While many RV parks and campgrounds offer some sort of rental option, Scott Cory’s experience working for Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA) helped drive his choices to offer a range of rentals when he decided to leave the company and become a franchisee.
Cory and Steven Bitter own the Ventura Ranch KOA, and they have taken it to a new level since purchasing it in 2009.
“We bought the campground at the end of 2009,” Cory told Woodall’s Campground Management. “With my background at KOA corporate, when I came back to California, I’d probably seen more than 100 campgrounds. I had a chance to see what was working and what was not working.
“The campground I bought was more off the beaten path, and I had to turn it into more of a destination, so I decided to provide accommodations. After all, there are what, 8 million RVs out there? There’s 135 million households that don’t have RVs.”
Cory and Bitter built up amenities that attract tenters and RVers as well as people who aren’t traditional campers — hiking trails, zip lines, rock climbing.
To allow people to access those, they started where many campgrounds start — with park model RVs. “We started with Cavco models with the KOA design, then we upgraded our design and amenities. We have four different models, from two-bedroom, two-bath to lofted units. Our big thing with our park models is we spend quite a bit on the outside. We want the patios and living areas outside to be as inviting as the inside.”
At the same time, they also started adding tipis. “Tipis are novel and have an atmosphere,” he noted. “We have 12 tipis, and it’s not enough. They’re popular, especially with young families, and now they tend to be coming to the park more than once a year. It’s a step up from tent camping; there’s nothing to set up, and the kids love it.”
The park has three tipi villages, clusters where Cory and Biter have placed the tipis — all made by Nomadics Tipi Makers — and Cory recalled seeing children wandering through one and wondering what they were doing. As it turns out, they were eying the murals on each, scouting out which one they wanted their parents to rent on their next visit to the park.
To be sure, the park models and tipis aren’t the only options for rent at Ventura Ranch. In 2011, after starting out with park models and tipis, the park began to add safari tents. “We have four of those now, and we need more,” Cory said. “We put them in two at a time, and we’ve made changes as we go. For instance, we made sure they have a zip-up door so it’s easier to use. All of our screens are removable and replaceable; before, if a guest tore a screen, it was torn. We also changed the makeup of the structure so it won’t shrink.”
While tipis are popular with families, the safari tents — purchased from multiple sources, including Montana Canvas — appeal to couples who want a romantic getaway, Cory noted. “It has the linen package, a fridge, microwave and heater. They’re underneath trees so they have nice shade and the ambiance of being outdoors.”
And looking toward the future, Cory is developing even more elaborate concepts in an attempt to broaden the attraction of his campground, which today has 30 rental, plus 73 RV sites and additional tent sites. “Over 40% of our revenue now is accommodations,” he said. And that’s total revenue — including the store and pay-to-play activities — not just site-night revenue.
Those have also expanded the park’s offerings. “By having accommodations,” Cory elaborated, “we now have built a wedding venue area. Wedding parties want to enjoy the outdoors and celebrate afterward and the next morning have a pancake breakfast. It’s fun.
So what advice would Cory give other campgrounds? “I probably would have designed the campground with even more emphasis on accommodations.”