. I can hear the cynics saying park owners won’t contribute but that’s a cop out. A professionally crafted and executed program to tell the promotion story to park owners will be well received and supported.

See ya in August.

 

 

Gorin: Wi-Fi Takes Over Top Spot in His Poll

June 18, 2013 by · Comments Off on Gorin: Wi-Fi Takes Over Top Spot in His Poll 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He provided the following column which appears in the June issue of Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

My informal poll now shows that after many, many years in first place, sewers have been knocked from the top spot. Wi-Fi has replaced sewers and sewage as the No. 1 topic among park owners these days. As sewer systems, treatment plants and related issues were often the bane of the park owner’s existence, in many cases that headache has been replaced by Wi-Fi. In fact, I’ve even heard park folks saying they’d rather unclog a sewer line by hand than face a customer with a Wi-Fi complaint. And it’s no longer a matter of talking about needing to have Wi-Fi, it’s now moved into the more sophisticated areas of bandwidth, repeaters, controllers, towers and other technology issues. And of course, is it free or do we charge for it?

Best practice in the hospitality industry today calls for facilities to provide reliable high speed Internet access where the guest wants it – in the hotel business that means in the guest room; in the park business that means at the site and inside the RV (or cabin or whatever).

Once that standard is accepted, then the only remaining question is who pays for the service. The park owner? The guest? A combination?

Often heard at these discussions is that lower priced hotels are giving Wi-Fi away free while high priced hotels are sometimes charging quite high fees.

The guests at the lower priced properties are assumed to be shopping price and looking to get the best deal for the money. So with Wi-Fi being a highly valued amenity in today’s world, lower priced facilities use it to attract guests who are price sensitive but also have indicated their desire for Wi-Fi.

At the high priced properties, guests are assumed to be making decisions based on the overall higher end facilities, amenities, location and other similar factors. While Wi-Fi is important, it doesn’t factor into their decision-making at as higher level as it might for the traveler/vacationer who is more price driven.

Here’s another thought: A 200-site park open year round with a 40% occupancy rate is going to pay $15,000 annually to provide high speed Wi-Fi to their guests. That works out to just 51 cents per occupied site night. Add a $1 a night to your site rate and you’ve more than covered the cost.

Another way to thinking about this: It’s going to cost you $20,000 to install and operate a reliable Wi-Fi system. At a $50/night rate, that’s 400 site nights. If you have an A+ Wi-Fi system that works basically flawlessly, will that produce 400 site nights each year? Looking at it another way, if you don’t have a flawless system, what might that cost you in lost repeat guests over the year?

There are lots of ways to skin this cat but the bottom line remains the same. The best practice is to provide high quality, reliable and fast Internet connectivity at your sites. How you skin the cat will depend on your particular approach to your business and your guest experience.

Superior Quality Parks

Thumbing through the recently distributed ARVC Member Handbook, I came across an interesting logo that caught my attention – “Superior Quality Park” in the shape of a seal with five gold stars in the middle.

Reading through the accompanying text, it became apparent that ARVC will be awarding this designation to parks where the owners, managers or other key employees had completed certain certificates in the new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP).

Karl Littman, chairman of the ARVC Foundation and president of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA), had reported in passing to the VCA board in early April that such a designation might be coming so I was somewhat aware of the idea, but I was unprepared for it when I saw it announced in print in the Member Handbook that had obviously been to print well prior to the ARVC Board and Foundation meetings in early April.

It seemed to me that a designation as strong and clear-cut as Superior Quality Park seems to be – complete with its five stars in the logo – is not something that should be introduced to the park industry without some pretty broad discussion.

Barb Youmans, ARVC’s senior director of education and membership, responded to an inquiry about the new designation. Here’s Barb’s take on the SQP.

