Park Models for Short Term Visits

I recently had the occasion to spend a night in a park model cabin at an excellent RV park. Really nice place and a really nice cabin. While talking with the park manager, I asked about the average length of stay in the cabins. About 3 days, he responded.

I generally find park model cabins comfortable and a nice accommodation. The one thing that always occurs to me is why can’t the bedroom be a bit larger so I don’t walk in to the wall the minute I get out of bed. The second thing that occurs to me, is can’t the bathroom be a bit bigger.

As I looked around this particular cabin, it occurred to me that if the average length of stay is just 3 nights, is a full kitchen complete with a family size refrigerator, lots of cabinet space, a dishwasher, a full stove and oven and a microwave all really necessary for that type of use?

In my mind, I removed a cabinet and some counter space that was up against the bathroom wall so you could push out the wall in the bathroom and maybe add a full bathtub that would be helpful to families with small kids. I then identified kitchen modifications that could shrink the size of the space allotted to the kitchen. With just a few interior changes, the bedroom and bathroom could be enlarged a few feet and at least in my mind, make the experience a bit more comfortable.

Now, I know park model manufacturers have been at this unit design for a lot longer than I have, and that campground owners are not necessarily any more adept at interior design than I am, but what did occur to me was that perhaps the parks should be requesting some new interior design based on how the unit is primarily used. For units designed to accommodate people for less then 5 nights, perhaps a smaller kitchen and larger bedrooms and bathrooms would be appealing. For longer stays, perhaps the current space layout is fine.

I know, if your cabin serves both long and short stays, buying the one that serves both markets is generally the smarter move. But if you really look at the customer and your particular park, perhaps a mix of short stay cabins and longer stay cabins would work well and save money in acquisition cost if the short stay cabin has fewer cabinets and kitchen amenities.

ARVC

Superior Quality Park designation from ARVC needs more industry discussion

The RV park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations  like “Superior Quality Park” should not be done lightly.

Thumbing through the recently distributed ARVC Member Handbook I came across an interesting logo that caught my attention – “Superior Quality Park” (SQP) in the shape of a seal with 5 gold stars in the middle. ARVC Superior Quality Park program

Reading through the accompanying text it became apparent that ARVC will be awarding this designation to parks where the owners, managers or other key employees had completed certain certificates in the new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program (OHEP).

Karl Littman, Chairman of the ARVC Foundation and President of the Virginia Campground Association (VCA), had reported in passing to the VCA board in early April that such a designation might be coming so I was I somewhat aware of the idea but I was unprepared for it when I saw it announced in print in the Member Handbook that had obviously been to print well prior to the ARVC Board and Foundation meetings in early April.

It seemed to me that a designation as strong and clear cut as Superior Quality Park seems to be – complete with its 5 stars in the logo –  is not something that should be introduced to the park industry  without some pretty broad discussion.

Barb Youmans, ARVC’s Senior Director of Education and Membership, responded to an inquiry about the new designation.  Here’s Barb’s take on the SQP.

Just so we are clear, this designation is not intended to be a “rating” for the park, but rather a designation that recognizes a park owner’s commitment to improved quality service and guest experiences overall through learning supported by OHEP. We believe strongly that individuals who successfully complete the criteria for an OHEP certificate will grow personally and professionally. With enough full-time (seasonal and year-round) employees receiving certificates, we also believe guest experiences will be positively impacted.

We want to recognize parks who have demonstrated their commitment to developing their employees, who are the ultimate ambassadors to the consumers, and that strive toward better delivering operational excellence and experience through those ambassadors and their participation in OHEP.

This was an internal ARVC decision that was made for the purposes of recognizing efforts in this area. The program was presented to the Board at the recent Spring Board meeting, as part of the Foundation and Education update given by Karl Littman.     

Barb’s explanation of the desire to recognize educational achievements is certainly appropriate, laudable and no one would quibble with that.

Just to be clear, if awarding the designation of “Superior Quality Park” is not offering a rating, exactly what is it? As a consumer, if you saw that seal on a park, what would be your logical conclusion?  If it’s not a rating, what is it and what information is it intended to be for the consumer?

