This year has been one of the strongest years in the history of the recreational vehicle industry for sales, with wholesale shipments projected to rise more than 12% over last year’s figures, despite record spikes in gasoline prices.
By all accounts, however, the campground sector, hasn’t fared as well.
During a heavily attended early morning seminar at ARVC’s annual In-Sites Parks & Paddles Convention & Expo in Savannah, Ga., Kampgrounds of America President and CEO Jim Rogers displayed a chart that showed a significant drop in KOA’s short-term camper nights after every major increase in gasoline prices during the past two years.
“We cannot any longer keep our heads in the sand,” said Rogers, who joined Leisure Systems Inc. President and CEO Rob Schutter and Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association President Mike Molino in an unusually frank series of presentations regarding the various challenges facing their respective business sectors.
Rogers and Schutter both complained that the campground sector continues to lack the diagnostic tools, even things as basic as viable occupancy reports, campground operators and industry officials need to chart their future business strategies.
KOA and Leisure Systems, the parent company of the 70-unit Yogi Bear campground chain, both have in-house systems in place to track their financial performance along with trends in campsite and cabin utilization and retail sales, and independent operators need to develop similar systems, Rogers maintained.
He challenged campground owners to go back and develop business plans for their respective operations for 2005 and beyond that take into account the “brutal facts” such as rising fuel costs, as well as the input they receive from their guests.
He added that campground owners shouldn’t be so protective about sharing information and working out problems in their businesses because it impedes their ability to respond to criticism and take corrective measures.
Schutter also said campground operators need to be cognizant of the kinds of experiences they provide their guests on the assumption that guests expect much more today than they did in the past.
“We’re no longer just campgrounds,” Schutter said. “We’re entertainment centers. We’re recreational facilities.”
Camp-store retail sales are growing, said Schutter, as is interest in cabins. In fact, 60% of new campsites logged into the Jellystone system are either park models or kit cabins, many of which feature a relatively high amenity level, including kitchenettes.
“We’re averaging $109 (daily) per unit on cabins,” he told the audience. “That’s three times what an RV site takes in.”
Rogers and Schutter also encouraged campground operators to improve their hiring practices. “You’ve got to interview more people,” Rogers said, “not just hire the first warm body that walks into the campground.”
Although Rogers and Schutter talked about problems facing campground owners, RVDA’s Molino told park owners and managers the RV industry faces its own set of challenges, both in meeting customer expectations and improving manufacturer-dealer relations.
“It’s really bad,” Molino said of the RV industry’s general procedures for handling service work. “It doesn’t serve the customer. It certainly doesn’t serve the dealer, and we’re trying to show the manufacturers that it doesn’t serve them, and that they would be better served and make more money if they had a better system.”