Pelland Blog

Getting a Grip on Your Google Business Profile

February 17th, 2024

Many people are confused by what they see when they perform a Google Search, particularly when they are looking for their own business and think that it is missing from the search results. Scam operators capitalize upon this confusion and offer so-called search engine optimization (SEO) services that generally accomplish little more than obtaining your credit card number. To protect yourself from falling prey to these scammers, it is helpful to understand how Google search results are presented.

Combined, Google and Bing dominate well over 90% of the global search market share. Although Google’s market share has slipped slightly while Bing’s market share has correspondingly increased, Google still maintains nearly 85% of the total. The remainder goes to minor players such as Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, and the heavily censored Yandex and Baidu search engines that are used in Russia and China. Although Bing should not be ignored (and will be explored in a future column), the bulk of your search presence is coming from Google.

Just as cable, satellite, subscription and streaming services might all be thought of as “television” today, many people think that everything that appears on Google is part of the same “search” results. That may have been the case years ago, when most searches were performed on computers, and the results consisted of organic search results (the results based upon SEO) preceded by paid “Sponsored Search” results. Today, two thirds of searches are performed on phones, and many of us search for “(type of business) near me”. We don’t even type in those searches with the same frequency as we did a few years ago, now that we can simply tap the little microphone icon in the search box then search using spoken words.

Google Business Profile

Due to the way that those searches are performed, along with Google’s “mobile first” indexing, the first search results seen are the Google Places results that are accompanied by a Google Map with business markers. These results are based upon your Google Business Profile and your location in relation to the search, such as “campgrounds near me” or, for example, “campgrounds near Paducah KY”. The results should show three campgrounds that are closest to that downtown location upon which the map is centered. In this case, there are three campgrounds that appear in the initial view, and a fourth park – a KOA that is slightly more distant from downtown Paducah – only appears, along with several other properties, if you click on the “More Places” link or drag the map. This is despite the fact that the same KOA appears first in the actual organic search results.

That situation can be frustrating when you think of your business as being “near” a particular city, town, or landmark. It gets even more confusing when you consider that “near” is a relative term, where over 50 miles might be “near” in Montana or North Dakota, while less than 5 miles might be “near” in Connecticut or New Jersey. Most importantly, if you have not created a Google Business Profile, you are essentially not near anything! Drop what you are doing and check to see if you have a GBP by doing a Google search for your business by name. If you do not see that profile to the right of the search results on a computer or at the top of the search results on a mobile device, it is time to create that profile. Alternately, if you see a GBP that contains a link that says “Own this business?”, it is time to take control and complete the profile that has been auto-generated. To understand the importance of this, bear in mind that many people do not scroll beyond these Google Places to see the actual Google Search results!

If you do not see a Google Business Profile – which will frequently be the case with a new business – go to https://www.google.com/business/ to get started. It is free to create this profile, you should do it yourself, and – most importantly – you do not need to pay anybody to provide this service. As the page says, “Take charge of your first impression”. When you manage your profile, the first thing you want to do is to check for and add any missing information, such as your website URL, phone number, correct address, and most appropriate business category. You will next be able to add your logo, photos, and attributes – such as your business being veteran-owned, if that is the case. Once this has been done, it is time to use your GBP to truly interact with potential customers. Post special offers, publicize events, respond to Google Reviews, send and receive direct messages, and create a set of frequently asked questions and answers.

Get Verified

If you do not see a green check mark next to the name of your business on your GBP, click on the “Get verified” link that should appear in its place. If your business has a Google Search Console profile, you will qualify for instant verification. More likely, you will have to utilize one of the standard verification methods, typically a phone call, text, or an email. Less commonly, you will have to use mail verification, where your code will arrive on a postcard within about 7 days or so and must then be entered before it expires in 30 days. Whichever method is being used in your instance, do not edit any of your business information until after the 5-digit verification code has been received and entered. All of this is easier than it may sound, if you just follow the instructions step by step. As I have warned, there are scam companies out there that will also offer fee-based “GBP optimization” services, but beware of those alleged services just like the fee-based SEO outfits. Claiming and verifying your Google Business Profile is something that must be done, and you can easily do it yourself!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Selling Tickets to Your Event

January 19th, 2024

For many outdoor resorts, special events are a key to customer satisfaction and an uptick in reservations. In many instances, events are low key and may not even involve fees for participation. In other instances, fees may need to be established in order to cover costs. The latter might include food events such as a pig roast or chicken barbecue, or a concert featuring a local performer. Ticket sales for events such as these may not even involve actual “tickets”, but might simply require a sign-up sheet in your office with a cut-off date in instances where a head count is important.

At other times, park owners might be thinking bigger, particularly if a park offers the available open space and local zoning regulations allow. Rather than simply appealing to your existing clientele, events might present an opportunity to bring in participants from the broader public, quite possibly from beyond the local area. These events might also introduce a new round of people to your business, folks who might like what they experience and subsequently become recurring guests. In those instances, it is obvious that selling tickets in your office would be an inadequate means of getting things done.

Regular readers of my column will know that I advocate against handling and processing fees being passed along to customers. That said, whether absorbing those fees or passing them along, when you need an online ticketing solution for a specific upcoming event, you will want to find an effective option that will minimize the fees involved. On the topic of fees, keep in mind that there are always two sets of fees involved with online ticket sales: the ticket processing fee itself and the online credit card processing fees. In general, if you are selling two $50.00 tickets to a customer, expect your total fees to range from $4.50 to $6.00 for that $100.00 transaction (or over $10.00 in the last example shown below).

One of the big advantages of online ticketing is what is referred to as “attendance management”, where advance payment prevents you from losing money with “no-shows”. In addition, most of the online platforms include a significant volume of features and functionality such as a simple CMS (content management system) interface, free accounts, useful mobile apps, and the ability to start selling tickets almost immediately. Some will integrate with an existing online payment gateway that you might already be using, and others will funnel payments through platforms such as Stripe.

Here are a few options to consider:

Ticketleap: Ticketleap makes things simple. Accounts are free, and the platform provides you with integrated marketing tools that will help you to promote your event and monitor and analyze sales. A mobile app, available for both Android and iOS, streamlines the process of check-in on the day of the event and will even allow you to sell tickets at the gate. Other functions include the ability to use promo codes (such as discounts for your campers or for early ticket sales), the incorporation of event waivers, the ability for customers to purchase tickets for multiple events in one shopping cart transaction (if you offer multiple events during the course of the season), and a post-purchase message that confirms the transaction and can be customized to include a suggestion to share on social media. The fees are 2% + $1.00, plus a 3% credit card processing fee (unless you use your own processor); a flat fee of only 25¢ for any event priced at $5.00 or less; and no fees (other than credit card processing) for onsite sales. One drawback is that ticket revenue is only disbursed to you 4-7 days after the event, which may be a deal-breaker in many instances.

