Industry InSites

Campground Management Myths
David Gorin

As I write this column on February 10th, we’re slightly more than halfway through the winter. And a tough winter’s it’s been certainly for the middle and northern tiers of the country. For the southern tier across California, Arizona, Texas and Florida it’s been pretty good – not great but way more better than up north. So with an unusual winter weather-wise, what’s new in the park and RV business?

Class A’s Coming Off the Floor?

Sales of motorhomes of all types were decimated during the 2007 – 2010 recession. Class As hit the floor in 2009 with the sale of just 5,900 units. These units appear to be making a comeback sales slowly improving to 13,100 in 2010, dropping slightly to 12,700 in 2011, increasing to 14,582 in 2012, and to 19,054 units in 2013. This latest number amounts to approximate 6.7% of all RV sales falling into the Class A category, up from just 5.6% in 2012, 5.5% in 2011 and 6% in 2010.

Can Class As continue to make a comeback in 2014 and beyond? In 1999, the peak year for Class A unit sales, these motorhomes were 15.4% of the total RV market. Will the industry reach that class A penetration any time soon?

The impact of the decline of class A unit sales seemed for some time to have effected the site sales in class A motorcoach only resorts and the development of new Class A only resorts. Judging from anecdotal information gathered at the recent Tampa Super Show, the Class A only resorts seem to be making a comeback, at least as far as exhibiting at Tampa would indicate.

If RV sales continue their march upward in the next few years, sales of Class A will likely also continue to trend upward in terms of numbers if not in terms of a percentage of RV sales. Will the increase in sales lead to a further resurgence of Class A only resorts? From my point of view, I don’t see a need for many new motorcoach only resorts, at least until all of the current inventory is absorbed, and it appears there’s a way to go in that direction. And from a development point of view, going Class A only certainly narrows the consumer market. With new luxury Class C’s and 5th wheels, the luxury RV park market can continue to grow while serving the upscale luxury RV segment without limiting itself to just Class As.

Many RVers I talked to at Tampa and at various parks in Florida are interested in luxury and the cost of the rig is not critical. However, the size of many class As is intimidating or simply considered unnecessary for much of the sophisticated upscale RVer market. I want the best but in a small, luxurious package. I want it simple and easy. And most of all, I want it to be reliable. The bigger the rig, the greater the possibility for mishaps and breakdowns.

Reservation System Choices Expanding

Of late, I’ve noticed two trends around the park business…….more and more park owners wondering how to best select a property management and reservation system and more companies apparently entering the park property management and reservation software business. This comes as no surprise as the park industry generally seems to be in the midst of a growth spurt and when business increases, new entrants are expected at all levels and in all business segments.

The latest entrants……..The Flybook, Front Desk Anywhere, RV Spotfinder, Go USA Camping, RMS North America

The latest entrants are best characterized by their new market approach, their background in related markets such as hotels, b & b’s, outdoor activities, their younger cutting edge team, and their stretch into the outdoor hospitality business. Expect you’ll hear a lot about these companies in the coming months.

The industry stalwarts……Campground Manager/; Campground Automation/Sunrise; Digital Res International; Leisure Interactive/Hercules; Reserve America; Cottonwood Software/Campground Master; Vestivo RV/Reservation Management Solutions Inc.

These companies generally have a solid footprint in the park industry by virtue of their longevity in the market. These are well respected companies that have a long record of supporting the park industry and ARVC and are in to both the public and private campground sectors.

The up & comers…….Campground Connections; Open Book; Webrez Pro; Campworks, Centrum Systems.

These are generally new comers to the park business but have strong backgrounds and roots in technology and hospitality. Expect these folks to make noise in the coming years.

How to select a system for your park?

Selecting a system is a time consuming and tedious job that starts with park ownership and management doing an honest and deep assessment of what they want a technology system to provide. This entails carefully analyzing the park’s current business strategies, marketing, advertising, pricing, reservation practices and policies, activities, retail and rental operations, accounting practices, and information needs. And then, easier said than done, matching this analysis to the available systems.

Cost is always a factor and the systems vary widely in how they charge for services. The more bells and whistles, the higher the cost is likely to be. The more basic the system, the more basic the cost will be.

If you are just starting out in the process of selecting a Property Management System (PMS) or Reservation System or both, this might be an area where a consultant might be helpful, depending on your own level of knowledge and comfort with technology and park business. If you are thinking of switching from one system to another, here too a consultant may be helpful in working through the options and screening the park management from some very capable sales people. You don’t necessarily want to be sold on a system; you want to make your judgements based on needs and your assessment and not on a friendly salesperson.

Feel free to use the list of companies mentioned above to start your search on the internet. Each has a website and that’s always a good place to start to familiarize yourself with the products and services. And as with everything else these days, remember to check consumer reviews, talk to colleague park owners and seek out testimonials.

Good luck in your search.