Just so we are clear, this designation is not intended to be a “rating” for the park, but rather a designation that recognizes a park owner’s commitment to improved quality service and guest experiences overall through learning supported by OHEP. We believe strongly that individuals who successfully complete the criteria for an OHEP certificate will grow personally and professionally. With enough full-time (seasonal and year-round) employees receiving certificates, we also believe guest experiences will be positively impacted.

We want to recognize parks who have demonstrated their commitment to developing their employees, who are the ultimate ambassadors to the consumers and that strive toward better delivering operational excellence and experience through those ambassadors and their participation in OHEP.

This was an internal arvc decision that was made for the purposes of recognizing efforts in this area. The program was presented to the board at the recent Spring Board meeting as part of the Foundation and Education update given by Karl Littman.

Barb’s explanation of the desire to recognize educational achievements is certainly appropriate, laudable and no one would quibble with that.

Just to be clear, if awarding the designation of “Superior Quality Park” is not offering a rating, exactly what is it? As a consumer, if you saw that seal on a park, what would be your logical conclusion? If it’s not a rating, what is it and what information is intended for the consumer?

Participation in the OHEP is one way for a park to demonstrate a commitment to developing employees. Is it the only way? I don’t think so. Is it the best way? Maybe but the OHEP program is brand new and is essentially untried and untested at this point.

Is this a designation that signifies an educational accomplishment of an individual? What happens when the individual, maybe the owner, sells the park or employees leave the park? Is it no longer a Superior Quality Park? What’s the connection between the educational attainments of an individual or a group of individuals to the overall quality of an RV park? Sure, we expect that educated individuals might operate good RV parks and campgrounds and may have an understanding of quality service and facilities, but knowledge as we all know doesn’t automatically translate to a “superior quality park.” Operating a superior park involves far more than a certificate from OHEP or elsewhere.

Awarding such a rating or designation is a quantum leap into new territory for ARVC. The park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations should not be done lightly. Do the members feel that a decision to award such a designation should be an internal staff decision or is this move sufficiently significant that the ARVC board should be involved and that perhaps membership input might be warranted?

I could be way off base but I don’t think so. An ARVC designation of a Superior Quality Park on the Go Camping America website and then in individual park marketing could be an important competitive edge and certainly needs more careful industry discussion.

Combining ARVC’s Guest Reviews program with Superior Quality Parks designations on the GCA (GoCampingAmerica) directory and in individual park marketing certainly seems to be moving the national trade association into the rating business.

Your thoughts?

 

Gorin Discusses New Best Parks Arrangement

March 4, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He writes a monthly column for Woodall’s Campground Management. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica.

First, in the spirit of full disclosure, I created Best Parks in America in 2003 and have owned the intellectual property, the brand and the program since that time.

In 2013, Best Parks is breaking new ground. As announced on Feb. 4, I’ve basically sold Best Parks to long time park owner, real estate investor and entrepreneur Reza Paydar. Reza’s plans for Best Parks call for significant expansion of the brand, the establishment of standards and inspections to assure the parks in the system stand behind the brand name, stepped up consumer marketing and advertising, the introduction of a recognition and loyalty program to reward consumers, and a new, warmer and more welcoming website.

I will continue to be the president of Best Parks and look forward to working with Reza and all of the affiliates to continue to grow and expand the Best Parks brand.

Congratulations, Reza, on acquiring the Best Parks brand. Together and with the support of the affiliates, there’s no doubt that this brand is taking its place along side the prominent industry brands that have carved out their places among consumers. The Best Parks brand provides a home for consumers seeking the best and most unique guest experiences as they enjoy RVing and outdoor recreation across America.

Thanks to all who have supported and worked cooperatively with Best Parks over the last 10 years. And for those who have sat on the sidelines over the years, if your park can uphold the Best Parks name and brand, we invite you to contact Reza or me to learn more about the brand and how it can improve your park business.

National Parks to Become Ghost Towns?

Budget sequestration – coming Feb. 28? If Congress fails to enact a new federal budget, current law calls for sharp and dramatic cuts in federal spending set to take place on Feb. 28 (or March 1).