TicketSource: TicketSource is a UK-based company that offers many of the same services and functionality. Its fee is 3.5% + 99¢ per ticket, including all payment card processing costs. If you would like to use your own Stripe account for payment processing, TicketSource’s fee is simply the 99¢ per ticket. There are no charges for in-house booking or for free events. In addition, there are no fees for events that might be cancelled or postponed, with customers fully refunded the purchase price of their tickets. This would be useful in instances where a performer cancels, there ends up being severe weather the day of the event, or you simply cancel the event due to inadequate ticket sales. TicketSource releases funds to your bank account on the Monday after the day of the event (usually showing in your account by Wednesday), or you can collect revenues as your tickets are sold if integrating with your Stripe account.

TicketTailor: Another company based in the UK, TicketTailor has perhaps the easiest integration for ticket sales directly from your website. What makes TicketTailor different is that you buy advance credits to cover the transaction fees, resulting in a fee that could be anywhere from 30¢ to 52¢ per ticket. It accepts payments in a wide range of forms, including Apple Pay and Google Pay, and you receive your payments instantly via either Stripe or PayPal. For credit card processing, the company is specifically partnered with Stripe, where the U.S. fees are 2.9% + 30¢ per ticket, with a total price that is probably one of the best options available, particularly useful if you plan to absorb the fees into your ticket prices.

Yapsody: Based in California, this is yet another option that is noted for its low pricing. Their fees are 1.75% + 59¢ per ticket, with payouts directly to your bank account through your existing online merchant services provider (and whatever fees will be incurred there.) The company also offers ticketing tiers for volume users, with discounts from 20 to 60% on ticketing fees, making this platform particularly profitable for venues that plan on selling 5,000 or 10,000 tickets over the course of a season.

Eventbrite: The gorilla of the online ticketing industry, Eventbrite could be right even for small venues and events. Unlike the other platforms, Eventbrite has either an event fee or a monthly fee. Their Flex plan is primarily for businesses with one-time events, where the U.S. fee is $9.99 per event with up to 100 tickets, $24.99 per event with up to 250 tickets, and $49.99 per event with unlimited tickets. With their Pro plan, a monthly subscription fee is charged for unlimited events, based upon seating capacity. The U.S. fees are $29.00 per month for up to 100 tickets per event, $79.00 per month for up to 250 tickets per event, or $159.00 per month for unlimited tickets per event. In addition to these per event or monthly fees, the U.S. ticketing fees are 3.7% + $1.79 per ticket sold, plus a payment processing fee of 2.9% of the total order. Clearly, this is the most expensive option of the five platforms that I have outlined; however, it is difficult to compare apples with apples from one platform to another. Providing similar features and functionality as the others, the big difference with Eventbrite is its online marketing clout. It had a network of 90 million active ticket buyers in 2022, and they will actively market your event to people seeking an outing in your area, essentially generating ticket sales that you would not otherwise reach on your own.

Just as we all have choices when it comes to finding local events, there are many choices in online ticketing services. Do your homework carefully, contact the companies and ask for demos, then choose the one that will help to make your upcoming event an unqualified success.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Don’t (Always) Blame Your Webmaster

November 28th, 2023

Half the people with websites don’t even know what SEO stands for, but, like an addict, they never think they are getting enough of it. Without question, there is an obsession with the mystery of search engine optimization. Over the course of a year, I field dozens of emails and phone calls from people who have mistakenly been given the impression that there are magicians afloat who hold the keys to secrets that can outsmart Google at its own game. I hate to deliver the bad news, but don’t blame the messenger when I advise that there is no such magic wand. Want proof? Do a Google Search for “best magician in the world”, scroll down, click on “More results”, then repeat, repeat, and repeat. The DavidCopperfield.com website is as invisible as the Statue of Liberty in one of the great magician’s most famous illusions.

We are living in a time when too many of us expect instant gratification in everything that we do. The owner of a new (fictitious) campground in central Oklahoma, with a new website that was just launched the previous month, cannot understand why his website does not appear in the results — er, at the top of the results — when he searches for “campgrounds in the United States”. In large part, this expectation is driven by the countless emails that slip by our spam filters and the robocalls that evade even the best junk call filters, all claiming exclusive knowledge to the secrets to search engine placement. The first thing that you need to understand is that 99.99% of the outfits that contact you regarding so-called SEO services are scams, typically working out of overseas boiler room operations. Some may even represent that they are calling you from Google itself, in this case only the first in a series of utter falsehoods. They may also claim to be a “Google Partner” and display a badge to that effect. If that is the case, they are in violation of the Google Partners badge guidelines which specifically state, “You cannot show the Partner or Premier Partner badge on any materials, such as websites, that advertise Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services without a prominent notice saying such SEO services are not verified or endorsed by Google.”

If that in itself does not make you suspicious of what is being offered, dig a bit deeper and you will often learn that the alleged services involve “creating links in blogs, websites, and directories that are intended … to generate traffic to your website … so that search engines know that this site is important for both its content and the references made to it on other websites.” The “blogs, websites, and directories” referenced are usually owned and maintained by the SEO outfits themselves, with manufactured content that nobody accesses. These backlinks carry little if any credibility with legitimate search engines (which are basically Google and Bing these days) and have zero influence upon search results. In fact, these “White Hat SEO” services are in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines because they involve the creation of what are considered to be unnatural or artificial links. Rather than helping the SEO of your website, paying for these alleged services could actually inflict harm upon your site’s SEO by penalizing your site.

The Domain Name Services scam. Either throw it out or forward it to the consumer protection division of your state Attorney General’s office.

My favorites are the scammers that send what looks like an invoice, with a “search engine optimization fee” to “renew your listing” on some worthless directory, implying that non-payment will result in the removal of your website from the directory and thereby cause its disappearance from Google search results. It is amazing how many people panic, do not read the fine print, and turn over what is typically about $300.00 — as well as their credit card information — to these thieves.

In other instances, the SEO scammers get really nervy and ask you for control panel or FTP (file transfer protocol) access to your website, or ask for WordPress account access credentials, so they can go in there to “fix” things. Do NOT under any circumstances give anybody other than your webmaster this level of access. If you ask them to provide you with the recommendations that you might provide to your current webmaster, they will probably hang up and move on to their next call, hoping to find somebody more naïve. In other instances, they might send you an auto-generated report that could look confusingly impressive if you are your own webmaster, although any competent webmaster will recognize the report as inconsequential bunk. In rare instances, particularly if you built your own website or hired a local tinkerer to build your site, there might be some serious errors and oversights that are in fact impeding your site’s SEO and that should be corrected. Would you like somebody working on behalf of a nearby campground entering your park and handing out sales literature to your campers, attempting to persuade them to camp at their park instead of yours? Think about it. If you have a relationship with your webmaster that is based upon trust in that person’s or company’s competence, there is no reason to panic. Anybody can find minor shortcomings and areas for improvement in another person’s work, but those are rarely of a degree that impacts a site’s search engine ranking. More often than not, the “problem” is impatience and unrealistic expectations on the part of the business owner. Going back to my fictitious campground in central Oklahoma (fictitiously located in Enid), an expectation to appear at the top of the search results for “campgrounds in Oklahoma” is unrealistic. When searching for such a broad term, it only makes sense that the results will feature broad resources such as Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation, KOA, Jellystone Parks, and Good Sam. It is somewhat more realistic to expect to appear in searches for “campgrounds in Garfield County OK”, and much more realistic to expect to appear in searches for “campgrounds near Enid Oklahoma”. Guess what? The most important factor behind appearing in “near me” searches is to claim and maintain your Google Business Profile, which is something that you, not your webmaster, should be doing. Needless to say, the paid “SEO experts” will never offer you such simple and useful advice.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Liability Releases: Better Safe than Sorry

