What makes a park model a park model?

As parks across the northern tier of the US and Canada gear up for a strong summer season, here are a couple of thoughts that I’ve had recently on the ever-increasing interest in rental units in parks.

It’s hard to escape the apparent enthusiasm that seems to be enveloping the park industry over the addition of rental units in parks around the country.  Whether I’m feeling the hype being put out there by park model, cabin and yurt manufacturers, the enthusiastic reports of rental unit growth in the KOA system, or the frequent news accounts of parks expanding their rental unit inventory, there’s no doubt that the addition of rental units in campgrounds and RV parks has everyone’s attention and interest.

Having done a bit of traveling in the last month or two and having stayed in a couple of rental units in parks, and having looked into the question of the typical length of stay in the units, it seems that it’s time to consider changing the typical rental unit to better align with the consumer use.

Does every park model need a full kitchen with a full size refrigerator, stove, oven, dishwasher and cabinets?  With many parks reporting an average park model stay of 2-3 nights, perhaps a unit with a smaller kitchen would enable the manufacturer to enlarge the bedroom, maybe add a second small bedroom with bunk beds, or expand the living area.  Or maybe a smaller overall unit would lower the cost of the unit without impacting its desirability to the consumer.  Just because we’re used to the 400 square foot size, maybe a 350 square foot unit designed for short stays for couples or small families would work.

How about park models or cabins designed for different uses?  An extended stay model for stays of a week or more.  The “overnighter” edition for 2-3 night stays?  A family bunkhouse unit with extra sleeping accommodations for larger families?  A “suite” with two bedrooms/two baths and living space – but no real kitchen – for 2 adult couples traveling together?

Another thought  along these lines – interior decor.  Last fall I was fortunate enough to visit a few parks in Europe.  One of the most impressive features of the parks visited was the sleek, modern interior design of the rental units in many of the parks.  Very attractive.  Very space efficient.  Typically, Europeans are used to living on a different scale – smaller, energy efficient – and that is reflected in their park homes.  I think it’s time to experiment with new interior designs in rental units.

Also, in many, many jurisdictions, stick built or kit built cabins have become acceptable.  Is it time for the industry to begin to push more aggressively to expand the definition of a “campground” to be broader, and for cabins, cottages or whatever term is used to be acceptable within a campground?  The built on a chassis with wheels and a tongue and a 400 square foot limit is confining in terms of design – it leads to the bowling alley feel of a park model interior.  If many places have accepted yurts and many do accept stick or kit built cabins, I would hope that this will lead to new diversity and new opportunities for the rental units in parks.

Just thinking out loud on this.  Comments?