The Wi-Fi trend currently sweeping campgrounds catering to Internet-savvy RVers has spawned a heated race among service providers looking to gain an edge in the marketplace.
Many Wi-Fi providers – including Reston, Va.-based LinkSpot Networks, Inc., Sumner, Wash.-based RV Access, and two Austin, Texas-based companies, Tengo Internet, Inc. and Coach Connect Corp. – list their campground and RV park customers on their respective websites, making it easy for consumers to stitch together travel plans that will ensure their access to high-speed Internet service in many areas of the country.
“We have people that call us up (for information on Wi-Fi-equipped parks) before they even leave the house,” said Mark Kaplan, chief technology officer and co-founder of LinkSpot. “In some cases, they won’t go to a campground unless it’s Wi-Fi-equipped.”
But while it’s hard to estimate how many campers actually book their travel plans by checking the websites of Wi-Fi service providers, park operators say it’s critical to provide Wi-Fi access because the numbers of RVers using laptops continues to grow.
“We’ve had people come in and say, ‘We knew you had wireless access.’ Whether they got that information from LinkSpot or our website I don’t know. But just having the Wi-Fi brings in a certain type of customer,” said Jeff Winscott, a workkamper at the 150-site Mary’s Lake Campground and RV Park in Estes Park, Colo.
Wi-Fi is often the only high speed Internet service available to campgrounds in remote locations, Winscott added. Mary’s Lake, for example, does not have access to cable Internet or DSL service.
While Wi-Fi adds to a park’s menu of amenities, it also provides direct revenue-generating opportunities. Installation agreements vary, but Wi-Fi vendors often negotiate revenue-sharing agreements, which enable campground operators to tap into a percentage of the fees their guests pay for Internet access. This is, in fact, how many Wi-Fi providers make their money.
Despite these incentives and a recognized need for the service, many campground operators are reluctant to invest in Wi-Fi technology as evidenced by the relatively small numbers of campgrounds that have signed up for Wi-Fi service with leading providers. Only about 5% to 7% of the 4,000 private U.S. parks believed to be likely Wi-Fi candidates currently offer the service, according to Eric Stumberg, president and CEO of Tengo Internet.
Wi-Fi vendors offer several explanations for the slow pace of campground adoption, including campground operator concerns about everything from the strength and reliability of Wi-Fi signals to the long-term durability of Wi-Fi technology itself. “You still have discussions of technology versus obsolescence,” said Stumberg.
Wi-Fi vendors, meanwhile, are moving ahead with improvements to existing installations. Tengo Internet, for one, already has completed “enhancement projects” involving 27 Wi-Fi installations, Stumberg said.
Manufacturers are also introducing new products designed to improve the quality of Wi-Fi service. Cleveland, Ohio-based Wifi Plus, Inc., for example, has developed a special tree-penetrating antenna that gives Wi-Fi providers the ability to provide Wi-Fi service in heavily forested areas.
And even though the campground sector has been relatively slow to adopt Wi-Fi technology, more and more companies are continuing to jump into the Wi-Fi business themselves, convinced that consumers will continue to demand this technology of RV parks and campgrounds across the country.