If one were writing a headline at the end of the summer season regarding the RV Park and Campground business — a sector for which there are few quantifiable benchmarks regarding market activity — it would probably say something like this: “Campgrounds report steady business, despite higher fuel costs.”
Here’s what we’re hearing:
* Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) year-to-date camper nights were up 2% through July, while registration revenue had climbed 7%. KOA President and CEO Jim Rogers said some states have seen significant increases in camper nights. Two examples: Ohio and Wyoming, both of which have seen occupancies rise more than 20% over last year’s figures. Overall, Rogers says KOA’s experience has mirrored national trends in that Americans seem to be camping closer to home and for longer periods of time. While some KOA’s have experienced declines in traffic this year, most of them tend to be in remote areas. Campers also appear to be looking to save money. Sales of KOA value cards, entitling campers to 10% discounts, have exceeded last year’s figures by 15% to 20%.
* Revenues for Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc. (LSI), which franchises about 70 Yogi Bear parks in 26 states and Canada, were up 18% as of late August, while occupancies were up 4% to 4.5%. “Our midwestern and southern parks are doing very well,” said LSI President and CEO Rob Schutter, “while our western parks are doing better than we expected.” Some softness has been reported in northeastern LSI parks, while the Canadian market showed mixed results.
* At the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), Linda Profaizer, president and CEO, said 2006 is shaping up to be “a good year for most parks” despite “some pockets of softness.” Current Chairman Max Gibbs, for his part, says business at Sandy Pines, a 2,212-site RV resort in Hopkins, Mich., has matched last summer’s figures, despite high fuel costs and a 7% unemployment rate. However, ARVC/Woodall’s monthly survey results reflect perceptible occupancy declines. The latest monthly survey results show that weekday occupancy decreased by 1% to 47% vs. a year earlier, while weekend occupancy decreased 4% to 58%. The occupancy rate for full service cabins and park units (providing bathrooms and/or kitchens) averaged 52% in August, down 3% from a year earlier.
* State campground associations were nevertheless upbeat. Brian Schaeffer, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), said business has been strong in the Lone Star State. “We talk to park owners every day and they’re not experiencing decreases in occupancy based on fuel prices,” he said. In fact, many Texas parks have experienced increases in business this year, including some in the Austin metroplex area, which saw increases of 10% to 15%. Some parks that normally experience occupancy declines in August saw gains, including Hatch RV Park in Corpus Christi. Out west, business seems to have matched last year’s figures for the most part. “We’re getting mixed comments,” said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the California Travel Parks Association (CTPA). “Either everybody’s up just a bit or down just a bit. No one’s screaming and no one’s jumping for joy, which tells me that we’re flat overall.”
* Parks contacted at random by Woodall’s Campground Management also tended to be upbeat regarding the strength of their summer business. Mike Lenhard, co-owner of the Yogi Bear Resort in North Hudson, N.Y., said his business has been helped by his loyal customer base. “We have a good following of repeat people that keep the boat afloat,” he said. “We’ve got people who’ve been coming since their kids were little. And we’ve had a good following that insulates us from the ups and downs.” Business at the KOA in Shelby/Mansfield, Ohio, has also been strong. “People are taking longer vacations,” owner Gary Gole said. “We’re also seeing increases in our cabins and lodging business. We’ve also developed more activities and that helps keep our guests longer, especially if they have kids.”