November 2nd, 2023

Liability can take many forms, and it is important for every business to take reasonable precautions to protect its interests in the event of either physical or emotional injury claims on the part of guests. Injuries of either type may often lead to claims for compensation and damages, even when the injuries are the result of reckless behavior on the part of a guest or the failure to follow posted rules and regulations. Businesses with greater inherent risks of injury must take greater precautions to protect themselves from the threat of lawsuits.

Campgrounds with greater inherent risks might include parks with ziplines, shooting ranges, river rafting, paintball fields, jumping pillows, mountain biking, mechanical bulls, and climbing walls; however, every park has liabilities, and there are probably more personal injury attorneys within a 50-mile radius of your park than there are churches, schools, and hospitals combined.

Many campgrounds utilize blanket release forms known as crowd releases. Crowd release forms are generalized notifications that your guests are surrendering their reasonable rights to sue pursuant to their use and enjoyment of your park and its facilities, and they typically apply to the taking of photographs or videos. A crowd release will warn people that photography and filming may be ongoing at any time, that the images may be used in any and all media, in perpetuity, and that the guest consents to the use of his or her image without compensation by nature of entry; however, crowd releases rarely cross the line and attempt to cover the issues of physical liability. Crowd release forms also constitute rather weak defenses in a court of law.

If your park offers recreational amenities or activities with greater inherent risk, you will want to incorporate some very specifically detailed liability releases. There is no question that risky activities offer a great deal of appeal, particularly among younger guests, and can go a long way toward expanding a park’s customer base; however, it is necessary for your business to take reasonable measures to ensure the safety of its guests and to take measures to protect itself against lawsuits that may result if injuries are inflicted during the pursuit of those activities. Needless to say, the incorporation of these precautions should go hand-in-hand with the purchase of suitable liability insurance. In fact, the right releases could actually lower those insurance premiums.

Downhill skiing and snowboarding are activities where participants assume a degree of risk. For years, the National Ski Areas Association has promoted a Responsibility Code that has attempted to shift responsibility for injuries upon skiers and snowboarders, not the ski area operators. The code advised users to ski in control, be able to stop at all times, avoid those downhill, yield to those uphill, not stop where they would obstruct a trail, utilize retention devices, observe signage, keep off closed terrain, and know in advance how to use lifts.

The Responsibility Code was a start, but the extensive text printed on the backs of most lift tickets these days is now designated as a “Ski Ticket Contract and Express Assumption of Risk”. The following text is typical and taken from the back of a lift ticket: “I accept and understand that skiing, snowboarding, and other forms of winter mountain sports are hazardous, with many inherent risks and resulting injuries or death. By my purchase and use of this ticket, I freely and willingly accept and voluntarily assume all risk of property damage, personal injury or death which results from my participation in winter sports activities and the inherent risks of such activities as they are defined herein.” This statement is followed by an extensive paragraph that itemizes those inherent risks, both natural and man-made. Most lift tickets these days have been replaced by RFID passes, where the purchase requires the acceptance of broad liability terms.

One might think that this broad wording would release the business operator from almost all liability; however, the ski industry takes added measures to reduce the risks of injury, including the use of ski patrollers to open and close trails during the course of the day, sweep trails at the end of the day, and evacuate injured skiers from the slopes. Grooming, signage, the increased use of helmets, chairlift safety bars, and improvements in the safety of equipment also help to reduce the likelihood of injuries. Despite all of these efforts to reduce liability, enforceability is never ironclad. In December 2014, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a season pass waiver was unenforceable, opening the way to a $21.5 million personal injury lawsuit, and this ruling has since been used to chip away at the overall validity of waivers and releases.

Accidents Happen

Bearing in mind the potential legal issues of enforceability, parks that provide higher risk amenities should follow the lead of not only the ski industry but also the amusement park and attractions industry, which routinely enforces height, weight and age restrictions, along with providing a long list of health conditions that should preclude participation. Those conditions typically include, but are not limited to, pulmonary problems, high blood pressure, cardiac disease, pregnancy, obesity, seizures, prior injuries, fear of heights, and psychological or psychiatric problems. Yes, that list covers just about everything. Health issues require a separate signed waiver.

Despite all those precautions, mistakes happen, sometimes when the wrong decision is made on the part of a ride attendant. Think back to June 2022, when Tyre Sampson, who was 100 pounds over the weight limit for the world’s tallest freefall ride – at ICON Park, in Orlando, Florida – slipped out of the ride’s safety harness and fell to his death. The owners of the ride were fined $250,000.00 by the state of Florida and agreed to remove the ride. A subsequent wrongful death lawsuit was settled out of court in March 2023. Within the outdoor hospitality industry, you might recall the case of a three-year-old girl, who died in 2021 after falling through an unsecured septic tank lid at a campground in New Jersey. In a more recent incident, the ski injury lawsuit against actress Gwyneth Paltrow gained broad media attention. The wealthy actress was named the defendant in the initial lawsuit, although the Deer Valley Ski Resort would have been named defendant under the so-called premises liability theory under most other circumstances. Paltrow countersued the plaintiff for $1 and a jury found in her favor after only 2 hours of deliberation (and thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.)

Take Precautionary Measures

When I enjoyed the use of a high ropes and zipline course not that long ago, I signed both a written liability release and a health waiver. I was provided with copies of each, I was provided assistance in properly suiting up for the activity, and I was provided with basic instruction in the use of the equipment. In another outing, I visited a resort that operates mountain biking trails and a mountain coaster. At this facility, guests are directed to a row of computer kiosks where liability releases and health waivers are digitally signed before tickets may be purchased.

There are a number of companies that provide reasonably priced digital release services that work with either computer kiosks or mobile apps. These services save time, avoid the generation of a mountain of paperwork, are secure, offer cloud storage, provide analytical information, and can even integrate with email marketing programs as a means of generating return visits. Some services even allow seasonal businesses to adjust their subscription services between their peak season and off season. A few of the companies that you may want to look into include:

Whether your park uses crowd releases, liability releases, health waivers, or a combination of all three, it is important to make every effort to protect its interests and to avoid the many catastrophic impacts of personal injury lawsuits.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Capitalize Upon Historic Highways

October 11th, 2023

The goal of nearly every campground is to increase occupancy rates, either through increased reservation numbers or extended stays, particularly in the off-seasons. There are many ways to accomplish this. One is to invest in new park features and amenities that will appeal to a broader range of guests, but this can be a costly proposition with a lengthy period for investment recovery. Another way is to get lucky due to your proximity to somebody else’s investment, such as a new attraction that opens nearby (and hoping that it does not decide to open its own campground.) Yet another way is to benefit from a nearby campground that either ceases operation or has an unpopular change in ownership or management. All of those options involve changes of some sort, either on your part or on the part of other entities. One other means of building your business is to capitalize upon something that is already there, perhaps right before your eyes yet unnoticed for decades.

