The aging of the Baby Boomer generation into the prime RV buying years of 45 to 60 is a worldwide phenomenon, stretching from the U.S. and Canada to Europe and Australia.
But private parks, RV dealers and manufacturers will not reap the full potential of this demographic trend unless they step up their marketing efforts to RV and camping enthusiasts, both in their home markets and through collaborative efforts with their industry partners around the world.
This was the underlying theme of many thought-provoking discussions involving roughly 30 RV and camping industry officials who participated in the first World Camping Conference, which took place Nov. 1–3 on the tropical Caribbean island of Barbados, roughly 200 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
The three-day event was hosted at the Hilton Hotel by Barbados, West Indies-based Digital Rez International. Digital Rez, which maintains offices in Barbados, British Columbia, Canada and Australia, has spent the past 13 years developing online reservation and front desk office management systems that can be used by campgrounds, RV resorts, hotels, condos and other accommodations worldwide.
The conference included presentations on the latest technological innovations involving online reservations, wireless Internet and credit card processing services as well as overviews of the latest camping and RV industry trends in North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. It also afforded numerous opportunities for international networking by some of the leading players in the RV and campground sectors worldwide, as well several private parks which came to the conference hoping to broaden their marketing reach at the international level.
“We hope to strengthen the industry by bringing people together,” said Ken Lahoda, CEO and founder of Digital Rez.
By all accounts, the conference was a critical first step in doing just that. Attendees included some of the most influential players in the camping and RV industries worldwide, including: senior executives of Ventura, Calif.-based Affinity Group Inc. (AGI); Mike Molino, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of North America (RVDA); Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC); former ARVC Chairman Kathi Palmeri; Robert Louden, director of operations of the Camping and Caravanning Club of the United Kingdom, and his boss, David Welsford; and Tony Park, CEO and founder of Cosy Cabins, an Australian company that markets more than 300 cabins in 12 parks across Tasmania. Representatives of several private parks also attended the conference.
In addition, the Canadian government sent two representatives from its embassy in Barbados to attend the event and to learn about emerging business opportunities in the RV and campground sectors.
Grant Miller, president of AGI’s membership clubs division, publicly praised Digital Rez for assembling the conference, calling Lahoda one of the private park sector’s most ambitious visionaries. “He’s helping to open the global doors to our industry,” he said.
Miller added that the private park sector has considerable work to do on the marketing front. He noted that the private park industry has yet to clearly define the differences between RV parks, RV resorts and campgrounds. These descriptions need to be more clearly articulated, he said, so that consumers can better understand what the private park industry is selling.
The urgency of addressing this issue is underscored by the highly fragmented nature of the private park sector in North America. While some companies, such as Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Leisure Systems Inc., parent company of the Yogi Bear campground chain, and Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS), have created brand identities based on specific levels of quality, amenities and service, these brands collectively represent fewer than 1,000 parks, or less than one-eighth of the private parks in North America.
Several conference participants said both publicly and privately that it is not enough to simply market campgrounds and RV resorts as destinations. The private sector also needs to market the unique experiences that young families, friends and empty nesters can obtain by visiting campgrounds and RV in North America and around the world.
Louden of the U.K.’s Camping and Caravanning Club said that the RV and campground sectors face far more competition than many people realize. He noted that for many, particularly international travelers, RVing is considered a “capital expense” that is not only weighed against other types of trips, but entirely different kinds of expenditures, such as home improvement projects, which some boomers may consider to be a better investment of funds.
Consequently, Louden said, the RV and campground sectors have to better explain the unique value of the experiences that travelers are likely to achieve when they rent or purchase an RV for a camping trip in North America or elsewhere.
While conference participants lauded the success of the GoRVing campaign in the U.S., several participants, including Louden, said the impact could be enormous if similar marketing programs were launched overseas.
Conference participants also acknowledged the need for the RV and campground sectors to better target travelers from the growing Asian economic powers, including China, India and Vietnam, as well as growing Asian, Hispanic and African American communities within the United States.
Recent innovations in everything from online reservations systems to credit card processing and wireless Internet technology could help improve the RV and camping sectors’ ability to market themselves to global audiences, while improving the guest experience, they said.