Pelland Blog

FAQ Pages Make More Sense Than Ever

April 20th, 2024

There is typically a formula behind the content of most campground websites, with the navigation pointing visitors to the essential information that differentiates any one park from its competitors, including a link to a reservations page where the site’s “call to action” may be finalized. The content will likely include a list of amenities, a listing of accommodations and their accompanying rates, a site map that allows potential guests to visualize the entire park at a glance, a comprehensive listing of area attractions, travel directions, a calendar of events, an outline of rules and policies, and perhaps a photo gallery and one or more Google 360 or YouTube videos. Often overlooked is a page of FAQs – the acronym for Frequently Asked Questions.

Although there may be some overlap with a park’s rules, as well as reservation and cancellation policies, a list of frequently asked questions – and, of course, the answers to those questions – can be very useful in helping guests to plan their stays prior to their arrivals. They also help to minimize the likelihood of misunderstandings and surprises that can set a negative tone upon a guest’s arrival and during that guest’s entire stay. Another big advantage of an FAQ page is its ability to streamline the workflow in your office, particularly when it comes to needlessly answering repetitive questions on the telephone. If you are being asked the same questions day after day, it is an indication that those questions are not being answered on your website or that the answers are buried away in a location that is not easily found. Let an FAQ page come to the rescue!

Most typically, an FAQ page presents a list of brief questions in a conversational format. When users click on a question, it either expands into content that discloses the answer, or it links to a list of answers at the bottom of the page. Although those recurring telephone questions will certainly be included, here are some specific topics to consider adding to your FAQ list:

  • Pet Policies and Restrictions: Let your guests know in advance if you limit the number of pets they may bring, restrict certain breeds of dogs, or charge a fee to bring their pets. Also outline the pet-owner’s responsibilities. If you have a dog park or dog wash, be sure to promote that here.
  • Check-In and Check-Out Times: Let your guests know your specific arrival and departure times, as well as any early check-in or late check-out fees, if applicable.
  • Hours of Operation: These would include hours of operation for your office and store, laundry, game room, any food services that you may offer, honey wagon service, and propane fills. You should also outline the hours of operation for recreational amenities such as your swimming pool, miniature golf course, jumping pillow or water park. A guest who has been on the road all day and can’t wait for a dip in your pool needs to know in advance that it closes at 7:00 PM. While you are listing hours, be sure to mention your quiet hours.
  • Add-On Fees: Particularly at a time when many parks try to offer all-inclusive recreational amenities, let your guests know if there are fees to use any of those amenities. If wristbands are required, is there an additional fee? Guests should also be informed in advance if there are fees for things like parking an additional vehicle, a gate card deposit, or use of restroom showers.
  • Fishing: If your park offers opportunities for fishing, let your guests know whether or not a license or fee is required. If a pond is completely within your property, there is probably no state fishing license required; however, if your park adjoins a lake, a license is likely to be required. In many instances, there will be no license required for children under a certain age; however, a father helping to reel in a catch probably needs to be licensed. Also be sure to let them know if they may keep any fish caught or if your fishing is catch-and-release.
  • Boat Usage: Hand-in-hand with fishing, are guests allowed to launch their own boats in your pond or lake? If so, are motors allowed, or are there any other restrictions? If you rent canoes, kayaks, or paddleboats, now is the time to let people know.
  • Rental Accommodation Details: Let your guests know what is included – and what is not included. Do they need to bring their own towels and bed linens, or do you offer linen service, and if so, is there an additional fee?
  • Usage Restrictions: Amusement parks typically have signs indicating that “you must be this tall to use this ride”, and you need to let your guests know if any of your recreational amenities are restricted to guests over a certain age, height, or other limitation.
  • Visitor Policy: List any restrictions, including fees, on your guests’ visitors. These policies might vary when they apply to seasonal campers as opposed to weekend campers. May visitors bring pets, do they have full use of facilities, where do they park, and is there a limit to the number of visitors per site?
  • Group Facilities: If your park has a safari field, picnic grove, pavilion, or otherwise offers facilities that appeal to groups, promote that fact.
  • WiFi: Is your WiFi free or fee-based, what are the usage limitations, is the coverage widespread, and is a password required?
  • EV Charging: Do you allow – or prohibit – the charging of electric vehicles at your campsites or a central charging station? If so, what are the fees involved?
  • Tobacco, Alcohol, and Marijuana Use Policies: Where may these be used within your park, and what areas are off-limits? Make your policies clear and enforceable.
  • Prohibitions: If you prohibit fireworks, firearms or other types of weapons, generators, political flags, or any type of offensive behavior, let people know in advance. It is never safe to presume that every potential guest will routinely demonstrate basic standards of courtesy or respect for fellow guests.
  • Secondary Vehicles: May guests use personal golf carts, ATV’s, mopeds or other vehicles within your park during their stay? Outline insurance requirements, age restrictions, and be sure to list exceptions for people with disabilities.
  • Forms of Payment: List the credit cards that you accept, along with outlining your policy on the use of anything other than cash for payment. If you charge any credit card processing fees, disclose those up-front.
  • Cancellations and Refunds: At the risk of repeating yourself, list these policies again and make them crystal-clear.