Americans (and perhaps most of humanity) have had a love affair with highways and the freedom of the open road for well over a century. When the National Interstate and Defense Highway Act was signed into law by President Eisenhower in 1956, it authorized the construction of 41,000 miles (today, more than 48,750 miles) of modern highways that would make both local and cross-country travel easier than ever. Inspired by the Autobahn in Germany, when you want to get somewhere fast, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway network is the way to go; however, not everybody is in a hurry all of the time, and the Interstates were not the first long-distance highways in America.

My intrigue with historic highways was kick-started with my reading about a year ago of “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel”, the New York Times bestseller written by author Amor Towles. More recently, I watched the pilot episode of the Route 66 TV series that premiered on October 7, 1960 and ran for four seasons on CBS. Two drifters traveling in a Corvette (that is said to have been replaced by sponsor Chevrolet every 3,000 miles) brought tremendous attention to what was sometimes called “America’s Main Street”, while doubling sales of Corvettes in the first season. I thought it odd that Tod and Buz found themselves in Mississippi in that first episode, nowhere near the actual highway, but it turns out that the series was actually shot on location in 40 states and rarely along the actual highway route.

Prior to the Interstate highways, there was a network of U.S. highways that travelled long distances, in some instances from coast to coast. Everybody is familiar with the appeal – enhanced through song, books and that popular TV series – of U.S. Route 66, which runs from downtown Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in California. Even before the numbering system was introduced, there were a number of established highways crisscrossing the country. Many of those highways, since bypassed by the new Interstates, still at least partially exist and appeal to a new generation of travelers who are seeking out historical landmarks and vestiges of a disappearing culture. Many of these highways are actively promoted by regional tourism associations, such as the PA Route 6 Alliance and Pennsylvania Wilds, both of which promote “400-plus miles of history and heritage, small-town culture, friendly people, and wondrous sights too-often forgotten” in the state of Pennsylvania.

In the early days of auto touring, travelers frequently had tents that attached to their Model T’s and stayed at “tourist camps”, the precursor of today’s modern campgrounds. It only makes sense to capitalize upon your proximity to nearby historic highways, reaching out to campers who are seeking to slow down, stay a while, and explore the history in your back yard. Most of these highways have had their identities usurped by numbered highways that either follow or parallel their routes, but there is adventure in following even vestiges of these original historic highways. Find one near your park, then promote your proximity. Partner with local historical societies, auto clubs, and tin can tourists, perhaps offering your guests “treasure maps” to special places of inspiration, fading away and forgotten without your help. The first on my list are two of the most popular historic highways in America.

The National Road

The National Road, also known as the Cumberland Road, was a 620-mile improved highway, the first to be constructed entirely with funds from the federal government. It was built over the course of more than 25 years in the early 1800s, preceding the advent of the automobile. It connected Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, where construction ceased due to a lack of funds. Built to accommodate stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons, its use declined with the arrival of railroads but was revived by the Federal Highway Act of 1921, which introduced the grid system of numbered highways. The National Road evolved into both the Victory Highway (honoring American forces who died in World War I) and U.S. Route 40, with a resurgence of roadside businesses that catered to travelers. Later, as had been the case with the railroads, U.S. Route 40 was bypassed by Interstate 70. Today, The National Road Heritage Corridor is a government-business partnership designed to enhance tourism, where The National Road is now considered a tourist destination in itself. If your park is located anywhere along this route, you should be involved! There are historical bridges, monuments, tollhouses, milestones, and much more to be rediscovered along the route within in the following states: MD, PA, WV, OH, IN, and IL.

The Lincoln Highway

Spearheaded by Henry Joy (President of the Packard Motor Car Company), Carl Fisher (head of the Prest-O-Lite Company, which made the first automobile headlights, also developer of the city of Miami Beach, and developer of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and Frank Seiberling (co-founder of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company), The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental road specifically designed for automobiles in the United States. Funds were generated through donations both large and small, including Thomas Edison, former President Theodore Roosevelt, and current President Woodrow Wilson. One notable business leader who profited the most but refused to participate was tightwad Henry Ford, with the excuse that building highways was the government’s business. Dedicated in 1913, The Lincoln Highway passes through 14 states and over 700 towns and cities as it connects New York City with San Francisco over the course of some 3,000 miles. Evolving into U.S. Route 30 along two-thirds of its way, The Lincoln Highway today is somewhat of an historic patchwork quilt that attracts motorists who seek out its original remnants, ghosts of roadside attractions, and some of the 2,400 concrete markers that were installed along the route by the Boy Scouts of America on September 1, 1928. Although there is really nothing of note in the short section in the state of New York, there are historical bridges, original Boy Scout markers, sections of original brick pavement, monuments to Abraham Lincoln, so-called “roadside giants” that were designed to capture the attention of tourists, and landmarks that have been recognized in the National Register of Historic Places. States along the route: NY, NJ, PA, WV, OH, IN, IL, IA, NE, CO, WY, UT, NV, and CA.

Route 66

Established in 1926, U.S. Route 66 was one of the country’s first numbered highways, the first to be completely paved (in 1938), and quickly became one of the most famous roads in the United States, almost synonymous with what Americans envisioned as the open road. It extended 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, California, passing through 8 states in the process, and it has played prominent roles in popular literature, songs, television and movies right up through the 2006 animated film Cars. Although formally replaced by segments of the Interstate Highway System in 1985, portions of the original road in at least 5 states have been designated a National Scenic Byway now known as Historic Route 66.

Famous for its art deco diners and service stations, motels with oversized neon signs, and curious roadside attractions, the highway also passes nearby natural wonders such as Meteor Crater, the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon, not to mention the site of the first McDonald’s restaurant. Although the original route can no longer be driven in its entirety without a few detours, many of the roadside attractions have recently been restored to somewhat of their original luster and appeal, particularly after the National Route 66 Preservation Bill was signed back in 1999. States along the route: IL, MO, KS, OK, TX, NM, AZ, and CA.

