Industry Insites – August 2014

Go RVing…..and Camping

In recent weeks, a series of meetings and articles have led me to now propose in all seriousness that it is time for the RV manufacturers, dealers and campgrounds to get together and broaden the focus of Go RVing to include camping. Imagine, a Go RVing…..and Camping campaign that stands as the industry’s national brand bringing together all the legs of the industry and wrapping Go RVing and Go Camping America into a single national effort.

The recession of 2008, 2009 and 2010 saw a dramatic decrease in the sale of RVs combined with a steady pace of RV park and campground business and a renewed interest in extended stay and seasonal camping. While RV sales have rocketed back to pre-recession levels, extended stay and seasonal camping has continued to capture the interest of Americans across the nation. And this strong consumer interest in this camping style has manifested itself in the RV manufacturing side in a couple of significant ways.

As the strength of seasonal camping hit home with the RV manufacturers, they have responded by creating and marketing the largest travel trailers and 5th wheels as “residential” trailers, seasonal vacation homes, and similar terms focusing on extended stay use in a single location. These units, while legally towable down the highway, are designed and built for destination use – parked in a campground and used as a vacation home by the owners.

These new trailers and 5th wheels have blurred the lines between the traditional RV and the recreational park trailers or park models. With the merger of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA) and the RV Industry Association, the RV industry has moved to recognize the critical importance of campgrounds as the home to these extended stay units and the role that these units will play in the continuing growth and expansion of the RV market.

In the last 18 months, under the leadership of RVIA President Richard Coon, RVIA has created its own Camping Committee, a Destination Camping Committee and the RV Park Trailer Committee. These committees are moving towards expanding consumer interest in seasonal camping and campgrounds with new research now ongoing with the Richards Agency that handles the Go RVing program, and with the Park Trailer Committee studying new promotional campaigns under the Go RVing umbrella to promote those units.

On the other side of the industry – at the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVC) – in a recent article on the direction of the campground industry, ARVC President Paul Bambei noted that ARVC remains underfunded and unable to conduct the kind of consumer promotion campaigns under Go Camping America that many feel are necessary to grow the park side of the industry. Having a successful Go Camping America website that attracts a significant number of visitors without having the resources to market camping to the non-camping world and really build the value of Go Camping America as a place to go to for camping information as Go RVing provides for those interested in learning more about RVs, is not enough.

ARVC funding has most likely bumped up against the upper limits of potential dues revenue it can generate. Membership expansion has long proved elusive with ARVC membership in the 3000 range for many years. Even adding another 1000 members at an average of even $400/member would only bring in $400,000.

And ARVC’s income from other sources – convention and trade show income, commissions or royalties from companies providing member benefits , sale of publications, and Foundation fundraising – may also be approaching the upper limits. With few national companies serving as product or service suppliers to the park industry, revenue and support from suppliers is also somewhat capped.

So how to fund a campground promotional campaign to educate and inform Americans of the joys and pleasures of America’s campgrounds?

The source of funds for Go RVing are the manufacturers who pay a small amount of money each time they purchase a certification seal to place on a new RV. Each RV sold has an RVIA certification seal affixed to it indicating it is certified to be in compliance with certain construction standards. RVIA sells the seals to the manufacturers and the cost of the seal covers the cost of the RVIA certification and inspection program and includes a Go RVing fee based on the type of unit sold.

Spreading the costs over the tens of thousands of RVs manufactured each year is a far better option than trying to extract more money from commercial businesses whose bottom line is directly affected by association dues, education and training costs and other non-operational expenses.

About 15 or 16 years ago, the ARVC board held a workshop session to discuss the feasibility of adding a $ .10/night “camper promotion fee” to each camping party. It was thought that this fee might even substitute for regular association dues both on the state and national levels. The board agreed to conduct a pilot test at 6 or 8 campgrounds to see if and how consumers would respond to an additional ten cents per night added to their camping bill. Although the results of the pilot project showed no negative consumer response, the ARVC board voted to table the idea and it has never been brought back to the table.

The Go RVing program relates directly to the purchase of a new RV. I would suspect that not a single RV sale has been lost or even delayed by the $40 to $60 fee added to the cost of the rig. And as a result of this technique of building support, the Go RVing campaign has annual budgets as high as $18,000,000 or more.

I’d propose that RVIA add to the cost of a seal an additional $15 and earmark the funds for the “……and Camping” component of a new Go RVing….and Camping promotion program. The collection mechanism is already in place and as RV sales have shown, the slight increase in cost of the RV is in no way an obstacle to the sale.

And, dare I say, that if this were to happen, RVIA and RV manufacturers might have considerably more influence in creating, setting and enforcing some key guest service standards among the campgrounds. The RV industry would be pleased to see the quality of the campgrounds improve substantially, and perhaps by working cooperatively with the park industry, RVIA and others in the RV side of the business might be more successful in influencing the park industry to up its game to a higher level.

While there is no doubt that RVs are used in many ways outside of camping, there is also no doubt that without quality campgrounds to accommodate the RVs and RV park trailers RV sales could suffer. With the RV industry moving more closely to the campground industry in recognition of the role the campground plays in the RVing experience, the merger of Go RVing and Go Camping America seems a natural and the industry leaders should begin now to move towards that unification.