The struggling economy is proving good news for at least one group of businesses – campsite operators.

More vacationers are turning to tents and RVs instead of transcontinental flights and pricey hotels, according to the Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat.

“We opened up April 1 and we usually open up May 1,” said Vicki Rainwater, manager of the Alexander Valley RV Park and Campground. “We were flooded with calls.”

Multi-generational groups are becoming more popular too, Rainwater said, as family reunions or at least cousin-free-for-alls become more popular.

“I don’t know what sparked that, it’s just nice to hear that it’s starting to be a family-type thing again,” she said. “Maybe money is tight, this is what you have to do to get together.”

Camping reservations are up 12% over 2008, according to ReserveAmerica.com which manages more than 4 million reservations annually for more than 4,000 national, state and privately owned parks, including the California State Parks system.

Already California State Parks show an 18% increase in reservations for June and 13% increase for July over last year. Reservations are up 3% for August dates over last year and fall months are already reporting increases of 21%.

“Generally, when the economy turns and people are tightening their belts and wallets, they go to places where they can save money,” said Sheryl Watson, state parks spokeswoman.

Travel spending nationwide has slumped sharply in the past few months, but business remains brisk at campgrounds across the country.

Montana-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), a franchise with nearly 500 campgrounds throughout North America, reported that revenue in 2008 was the second highest of any year in the last decade. Registration is up 39% over the last decade.

And people are still buying gear, but the things they are purchasing point more to local campouts than exotic far-flung safaris, according to Jay Knick, owner of Sonoma Outfitters in Santa Rosa.

“My gut feeling is that as long as we don’t have all of California on fire this summer, I think people are going to stick around,” he said. “People are talking about doing some camping that they haven’t done in awhile – as an alternative to something really expensive.”