insites09While there was plenty of good news to share this week at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) InSites Convention and Outdoor Hospitality Expo in Orlando, Fla., several InSites speakers told park operators they will need to step up their marketing and customer survey efforts if they want to remain competitive and continue to build their businesses in the months and years ahead. They also need to find ways to maximize and improve guest satisfaction.

“I think the industry outlook really looks strong and robust, but challenging,” said Ron Beard, a Texas-based campground consultant. “I think what’s going to happen over the next five to 10 years is, possible, only the strongest, most focused operators are going to survive, at least in the upper tiers of the business. … And those that don’t quite get it … and (haven’t) locked in on how the business works and the expectations of their customers are going to settle down to the bottom of the business, possibly not making it or going out of business.”

The challenge, Beard said, is rising consumer expectations of what a private park should provide. “What used to be OK really isn’t that OK any more,” he said.

Park operators, of course, have a choice in whether they want to provide the amenities and service that growing numbers of campers now seek. “You can capture and promote and exceed those expectations. You can just barely meet them or you can turn your back on them,” he said.

Beard said it behooves park operators and the private park industry in general to figure out where consumer expectations are going and figure out how to meet and exceed those expectations on an ongoing basis.

Jeff Martin, an executive with Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, said park operators should not underestimate the importance of providing their guests with a positive experience. “At Disney,” he said, “it’s all about service. It’s all about how we make our guests feel. I have guests in my lobby every single day that say, ‘I don’t care that I’m paying $116 a night for an RV site as long as I get the service,’ and that’s what they want. They want the magical memories that we provide them.”

Martin added that for Disney, the priority is “being able to deliver every single day for every single guest that world class experience they’re looking for.”

Of course, one of the best ways for park operators to hone their expertise in guest-experience arena to participate in the GuestReviews online survey program offered by ARVC. This “state-of-the-art” on-line survey service, developed and provided by Murrieta, Calif.-based MacKinnon Campground Consulting, measures 34 different guest satisfaction elements such as site conditions, service, restroom cleanliness, facility appearance as well as their overall camping experience. Survey participants assign letter grades for each survey category, and they will have the ability to type in detailed explanations of problems or concerns.

In addition to participating in the GuestReviews program, Linda Profaizer, ARVC president and CEO, said it’s also important for park operators to update their listings on the GoCampingAmerica website. Several park owners, in fact, acknowledged with a show of hands during an InSites meeting that they had not updated their GoCampingAmerica website listings during the past year.

Profaizer also encouraged park operators to respond to questions they receive through ARVC e-mails from Jeff Crider, ARVC’s publicist, because the information they provide they provide him can help raise awareness about their own parks, while helping raise awareness about camping for the industry as a whole.

Pat Hittmeier, chief operating officer at Kampgrounds of America Inc.,  said private parks also need to step up their marketing to consumers who live within a day’s drive of their parks. In fact, the latest KOA survey found that 57% of campers spend the previous night home, a statistic that not only underscores the fact that more people are camping closer to home, but the relative scarcity of vacation time that Americans have. “They just aren’t traveling as far as they used to,” Hittmeier said.