In addition to adding an FAQ page to your website, it is highly advisable to direct guests to this page and encourage that it be read in its entirety. When a guest makes a reservation, it could include an acceptance of policies that involves a digital signature. Rather than simply saying “thank you”, add a link to your FAQ page, suggesting that visiting the page will help to ensure the most enjoyable stay possible.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Look to the Skies for Greater Occupancy

March 15th, 2024


You are probably aware that there will be a total solar eclipse visible across much of the United States and Eastern Canada on April 8, 2024. Entering the United States from Mexico, according to NASA, the path of totality will extend through portions of the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Some of the major American cities that will experience totality include Dallas, Idabel (Oklahoma), Little Rock, Poplar Bluff, Paducah, Evansville, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, Burlington, Lancaster (New Hampshire) and Caribou (Maine). If you have a resort anywhere along this path, you should already be preparing to welcome an influx of guests, even if it means opening your park prior to the normal start of your season.

Celestial events of this nature present an enormous opportunity for tourism draw. One of my clients near Erie, Pennsylvania was sold out 6 months in advance, and the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing has devoted an entire page of its website toward promoting what is essentially eclipse tourism.

Nighttime Events

Total solar eclipses are not that frequent an occurrence. In fact, the next total solar eclipse that will be visible from within the contiguous United States will not be until August 23, 2044. It is too soon to plan 20 years in advance, but there are plenty of other, far more frequent upcoming celestial events that your park can promote in 2024. Everybody knows that there are no guarantees when an event involves the weather; however, you need to honestly evaluate whether your park actually offers dark skies if you are going to be promoting nighttime celestial events. This not only means that your park is far enough away from city lights, but you must also ensure that there is no light pollution emanating from within your campground itself, which involves such things as persuading guests to turn off exterior lighting and to agree not to drive around the park after dark.

Learning how our eyes react to light is as much an educational opportunity as the celestial events themselves. For example, if you have a viewing area in an open field, guests need to understand that even one person entering the area with a bright lantern is going to temporarily diminish the viewing capability of every person within that field. A burst of light from a ground source will cause people’s pupils to go from a state of dilation (allowing in a greater amount of light, allowing the viewing of dimmer sky objects) to a temporary state of miosis (reducing the ability to see dimmer sources of light), where the recovery period will likely be several minutes. A small headlamp or flashlight with a red lens or LED will be more than adequate for walking while having minimal impact upon other guests.

The brightness of celestial objects is measured using a magnitude scale that was devised by ancient Greek astronomers, where the brightest objects have the smallest numbers and the faintest objects have the largest numbers. As examples, the full moon has a magnitude of -10, whereas the faintest star visible to the James Webb Space Telescope has a magnitude of +34. In a truly dark sky setting on Earth, the human eye can see stars and other sky objects that are as dim as magnitude +6, whereas the dimmest star visible in a typical city would be at magnitude +3.

Lunar Events

Lunar eclipses can be visible somewhere on the planet between 2 and 5 times per year, always when the moon is in its full phase. As with solar eclipses, total lunar eclipses are the most impressive. Lunar eclipses, sometimes called blood moons or red moons, are visible over a much wider area because they are much slower processes than their solar counterparts. There will be a penumbral lunar eclipse on March 25, 2024 and a partial lunar eclipse on September 18, 2024, but the next total lunar eclipse will not be visible in North America until September 7, 2025. Supermoons are full moons that appear larger than most, due to their elliptical orbit coming closer to the Earth, a term referred to as perigee. Supermoons will occur on September 18, October 17, and November 15, 2024.

