Go RVing and Go Camping America

A little history…

In the beginning there was Go Camping America, a joint venture of the (then) National Campground Owners Association (NCOA), the RV Industry Association and the RV Dealers Association. The name Go Camping America and the original GCA logo were developed by KOA and given to NCOA sometime in the mid-1980s.

The objective of GCA was to spread the work about camping and RVing to the general public and to provide information to the media about camping in the US. As opportunities for promotion developed, each organization provided a share of the resources necessary or contributed talent, information or other in-kind support.

In the early ’90s, the RV Dealers decided to withdraw from GCA, leaving the program to RVIA and NCOA/ARVC.

Spurred on during these early years by NCOA and ARVC leaders Erv Banes, Al Daniels, Bob London, Conrad Dumke and several others, there were some significant accomplishments.

  • A partnership between GCA, Kmart and the Coleman Company led to the distribution of tens of thousands of Go Camping America Vacation Planners in over 2000 Kmart stores.
  • The Go Camping America Festival was a year long camping promotion encouraging parks across the country to reach out into their communities and market areas with special events at campgrounds. The Festival kicked off on the Today Show with RVIA President Dave Humphries, the director of the National Park Service, the NCOA President – me – and the Today Show hosts Bryant Gumbel and Debra Norville camping, canoeing and talking camping at a campground at the Delaware Water Gap on the NY/NJ border. 1-800-SUNNY, the toll free number for GCA, received over 1000 calls requesting the Camping Vacation Planner in that one day.
  • A National GCA Fishing Contest was sponsored by GCA and fishing tackle manufacturer Abu Garcia.
  • The introduction of the Go Camping America Credit Card was promoted to park owners and campers as a vehicle to fund Go Camping America. At its peak, there were over 5000 cards being used and GCA income was around $25,000 the first year of the card.
  • The introduction of the Go Camping America ATT Telephone Calling Card – remember them? Parks sold thousands of cards generating additional funding for Go Camping America.
  • And as the worldwide web and internet began to gain acceptance, ARVC created the Go Camping America on-line directory that remains today as the primary GCA vehicle for marketing ARVC members.

And then there was Go RVing….an RVIA and RVDA effort to unite the manufacturers and the dealers in a national promotion program to educate, motivate, entice and sell RVers to a larger and larger share of American consumers.

If my memory serves me correctly, the campaign to unify the RV industry around a national RV promotion program was initially spearheaded by Coachman Industries’ Tom Corson, industry executive Jim Sheldon (then with Holiday Rambler? and subsequently with Monaco), Tom Faludy of Carefree, and RVIA President Dave Humphries. Together with Bob Strawn, President of the RV Dealers Association, dealers Tom Stinnett and Rick Horsey and others, this group fashioned the Go RVing Coalition and promotion campaign into a model of industry unity that has become both a powerhouse driver of RV sales growth and the envy of many other big-ticket recreation equipment manufacturers – especially the boating industry.

Since its inception in 1994, the number of RVs owned by 35-54 year olds has grown faster than all other age groups, consumer attitudes towards RVs have improved very significantly and recall of RV advertising has grown every year. The number of likely RV buyers grows annually, driven by the Go RVing advertising and promotion.

Funded by increasing the price of the RVIA standards certification seal that goes on every RVIA member-produced RV, the Go RVing campaign has had annual budgets as large as $18 million. The campaign generally runs in three year segments and over the years, promotional themes have ranged from Wherever You Go, You’re Always at Home, Pursue Your Passions, Go RVing: Life’s a Trip and the current Away theme.

In addition to the income generated by the RVIA standards seals, industry suppliers support the program through an annual dues assessment and through a special assessment added to the cost of exhibit space at the annual National RV Show in Louisville. All segments of the RV industry contribute to this powerful program that has worked wonders in building interest, respectability, understanding, support, and many other positive attributes for RVs, RVing and the outdoors.

I like to recall that in the mid-1980s when I first became associated with the campground and RV park industry, my somewhat over-educated and over-achieving friends wondered why anyone would want to own and travel in an RV. Over the years, these same people have expressed envy for my being associated with such a “cool” lifestyle and they’ve moved from “I would never buy one of those things” to “I’m thinking about when I can buy an RV.”

In the early years of Go RVing, the campground industry conducted a “fair share” program soliciting contributions to the Go RVing campaign be requesting a fair share contribution based on the number of sites in a park, the number of site nights or the park’s revenue. Participating parks were listed on the Go RVing website as a resource for people looking for places to go camping. For some years, ARVC’s annual support through the fair share and other fund raising techniques of Go RVing was in the $100,000 annual range. And then for some reason, the industry association dropped it support – neither soliciting support from the members nor providing direct support from the association’s budget.

