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When a private investment group bought the Riverland RV Resort last year, they had their work cut out for them.
The 47-year-old campground, located along the shores of the Kings River in California’s San Joaquin Valley about 20 miles southeast of Fresno, had been attracting “the river crowd,” an unruly group of campers known for consuming large quantities of alcohol and generally partying pretty hardy, said Dee Coleman, the campground’s new project manager.
The new owners, Riverland Real Property Investments LTD LP, of Rolling Hills, Calif., immediately set out to change the image of the resort with millions of dollars worth of improvements, including new electrical hookups, a swimming pool and other upgrades, Coleman said.
The company also implemented a series of new policies designed to eliminate the unruliness of years past while improving the aesthetics of the resort. Open alcohol containers were banned and restrictions were imposed on the age of vehicles allowed into the resort. In Riverland’s case, no recreational vehicles over 12 years old are allowed into the park without management’s approval.
Some may view policies prohibiting older RVs as discriminatory. But Coleman and other private RV resort operators say such policies are often necessary to protect the image of their resorts. And some seem to do it only on a selective basis, choosing to allow older units at times if the coaches are well maintained.
“You have to do it,” said Reza Paydar, president and CEO of La Jolla, Calif.-based SunLand RV Resorts, which owns and operates seven RV resorts throughout Southern California. “If you allow these older vehicles to come into your park, it’s like having a neighbor with a rundown house, and it impacts the desirability of the sites nearby.
“If there are really old vehicles with torn down awnings or paint that’s not maintained, why would you want to park next to them?”
Campground industry officials say relatively few campgrounds and RV parks impose age restrictions on the vehicles coming into their parks, although the restrictions are more likely to apply to parks that offer long-term seasonal or year-round site rentals.
“I can tell you that in most of the country, this is not a prevalent practice,” said David Gorin, a Reston, Va.-based campground industry consultant who previously served as president and CEO of the National Association of Campgrounds and RV Parks (ARVC). “While the Class A market is a good one, it’s very small by comparison to other types of RVs, and not many parks would want to put up that barrier to a large segment of the market.”
Some parks, however, are finding it worthwhile to do just that.
SunLand imposes a 10-year age restriction on all of the vehicles coming into its parks. The policy applies regardless of whether the RVer is staying for one night or for several weeks or months. Management reserves the right to allow older units into the park if they look nice, however.
“If somebody pulls in and says, ‘I have a classic Airstream,’ we’re proud to have them there,” Paydar said. “But we don’t allow vehicles that are not in good shape if we believe they could be a deterrent to other guests.”
In those cases when people with aging or poorly maintained vehicles, SunLand refers them to other campgrounds.
Coleman believes that Riverland’s vehicle age restriction policy is critical to changing the image of the resort while creating a more upscale environment.
“We’ll take older units,” Coleman said. “A 1972 Airstream in nice shape is OK.” But the age restriction policy gives Riverland and its guests protection against RVers who travel in units that are poorly maintained, he said.
Paydar argues that people with shoddy looking RVs are the same people who hurt the image of RV parks and campgrounds nationwide and make it difficult for RV park operators to open new facilities. “More and more RV parks are being taken out of service,” Paydar said, “because many cities would rather see a different use of their land.”
The only way for the RV park industry to combat this image problem, Paydar asserts, is to develop more upscale parks and prove that RV parks are desirable businesses. “We are modeling ourselves to be a resort operation,” Paydar said of his Southern California resorts, which are located in Hemet, Escondido and San Diego.
Of course, not all campground operators agree with the idea of setting age limits or other restrictions on their guests.
“We don’t have any restrictions here at our park on any size or type of vehicle or (vehicle) age restrictions,” said Don Pompliano, owner of the 575-site Lake George Escape in Lake George, N.Y., which is part of the Best Parks in America network. “I think that some park operators that are imposing restrictions are not really able to get or maximize the amount of business they could potentially be getting.”
“On the other hand,” Pompliano said, “you do have parks that sell or lease plots of land or sites. They have a little different situation than a typical transient type of resort. In those situations, they do need to maintain certain restrictions if they?re selling or leasing land. They have to recognize what type of business they?re in and what type of vehicles they want to host.”
Pompliano added, “I think the price point in your park should be indicative of the type of traffic you’ll be attracting.”