Participation in the OHEP is one way for a park to demonstrate a commitment to developing employees. Is it the only way? I don’t think so. Is it the best way? Maybe, but the OHEP program is brand new and is essentially untried and untested at this point.

Is this a designation that signifies an educational accomplishment of an individual? What happens when the individual, maybe the owner, sells the park? Or employees leave the park. Is it no longer a Superior Quality Park? What’s the connection between the educational attainments of an individual or a group of individuals to the overall quality of an RV park? Sure, we expect that educated individuals might operate good RV parks and campgrounds and may have an understanding of quality service and facilities, but knowledge as we all know doesn’t automatically translate to a “superior quality park”. Operating a superior park involves far more than a certificate from OHEP or elsewhere.

Awarding such a rating or designation is a quantum leap into new territory for ARVC. The park industry is very competitive and awarding competitive designations should not be done lightly. Do the members feel that a decision to award such a designation should be an internal staff decision or is this move sufficiently significant that the ARVC board should be involved and that perhaps membership input might be warranted.

I could be way off base but I don’t think so. An ARVC designation of a Superior Quality Park on the Go Camping America website and then in individual park marketing could be an important competitive edge and certainly needs more careful industry discussion.

Combining ARVC’s Guest Reviews program with Superior Quality Parks designations on the GCA directory and in individual park marketing certainly seems to be moving the national trade association into the rating business.

Your thoughts?

WiFi Takes Over the Top Spot; Sewers Drops to Second Place!

My informal poll now shows that after many, many years in first place, sewers have been knocked from the top spot. WiFi has replaced sewers and sewage as the #1 topic among park owners these days. As sewer systems, treatment plants and related issues were often the bane of the park owners existence, in many cases that headache has been replaced by WiFi. RV Park WiFi Systems

In fact, I’ve even heard park folks saying they’d rather unclog a sewer line by hand than face a customer with a WiFi complaint. And it’s no longer a matter of talking about needing to have WiFi, it’s now moved into the more sophisticated areas of bandwidth, repeaters, controllers, towers and other technology issues.

And of course, is it free or do we charge for it? Best practice in the hospitality industry today calls for facilities to provide reliable high speed Internet access where the guest wants it – in the hotel business that means in the guest room, in the park business that means at the site and inside the RV (or cabin or whatever). Once that standard is accepted, then the only remaining question is who pays for the service. The park owner? The guest? A combination?

Often heard at these discussions is that lower priced hotels are giving WiFi away free while high priced hotels are charging sometime quite high fees. The guests at the lower priced properties are assumed to be shopping price and looking to get the best deal for the money.

So with WiFi being a highly valued amenity in today’s world, lower priced facilities use it to attract guests who are price sensitive but also have indicated their desire for WiFi. At the high priced properties, guests are assumed to be making decisions based on the overall higher end facilities, amenities, location and other similar factors. While WiFi is important, it doesn’t factor into their decision-making at as high a level as it might for the traveler/vacationer who is more price driven.

RV Park WiFi Systems Scenarios

Here’s another thought. A 200 site park open year round with a 40% occupancy rate is going to pay $15,000 annually to provide high speed WiFi to their guests. That works out to just $ .51 cents per occupied site night. Add a $1 a night to your site rate and you’ve more than covered the cost.

Another way of thinking about this: it’s going to cost you $20,000 to install and operate a reliable RV park WiFi system.  At a $50/night rate, that’s 400 site night. If you have an A+ WiFi system that works basically flawlessly, will that produce 400 site nights each year? Looking at it another way, if you don’t have a flawless system, what might that cost you in lost repeat guests over the year?

There are lots of way to skin this cat but the bottom line remains the same. The best practice is to provide high quality, reliable and fast Internet connectivity at your sites. How you skin the cat will depend on your particular approach to your business and your guest experience.

Ready to explore what’s feasible at your property regarding RV park WiFi systems? Contact David Gorin.