So what, you might ask? What’s your point?

Several points.

  1. Every RV that’s sold represents a potential of 365 site nights for the park industry. From research I’ve seen, the average RVers uses their RV for about 25 nights a year. For every 1000 RVs sold, at about $40/night on average, that’s $1 million in potential park revenue. With 10,000 campgrounds, those 1000 RVs could mean $100 in revenue for each park. If the RV industry can successfully grow from where it is today – approximately 300,000 unit sales to where it was in 2006 – about 390,000 units – that could be maybe $90 million in park revenue. At just 50% of that, we’re looking at $45 million or maybe $4500 for every excellent, good, fair and poor park in America. Maybe a park would consider a $50 to $100 contribution to Go RVing to earn maybe an additional $4500 in revenue.
  2. With the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) now back under the RVIA umbrella, it stands to reason that the RVIA and the RV dealers are likely to take an increased interest in the RV units represented by park model manufacturers. These units are rapidly expanding as rental units in parks and as seasonal camping units of choice. RVIA has already launched a public relations effort to spread the word about park model RVs and park rental units. Soon, I’d expect that these units will be promoted more aggressively by RVIA public relations activities and may be included in future Go RVing promotions and advertising.
  3. Go Camping America needs to be re-established into a national promotion program to reach out and excite more and more people about camping. Go Camping America is a good on-line camping directory but it can and should be much, much more. Industry promotion is an important role for a national trade association and ARVC needs to step up and take on this role.
    In my view, the two key roles for an association are government affairs activities that protect the industry from unnecessary and unfair legislative and regulatory actions, and to promote and build an ever growing consumer base for the industry’s products and services.
  4. There should be a way to integrate and coordinate Go RVing and Go Camping America. Selling more steel (RVs) and putting more steel onto more sites (building more camper nights) go together. The more people own RVS, the more RV owners get out and use their vehicles, the greater the number of camper nights and the greater likelihood that they will buy another and another and another RV – and the more often they turn over their rigs, the more they use them – and the more camper nights that are developed. I urge the park owners and the leaders of ARVC to become more aggressive in figuring out how to take advantage of the great successes of Go RVing and how to ride that wave with Go Camping America. Two promotion programs have got to have a greater impact than just one.
    I recently heard that the ARVC Board of Directors voted for the association not to provide any support for Go RVing. If that’s the case, what a shame!
  5. ARVC member benefit programs to save parks money through group purchasing are valuable. But isn’t it time to now focus on how to get the parks to use their savings they’ve achieved through ARVC benefit programs to fund GCA promotion programs to expand the number of camper nights, grow the camping market and increase park revenues? How many park owners would balk at kicking in $50 to $100 for an ear-marked $200,000 to $400,000 GCA promotion fund – not to drive current campers to the GCA website, but to promote camping as an activity and to try to build new camper nights from the public. I’ve no doubt that integrating GCA with Go RVing and putting money up to make it happen would be a big win for the park industry. I can hear the cynics saying park owners won’t contribute but that’s a cop out. A professionally crafted and executed program to tell the promotion story to park owners will be well received and supported.

One Other Note

In last month’s column, I suggested that the proposed ARVC designation of a Superior Quality Park as a reward for enrolling employees and staff into the new ARVC education program was inappropriate. It would appear that others in the industry felt the same way and ARVC has announced that it is changing the designation to Superior Quality Staff.

While I applaud the quick response from ARVC to recognizing the problem with the initial designation, in reviewing my comments from the last article, I find that most of the comments also apply to this new designation.

The new Outdoor Hospitality Education Program has no testing and no formal way to designate a staff as being superior. As I understand the program, participants complete tasks and submit their tasks to an evaluator who reviews the work. Who are the evaluators? What criteria do they use to measure the success of the tasks?

Changing the designation to Superior Quality Staff doesn’t really achieve anything for the consumer. If the staff changes, does the designation go way? And how does completing tasks translate into a superior staff and an improved guest experience or guest satisfaction?

Time to re-think the whole questions of designations. They can’t be frivolous and the criteria for awarding them has to be clear and have merit. Much more attention and thought needs to go into creating these designations and the ARVC board needs to involved from the outset. The Guest Reviews program is an example of a program that is clear and measurable with objective criteria that is administered evenly across the board and checked frequently. And because of that, it adds value to the park and the guest experience.

See ya in August.