Comets

Viewing of a lunar eclipse is less prone to the aforementioned issues of light pollution, due to the brightness of the moon, but dark skies are essential if your guests are to enjoy the viewing of a meteor shower or a passing comet. Although most of us are familiar with Halley’s Comet, which approaches our planet every 76 years, the arrival of comets is mostly unpredictable, sometimes presenting spectacular (and sometimes disappointing) opportunities, particularly when viewed with the naked eye or small telescopes. Halley’s Comet was a remarkable sight in 1910, less dramatic in 1986, and could be impressive again in 2061, but that is – once again – far off in the future. Comets that are expected to be visible to the naked eye in 2024 include Pons-Brooks in March and April and Tsuchinshan-ATLAS in October. Without a telescope or binoculars, many comets look somewhat like fuzzy stars, but Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS has the potential to be spectacular. That is one you should be promoting!

Meteor Showers

Meteors are generally formed by the dust trails of comets. Meteor showers, where the Earth passes through a cloud of such dust, follow a rather predictable schedule, but their impact from year to year can be truly hit or miss. Once again, dark skies are essential. The most reliable meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere in 2024 include the Quadrantids which peak on January 3-4, the Perseids which peak on August 12-13, and the Geminids which peak on December 13-14. In Northern states, the Perseids are always the main attraction, with their appearance during the summer season. Meteor showers are most impressive when there is no moon in the sky to drown them out with its brighter light, and meteors are easily viewed with the naked eye. In fact, due to their swift appearance, binoculars and telescopes are of no use.

Make it an event!

Particularly if a comet is going to be visible, invite a local amateur astronomy club to come to your campground. These clubs are usually seeking to increase their membership, and they will bring telescopes that your guests, both old and young, can look through. A state-by-state directory of local astronomy clubs can be found on the Love the Night Sky website. Next, promote the event to ensure full occupancy, referring to my recent post on this topic.

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

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

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

Understanding and Capitalizing Upon Churn

April 1st, 2023

It is well-known among businesses of all sizes and across all industries that it is far easier to get an existing customer to renew their business relationship with a company than it is to find and build new customers from scratch, the difference between customer retention and customer acquisition. For a campground, the existing customer base consists of seasonal campers and transient guests who have stayed at your park within the past one to three years and who enjoyed their stay. Statistics indicate that there is up to a 70% likelihood of getting an existing customer to return, while getting a new prospect to turn into an actual customer only occurs from 5% to 20% of the time. The rate of success is contingent upon the quality and volume of your marketing efforts, and acquiring those new customers can incur a cost of up to 7X more than the cost of getting an existing customer to stay with your business, according to research by Bain & Company published in Forbes. Considering those acquisition costs, it should be pretty clear that even a small increase in customer retention can increase overall profits by a substantial margin. Why is it then that most businesses spend more time and money on acquiring new business than focusing on retaining their existing customers? It just doesn’t make sense.

The loss of customers for various reasons is referred to as “churn” or attrition. The term originated with the process for making butter by agitating milk and cream. Without agitation, those ingredients will never turn to butter. It is easy to surmise the importance of preemptively knowing if there are any factors that are agitating your existing customer base, which I have noted consists of guests “who enjoyed their stay.” Your office and registration desk can be very busy at the time of your guests’ arrival, particularly on weekends; however, departures are usually far less hectic. Take advantage of that opportunity to avoid self-checkouts and to try to engage each guest with a brief exit interview. If a stop in your office is not required, catch those guests at your exit gate, asking them if they enjoyed their stay and if there is anything that could have been done to make their stay more enjoyable. If nothing else, they will appreciate that you took the time to ask. Keep track of this feedback, along with any comments that make their way onto online review sites, and take corrective measures if necessary.

Some businesses have notoriously high rates of churn, while others have high levels of customer loyalty. For example, with the exception of users of customer loyalty cards, most people have no loyalty to one brand of gasoline over another, generally accepting that 87 octane unleaded regular is the same just about everywhere, making buying decisions primarily based upon price and how close their tanks are to being empty. Even businesses with historically high rates of customer loyalty can see that situation change overnight when a monkey wrench gets thrown into the works.

Nobody Likes Change

In the outdoor hospitality industry today there is an unprecedented drop in customer loyalty that is accompanying changes in ownership. If a nearby campground has changed hands, particularly if it has evolved from family-owned to corporate ownership, customer dissatisfaction is almost a certainty. Rate increases, newly added fees, and indifferent management all present the milk and cream that you can churn into butter. In many instances, the new owners are obsessed with making infrastructure improvements that rationalize rate increases when the customers they inherited were quite satisfied with the status quo. In other instances, they will literally force out seasonal campers in favor of more profitable transient campsites. If you have the capacity to fill seasonal sites, turn on a “welcome” sign while your competitor is showing those customers the exit.

