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Record spring and summer rainfall in many locations across the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard literally dampened the 2003 performance in the nation’s campground sector.
“Overall, I think 2003 was a flat year for most people,” explained Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). And even though the weather improved significantly in the fall, she said, “I don’t think that too many (campground operators) really fully recovered from the rains and the extreme weather that we had.”
But that outlook brightened considerably in the early portion of 2004, as several of the nation’s leading RV park and campground chains reported a noticeable upturn in reservations and occupancy levels for January and February.
“What we’re seeing in ’04 is a dramatic turnaround from the first six weeks of ’03,” said David Napp, co-founder and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Encore Communities, Inc., which owns and operates 31 RV parks in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California. “We’re running 5 to 5.5 percent higher occupancies than we had last year.”
Although Encore’s parks escaped much of the wet weather in 2003, Napp said concerns over the war with Iraq and the economy were also significant factors. “2003 was heavily impacted in the first four months by the war with Iraq,” he said. “As a result, we saw many of our winter people going home early.”
Mike Gast, communications director for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), which franchises and directly operates nearly 500 campgrounds in North America, said the company’s preliminary indications also are positive for 2004.
“We’ve gotten off to a rousing start in the southern states, especially Florida,” he said. “We’re really anticipating a banner year.”
In 2003, KOA’s business also felt the effects of heavy rains and the threat of war. Overall, KOA’s camper nights fell by 3 % to 4 % last year, although revenue was down just 1%, according to Gast. “At this time last year,” he said, “we were waiting for the war to start. … People weren’t leaving their television sets. It was just a different time.”
He added, “Last year, we had 11 weekends in a row with rain on the East Coast. The Northeast had just about as bad a start as you can get because of that rain.”
KOA parks in Ontario, Canada, had the added burden of publicity surrounding the brief SARS epidemic. Gast said parks in the Toronto area, however, are starting to experience “some rebound.”
Texas appeared to have escaped much of the malaise affecting other campground operators in 2003. Brian Schaeffer, executive director of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), polled more than two dozen campgrounds across the Lone Star State and many told him their business was up anywhere from 1% to 20% with the average increase being in the 6% to 8% range.
Schaeffer said campground operators are telling him that 2004 thus far is outperforming 2003.
“We believe the very cold winter will be excellent for our snowbird business in 2004.”
Nationally, Profaizer said, park owners are “seeing more people at the shows and they’re getting more reservations” than last year at this time.
Dean Crawford, vice president of Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which owns Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Camp Resorts chain, which has 69 sites, said: “We just had our regional meetings and it appears that reservations are coming in really strong and heavier than last year.”
Robert Klos, executive director of Campground Owners of New York (CONY), said RV show attendance is a significant indicator of future campground and RV park business. He added that attendance was up from 10% to 18% at RV shows he attended in the Northeast through February, a significant increase from last year’s attendance.
Participants in all sectors of the tourism industry, meanwhile, are cautiously optimistic about 2004 and 2005. Business and leisure travel spending across all industry segments was expected to increase 4.4% to $568 billion in 2004, compared to $544 billion in 2003, according to the latest annual travel forecast compiled by the Travel Industry Association (TIA).
The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit association’s annual forecast anticipates $594 billion in business and leisure travel spending in 2005, surpassing for the first time the industry record set in 2000.