On Jan. 25, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis warned top Park Service officials that budget sequestration could lead to widespread closures of park units and other operations reductions.

In a memo to staff, Jarvis said, “We expect that a cut of this magnitude, intensified by the lateness of the implementation, will result in reductions to visitor services, hours of operation, shortening of seasons and possibly the closing of areas during periods when there is insufficient staff to ensure the protection of visitors, employees, resources, and government assets.”

Imposition of the anticipated 5% budget cuts (down from 8.2%) would be devastating.

“This would be devastating for America’s national parks, for the nearly 300 million Americans who visit them, and for the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources the parks were established to protect,” said Maureen Finnerty who heads up an organization of retired Park Service officials. “Additionally there will be steep impacts to the private sector – the hundreds of concession businesses operating inside of the parks, the stores operated by cooperating associations in park visitor centers, not to mention the economies of the communities adjacent to parks and entire states that depend so heavily on both tourism and other spending done by the parks.”

For all these reasons, let’s hope that by the time you read this article, steps would have been taken to avoid sequestration and the devastating impacts that could have on the gateway communities that serve the national parks and on the economy in general.

Writer Questions Parks on Check-Out Times

Just in case you missed this, the editor of RV Traveler newsletter, a weekly newsletter supposedly read by more than 200,000 RVers each week, took RV parks and campgrounds to task for 11 a.m. check-out times. The writer questioned the need for such an early check-out time since parks do not have to replace linens, clean rooms and accomplish other chores typically done in hotels. Why, he questioned, couldn’t parks extend the check-out time to 1 p.m.?

According to the editor Chuck Woodbury, “Letters poured in last week about my essay urging campgrounds to extend their check-out times from a stingy 11 a.m. to later. Most of the readers agreed with my comments, but others, mostly workampers, defended the early check-out time with horror stories about awful campers who left their campsites a mess. Most of their stories, however, had nothing to do with check-out times. “They pulled apart a fence to use for firewood,” was one comment.

“Most of these people said that if someone wanted to stay longer, they were usually allowed. They just need to ask. I say that they should not need to ask. One o’clock should be the official time, not 11 a.m.,” wrote Woodbury.

“From what I have observed through the years, nearly all campgrounds have campsites available for any early arrivals because 90% of the overnight campers leave early. My guess is that 99.7% of campers leave their space as clean as when they arrived and I don’t think RV parks kick us out early because they need time to clean our sites: I think they do it because they have always done it, and nobody bothers to ask “Why?” So I say that unless there is a compelling reason, RV parks should do away with the 11 a.m. check-out time and make it 1 p.m. It’s the right thing to do.”

Chuck, I can think of several reasons why parks adhere to an 11 a.m. check-out time.

First, many parks do a “housecleaning” of a site before the next visitor arrives. Sites need to be blown off, picnic tables and grills need to be cleaned, pedestals and utility connections need to be cleaned and checked, in some cases electric meters need to be read, and landscaping may need to be trimmed and cared for. The larger the park, the longer it can take to be sure each site is prepared and ready for the next guest.

Second, with the expansion of the number of rental units in parks, housekeeping is a bigger job then ever before. To keep staffing requirements at reasonable levels, site and cabin housekeeping may be done by the same crew and the job is bigger than you think.

Third, there are often new guests arriving who are just as eager for an early check in as departing guests might be for late checkouts.

I don’t know of any hard and fast rule among park owners that specifies that 11 a.m. check-out is set across the industry. Parks set their own rules based on their own needs and the needs of their guests. As hotels will often allow late check-outs upon request based on incoming check-ins and the hotel needs to housekeep the rooms, parks too will often allow late check-outs on request.

Park owners out there: I’d be happy to share any messages you might have for Chuck Woodbury on this issue of later check-outs. Feel free to forward comments to me at david@davidgorinassociates.com and I’ll be glad to forward them to Chuck.

