Adapt to Changing Times
August 27th, 2020
If there is one thing that
is certain with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that it has almost
universally inflicted a negative impact upon small businesses, campgrounds
included. It has been a wild and bumpy ride that is far from over as I pen this
column in late June of 2020. In most instances, the timing of the pandemic
could not have been worse, delaying openings and leading to a wave of
cancellations at the start of the season.
Campgrounds that were forced
to delay their openings longer than those in most other states, understandably upset
that their ability to generate income had been severely hindered, may end up faring
better in the long run compared to parks in states that jumped the gun at
reopening. With several Northeastern states – particularly New York, New
Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts – representing early hot spots for the
virus, some of the less densely populated states may be hitting their peaks at
the height of the summer camping season – a situation that could end up being
far worse than a delayed opening.
Wherever you fit in the
continually evolving map, there is no question that you are going to have to
get creative in order to at least partially offset an overall loss of
Out to Non-Campers
Despite the fact that the
airlines and the hotel industry are making serious attempts to persuade the
public that they have made changes to safeguard the health and well-being of
their passengers and guests, some of the last things that most people want to
do at this time would be to take a non-essential flight and stay in a big
hotel. There is even less desire to take a cruise (if the cruise lines were
open) or to be a part of a large indoor event (if most of them were not
cancelled out of respect for both common sense and the public welfare.) The
hotel industry is adapting what are called enhanced cleaning protocols to
sanitize guest rooms, common areas, and key touch points. For the time being,
guests should not expect breakfast buffets, welcome drinks or mini bars, and
nobody wants to ride on a crowded elevator with a man who is not wearing a mask
and who just sneezed.
With all of the hesitancies
that are challenging the hotel industry, campgrounds are rightly perceived as a
much safer lodging alternative, particularly those that offer full-service
cabins and other accommodations that appeal to people who have been
non-campers. Of course, you need to practice those same enhanced cleaning
protocols that apply to hotel rooms; however, you should embrace the
opportunity to be able to reach out to a new category of guests who are new to
the camping experience. This might mean stepping up your offerings of services
and amenities that might have been expected in a more conventional setting,
many of which offer new opportunities for added income. For example, just as
hotel guests might rely on room service to order meals, you might offer
deliveries of things like ice, firewood, and even pizza. You might also want to
consider advance check-ins, express check-outs, escorting new guests to their
sites, and adding branded face masks and sanitizer products to your store
Extending Your Season
Although experts within the
medical and infectious disease communities are currently predicting a 75%
likelihood of a second wave of outbreaks in the fall (based upon previous
pandemics in 1918 and 1957), should this not occur, you might want to consider
extending your camping season beyond its usual closing date. This represents
another means of compensating for some of your likely losses both at the start
and at the height of your season. The interest in camping is less likely to
wane at the end of the summer as may have been the case in past years. Schools
may or may not be reopening, and spectator sports like NCAA and NFL football
are likely to either be cancelled or have restricted attendance. In normal
years, unless your park was located in close proximity to an NCAA college
campus or sports stadium, the seasonal interest in these events tended to divert
a portion of your guests away from camping. Those guests might now be quite
willing to continue their camping seasons, particularly after getting off to a
There has always been
somewhat of a quandary between whether a park should have a greater number of
seasonal or transient campers. When occupancy rates are high, there is no
question that transient sites generate more income than seasonal sites. On the
other hand, seasonal sites represent stable income that is as safe and secure
as money in the bank. In 2020, with phased business re-openings in most states,
there is no question that predominantly seasonal or all-seasonal parks fared
far better than parks that cater primarily to overnight guests. In particular,
parks that rely upon their proximity to major nearby attractions have been hurt
badly while many of those attractions have remained closed. Hurt even worse
have been parks that cater to a highly mobile clientele, located midway along a
highway connecting two major attractions.
