TAMPA, Fla. – Any thoughts of a post-COVID hangover are premature, it seems. While it might not be as crazy busy as it was during the harried days of the pandemic, campgrounds nonetheless are still reporting a brisk business.
Speaking from their display booths at the Florida RV SuperShow in Tampa, Fla., campground and RV park officials told RVBusiness that the booming popularity of camping is showing no signs of a significant dropoff anytime soon.
Felicity Wright, manager on duty at Camp Margaritaville in Auburndale, Fla., characterized her property as, “doing very well. We’ve had several rallies there and we’ve got a lot more bookings going forward. We’re doing well.”
Camp Margaritaville offers several amenities including two tiki bars, two heated pools, a nine-hole putt-putt course, two restaurants where menus “serve a little bit of everything” plus a barbecue shack.
Located between Orlando and Tampa, the resort offers 326 RV sites, including 11 super premium RV sites along with 75 cabana cabins.
Meanwhile, Ocean Lakes Family Campground in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is breaking records.
“Things are going great,” said Barb Krumm, director of marketing. “We had a great year. We’ve had three great years in a row – record years. We’re really pleased.”
Despite recent weather issues – including hurricane/tropical storm Idalia – the 53-year-old resort featuring 859 transient sites and 2,573 annual lease sites on a mile of oceanfront property is expecting another big year.
While some campgrounds experienced a bit of a downturn following COVID, Ocean Lakes has continued to grow.
“For the third year in a row, we’ve broken records,” Krumm reiterated. “South Carolina kind of opened up during that (pandemic), and we were able to get on track faster than some campgrounds in different states and we felt blessed about that. It’s just continued to surge and, honestly, we dealt with the same challenges that a lot of parks did – staffing, supply chain problems.”
Over the past year, those issues have improved at the campground, where 350 fulltime staffers and an additional 450 during peak season are employed. Krumm said the property was able to secure staff much more easily and procure needed supplies.
Nonetheless, challenges remain.
“Of course, everything is super expensive, so it’s trying to cover the expenses while still maintaining rates that are of value as people feel the crunch with the economy,” she said. “That is obviously a concern.”
She said Ocean Lakes has a great team and great guests and “we feel very optimistic. Now that doesn’t mean something can’t happen. It’s a political year, so who knows? But so far, we have been continuing to increase and break records.”
Krumm said the demographics of campers at is “all over the road. It’s more about seasons. We’re here at Tampa right now because this is our off season. We’re at that halfway point, geographically, between the north and Florida. A lot of people stop and take a couple days or a couple weeks and they do it to and from. That tends to be our older crowd in the shoulder season.”
Even so, Ocean Lakes also is a family destination with 80% repeat business, which she contends is a reflection on the campground.
“If you’re improving constantly, people will come back,” Krumm said. “And that’s just a good park operator. … We’re in the people business. It’s about the activities. It’s about the people and you have to talk to them.”
Don Bennett, principal at Merchantry Tourism, a distributor of brochures, marketing and PR services, also was doing a brisk business in the supplier building at the show.
Tampa was the fifth show this year for Bennett, he said, and all the shows did well.
“Cleveland. Lights out. Great show. Pittsburgh on par with that. Lehigh had great attendance, and the farm show, lights out. We went home with not very much stuff,” Bennett said, adding that the first days of Tampa also showed excellent traffic.
“The Tampa show so far looks very robust,” he said prior to the show’s closing weekend. “Hershey was down a little bit in attendance last fall. But, honestly, we actually went through more materials on the distribution side than we did the year before, so I think it was a very good venue for people to market their parks.
“I think with digital fatigue we’re seeing more and more paper. People are really wanting the brochures, the travel guides, the campground directories and it’s just important to get those in their hands,” Bennett added.
Jason Vaughan, executive director of the Pennsylvania Campground Owners Association (PCOA), said things are going well for his organization.
“We’re just starting into the show season,” he said. “Of course, the weather hasn’t been the most cooperative yet, but people were out for sure. We’ve had about 15 booths at different shows and our directories have been flying off the shelves so we’re happy about that for sure.”
He noted that PCOA’s York RV Show is scheduled for March and “the demand from the dealers and the excitement is up there, so campers are excited and dealers are excited.”
PCOA member campgrounds remain busy, he said, but reservations have fallen off a bit since the COVID surge.
“Last year it seemed like we were back to 2019. Certainly, there was some availability at parks, but the campgrounds are busy,” he said. “A lot of our campgrounds have retooled and added a lot of benefits and amenities to their facilities. That has been really robust in Pennsylvania as campgrounds look to meet consumer wants and needs. There’s availability out there, but the campground industry remains strong.’
Meanwhile, Bobby Cornwell, CEO of the Florida and Alabama RV Park & Campground Association, said things were “going great. It’s our busy time of the year so most of the parks are filled. Snowbirds are here, of course, so we’re doing very well.”
And while Florida and Alabama are seeing younger campers, Cornwell said the majority of the business comes from the snowbird crowd.
One shift his association has noticed is that some campers are staying a bit farther north.
“They’re not going as far south,” he said. “We’re seeing many of them in Alabama or the panhandle or central Florida, whereas before it used to be all southern Florida. It’s just a little shift.”
Sun Communities also is seeing a normalization following the COVID boom, “but we’re still seeing an uptick in demand.”
“A lot of our resorts are now relying on and seeing more seasonal and annual stays,” said Maher Sarafa, director of marketing. “People want to lock into their sites.”
Transient business also is doing well at Sun properties, especially the “destination” locations such as Myrtle Beach, the Florida Keys, San Diego, Colorado and Ocean City, Md.
“At those you really see a lot of the transient folks going there and still spending pretty good dollar amounts for vacations,” he said. “We’re seeing, certainly, our sites filling up quicker, but we’re still trying to figure out where we are with the leveling off post COVID. Fortunately, we’re continuing to see an increase in demand. We’re liking the path of the growth.”
Sarafa said more young families and Millennials are coming into the market.
“Even on the snowbirds, you’re seeing more on the younger end, but as far as transient sites, more families are coming into the market.
And he made one more demographic observation.
“You’re still getting some new folks coming in post-COVID, but of those new customers who came in during COVID, we didn’t lose them all, which is great. It’s great getting a new market coming into the RV vacation world. That’s been encouraging,” Sarafa said.