The Dixie Highway

Inspired by the earlier Lincoln Highway and covering nearly 1,500 miles, the Dixie Highway connected Chicago to Miami on a Western route, and Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami on an Eastern route, along with cutoffs in both Georgia and North Carolina. Like its predecessor, this highway route was also spearheaded by Carl Fisher, who you may recall was the developer of the city of Miami Beach. The highway also passes by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Fisher also developed. Once again, civic responsibility was balanced with a good measure of private interest, in his desire to get travelers from the Northern states and Canada to travel to Miami Beach and perhaps stop to visit his speedway along the way. Not actually a single highway, this route was actually a network of consecutive paved roadways, with a distinctive “DH” logo painted on utility poles along the way. It still follows a network of now numbered routes, including stretches of U.S. highways, state routes, and Interstate highways. It passes through Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Orlando, and the Everglades on its way to Miami. There are still monuments along the way and even sections of original or restored brick pavement. States along the route: MI, IL, IN, OH, KY, TN, NC, SC, GA, and FL.

The Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway

Completed in 1924, this route was designed to compete with the National Road and the Lincoln Highway but started disappearing as soon as 1926. As its name implies, it extended from New York City to Los Angeles and was designed to promote the city of Colorado Springs and its Pikes Peak toll road. Often unpaved, with rivers sometimes unbridged, most of this highway would evolve into what would become U.S. Route 36. Keep in mind that most towns desperately wanted to be included along these major highways, due to the commerce and tourism that easy automobile transportation could generate. In this case, Colorado and northern sections of Kansas and Missouri felt that they had been bypassed and slighted by the Lincoln Highway. Needless to say, the promoters of this alternative route mostly came from those three states. The same group also promoted a similar North-South route, the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada.

Like the Dixie Highway, the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Parkway was more of a patchwork of existing roads than a totally new highway. It included parts of the Lincoln Highway in the East, the National Road from Maryland to Indiana, and then pieces of other existing highways and traversing the scenic Rocky Mountains before linking up, once again, with the Lincoln Highway and the Overland Trail. Today, pieces of old cars and hubcaps can be seen by sharp eyes along the route. States along the route, though marginally including the Lincoln Highway sections of NY, NJ, and PA: OH, IN, IL, MO, KS, CO, UT, NV, and CA.

Historic Trails

There are other instances of historic trails that were made for explorations and migrations either on foot or by wagon, and that never evolved into long-distance highways. Two of those are included in this final installment in this series, the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, nonetheless presenting opportunities to get off the beaten path to discover historic sites and markers that commemorate important routes, generally in our country’s westward settlement.

The Oregon Trail

First used by wagons in 1836, the trail was established 25 years earlier, when it could only be accessed by foot or horseback. Once the wagons started rumbling, over 400,000 brave souls drove from “back east” in Kansas City, Missouri to the Pacific coast or various stops along the way, usually traveling in wagon trains for added safety in numbers. As was often the case with early highways, use of the Oregon Trail essentially ended once the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869. Travel by train was faster, safer, and far less expensive.

Parts of the Oregon Trail have now evolved into the routes of Interstate highways 80 and 84, passing through many of the towns that came into being in order to serve the needs of emigrants on the original trail. Highlights that may be visited include the Hollenberg Pony Express Station, in Kansas, on the Nebraska line. It is an extraordinarily rare example of an original building, in its original location, that served as a source for supplies, drinks, and mail services for travelers on the Oregon Trail. Over the state line into Nebraska, Fort Kearney also offers a historic glimpse into the migrations on the trail. Although it was discontinued as a military post in 1871, when the buildings were demolished and the land opened to homesteaders, Fort Kearney has since been rebuilt as Fort Kearney State Historical Park. Further along the trail, Fort Laramie National Historic Site, in Wyoming, presents another collection of exquisitely restored historic buildings. Scenic highlights along the former Oregon Trail include Scotts Bluff National Monument and nearby Chimney Rock National Historic Site, in Nebraska. Chimney Rock was a renowned landmark that offered assurance to migrants that they were on the right path and making progress westward. Still a remarkable landmark, it has lost some of its height over the decades due to natural erosion, weathering, and lightning strikes. States with historic sites, original wagon ruts, registers where emigrants carved their names, and landmarks to explore along the route: MO, KS, NE, WY, ID, WA, and OR.

The Mormon Trail

The Oregon Trail was actually a network of trails that followed the paths of earlier routes established by fur traders and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. On the same token, the Oregon Trail later served as part of the routes of the subsequent California Trail, Mormon Trail and Bozeman Trail, all now collectively known as the Emigrant Trail. Now preserved as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, the treacherous 1,300-mile trek of the Mormon Trail took members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, generally on foot or pushing wooden handcarts, from their original settlements in Ohio, Missouri and Nauvoo, Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley in what was not even yet the state of Utah. This migration took place from the mid-1840s to the late 1860s, once again until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The trek began after the assassination of the church’s prophet, Joseph Smith, and frequent persecution of its members, primarily due to the polygamy that was commonly practiced at that time. There were settlements along the way, including Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, in Iowa, and those that evolved into the cities of Council Bluffs, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. Crops were planted at many of these settlements, to replenish the food supplies of subsequent emigrants. Because this trail followed much of the same route as the earlier Oregon Trail, many of the same landmarks served as noted points of reference.

Noteworthy attractions along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail include Fort Caspar (in Caspar, Wyoming), featuring reconstructions of the fort buildings, a Mormon ferry, and a section of the Guinard Bridge that crossed the North Platte River; the North Platte River Crossing (west of Fort Laramie, Wyoming), where the iron girder bridge built in 1876 still stands; the Mormon Handcart Historic Site (in Alcova, Wyoming), where visitors can experience handcart travel using handcarts (available for use at no charge) along the site’s trails or take a hike to Martin’s Cove, where 500 Mormons took shelter during a blizzard in 1856. States along the route: IA, NE, WY, and UT.

Many Mormon landmarks may be explored outside of the trail corridor, including the Smith Family Farm, Sacred Grove, and Hill Cumorah Visitors’ Center (in Palmyra and Manchester, New York); the Priesthood Restoration Site (in Oakland Township, Pennsylvania); the Joseph Smith Birthplace (in Sharon, Vermont); Historic Kirtland (in Kirtland, Ohio); Historic Nauvoo (in Nauvoo, Illinois); and Cove Fort (in Beaver, Utah). Most of these sites offer free guided tours.

Conclusion

There are many other historic highways that can still be navigated today to one extent or another, offering fascinating glimpses into American history, particularly the first half of the twentieth century. Some of these include the Yellowstone Trail (connecting Plymouth, Massachusetts with Seattle, via Yellowstone National Park, with drivable sections still existing in Wisconsin, Montana, Idaho, and Washington), the Bankhead Highway (from Washington, DC to San Diego, with many remnants existing in northern Georgia along “Old U.S. Route 29”), the Susquehanna Trail (DC, MD, PA & NY), the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway (VA and NC), Black & Yellow Trail (Illinois to Wyoming), Pan-American Highway (Texas to Minnesota), and the Jefferson Highway, that extended from New Orleans to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada. Once again, if your park is in close proximity to any of these historic highways, trails and landmarks, it would make sense for you to promote these nearby attractions, reaching out to the many potential guests who have an interest in exploring these important parts of our country’s history.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Keep Yourself Safe, Keep Us All Safe

October 4th, 2023

You may recall news reports in early June 2023, regarding the hack of the MOVEit file transfer software by a ransomware extortion group based in Russia, known as “Cl0p” but more commonly referred to as “Clop”. Keeping in mind that the vast majority of ransomware instances are not publicly reported, in order to avoid both embarrassment of the victims and attention for the perpetrators, this one was disclosed for a number of reasons. For one, it was widespread, affecting a diverse group of victims that included the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies, Johns Hopkins University and the Johns Hopkins Health System, the University System of Georgia, CalPERS (the California Public Employees’ Retirement System), the Province of Nova Scotia, Shell Oil, British Airways, the BBC, and the state motor vehicle departments in Oregon and Louisiana. A second reason was that Clop publicized the victims of its exploit on the dark web. Whether or not you had ever previously heard of MOVEit, software that is widely used by companies and organizations around the world to share sensitive data, you may very well have used similar file transfer products such as WeTransfer and Dropbox.

