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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?