Harvest Hosts offers camper stays in pastoral settings

Under the control of new ownership, Vail, Colo.-based Harvest Hosts continues to build an intriguing niche marketplace, offering RV camper overnight stays in its network of 600 plus wineries, farms, breweries and other pastoral settings for a membership fee of $49 per year.

Don and Kim Green founded Harvest Hosts in 2009. They sold the company in May of 2018 to Joel Holland, who told RVBUSINESS.com there is a “solid transition plan in place” and he is looking forward to taking the company forward.

“I’m not a big title guy,” said Holland. “I think I’ll go by CEO, Chief Experience Officer. I founded a video technology company on the East Coast and was successful but along the way got pretty burned out. On a whim I went out to take a break in an RV and fell in love with the lifestyle.”

After selling half of his firm out east, along with his wife Mary Ashley suspending her career as a practicing veterinarian, the couple moved to Vail. He said after two years of camping, and skiing and RVing — the couple has traveled and camped in 48 states — the two got restless to go back to work.

“My wife went back to practicing and I wanted to get into another business I had a passion for,” he said. “I love RVing but I think the biggest problem with RVing is the lack of interesting places to stay overnight.”

He became a member of Harvest Hosts, surprised he had not known about it before, and reached out to the Greens to start negotiations to purchase the business. Holland said with his background in the technology realm he anticipates taking the business to the next level.

“Don and Kim did a great job of everything with Harvest Hosts,” Holland offered. “The only thing I think can use improvement is the technology behind it. We are rebuilding the website and the app to make it easier to search and find hosts. And then we are growing the hosts and the members networks.”

Farms are common camping sites for Harvest Hosts members

He said the hosts network now stands at 623 sites across North America and he aspires to grow to 1,000 over the next year. “On the membership side we never advertised but rather counted on word-of-mouth to grow. We have turned up the marketing and have doubled membership sign-ups this month, twice the pace of previously.”

Membership now stands at 8,300, adding around 70 members each day. “I would like to see us get to 20,000 to 30,000 members in the next year and, at the same time, grow the hosts network so we are never oversaturating our hosts,” Holland noted.

The goal is to provide members with fun, engaging experiences for both RVers and hosts. The membership offers a stay overnight in places that are not available to others, and members are encouraged to take part in wine tastings, site tours and, depending on the host, even hands-on experiences such as processing grapes, ice cream or picking fruit. Videos on the site showcase the experiences at a wide variety of locations including wineries and breweries, distilleries, agri-tourism sites, historic sites, open-air museums, aviation museums, alpaca ranches, wildlife rescue facilities, farm museums, oil museums, brewery museums, a dinosaur museum and one alligator ranch.

Members must own or have access to a self-contained RV — those that do not require power or water/sewer hookup for a one-night stay — because the host locations don’t provide hookups or bathrooms and showers. The self-contained requirement targets motorhome or high-end fifth-wheel owners, according to Holland, as tent trailers, outdoor kitchens or tents of any kind are not allowed.

Members must call ahead to make reservations and arrive during business hours. Proof of membership and registration are required upon arrival. Members are also required to maintain liability insurance on their vehicle and proof of insurance. The website states host locations have “no responsibility for damage or theft to your RV, tow car or to you, your family or guests.”

Holland said one of the first things he did was to survey the host partners and asked if they would like more visits from Harvest Hosts members. “Across the board the hosts said they would like more. So there is room to grow.”

Once the membership is paid, the campers stay at any of the over 600 locations for free, for just one night. The location map of all the sites is on a private, sign-in portal offered on the network website. The host map shows locations across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Alaska.

Members are privy to a free Harvest Hosts app to make visits easy to arrange with customized host lists, search maps of the host locations and custom trip routing, along with comments and reviews of hosts and photos directly from members.

The network of hosts is diverse ranging from wineries, breweries, distilleries, agri-tourism sites, historic sites, open-air museums, aviation museums, alpaca ranches, wildlife rescue facilities, farm museums, oil museums, brewery museums, a dinosaur museum and one alligator ranch.

“Now every time I meet another RV enthusiast, I want to shake them and tell them they have to have a Harvest Host membership because it’s a no brainer and pays for itself the first night,” concluded Holland. “It’s rare to find a product that is so genuinely good for all the parties involved.”