It’s all about “clout” – clout for individual campgrounds and their owners and the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) itself.
That word surfaces often in an interview with Max Gibbs, as he reviews his first year as ARVC chairman for RV Business. It’s also a word he repeated often as he carried the ARVC message across the country in 2006.
The way he explains it, Gibbs was like a juggler this past year, balancing his time between running a 2,200-site RV resort in central Michigan with chairing the board of directors of Falls Church, Va.-based ARVC. Gibbs crisscrossed the nation speaking at more than a dozen functions, from state association meetings to gatherings of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA). He focused on preparing his 4,000-member constituency for the new era of camping, while building coalitions within the RV industry.
Assessing it all, he’s pleased with ARVC’s progress this past year, but has some unfinished business and will seek re-election this fall. “I hope I was able to bring to the state associations the feeling that they are important and that we do care about the campground owners of the country and that we are diligent in setting up programs for them,” said Gibbs, who for the past 10 years has been director of Sandy Pines RV Resort in Hopkins, Mich. “Campground owners and operators are wonderful people. It’s a joy to go out and do that.”
At state association meetings in Massachusetts, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan and Florida, as well as ARVC’s National Issues Conference and elsewhere, Gibbs stressed that campground owners achieve more clout in unity than if they are working on their own. Campground owners face “the pressures of governments wanting to have more regulations” on their industry, Gibbs said, but they can combat these pressures by working with their local and state governments and visiting with their legislators.
“Campgrounds are big business,” Gibbs said, and they are only getting bigger.
Gibbs has only to step outside his office to see the future. Sandy Pines covers some 900 acres, not counting an 18-hole golf course that is part of the resort. The gated community has 24-hour security, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a 262-acre lake, restaurant, grocery store, hardware store, four laundromats, beauty shop, ice cream parlor and a car wash. In season, in fact, Sandy Pines itself is the largest city in Allegan County in west-central Michigan.
Looking to the future, Gibbs tells whoever will listen that the next wave of camper will not be sitting around the campsite but will be an active camper, seeking an “experience” and demanding an ever-growing number of amenities. “I see the potential of the campground business continuing to grow as more RVs are being sold each year and more people feel the importance of spending time as a family unit,” he said.
The family has become an even more prevalent American theme in the five years since 9/11, Gibbs stressed.
In the next five years, he predicts, there will be “a big increase in the number of campgrounds built around the country.” This, he observes, will put pressure on existing campgrounds that don’t provide the easy access and amenities such as 50-amp service that the new generation of campground will provide.
At the same time, he adds, campgrounds are finding it more difficult to do business than ever before. “That’s the way life is with any business, not just the campground business,” he said, citing rollercoasting fuel prices and the demand for more amenities by the next generation of camper as examples.
Having said that, Gibbs said he has been encouraged by a new atmosphere of cooperation between ARVC and the RV industry, namely with RVIA and RVDA. In the past year, Gibbs and ARVC president Linda Profaizer have met with both the RVIA and RVDA boards and participated in June Committee Week proceedings. Gibbs has lobbied on behalf of campgrounds with RVIA President Richard A. Coon and currently serves on the RV industry’s Education Committee on Excellence. “They just hadn’t worked together because they didn’t try to work together,” he said. “Now, we have three organizations pulling together for the same goal.”
ARVC members showed their humanitarianism following the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005 and again when flooding struck Northeast campgrounds in June by generously giving to the ARVC Disaster Relief Fund, Gibbs noted. The fund provides outright grants up to $1,000 and interest-free loans of up to $5,000 with a three-year payback period to members suffering serious setbacks in these disasters. The fund is meant to provide emergency assistance to those parks awaiting funding from insurance companies or other public and private programs. Through August, the fund had provided help to seven hurricane-ravaged campgrounds and seven affected by the June flooding.
Whenever he spoke to ARVC groups, Gibbs encouraged members to avail themselves of the association’s education programs. They include the Certified Park Operator Program, the National School of RV Park and Campground Management, 20 Groups and Park Operators On Tour (during the annual InSites Convention).
Gibbs also lobbied for ARVC members to become active in their state associations.
“My feelings have always been when you belong to an organization, you need to participate in that organization,” he explained, in tracing how he rose through the ranks over the past decade to become ARVC national chairman.
Looking toward 2007, Gibbs hopes ARVC can initiate some practical seminars via the Internet for ARVC members to strengthen their skills on issues such as customer relations, campground maintenance, amenities and recreational programs.
He’s also hoping ARVC membership will grow as campground owners realize the value of networking with their state associations, and as non-affiliated state associations consider joining ARVC. “I wish that every campground in every state would join their state association,” he said. “I think they’re missing out when they don’t belong to their state association: the camaraderie, the political clout dealing with government. When they go in as a group, it can only benefit them.”