Pelland Blog

Looking for Business in All the Right Places

April 25th, 2014

The owner of an equine campground contacted me recently, asking for advice on where to market her park to people who are interested in camping with their horses. I replied that she would likely see the greatest impact by targeting her marketing toward horse owners rather than the broader camping market. Her clientele consists of people who are both campers and horse owners; however there is a far greater percentage of horse owners who would like to camp than there are campers who happen to own horses. A so-called “shotgun” marketing approach is rarely effective – and almost never cost-effective.

The 2013 edition of the American Camper Report, published by the Outdoor Foundation in partnership with KOA and Coleman, lists detailed statistics regarding the sports and leisure activities of camping participants while camping. Not surprisingly, 76% say that their favorite activity is hiking, followed by outdoor cooking at 32%, and fishing at 23%. A full range of activities is listed, based upon actual survey results, right down to those that are only identified by 1% of survey respondents (including scuba diving, surfing, and skiing), with another 14% listing “other” activities (a very small unidentified percentage of which may include horseback riding).

The report also lists similar statistics regarding the sports and leisure activities of camping participants when they are not out camping. Once again, 76% say that their favorite such activity is hiking, followed by running or jogging at 71%, and road biking at 58%. Once again, a full range of activities is listed right down to those that are only identified by 1% of survey respondents (yoga, ATV trail riding, and tennis). Again, horseback riding is not even on the list.

These survey results support my thinking that a highly specialized campground needs to market to people who are already predisposed toward their message. Nudist campgrounds and other “lifestyle” parks have recognized this reality for decades, and the same logic applies to any campground with a specialized draw that might not appeal to the general population.

In offering further advice to the owner of the equine campground, I found that a Google search for “camping with horses” or “equine campgrounds” turned up dozens of sites where a campground could be listed – and subsequently located by people looking for precisely this experience. I also found that there were no sponsored search ads on Google for either of those search terms, meaning that a very inexpensive Google AdWords camping would result in first position ranking.

There was also a “Camping with Your Horses” open Facebook Group with over 3,000 members, as well as smaller Facebook Groups with similar missions. I suggested that those groups should be joined and that appropriate messages be posted, where allowed, along with comments regarding posts of others – subtly referencing the campground. A Facebook Advertising campaign could also be launched, targeting members of these groups as well as people who like a combination of camping and horses.

Finally, I briefly researched horse-related trade shows and suggested that participation in some of those more regional events might be worth investigating. Most campgrounds participate, either directly or indirectly, in camping shows, so why not participate in similar shows that reach out to your core clientele?

Your park need not be totally committed to any one particular activity in order to capitalize upon marketing to specific population segments, following the same basic concepts that I used in quickly researching equine camping. If your park has a safari field, think about inviting in groups that will fill the space, in many instances engaging in activities that will appeal to the rest of your guests. Here are a few additional ideas, but you should already know which activities apply to your park. It’s just that sometimes we take familiar things for granted, failing to realize their appeal and marketing potential.

  • Bass fishing: If your park includes a boat launch on the shore of a lake with some serious bass fishing, how about sponsoring a fishing tournament? Get a local sporting goods store or boat dealer involved, and give away some serious prizes. Waive entry fees with two or more nights of camping, keeping in mind that serious competitors may want to arrive a day or two early to get to know the lake. Include an “amateur” category that will get all of your campers, young and old, involved and enthused.
  • Nearby trail networks: If your park is adjacent to a network of off-road trails, you may want to consider reaching out to an ATV club or partnering with a tour operator. If your park is located in the North and is open year round, the same trail network may attract snowmobilers who are also looking for a friendly place to stay as a group.
  • Dark skies: So many people these days have rarely seen a starlit sky. If your park has truly dark skies, away from urban light pollution (and your own scattered lighting), capitalize on that fact. There are 777 astronomy clubs in the United States (and another 121 in Canada), with locations in virtually every state. Find them online at Invite one or more nearby clubs to camp and set up telescopes in an area where you have an unobstructed view of the sky, with the understanding that they will devote some public viewing time for the education and enjoyment of your other campers. With no telescopes required, consider making the annual Perseids Meteor Shower (5 days around August 10th) a special event.

Notice that the examples that I have offered do not require any sort of investment on your part. Two capitalize upon proximity to nearby resources, and one simply requires a clear view of the night sky. Each in its own way, these group activities can help you to fill your campground while getting a significant number of people to enjoy the great outdoors.

To continue growing the occupancy rates at your campground – and to bring in new guests to replace those that are lost due to attrition – it is necessary to reach out to new markets. Markets full of people with very specific interests who might also recognize the appeal of camping at your park. Don’t expect these folks to go out and buy a horse (or a fishing boat, an ATV, or a telescope) just to try camping. Instead, reach out to people who simply need a good reason to invest in a tent or to reserve one of your rental units.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

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