In the MOVEit instance, the hackers exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in the software, gaining access to users’ files before the software could be patched. This is what is referred to as a zero-day exploit, when software engineers have “0” days to patch a vulnerability prior to its exploitation. What made this extortion a bit atypical was the fact that the perpetrators did not follow the usual pattern of locking down victims’ computers until a ransom was paid, but instead threatening to release sensitive data that had been accessed unless their ransom was paid, as always, in the form of Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. According to the latest information published by Palo Alto Networks, which monitors ransomware payment trends, the average ransom demand rose to $2.2 million in 2021, with the average payment rising to $541,010.

The Value of Your Personal Data

Ransoms are one thing, but the stolen data may be even more profitable when sold on the dark web. Let’s very conservatively presume that a hack discloses the private data of 5 million users. According to Privacy Affairs, an organization that monitors and compiles lists of prices for personal information when sold online, the following are just a few examples of the going prices for everything from social media logins to credit card accounts.

  • Credit card details, account balance up to $5,000: $110
  • Credit card details, account balance up to $1,000: $70
  • Stolen online banking logins, with a minimum balance of $2000 on account: $60
  • Stolen online banking logins, with a minimum balance of $100 on account: $40
  • Cloned Visa, MasterCard or American Express account with PIN: $20
  • USA hacked credit card details with CVV: $15
  • 50 Hacked PayPal account logins: $120
  • Hacked Gmail account: $60
  • Hacked Facebook or Instagram account: $25
  • Hacked Twitter account: $20
  • US eBay account: $20
  • Netflix account, 1-year subscription: $20
  • Hacked Spotify account: $10
  • 10 million USA email addresses: $120

Clearly, these international thieves are playing a numbers game. Although the hackers in the MOVEit incident exploited a software vulnerability, the majority of breaches occur as the result of human error. Most typically, those errors involve unwarily responding to a phishing scam, carelessly clicking on a link, or using the same (usually weak) password on multiple sites. Many phishing scams appear legitimate because they utilize data from earlier corporate hacks. For example, if an email service provider has been hacked, its subscriber list will have been compromised, leading to subscribers receiving suspicious emails. Because nobody wants their email service to be disrupted, many people will quickly comply with a request to divulge further personal information.

One of my clients recently received an email, indicating that his email account had been compromised, requiring him to click on a link to confirm his username and password. He did so, without a second thought, then had his email account disabled two days later because it was being used to send out massive amounts of spam, effectively turning his computer into a zombie device. When his password was reset and his account access restored, he received another email, no doubt from the same perpetrators who had lost access to his account, asking him to click on a highly suspicious link in order to “cancel the requested deactivation” of his account. Clearly, they were hoping that lightning would strike the same victim twice. Now you can see why a single hacked Gmail account sells for $60 on the dark web!

Take Precautionary Measures

I have said it before, and let me say it again, that we all need to be highly vigilant before clicking on links in an unsolicited email. If that email contains spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, you can be assured that it did not originate from the company whose graphics have been “borrowed” in order to enhance credibility. Hover over any links, and you will see how they go to some highly suspicious URLs. In addition, take the time to set up and utilize multi-factor authentication on every online account that involves either payments or passwords. Then be sure that you always use a secure and unique password for each site. Many of us tend to “recycle” our passwords, a truly lazy habit. In those instances, a hacked password on one account could lead to hacked access to multiple accounts, falling victim to what is referred to as a “stuffing” attack.

If you would like to learn more about the very serious nature of these online threats, I highly recommend a reading of “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race” by Nicole Perlroth, a cybersecurity journalist for The New York Times and an advisor to the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). This is a difficult book to put down (so you may want the audio book version), and it will keep you awake at night.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Join the Facebook User Privacy Settlement

August 21st, 2023

In recent years, just about every business in America was widely encouraged to engage with its customers through social media, Facebook in particular. I was guilty of offering that advice myself, until I decided that the potential marketing benefits were outweighed by the costs of having my personal privacy continuously invaded by the platform, leading me to abandon my use of Facebook four years ago.


If your business has maintained a presence on Facebook, as has almost certainly been the case, you have also maintained a Facebook personal profile that has allowed you to administer your business account. That personal profile most likely entitles you to participate in a class action settlement brought against Facebook, Inc., now known as Meta Platforms, Inc., for violations of your privacy through the sharing of your personal data, as well as data about your friends and associates, with third parties that included advertisers, data brokers, and business partners. These violations were made without your permission. Although Meta denies any liability or wrongdoing in this matter, it has agreed to an out-of-court settlement, and you are entitled to your share of the proceeds.

If you had a Facebook account between May 24, 2007 and December 22, 2022, there is a very simple online form that will allow you to participate in this class action and to receive your entitled share of the proceeds. Each user is eligible to participate, even former Facebook users with deleted accounts. Importantly, your form must be submitted before 11:59 PM Pacific Time this Friday, August 25, 2023. Go to https://facebookuserprivacysettlement.com/ and click on the “Submit Claim” option. Of course, individual shares in class actions such as this generally do not amount to a significant sum of money. Among other factors, your share will be determined by the length of time within which you maintained your Facebook account. If you value your personal privacy, see to it that you are awarded your share of the proceeds, sending a message to Facebook (and other even more invasive social media platforms) that enough is enough.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Advertising Specialties and Merchandising

July 20th, 2023

I am often asked about advertising specialties, long considered somewhat of a neglected stepchild of conventional advertising. Also known as promotional advertising, ad specialties are products that are imprinted or labelled with a company’s logo, tagline or other promotional message. The intention is to either create or expand upon brand awareness. We are all familiar with these items that we find at trade events – everything from pens to mugs and koozies to thumb drives, as well as the imprinted bags that hold our collections of loot. Sometimes referred to as swag, baubles or tchotchkes, promotional products are intended to be useful to the recipient, carrying some degree of intrinsic value that will enhance the reputation of the sponsoring company.