When management is separate from ownership, there is usually little incentive to work toward long-term success. Management is unlikely to be performing the exit interviews that you should be conducting, and it may be turning a blind eye to online reviews and complaints. Your knowledge of the specific dissatisfactions will allow you to significantly boost the new customer acquisition rate well above the 5% to 20% norm. Just because campers are unhappy with management and new policies down the road does not mean that they are ready to give up on camping. They simply need to know that you are better prepared to respond to their needs, while offering proximity to the same amenities and nearby attractions that they have grown to appreciate.

Although you will no doubt hear word of mouth, go online and search for “(name of campground) complaints” or “(name of campground) reviews” to get a snapshot of major points of dissatisfaction. Look for complaints on campground review sites but also on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Better Business Bureau. If there is a preponderance of negative reviews, you can easily identify your opportunities to expand your customer base. Here are excerpts of actual reviews of various parks that recently changed hands:

“Been coming here for 5 years, I used to think this place was the best for family fun but like all things usually do service and accommodations are getting worse and worse. To start with I reserved a premium pull through spot in February for this weekend. I had to pay $50 just to assure I have the spot I reserved. What’s the point of a reservation if you have to pay extra to reserve the spot you selected? Golf cart rentals are higher than average now and if you want to play mini golf you have to pay, when it used to be free.”

“We have been coming here for years, and never had the experience we did this last visit. The campground has gone downhill. Staff is no longer friendly and welcoming as they used to be. This place was once a great relaxing place to vacation but that it no longer the case. We spoke with some folks at the pool that live there, and was told they are also having issues with new management and was sad to hear it was happening to visitors also. Needless to say that was my last trip there!”

“I booked a reservation today, where during the process you pick your site. Once I booked it, the system came up with an extra $100 fee to lock your site. I did not think anything of it and continued. When I printed my reservation confirmation the number of my site was missing. I then called to find out and was informed that you get whatever site is available unless you pay the additional $100 fee. I then asked to cancel the reservation and got everything back except for a $20 cancellation fee. I asked for a supervisor, and the lady said she was a supervisor and would not refund me fully even though I just made the reservation less than 90 minutes earlier. This just left a horrible feeling. Makes me think all they are interested in is money and not good customer service. It is a shame because it was going to be a group of us, but I called the other 4 couples and told them not to book. We will go to another campground.”

“My husband (now deceased) and I purchased a park model at a campground that this company now owns in June of 2020. We paid a premium price (well over its value) for this particular park model because its location in the campground. The park was then bought out by the new owners at the end of last year. Yesterday we received a letter via email informing us that not only are they eliminating our site from even being a possible location for a park model/seasonal lease, but we would have to sell it through the park’s RV sales lot, will have to pay to move it to that lot, and any likely buyer will have no chance of being able to use it anywhere within the park. We will likely lose at least $20,000 when all is said and done.”

There are patterns in those complaints, mostly involving increased fees and indifferent management. Times are changing, but not necessarily for the better. As always, change can present opportunities for well-informed business owners. Now is perhaps the best time in years to churn some butter!

This post was written by Peter Pelland

All-Inclusive vs Resort Fees

January 25th, 2023

Several years ago I encouraged campground owners to consider the “all-inclusive” approach to guest fees, and that argument continues to make more sense than ever. I mentioned at the time how I had recently opened a box of breakfast cereal, only to find that the inner bag of contents reached about half the height of the packaging. It was a classic example of the disclaimer that warns us that “contents are sold by weight, not volume”. If the packaging properly matched the size of its contents, it would have been half the size, have far less visibility on the supermarket shelf, and I probably would have passed on a purchase that did not appear to represent a very good value. You might say that I was deceived into making the purchase. Even though I liked the cereal, I am unlikely to purchase it again. Economists have even coined a new word for this package downsizing: Shrinkflation.

