43 Years…..Moving On
On September 30, 2014, I turned over the management of the Virginia Campground Association to Derek Dick, a former ARVC staffer now living in Virginia. With that, I concluded 43 years in the association management world. Over those years, I’ve been associated with the American Jewish Congress, the American National Metric Council, the Solar Energy Industries Association, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds and finally the Virginia Campground Association.
Association management has been a fulfilling career but its time to turn my full time attention to consulting work in the RV park and campground industry as the industry steps up its growth and development into a modern 21st century hospitality and recreation business. And it’s time to pursue some new ventures and advocacy in the business.
In the August issue of Campground Management and also in RV Business, I wrote a column suggesting that it is time for the terrific Go RVing promotion program to expand its horizons into Go RVing……and Camping promotion.
I feel strongly that the time has come for the three legs of the RV industry stool – the manufacturers, dealers and accommodations – to re-establish the close relationship that created the Go Camping America program in the 1980’s and was the foundation for the eventual emergence of the Go RVing program. While it’s clear that RVs have multiple uses depending on the desires of the owners of the rigs, it’s equally clear that the dominant use of an RV is camping in one form and one place or another.
RV parks are popping up in many places. NASCAR and other racing venues are moving to formalize camping in RV areas that were previously informal parking areas for tailgating. The same is happening around major universities where RV tailgating is a major event combined with college football. And golf resorts, ski resorts, amusement parks are increasingly recognizing the growing popularity of RVing and the need to provide campgrounds or RV parks (the terminology is not really important). Federal, state and local parks are sprucing up their camping areas to serve the growing RV market.
It’s kind of like the old days in Las Vegas when hotel rates and food costs were incidental and the profits were all from gambling. Many entertainment and sports venues provided for RVs but either didn’t charge or charged very little. Now, there’s an awakening that there’s money to be made in RV parks – why give away what can become a profitable revenue source.
The Go RVing program has over the years focused on the many uses of an RV – taking the kids to soccer games and tournaments, tailgating, “pursuing passions” of all kinds, getting “away”, and so on. But most of these uses include nights out in campgrounds and RV parks.
Go RVing has the mechanism in place to raise additional funding to expand the Go RVing program to include camping. It’s up to the leaders of Go RVing and, more importantly, to the leaders of ARVC and the park industry, to get together and figure out how to expand the program to include camping. Demonstrating to potential RVers the many diverse campgrounds available for their enjoyment and use should certainly contribute to a better understanding of the joys of RVing and help increase RV sales while supporting the growth of the park industry.
It was somewhat disappointing to note that the column proposing this expansion of Go RVing received not a single comment or response – pro or con – from readers. As the campground industry would be the major beneficiary of the expansion, I expected that there would be some response from that end of the industry.
As a long time member of both ARVC and RVIA for many years, I would encourage the leaders of those organizations, chief executives and elected leaders to let the industries they represent know where they stand on this proposal to expand Go RVing. If it’s a lousy idea, say so and tell us why. If the idea is positive, say so as well.
At least from the park industry perspective, expansion of the promotion program should be something with broad support. The silence is deafening.
RV Site Ownership
Back in the early part of this century, RV condominium site ownership was growing rapidly in many parts of the country. As the real estate market pushed land and home prices skyward, many park owners in key locations were selling out to developers who had plans for a higher and better use of the land. RVers, especially in Florida, became concerned that their winter RV parks would be sold out from under them and they would have to relocate elsewhere. The popular thinking was that RV sites in desirable areas would become fewer and fewer and RVers would be forced to settle for second rate locations.
And thus was born the RV condominium park where an RVer could buy a site, become an owner of the campground and assure its continuation for years to come.
The own your own site business flourished in many areas from 2001 to the real estate implosion and the recession of 2007 to 2009. RV condo site sales dropped dramatically – in fact almost disappeared. Developers were forced to drop prices significantly and while that helped in some cases, for the most part RVers like the rest of the country, were not in a spending mood. If the price was down 50% today, why not wait until it goes down 75%?
As the recession has eased, site sales have edged a bit in certain areas where price declines have put the sites in the range of affordability for more RVers. But it is now appearing that except in some very special circumstances where the location of the park is too good to pass up, the price declines have not been sufficient to show RVers that it is less expensive to own then to rent.
And as the building boom in Florida and elsewhere has not come back to the fever pitch of the period before the recession, few RVers are worried about their favorite RV park disappearing to make room for re-development. And the view of RV site ownership as an investment with strong upside
The keys to a successful RV site sales program are several. First and foremost, as noted above if the lot price is set at a point where owning is as good or better than renting. For a broad segment of RV owners, this is most important in a successful sales program. Second, the location has to so strong that it has a wide appeal to RVers of all types and where pricing to secure the location is reasonable and within reach of a large market segment. Third, the development has to be so exceptional in terms of location, limited number of sites, amenities, aesthetics, service and high end appeal that it will capture the attention of the small cadre of RV owners for whom price is no object.
The RV condominium business is likely to continue to come back as RV sales continue to expand. In certain areas, RV site supply may fall behind site demand and the condo market could heat up again. In this case, owning sites in a quality park with high demand for rentals could prove to be a solid investment over time.
Keep a careful eye on this market segment as converting an RV park to an ownership resort is a good exit strategy in the right circumstances.