Sometimes the concept is well-executed and works effectively, sometimes it is a waste of money, and sometimes it can do more harm than good. I thought of this just yesterday, when my wife and I received a mailing from a major international charity to which we have made several significant donations. They sent us a really nifty pen that also opened up to a flashlight and a screwdriver, but our reaction was bewilderment at why they were spending money on expensive promotional items rather that using our contributions where they were most needed, and as we intended.

When done properly, advertising specialties can enhance your image and build brand awareness. Particularly if the item is useful enough to be retained for more than a day, it can be an ongoing reminder of your company and the services that it offers. Done poorly, the money spent can cheapen the image of your company. Proper branding is essential. Your logo and branding must be consistent with their application in your conventional advertising. Never settle for a modified version of your logo, simply because it will reduce the cost. If your logo is in full color, it is not going to be as effective in promoting your business if it is displayed in one or two standard colors, although those are sometimes your only options.

Be sure that the item(s) that you choose are appropriate for your business and the market that you are targeting. There should be some connection that will be immediately recognizable. Although lots of people think they are hilarious, you probably do not want your company’s logo on a whoopee cushion or dribble glass. In addition, a poorly made product (think of a pen that almost immediately breaks and leaks ink on the recipient’s clothing!) is not going to promote your business in a positive light. You are not going to connect with your market with a product that screams out the words “cheap” or “Made in China”.

Your goal should not be to produce an item so inexpensively that you are able to hand it out to thousands of people, most of whom have no interest in your business or the services that you offer. On the other hand, you need not try to compete with the companies that fill celebrity gift bags with expensive samples at Hollywood award ceremonies. Simply try to find one or more items that have a direct connection to your business and that will portray your business in a positive light.

There are many large suppliers of advertising specialties, including companies such as 4imprint, Vistaprint, Discount Mugs, and the Promo Products division of Staples, but there are also many small suppliers who specialize in working with your particular industry. You should probably turn to them first for their special expertise. What are the best items to order? Anything that you can sell at a profit in your store. Think about it: Your customers are willing to pay you to promote your business every time they or one of their friends sees your branding!

The easiest products to sell are wearable items such as t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, then any other random but useful items. Those include drinkware, toys, sporting goods, reusable shopping bags, and more. For a campground, what might be some useful promotional items that you can sell in your store? Here is an abbreviated list of items that might have a connection with camping:

  • Tire Pressure Gauges – Even though newer vehicles have tire pressure monitors, there are a lot of tires on the typical camper and tow vehicle!
  • Backpacks – It would be nice to at least encourage campers to get out and take a hike.
  • Blankets – Particularly if you have a music festival or another event where people will be sitting on lawns.
  • Coolers – Also go well with outdoor events.
  • Flashlights – Perfect for those after-dark scavenger hunts.
  • Frisbee Discs – A natural, particularly if you have a disc golf course.
  • Pedometers – Another item to encourage exercise in the outdoors.
  • Pet Products – Collapsible bowls for people taking their dogs hiking, or leashes for people who forgot to bring this required item.

On the topic of selling items in your store, do you limit purchases to what a customer can carry in their hands? If so, that is a big mistake. Shopping baskets have been proven to increase impulse buying and sales. They should be located at your store entrance, and aware employees should always ask a customer carrying three or more items, “Can I offer you a shopping basket?”

You can buy a dozen retail store shopping baskets, with a stand and sign, online for as little as $125.00. Better yet, a company called Good L Corp – BigBasketCo.com – sells the only shopping baskets that are made in the USA, highly durable, and made from 100% recycled materials. They sell a dozen of their “Big Baskets” – 19.5 x 13.3 x 10.3 inches – imprinted with your four-color logo, including a stand and sign for $299.99.

If you are looking for additional merchandising ideas, talk to your screen printed or embroidered apparel supplier for their suggestions. Try to choose items that people do not already have more of than they need, and try to find items that will hold up and stand the test of time. These are the keys to keeping your business in the forefront of your customers’ minds.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Profit Points or Pressure Points?

July 7th, 2023

When I was a child in the 1950s and 60s, before the microwave oven became a staple in almost every kitchen (remember the Amana Radarange, the first microwave oven intended for home use, introduced in 1967?), my mother cooked almost everything in a Presto pressure cooker. It cooked food quickly, but there were risks involved. After turning on the stove’s heating element, you had to wait for the air to escape, then install a valve (known as a “jiggler”) on top of the steam release vent. This monitored the internal pressure and warned you to lower the heat. If you failed to do so, there was also an emergency relief valve that would shoot your meal onto the ceiling rather than having the cooker explode under pressure. Despite the risks of microwave radiation, most people decided that microwave ovens were safer and easier to use.

I have been advocating for all-inclusive pricing in the outdoor hospitality industry for quite some time now, but many park owners legitimately want to know where to draw the line (or when to reduce the heat) when it comes to what to include and what should be considered a fee-based option. Like that jiggler, your customers will often provide the necessary feedback (perhaps on social media and review websites and apps). If you go too far, that emergency relief valve will essentially send your customers, not to the ceiling, but to another campground down the road. Beyond customer feedback, the decisions regarding what to include in your free amenities versus add-on services for which most reasonable people would expect to pay extra, often come down to basic common sense or putting yourself into the shoes of your customers.

Three Categories

I like to think that campground amenities fall into one of three categories:

  1. Always included in the basic fee. Nobody in their right mind would ever expect to have to pay a fee for their children to use your playground, nor would they expect to pay extra to use basic campsite features such as a picnic table or fire ring. They would also never expect to have to pay to use your restrooms. Other amenities that clearly fall into this category include the use of your swimming pool, hot tubs, recreational fields, basketball or volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and shuffleboard courts. In most instances, planned activities also fall into this category.
  2. Always expected to be fee-based. This includes propane fills, EV charging, the washers and dryers in your laundry, store merchandise, visitor fees, premium food events (such as a pig roast or lobster roast), and concerts that involve ticket sales to the general public. Some campgrounds might also offer rentals of golf carts, motorboats, scooters, or electric bicycles. Generally speaking, these all involve consumables, dedicated staff, significant maintenance costs or higher insurance premiums.
  3. The gray area in between. This is the broad category of diverse amenities, many recreation-based, where discretion is necessary. The all-inclusive concept involves moving as many of these as possible into the first (free) category, whereas moving too many of these into the second (fee-based) category will “nickel and dime” people into finding another place to camp. The challenge is to honestly determine which of these amenities incur actual operational costs, as opposed to investments that have long ago been written off and incur little or no current costs. There is a difference between a new fleet of kayaks and beat up old rowboats. Ask yourself if you would be happy paying $25.00 to rent a creaky old rowboat for an hour. Wherever possible, try to expand your base of free amenities, building them into your basic site fees.

Let’s spend more time looking into this “gray area” to determine what truly belongs in the free category.