Respect Your Guests’ Intelligence

People who feel that they have been somehow deceived into making a buying decision are almost never going to be return customers. When it comes to the outdoor hospitality industry, one of the biggest complaints is when guests feel like they are being “nickeled and dimed” during their stay. Although it is far preferable to avoid the imposition of add-on fees for incidentals like showers, Wi-Fi, or your planned activities, it is very important that any such fees be fully disclosed at the time of reservation. Just as offensive is the imposition of so-called “convenience fees” when making an online reservation, as well as the recently introduced concept of the “site lock” fee. In the latter instance, campers must pay a premium at the time of reservation in order to be assured of being assigned any particular site. The logic from a management perspective is that the airlines have generally been getting away with this for several years now, allowing passengers to choose an available seat rather than settling for a randomly assigned seat (often a center seat and/or in the back of the economy class section of the cabin), and there are almost always premium fees involved. These ancillary fees, which for airline seating range anywhere from $20.00 to $90.00 (according to a 2022 report by CBS News) are pure profit. There is little of no cost involved in providing this alleged service.

My best advice is to bundle as much as possible into your basic fees, promote that value within your rate structure, and stop presuming that people are comparison shopping for price without reading the fine print. Would you rather cater to guests who will complain about spending anything over $25.00 for a night of camping or guests who are more than willing to spend $250.00 for their camping experience?

Consider the All-Inclusive Approach

I suggest trying to avoid the growing practice of hotels to tack so-called “resort fees” onto their room rates. Across the hotel industry, even low-end properties have started imposing mandatory added fees for everything from poolside towels to room safes to fitness centers to on-site parking – even if a guest uses none of those services. To the contrary, I suggest offering your guests as much as possible as part of your service offerings. I believe the answer could be the all-inclusive concept, where guests are willing to pay a premium for the privilege of avoiding add-on fees. The all-inclusive concept originated with Club Med way back in 1950. It is the rule rather than the exception in some vacation destinations, and the concept has been embraced by many resort operators, cruise lines, travel agencies and online booking companies, major airlines, hotel chains, and wholesale buying clubs like Costco.

With all-inclusive pricing, as the name implies, guests willingly pay a premium fee for the privilege of vacationing without having to pull out their wallets throughout the course of their stay or when settling their tab. All-inclusive pricing is most popular with destination resorts and highly competitive, saturated tourism markets. Probably the best known and most broadly marketed of these practitioners is Sandals Resorts International, which promotes the tagline of “more quality inclusions than any other resorts on the planet”. Their all-inclusive stays include accommodations, dining, wine and spirits, golf, water sports, scuba diving, land sports, and entertainment. Even here, there are fee-based options such as spa treatments, premium wines, and scuba certification, as well as some restrictions on golf that vary from one resort or level of accommodations to another. The bottom line is that guests feel that they are being offered far more than they would otherwise expect.

Another relatively new company in the travel and tourism industry is Scenic Luxury Cruises. The company takes the all-inclusive concept to its pinnacle, where there is virtually nothing that you can pay for beyond your basic fare, unless you insist upon purchasing rare bottles of vintage wine while dining. Everything from gourmet meals, unlimited beverages, stateroom mini-bars (replenished daily), shore excursions (some of which must be reserved in advance on an availability basis), electric bicycles, onboard entertainment, laundry service, butler service, transfers and gratuities is all included.

Before you think that what applies to a luxury cruise line or luxury resort cannot possibly translate into the camping experience, think again. When I first wrote on this topic, a Google search for “all-inclusive glamping resorts” came up dry. Today, there are many compilations of luxury glamping vacations on sites such as GlampingHub, RVshare, and TripAdvisor. There are also individual campgrounds such as Camp Aramoni, in Illinois, which seem to have perfectly embraced the concept.

I have no connection whatsoever with the business other than my admiration, but I encourage readers to visit the Camp Aramoni website to discover how things can be done right. This is certainly a very viable segment within an ever-expanding outdoor hospitality industry. With the growing popularity of “glamping”, it is time to ditch extra fees for activities and recreational amenities such as mini golf, jumping pillows, canoes and kayaks, splash pads, showers, Wi-Fi, and online reservations. Then consider offering amenities and experiences that you may have never associated with traditional camping, such as the glamping tents at Camp Aramoni that feature luxury linens, central air conditioning and heat, USB charging stations, firewood bundles, and en-suite restrooms that include towels, hair dryers, and toiletries. Their basic fees also include a breakfast buffet, nightly gourmet s’mores, and dinner ordered from an extensive chef-inspired menu. In addition to the restaurant, the property includes an event space for weddings and other special events … all in a reclaimed former industrial property. The impossible has suddenly become possible. The key to growth in the family camping industry has always been to draw in a new wave of guests who do not currently consider themselves campers. To reach them, offer them the unexpected and create the perception of overwhelming value that they have come to appreciate elsewhere. An all-inclusive approach to pricing may prove to be an idea whose time has come.

