EDITOR’S NOTE: The following lists the ‘Top Ten News Stories of the Year’ developed by the staff of RV Business sister publication Woodall’s Campground Management, offering a snapshot of issues that impacted the campground industry in 2006.
Industry Growth Confirmed at ARVC’s Orlando Convention: National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) President Linda Profaizer was pleased to report a moderate uptick in the nation’s private campground business at ARVC’s 40th Anniversary InSites 2006 Convention/Expo Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Orlando, Fla. That in itself might not seem like big news to some observers. But, considering the vagaries of 2006, the hurricane aftermath, staggering fuel price hikes, generally uncooperative U.S. weather patterns, etc., the industry appears surprisingly fit. Other ARVC highlights: the successful redesign of the GoCampingAmerica website, the expansion of ARVC’s campground marketing relationships with major road atlas providers and positive news coverage of the campground industry by major news outlets.
Fuel-Conscious Campers Take Shorter Trips, Stay Longer at Parks: The campground industry has noted this general trend in the past – that people are taking shorter vacations and staying longer at destination parks. But this year when gas prices spiked, the change in habits of American campers was sweeping and definitive and, perhaps, a sign of things to come. Destination-style parks may benefit from all this. For the sake of many park operators in remote areas, however, the industry as a whole is hoping the trend doesn’t become a dominant theme in the years ahead.
Gulf Coast Parks Continue Recovering from 2005 Hurricanes: A year after hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated campgrounds along the Gulf Coast, RVB Editor-At-Large Jeff Crider and Photography Editor Shawn Spence collaborated to offer a poignant look at how parks were coping and rebuilding. A series of stories and photos that ran in RVB and WCM chronicled efforts by campground and RV park owners to pick up the pieces in the wake of one of the nation’s worst disasters.
Developers Buy Out More U.S. Parks for Condo Conversion: Developers have been buying up undervalued coastal land in Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, New Jersey and several West Coast areas and converting the properties – often times campgrounds and RV park – into high-rent condos and shopping malls. The casualty count on America’s campsites is significant, especially in Florida. On the flip side, the financial returns for some park sellers can be extraordinary – the year’s most remarkable example being the November sale of KOA’s own 324-site Fiesta Key KOA for a reported $56.5 million.
Digital Rez Hosts First World Camping Conference: Barbados-based Digital Rez International, a provider of property management and online reservation software, took the initiative to invite the world to its doorsteps for three days in early November at its first-ever “World Camping Conference.” Challenging as that might seem for one company in a remote locale, it worked on an initial basis and sent a clear message to those in attendance from North America, Europe and Australia: That global park operators may not reap their full potential without stepping up marketing efforts to RV and camping enthusiasts in their home markets and in collaboration with colleagues around the world.
KOA President Jim Rogers Turns Over Helm to Shane Ott: In a surprise move, Kampgrounds of America Inc. President Jim Rogers announced he would be handing over the presidential reins of the Billings, Mont.-based franchisor to Senior Vice President Shane Ott, who had been overseeing company-operated properties. Rogers says this would free him up to focus on strategic partnerships and corporate growth – something he plans to do in part while tooling around the country in a motorhome with his wife, Sandy, and Golden Retriever, Murphy. In the process, he hopes to visit with franchisees and campers and “give a face” to KOA as it prepares to rebuild its franchise network to 500 parks.
Privileged Access Buys Thousand Trails, Outdoor World: Among the year’s more interesting acquisitions were those exacted by Texas-based Privileged Access, a new company led by former Affinity Group Inc. President Joe McAdams, who most recently had been on the board of Chicago’s Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. Privileged Access first purchased the operations of campground membership marketer Thousand Trails Inc. in the spring in what McAdams described as the first in a series of acquisitions designed to consolidate and transform the membership arena. Then his company, with major financial backing, purchased 15 campgrounds in the East under the Outdoor World Corp. banner.
Debate Over “Wal-Mart Parking” Simmers in Many Locales: A number of communities across the U.S. and Canada continue to wrestle with some of their constituents over the policy of allowing free overnight stays by recreational vehicle travelers in the parking lots of “big box” discount stores, primarily Wal-Marts. In fact, Wal-Mart has become a focus of park operators’ ire in most cases because of the global Arkansas retailer’s ongoing policy of welcoming overnighters – where permitted by municipalities. Wal-Mart sanctions it on the premise that most of those “campers” will naturally wind up shopping in its stores. While it’s probably not bad thinking on Wal-Mart’s part, this policy is not well received by established RV parks and campgrounds who resent the loss of business.
The Consistent Decline in Public Lands Visitation: Nobody seems to want to hear much about the fact that the popularity of camping at many of the nation’s most visible public lands appears to be dwindling because they, frankly, don’t know what to do about it. While many suspect that the growing popularity of video games and other electronic gadgets has distracted the young, that in itself doesn’t explain why overnight stays at 390 National Park Service properties fell 20% from 1995 to 2005 and why tent and backcountry camping decreased nearly 24% during the same period. Concerned as they are about this growing lack of interest in the nation’s natural wonders, many in the RV park and campground sector are grateful that this trend hasn’t impacted the private sector.
“American Camper” Survey Sheds Light on Market: The results of Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell’s (YPBR) foundational survey, “The American Camper: Profiles and Perspectives,” were actually released near the end of 2005 during the ARVC’s annual convention, a logical venue because ARVC was a key sponsor. But the effects of that survey and much of the publicity that emanated from it spilled over into 2006 and clearly provided useful insights about emerging trends that can help guide private park operators in the years ahead. The survey found, among other things, that 10% of American adults were campers and 4% owned RVs. Also, 21% of the respondents were having difficulty finding campsites in areas of interest and six in 10 RV owners are grandparents.