 

 

 

Gorin: How California Parks Could Go to Pot

February 12, 2013 by · Comments Off on Gorin: How California Parks Could Go to Pot 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He can be reached by e-mail at david@bestparksinamerica. This column appears in the February issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

A belated Happy New Year to all and best wishes for a great 2013. If the country’s not gone off the cliff by the time you read this, there may still be hope for an economically strong year. I’m looking forward to sharing some things that I come across from time to time in my travels around the country working with Best Parks in America affiliates as well as David Gorin Associates’ clients.

A Look Into the Future?

Not too many years ago, many state campground associations were grappling first with accepting membership parks into membership and then whether nudist parks should be association members. Well, this may be the next thing coming down the pike – at least in the states that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana.

My San Francisco-based son found this on a local website:

Medical Marijuana RV Park/Campground

Dec. 5, 2012… Consider this – We are possibly turning the site of an old campground in NorCal into a medical marijuana friendly RV park. Instead of making people hide what they already do, we are going to be upfront and allow SMALL, SAFE AND LEGAL grows in conditions that maintain everyone’s well being. By allowing residents to grow, we can create a friendlier atmosphere of similarly minded people who can live together in a more harmonious way than traditional RV parks. Please e-mail if you are interested in participating in this idea or have any questions or comments about it. Thank you.

With the nation’s budget deficits and the need to reduce the national debt, maybe legalizing marijuana and taxing it heavily can make a substantial contribution to cutting the deficit. (I’m actually also wondering why the same can’t be done with online gambling. I’m told it would yield billions in tax revenues).

Campgrounds a Safe Haven?

In my 25 years of involvement in the RV park and campground industry, I’ve heard numerous stories of crime, abuse, embezzlement, drugs, etc., in parks. And I’ve always considered that parks have always been a microcosm of the rest of the world and that what happens in communities across America will also happen in parks.

In recent years, we’ve become more aware of the seamy side of life that from time to time rears its ugly head in campgrounds and RV parks. The Internet and especially Google alerts find these unfortunate instances of campground problems and the industry media reports on it. Whatever goes on in the world around us goes on in campgrounds – the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the uplifting and the downers. Unfortunately, that’s probably life in the U.S. today.

In a recent exchange on a LinkedIn RV Park Biz Group, someone commented on the recent story of a government official visiting an Idaho park who was charged with video voyeurism when a woman accused him of taping her in a shower in the campground. The article and the comments from LinkedIn participants caught my attention and brought back to mind the idea that I’ve long held that parks are a microcosm of the communities and the people who visit them.

One of the comments particularly caught my attention: “Any thoughts on how we can preserve the save haven of camping? Will it change the way you operate your campground?”

In response, one commenter noted, “We have been fortunate in the campground industry to avoid many of life’s social issues, which has always been a selling point for family values and quality time away from the city or our typical daily environments. It is also a wake-up call to all of us that the safe havens we have come to cherish are now becoming new opportunities for those who want to hurt others and infringe on their personal privacy. Sad indeed.”

Industry reporter and writer Bob Zagami and I engaged in both a LinkedIn and phone exchange. Bob said, “We still enjoy life and surroundings that look more like the ideals of 25 years ago than the world just outside our door – especially in major cities.” And he took issue with my LinkedIn comment that parks reflected society in both the good and the bad and asserted that “campgrounds are not a true microcosm of society because the people who enjoy the RV lifestyle are unique in their appreciation of what our industry has to offer and most people in the campground/resort think like we do.”

Regardless of our perceptions of society and how that may or may not be reflected in campers and RVers, we certainly agreed that parks should think about and develop programs to try to assure that they are the safe havens we all expect, and like them to be places where people can leave the doors open, where kids can play out of sight of their parents, where the restrooms are safe and secure and where our neighbors in the next site are more like us then any criminal element.