This post was written by Peter Pelland

Community Appeal: Originality vs Familiarity

December 28th, 2022

When it comes to promoting your business, there is always a challenge in choosing between taking a conventional or a more original approach. The choices are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and it is more likely that you need to find a balance between the two. For most small businesses, the bulk of their advertising budgets are split among online resources, broadcast media, and to an ever-declining degree, print. Campgrounds are somewhat unique in that, unlike other typical small businesses, their customer base is generally regional, national (and even international) rather than local. While the local automobile dealership, law firm or home improvement contractor will spend a significant amount of money on local radio, television and newspaper, these outlets would almost totally miss the mark in attempting to reach a campground’s less localized customer base. With campgrounds, the primary means of marketing will be a mix of online (which will likely include their own websites, third-party websites, social media, and a supplement of online advertising) and print (which will likely include collateral advertising such as brochures or rack cards, directory advertising, and occasionally direct mail.) Many campgrounds will also participate in off-season RV and travel shows.

The objective will always be the same, and that is to reach a base of both new and repeat customers in a manner where the messaging is consistent, distinctive, and cost-effective in terms of return on investment. There are decisions to be made, and one of your key decisions will be whether to take a familiar marketing posture or a more original approach. An original approach will catch attention and likely allow your business to stand out from its competition, but it must be done in a manner that nonetheless clearly identifies your business as an outdoor hospitality offering. It must work within the usual distribution channels and fit within your budget. Taking collateral advertising as an example, a rack card or brochure with an unconventional format might stand out on its own; however, a taller, wider, or die-cut piece might fail to fit within literature distribution racks, as well as being more costly to produce. The nicest piece of literature that will not work within the usual distribution channels will amount to a total failure, as will a piece of literature that leaves prospective customers confused regarding the actual identity of your business.

The online components of your marketing campaign can be even more challenging. Not only does your message need to appeal and be clear in the eyes of prospective customers, but it needs to be equally clear to search engine robots or it will never reach its intended audience – unless you want to throw a significant sum of money against the wind in online advertising. With digital marketing – websites in particular – there is that choice between the tried and true and going out on a creative limb. Let me point out that there is a difference – a big difference – between proven familiarity and a humdrum approach that comes with template-driven content and do-it-yourself website builders from companies such as Wix and GoDaddy. Unless you have the knowledge and capability to customize that content, templates provide a “one size fits all” approach at best. Yes, a template can be chosen that broadly applies to any general business classification, but just think how many diverse types of businesses all fall within the “travel” or “leisure” categories.

A proven layout and design will be both user-friendly and highly intuitive, where the key to customization lies much more within its content than the basic layout itself. Your message needs to “wow” people with high quality photography (where image quality is far more important than the quantity of images thrown onto a page), professionally produced video (that is ADA compliant and not in violation of any creative copyrights) if it is available, outstanding graphic design (that includes a distinctive logo and a coordinated color palette and carefully selected fonts that are based upon that logo), and text that is written like a Hallmark® greeting card. When everything works together, your website should be designed to fulfill a need or desire – in this case to get away from it all and spend a weekend or longer, not only in the outdoors, but at your particular park. Your website should provide your prospective guests with the type of validation that assures them that they are in the process of making the right decision by choosing your park. Elements such as those quality photos or videos and credible testimonials help to provide that validation, while spelling mistakes and unanswered questions can encourage the same guest to seek out alternative options. There may be only a single opportunity to reach that first-time guest or to persuade a return guest to look no further, and you need to make that opportunity as persuasive as possible.

Human beings are highly social creatures, and therein lies much of the appeal of the camping and outdoor hospitality experience. Just think of all of the social environments that we have created for ourselves over time. These range from the communes of the 1960s to the gated communities that might be populated today by those same people in their retirement years. Other examples include fraternal organizations, veterans’ groups, alumni clubs, church congregations, social media groups on sites such as Facebook and Meetup, and even the local tavern. We have all seen automobile rallies and cruises that are populated by proud Corvette® owners or drivers of Mazda® Miatas®, and how often have you seen a single Harley-Davidson® motorcycle riding down the highway? Familiarity ensures that we will be within our own comfort zones whenever we leave the ultimate comfort zone – home. HINT: Particularly if your campground offers pavilions and a group camping area, why not reach out directly to these types of groups and rallies? If carefully executed, your tightly coordinated marketing campaign should present your campground as just such a community, where new members feel welcome and a desire to belong. Are you meeting that objective?

This post was written by Peter Pelland