Fuel costs are not likely to discourage people from camping this year unless prices exceed $4 per gallon, according to a national survey completed recently on behalf of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) by Orlando, Fla.-based Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown and Russell (YPBR).
The survey, funded by several organizations and conducted in September when gas prices were at their highest levels in more than two decades, involved 1,602 adults, half of them RV owners and active campers.
“I’m thinking right now that business is looking pretty good,” said Linda Profaizer, ARVC’s president and CEO. “We’ve had some decent reports on business so far this year. But it’s really too early to tell (how 2006 will compare with 2005).”
Similarly, Jim Rogers, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), said it’s too soon to predict the strength of the 2006 travel season and noted that gas prices could have a significant impact on business.
“We’ve taken a conservative approach to 2006, not really knowing what may happen with the price of fuel or the Federal Reserve or the (World Economic Forum) in Switzerland,” Rogers said. “If we were to see a spike in fuel prices going into our peak season, leisure business will suffer. If that happens, people will stay a little closer to home.”
That generally means that people tend to camp for longer periods of time at nearby parks rather than staying for shorter periods at parks along their vacation routes.
“We were hit severely in the summer of 2004 with high gas prices,” Rogers said. “What happened was people made adjustments throughout the rest of the year.”
KOA reported a 6% increase in camper nights during the January-to-August 2005 time frame versus the same eight-month period in 2004.
Occupancies were up slightly for Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts in 2005, but revenues climbed by about 10%, according to Dean Crawford, senior vice president of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which oversees the Jellystone Park chain. However, some Jellystone Parks saw occupancies increase by 20% or more, he said.
Occupancy levels at 18 parks owned and operated by the board of directors of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) were up from 5% to 15% in 2005, according to Brian Schaeffer, the association’s executive director, who added that the outlook for 2006 remains very positive.
Inclement weather was a key factor for many parks during 2005, but fuel costs are a more critical determinant looking down the road.
“People are making adjustments in their lives to ensure they can use their RV or their tent,” Rogers said.
And the challenge for campground operators moving forward, he maintained, is to make sure they provide sufficient amenities, services and activities to entertain visitors who may be inclined to stay at their parks for longer periods of time.