As the popularity of RVing has increased and the average age of RVers has dropped into the mid-40s, and as rigs such as the toy haulers have encouraged younger and younger buyers to become RVers, the composition of the RVing population and demographic has changed. Mostly, those changes have been very healthy for the industry, but with the good also comes maybe some not-so-good sidelights.

Having heard of and seen a variety of criminal acts in parks over the years – shootings, robbery, spouse and child abuse, fights, public drunkenness and lewd behavior and speech – and given the tragic multiple shootings in Aurora, Colo., and most recently in Newtown, Conn., it would seem that the industry, perhaps in an effort led by the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) and state campground associations should exert leadership and propose some concrete steps to avoid the negative press and sometimes unfavorable public perceptions of campgrounds and restore the image of parks as safe havens.

The first and simplest step that should be implemented was suggested by Bob Zagami – start a “see something… say something” campaign in the park using some subtle signage in restrooms and perhaps other public places encouraging guests and employees to be vigilant and report any suspicious or obvious actions that are out of place in a campground. We all know how quickly non-dog owners report those not picking up after their dogs, campers could be just as quick to report situations and observations before they become problems.

Another action that parks might take is to include something like this statement on its registration form and have all new or unknown guests read and sign it at check-in:

  • This park is a safe haven for all that visit and enjoy the outdoors. Any of the following actions will lead to immediate removal of the individual and their group from the park without refund or any other compensation.
  • Public display of any weapons including guns of all kinds, knives, bows and arrows, water cannons, and any other item normally characterized as a weapon.
  • Public out-of-control drunkenness or behavior under the influence of illegal drugs.
  • Public swearing, fighting or any aggressive behavior against any camper (including family members) or staff.
  • Any behavior within the confines of one’s RV that can be heard from outside and that one could consider threatening.
  • Public possession of any illegal substances or materials.

In addition, parks might step up their vigilance by requesting guests unknown to the park to show positive identification with a driver’s license or other acceptable form of ID. The park might photocopy the identification and perhaps on a random basis conduct an online background check to identify any guests who might be on the sex offender registry or otherwise have a recent violent criminal history. I realize this isn’t necessarily a pleasant task for a park operator, but it may be a sound practice to try to keep the park as a safe haven.

Many RV parks that have extended stay visitors are already requesting identification prior to signing a contract or lease and are doing background checks either in-house or using a service that checks on criminal behavior as well as credit worthiness and financial stability.

Park owners are encouraged to take a better “safe than sorry” approach when it comes to assuring that parks remain the safe and peaceful place they are intended to be. Recent events clearly indicate that all businesses and public institutions must be on guard and prepared to safeguard the life, health and safety of all guests and staff. I’m not suggesting creating a fortress-like environment, but rather to take steps such as suggested above, preserving the campground environment that the public embraces and expects on every visit.

 

Gorin: Park Owners Should Watch RV Buying Trends

December 12, 2012 by · Comments Off on Gorin: Park Owners Should Watch RV Buying Trends 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the former president of ARVC and is currently the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC. He can be reached by email at david@bestparksinamerica. The following column appears in the December issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

As 2012 winds down and the winter holidays approach, I want to wish all of the park industry people a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and a wonderfully happy New Year. It’s been a tough year in many places and a very good year in others – the one thing that is consistent in most of our lives is inconsistency from one year to the next. I know I join with everyone in the hope and prayer that 2013 will be more consistently peaceful, healthful and prosperous than years we’ve experienced in recent times and that everyone enjoys a year of health, happiness and success.

What are the State Parks Thinking?

If you follow the daily campground and RV industry e-mail newsletters that hit our e-mail boxes daily, you can’t help but sense that the state park systems around the country are gearing up to expand their services to RVers and campers and move more and more in to the heretofore space reserved for private commercial RV parks and campgrounds. Despite budget crunches almost everywhere, it seems that state parks are trying to ride the wave of increased interest in camping by upgrading their campgrounds and seeking to build revenue to support the parks.