Recreational amenities: Beyond the basic recreational amenities that always fall into the first category, some parks offer attractions such as waterslides, spray parks, go-kart tracks, personal watercraft rentals, laser tag, paintball courses, miniature golf, disc golf, fishing, and dog parks. Some parks deal with this category of amenities by selling recreational wristbands, which help to soften the blow and are somewhat all-inclusive. Wristbands also help to make the elderly couple on site 87, who will never use any of these amenities, not feel like they are subsidizing the “younger crowd”. In each instance, you need to be objective in determining which features might be moved into the free category. For example, if you have a spectacular miniature golf course that is open to the public, maybe you could include one free round for every member of a camping family, then charge a fee. On the other hand, if you have a weather-beaten mini golf course that was built 25 years ago, and you are not paying an attendant to be on-duty, use of this course should never incur a fee. The same goes with tennis courts, which are not as popular as they were years ago. If your courts have broken pavement, torn nets, and a growth of weeds, you are better off either converting them to new pickleball courts or removing them from your list of amenities.

Utilities: You may already be well aware that WiFi is the new utility. Charging a fee for this service or access to cable TV channels, particularly if the services are limited, is an invitation to customer dissatisfaction. Your campers should also not have to pay to use your dump station, and despite water conservation arguments in drought areas, nobody wants to feed quarters into a shower meter. Metered electricity, on the other hand, might increasingly become a necessity in order to discourage wasteful excess usage.

Store: Your campground store (along with a snack bar and video arcade) clearly represents an opportunity for add-on purchases and added income. Your campers expect to pay for ice, firewood, prepared food and groceries. That said, sometimes it makes sense to think outside the box. For example, free coffee between certain hours each morning will draw customers into your store, where they may purchase additional items – including a one pound bag of that special coffee blend. If there are items gathering dust on the shelves (everyone makes an occasional buying mistake), put them in a bargain bin so you can make room for in-demand merchandise that will sell at full markup. Most campgrounds limit out-of-state firewood in order to curtail insect pest infestations; however, if you have a pile of firewood that is the result of cleanup from storm damage, offer it to your campers at no charge rather than letting it rot on the ground. They will appreciate little extras like that!

In summary, adjust your rates and any add-on fees to reflect your operational costs and necessary profits, but try your best to package your services in a manner that offers you an edge over your competition and represents true value in the eyes of your campers.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

A Fresh Look at QR Codes

June 28th, 2023

It has been 10 years since I wrote on the topic of QR codes. Admittedly, at the time I suspected that those two-dimensional barcodes that bear a resemblance to square Rorschach tests may have been the latest “pet rock”. QR, which is an abbreviation for “Quick Response”, was originally invented by Toyota back in 1994 as a means of inventory control during automobile manufacturing. Almost without us realizing it, QR codes have since been widely adapted to a variety of uses. When you board a flight at the airport, only Grandma uses a printed boarding pass these days, while the rest of us place our phones on a scanner for the QR code to be read. In advertising, QR codes generally link to a website or a page on a website that provides either more information or a call to action.

Recently, with an interest in contactless transactions, dynamic QR codes have been embraced by many restaurants as a means for customers to place orders for any specific table using an online menu, then pay their bills and leave a tip at the end of the meal. Entertainment venues, sporting events, and many hotels and RV parks are now using QR codes to speed up the entry or check-in process with nothing more than the beep of a scanner. Quite honestly, the COVID-19 pandemic was the best thing that ever happened to boost acceptance and usage of QR codes. Although usage is steadily increasing from year to year, there was nearly a 25% increase from 2019 to 2020, with nearly 90 million Americans over the age of 18 using QR codes in 2023 according to a report published by Insider Intelligence. Of course, many people balk at this impersonal replacement for functions that have historically been performed by employees, allowing for greater interaction with customers.

When it comes to the use of QR codes, the potential applications are almost limitless, at a time when most smartphone cameras recognize QR codes without requiring the user to install a QR code reader app, which was not the case 10 years ago. A poster on the streets of New York City might advertise a first-run feature film or off-Broadway theatre production and include a QR code that takes users directly to online ticket sales. A transit ad in an airport shuttle might allow users to check the status of arriving and departing flights. Even college admission departments have been using QR codes to launch virtual campus tours.

Most campgrounds have limited advertising budgets and need to spend their dollars wisely. QR codes can be displayed almost anywhere, but QR codes on printed materials such as directory ads, rack cards, direct mail postcards, and business cards are more effective than their use on any other media. For example, QR codes on websites, embedded into e-mail messages and on TV commercials get very low rates of response. (Think about it: If somebody is already on a website, why are they going to click on a QR code to … go to a website?) On the same token, when I see a tiny QR code down in the corner of a TV commercial, I doubt that it can possibly serve any useful purpose or lead to an accurate scan unless a user has a large-screen high-definition television, takes the time to pause the commercial using a DVR, then scans. How many people are willing tp do that? My guess is almost nobody.

Generation and Implementation

There are two types of QR codes: static and dynamic. Dynamic QR codes have been garnering a good deal of attention recently. These are QR codes that link to a third-party service that monitors, directs, and tabulates the content. These are what are used when you scan a code to check out of a hotel or to pay your check at a restaurant. They are useful in certain – but not all – applications. Being run as third-party services, there are going to be monthly fees involved except for very basic or trial programs. For most purposes, a static QR code is generally what you need and want to use. Generating your static QR codes is an easy matter, with many free online tools available. One that I like is the QR Code Generator that you will find at https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/. You enter the target, and choose whether you will be linking to a URL, text, a PDF file, your contact information, a text message, a phone call, or an email message.

Maximizing Effectiveness

With a bit of planning and analytics, you can easily measure the amount of traffic to any particular page of your website from a static QR code. The key is to have the QR code link to a specific page that is uniquely linked to the code or to a specific URL that redirects to a mobile-friendly call-to-action page or perhaps a virtual tour. If you are using QR codes on your rack cards, directory ads, postcards, your display booth at a camping show, or a poster at a nearby RV dealership, you will want a unique URL – and, consequently, a unique QR code for each venue. Just remember, as with any of your advertising, do not presume that the traffic that is generated directly from a QR code is the sole measure of an advertising campaign’s effectiveness. This exercise will only measure the traffic from the QR code itself. For example, a QR code on a direct mail postcard will only present that portion of the response rate, not quantifying phone calls and people who visit your website by typing the URL directly into their browser. It is only one means for recipients to take the prescribed course of action.

When actually embedding your QR code, it is important to understand how it will be viewed and from what distance. When displayed on various media, here are a few suggestions to take into account.

  • Printed materials (including rack cards, brochures and directory ads), generally viewed from a distance of 1.5 to 2.5 feet, the QR code should be at least 0.75 to 1.5 inches in size.
  • Large format advertising (including posters, signage and window cling), generally viewed from a distance of 4-12 feet, the QR code should be at least 6 to 8 inches in size.
  • Billboards (including signs at your entrance), generally viewed from a driving distance of at least 25 feet or more, the QR code should be at least 12 to 24 inches or larger in size.

Given some careful thought, QR codes might enhance the ability of you to communicate with your customers. As always, you want to allow them to reach out to you in whatever manner best fits their specific comfort zone.

This post was written by Peter Pelland