Lessons Learned: A Few Takeaways from This Year’s Challenging Camping Season

The power of being flexible allows parks to pivot quickly to attract new customers and boost business

It could be safely said that this year’s camping season was unlike any other in recent memory. Having to endure so many challenges presented by this year’s public health crisis required the owners and managers of ARVC member-parks to be prepared to turn on a dime to implement changes to policies and procedures as conditions warranted. If there are lessons to be learned from meeting these challenges, one of them is the power of being flexible.

ARVC member-park Rushmore View RV Park in Keystone, S.D. is a great example. The park’s season normally runs from mid-May to mid-October. But the beginning of this year was filled with so much uncertainty that the park decided it would close on October 1st instead this year. That is, until an increase in demand caused them to change course once again. They eventually decided to stay open until October 17.

Marshall Spezman, who manages the park’s front desk, attributed the late-season increase in demand to a difference in clientele this year.

“Families were traveling later in the season because of remote schooling, part-week schooling and homeschooling,” he says. “So we extended our closing date beyond what we originally planned.”

Another change the park encountered this year was the influx of first-time RVers. Many people who were no longer comfortable staying in hotels decided to try the RV lifestyle, but many of them lacked basic knowledge about the operational side, such as how the plumbing system works and how to drain the tanks.

“Being in outdoor hospitality, my staff is always prepared to help guests get in and get hooked up properly and answer their questions,” Spezman says. But he noted that the increased requests for assistance placed an unexpected level of demands on his staff.  

“The lesson we learned was to remember what it was like to be a new RVer,” he says.

Spezman also noted it’s important to understand that many first-time RVers don’t realize that RV parks and campgrounds each have their own “personalities” in terms of the target markets they serve, their proximity to towns and attractions and the amenities they offer.

“RV parks located next to each other can appeal to completely different people,” he says. “Not everybody understands that if they’re coming out of hotels. They expect the same kind of cookie cutter consistency and the same amenities across that board and that doesn’t exist in our industry.”

Spezman says it’s not unusual for him to talk a guest out of staying at his park, referring them instead to one nearby that would better meet their needs. For example, it may be one that specializes in long-term stays as opposed to his campground that typically serves as a base camp for tourists as they explore the local attractions.

“It’s all about the experience,” he says. “so educating the public is a constant challenge.”

Of course, the influx of new RVers is good for business, so it’s worth it to do what it takes to help these fledgling campers adapt to this new lifestyle so they’ll want to do it more often.

As you welcome new campers to your park, it’s a good time to introduce them to GoCampingAmerica.com to help them learn more about all our great industry has to offer, including helpful camping tips featured in the Camping 101 series on the Happy Camper blog.

“The biggest thing I can tell my fellow RV park managers, owners and operators,” Spezman says, “is just remember what it was like when you set out that first year in your own RV. Then you’ll know what these people are going throughthe fear, the uncertainty, the surprises. If you keep that in mind, you can still provide them with an excellent guest experience.”