I recently had occasion to work on a project that involves the upgrading of an existing state park campground. The state is providing $1 million to upgrade a 50-site campground located in a state park about 50 miles from a mid-sized city. The park already has a swimming pool, picnic areas, athletic fields, mountain biking and hiking trails and other typical park amenities and recreation.

The campground offers 50 sites of varying sizes and can accommodate RVs of almost any size. The park has 2 ADA accessible sites and all sites have 30-amp electric and water hookups and about half the sites have sewer hookups as well. There are two bathhouses and one covered pavilion with a very attractive large fire pit. The park charges just $20 a night. The day I visited the park midweek in October, about half the sites were occupied. The two very spacious and very well appointed ADA sites were both occupied by folks from Florida who were spending two weeks at the park before heading back home to Florida.

I am still trying to figure out the rational for a state to spend $1 million to upgrade 50 campsites so they can accommodate the largest motorhomes at just $20 a night. And then fill the place up with out-of-state visitors taking advantage of the state’s generosity? I can’t understand the reasoning here. I don’t know of any commercial park that would spend upwards of $20,000 a site to upgrade existing sites and then charge $20/night for the sites. Not sure how that math works out for a private park owner or for the taxpayers in this particular state.

I did a little checking around and found that RV camping at state parks in the surrounding states ranged from a low of $23 to a high of $38.50 – and here’s this state offering overnight RV camping in fully developed sites at just $20.

Are Fuel Economy Claims Accurate?

A recent Winnebago announcement reports on its new fuel efficient RVs: “The combination of the powerful six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with Winnebago Industries’ build quality and floorplan selection make these products a ‘can’t miss’ at this year’s California RV Show,” said Winnebago Industries’ Vice President of Sales and Product Management Scott Degnan. “Winnebago Industries produces more motor homes on the economical Sprinter chassis than the rest of the industry combined, with consumers reporting between 15-20 mpg.”

In the auto industry, the Environmental Protection Agency oversees auto industry compliance with posting of fuel efficiency data and compliance with the corporate average fuel economy standards. Fuel efficiency is posted on a window sticker on every new vehicle. Many Americans count on accurate fuel efficiency reporting in making purchase decisions.

The time is either rapidly approaching or is already here for the RV industry to develop a third party verification system to support the energy efficiency claims of manufacturers in a manner similar to the data posted on the sales stickers of autos. Either the industry should act on its own to provide consumers with reliable efficiency information, or face the likelihood that the federal government could step in as they have with the auto industry.

Changes in Preferences Hit the RV Market

In recent months there’s been some below the radar reports on a very important change becoming evident in consumer RV preferences. The number of Class A and Class C motorhomes has declined dramatically in recent years and the impact on the park industry may be quite significant.

The ratio of towable sales to motorhome sales for the last decade of the 20th century was about 2.2 towable sales for each motorhome sale. It was this balance that led to many campgrounds undertaking to enlarge RV sites to accommodate the increased sales of larger motorhomes and to many new sites being built far larger then previously considered necessary.

For the first five years of the 21st century (2000 to 2004) the ratio of towable sales to motorhome sales ranged from 3.8 to 4.4 towables sold for each motorhome sale.

From 2005 to 2009, the ration began to widen from a low of 5.5 towables sold to each motorhome sold in 2005, to 12.7 towables sold for each motorhome sale in 2009!

For 2010 and 2011, as sales of RVs generally picked up, the ratio dropped a bit to 9.4 and 9.9 towable sales for each motorhome sale. The estimate for 2012 sales is 9.4 trailers for each motorhome sale.

Will motorhome sales rebound? Is this a new normal?

My sense is that the Baby Boomers who were driving motorhome sales prior to the recession, have re-evaluated their options for retirement and for consumption of luxury goods and motorhome purchases are not as possible or desirable as they were in earlier years.

On the other end of the age spectrum, younger families and empty nesters have become more cautious and realistic about their needs and capabilities. The recession has, in my view, caused significant re-evaluation of priorities and the need to protect against future economic possibilities. Smaller and less expensive is better; energy efficiency is important to control costs; and in many cases, renting is far better than owning expensive toys.

