Editor’s Note: The following article appears in the October issue of Woodall’s Campground Management, sister publication to RVBusiness, featuring a Q&A with Bob MacKinnon who founded GuestRated LLC. For the full story click here.
Bob MacKinnon, a former Walt Disney Co. executive who spent more than 30 years in resort management, founded GuestRated LLC in 2008 as the nation’s first guest-satisfaction-rating program covering all independent, privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in the U.S.
Still in use today, the online survey program was launched in cooperation with the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) as a member benefit to provide parks with the opportunity to measure and improve guest satisfaction and better serve today’s camping and RVing enthusiasts.
In addition to GuestRated.com, MacKinnon is a highly recognized industry expert and consultant. In 1996, he founded MacKinnon Campground Consulting (www.campgroundconsulting.com), through which he provides extensive marketing, project development, management and other operations services to current and potential park owners.
MacKinnon, an ARVC-certified park operator, is involved in many organizations such as the National RV Park Institute and the School of RV Park and Campground Management, California Travel Parks Association, National School of RV Park and Campground Management and ARVC.
Recently, MacKinnon took the time to sit down with Woodall’s Campground Management and answer a few questions.
WCM: As you approach 20 years since you started MacKinnon Campground Consulting, how has the RV parks and campground industry changed over that time, for better and for worse?
BM: It has changed and I think it’s all changed for the better.
What I’ve really seen over the past nearly 20 years is that guests are expecting more, their expectations are really rising as far as what they’re looking for in a camping experience. Those rising expectations are really driving more of a hospitality focus in the industry. In the ‘80s and the ‘90s when I started getting involved with it, when I was with Disney and managing some of their operations looking outside of my corporate castle, I saw most of the campground industry was made up of individuals, a lot of mom-and-pops, and a lot of campers were – I don’t want to be derogatory — but a lot of them were seniors who wanted to play bingo and shuffleboard. That’s not the business we’re in today. That’s not the audience we’re serving today.
So, one of the big changes I’ve seen is very, very strong shift to more of a hospitality focus and providing camping experiences for a whole new set of consumers. And that’s a change for the better.
I think another thing that’s changed for the better is not only are campground owners more focused on hospitality elements, but they are also much more focused on managing their business principles and in treating the campground as a business.
That’s been a change for a number of people who may have gotten into the industry based on a kind of lifestyle choice – you know, “I want to retire and run a campground and live in the woods and not have to work too much.” Now it really is a business and it’s a business enterprise.
With campground schools and with ARVC, the focus over the past few years has been on getting more and more tools to improve business aspects of the campground business, and that’s been a good thing.
And then the third is the realm of the corporate owner, which has certainly been a major change in recent years. I think that that’s a good thing because there were an awful lot of people in the financial markets that did not understand the business opportunities of the campground industry. I work with a lot of clients trying to get financing, doing reports to help financial institutions understand the industry better, and I think the presence of corporate players has added credibility in that regard. Campgrounds can be a viable business entity and viable business opportunity.
WCM: Has there been a constant throughout those years?
BM: I think there have been a couple of constants. One, the majority of individual campgrounds are still small family business enterprises. Even though there are a lot of corporate players getting involved and doing consolidations, the stats that I see still show that vast majority of the individual parks are still family businesses.
That adds a special flavor to how they’re run, how they’re operated — and a special challenge, too, because they all are very individualized. It’s hard to look at industry averages when you’ve got a lot of individual enterprises that are so varied. I think it’s a good thing. It’s still a strong family business opportunity.
The other constant is camping for the consumers still represents a great wholesome family activity that presents a great value. It’s very affordable and it’s something that’s quality family time.
WCM: Why do you think the majority of campgrounds will remain a family business?
BM: In my consulting business I’ve worked with both. I’ve worked with corporate groups in the acquisition process and I’ve worked with a lot of individual park owners. The majority of parks are still small enterprises – with less than 100 campsites – and their business model is not a match for the corporate goals. Corporations are looking for larger properties and properties that have growth potential. The majority of what I see in the industry is still smaller parks with less than 100 sites. The economic situation of that business model is that it will continue to be a small family business. It doesn’t meet the model that the corporate groups have right now.
For the full story click here.