The park industry should carefully consider and watch the purchase trends regarding towables and motorhomes. Class A only resorts may be very vulnerable in the coming years as the existing stock of Class A motorhomes declines. As current Class A owners and Class A-only site owners age out, where will the replacements come from? Will more towables lead to more seasonal camping? Will towable buyers move up to motorhome ownership as they age?

Interesting trends call for careful monitoring, research and adjustments in the coming years.

One Other Thought

From a park industry executive as quoted in a recent newspaper article: “We felt and still feel there is an opportunity to disrupt an industry that has not changed in 50 years.”

The article goes on to say that the executive noted that there wasn’t a hospitality company that oversaw many of these sites and that most were owned by people looking for passive real estate investments.

What’s your perspective on this? Do you agree with this assessment? Has the park industry been stagnant for 50 years? Have you seen changes in the industry over that time? Are many of the sites owned by people looking for passive real estate investments? What does it take to be successful in the park business?

Please share your thoughts at david@davidgorinassociates.com. I’d enjoy hearing from you and exchanging views.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Gorin: Pay More Attention to Hotel Industry

November 19, 2012 by · Comments Off on Gorin: Pay More Attention to Hotel Industry 

David Gorin

David Gorin is the president of Best Parks in America and the principal of David Gorin Associates LLC, a consulting company exclusively serving the RV park and campground industry. Gorin was the president and CEO of ARVC from 1987 to 2001. This column appears in the November issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.

A recent hospitality industry newsletter announced “Hotels on track to take in nearly $2 billion in surcharges.”

Surcharges = ancillary income in hotel speak. And I thought campground owners were good at developing ancillary income.

From the consumer point of view, the bad news is that the ancillary service fees continue to rise, increasing 5.4% in 2012.

The bad news from the hotel point of view and good news for guests, is that the hotels appear to be running out of things to charge for, at least for now.

The list of things that parks can charge for is pretty long. Are parks going to run out of new ancillary income sources?

On the hotel side, a recent study done by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) shows that 23% now charge for in-room Internet access, compared to19% in 2010. And during the same period, the number of hotels charging a fee to use fitness facilities climbed from 21% to 25%.

And here’s an interesting finding from the study: fewer hotels are charging for pets or assessing resort fees.

The study indicates that more and more hotels are allowing pets without charge. Most RV parks and campgrounds are not even allowing pets in rental accommodations. If the hotels allow pets for free in guest rooms, it would seem that some in the park are likely to follow suit. As more and more parks move into the rental unit business, they are likely to become more and more “hotel-like” in their practices.

Resort fees? Haven’t seen too much of that yet among independent parks, but I do know that some large chains are assessing resort fees and becoming more all-inclusive in providing recreation and other services previously offered a la carte.

Here’s something that should sound familiar: “Not surprisingly, perhaps, guests find fees for Internet access among the most infuriating. “Expectations over Internet access are being set by other industries,” said Jessica McGregor, senior account manager at J.D. Power and Associates. “You go to a coffee shop or restaurant and, oftentimes, the Wi-Fi is free. Paying for it at a hotel goes against what people have come to expect.”

And they’re none too happy about it. According to J.D. Power and Associates’ latest survey on hotel guest satisfaction, released in July, guests who received complimentary Internet access reported an average score of 764 (on a 1,000-point scale) versus 688 for those who were charged a fee.

Sure would be interesting to see how guests in the park industry factor Internet into their satisfaction ratings.

Great parallels between the park business and the hotel business. The park industry needs to pay more attention and take the lessons learned in the hotel industry to heart.

RV Newsletter Calls for More Inexpensive Camping

The editor of one of the most widely read weekly RV consumer newsletters recently wrote an editorial in which he challenged the park industry to find “a creative business person (needs) to come along with a plan for an extensive network of low-cost, no-frills, self-check-in campgrounds, and then run with it.”

Here’s my response to this particular editor who is really a thoughtful, responsible and very experienced writer and RVer.

Here are a few challenges that even the most creative entrepreneur would face in trying to establish the kind of network you envision.

1. Nothing beats free. No matter how low overnight camping prices go, free is still a better deal. How do you compete when your competition is offering your services for free? Motel 6 (the example that you used to illustrate inexpensive, frill-free accommodations) has no free competition. No one offers free motel rooms at any level of amenities. As you well know, Flying J, WalMart, highway rest areas, and parking lots of all kinds are the overnight home of choice for many RVers on the road. They’re free. How many RVers would gladly pay $15 or $20 for a night when they can camp for free down the road?

2. No matter how we count the numbers, RVers and RVing comprise a very small universe when compared to the hotel and lodging industry. Maybe there are 10 million licensed RVs out there across the U.S. On any given night throughout the year, how many do you think are on the road looking for inexpensive overnight places to stay? It is highly improbable that there are sufficient numbers of RVs traveling each day to support any kind of extensive national network of inexpensive parks. The scale just isn’t there. You need prospects and potential customers to make a business work and the numbers just don’t work when you’re talking about RVs on the road. You can only fish where and when there are fish to be caught. How many RVers are there out there in January, February and March along the northern tier of the U.S? How many are there in mid-summer in south Texas, Florida and Arizona? We are talking about a very small market with very definite seasonal preferences.

Just to put the RV industry into a larger perspective, in 2011, there were 5.5 million cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. The same year, there were 252,000 RVs sold. Trip Advisor lists over 53,000 hotels. Compare that to about 8,500 private commercial campgrounds. And according to Wikipedia, there are about 300 million cars in the U.S. – compared with an estimate of maybe 10 million RVs. The RV and park industries are small change and the numbers just do not justify or point to a segment of parks that could be priced at less then what is currently offered.

3. The regulatory costs of operating a small hospitality-based business have to be amortized over a business of significant size and revenue in order to make any sense. Operating permits, licenses, personnel costs, health requirements, insurance, taxes, and other non-productive and non-revenue producing expenses add up and have to be covered regardless of the fees charged.

4. What constitutes inexpensive? I checked the Indianapolis area to see what Motel 6 offers. The Motel 6 website showed 14 motels within 50 miles of downtown Indianapolis. They ranged in price from a low of $39.99 to $54.99. Assuming an RV park could be priced at 50% of the cost of a Motel 6, that would put the competitive camping price in this area between $20 and $27. Is that inexpensive enough? Is that the price range you had in mind? I do believe in most parts of the country during most if not all of the year, parks are available in this price range, especially for those traveling with one of the many discount cards available. Could this price point compete with free?

There are campgrounds at all prices ranging from federal, state and county campgrounds to private sector campgrounds. Like any other product sold to consumers in the U.S., campgrounds come in all shapes, sizes, amenities, facilities and prices – ranging from free to the upper ranges.

I’m not sure you’re going to see a national network offering camping at anywhere below half of what a reasonably good motel would charge. Unless of course, WalMart decides to move into the market in a more formal way.

This Game Sounds Like A Lot of Fun

In case you missed this, a British company has introduced a new game called Camping Manager 2012. According to a recent release, the game provides the opportunity to build and manage your own vacation paradise. Keep your guests happy and you could earn a fortune! Choose your campsite and begin with the construction of your first tents and caravans.

Check this out at http://www.excalibur-publishing.com/campingmanager.html?goback=.gde_4286621_member_168462018.

Managing a campground reduced to a video game? I don’t know about you, but I’m conflicted about this. On the one hand, having a game about park management is flattering, kind of like the Robin Williams movie, RV, was flattering in a kind of backhanded way. On the other hand, reducing what you do to a video game seems a bit demeaning.

I guess it’s better to be flattered that to feel demeaned. Let’s go play!

 

 

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