Now might be the right time
to consider converting a number of your park’s overnight sites into seasonal
sites. With that same desire for safety and security, many campers are showing
a first-time interest in becoming seasonals. Promote the availability of these
new sites on your website and social media, not only for 2021 but offering
pro-rated opportunities for the current season to your existing guests. If you
have transient guests who are returning for multiple stays, reach out to them
personally to offer them one or more incentives to become seasonals. Sometimes
it is simply a matter of asking them what it would take on your part to persuade
them to make the decision.
When it is necessary to
adapt to changing times, it is important to be flexible and to think of
innovative ways to safeguard your income, profitability, and your ultimate
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Posted in Marketing Strategies, Small Business |
What Is Normal?
July 27th, 2020
We hear a lot of talk about
the “new normal” and a “return to normal”, but what exactly is normal? I will
admit to being a lover of language and linguistics. The dictionary defines
normal as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.” We can also
get into some more statistical definitions involving standard deviation from
the mean, along with more technical definitions in fields such as geometry,
medicine and sociology. Allow me to offer a general definition for normalcy or
normality (two synonyms with identical meanings as the more awkward and far
less frequently used word “normalness”) as a condition that meets currently
conventional cultural expectations. “Current” because what is normal changes
over time, and “cultural” because what is normal varies among different social
environments. Cricket is fairly unique to the British, bullfighting is fairly
unique to the Spanish and football only begins to make sense to Americans, but
they are all considered normal in their own environments.
In general, humans are not
that interested in what is average, more likely considering it to be either
boring or mundane. What we want is something that appeals to us individually
and that falls within our own comfort zones. That is part of the big appeal of
camping, and that is the reason for such a wide range of choices when it comes
to campgrounds. Unless a person suffers from agoraphobia, there is a campground
and its accompanying social experience that represents a perfect and easily
accessible escape to the comfort of what constitutes that person’s “normal”.
“Comfort Zone” or a “Twilight Zone”?
The COVID-19 pandemic has
certainly thrown us all for a loop. Travel restrictions, social distancing, and
the wearing of masks have certainly erected barriers to normal social
experiences. As we cautiously evolve toward a state of normalcy – either old or
new – comfort zones will vary from one person to another. In the opening
narration of the first season of The Twilight Zone, host Rod Serling defined
what he called that fifth dimension: “It is the middle ground between light and
shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the
pit of man’s fears and the summit of
his knowledge.” We are in that
Twilight Zone right now!
For example, as I am writing
in early June of 2020, there is no way that I am ready to sit in a movie
theater, attend a music festival, sit in a sports stadium, join a peaceful
demonstration, take a seat on an airliner, and even think about attending a
convention. I have written more than once in the past about my concerns over
the lack of sanitation and cleanliness in hotels, and I am not yet assured that
the hotel industry is up to meeting the new challenges. I already had no
intention of ever taking a cruise again in my lifetime. Maybe I have always
been more aware of sanitary standards than the average person, and a compromised
immune system makes me ever more cautious; however, until each business
category and individual businesses within each of those categories can put me
into my comfort zone, those businesses will remain in their own twilight zones.
Campgrounds are in a much
more persuasive position when it comes to meeting people in their comfort
zones, as well as not worrying about contributing toward a spike in infections.
Once interstate travel restrictions are eased, most people realize that staying
in their own RV is just as safe as staying at home. Whether under state mandate
or an abundance of precaution, it is up to individual campgrounds to offer the
assurances that they have implemented measures to ensure the safety of their
guests and employees. Some things will need to change, at least for the time
Facilities and Group Activities
It is unfortunate that it
sometimes takes a pandemic to open our eyes, but change is nothing new,
especially when it comes to public health concerns. Two generations ago, who
would have thought twice about people sitting around a swimming pool or
involved in a group activity while smoking cigarettes? Even a decade ago,
nobody would have given any thought to picking up their dog’s waste at the side
of a roadway or trail. I am willing to venture a guess that there is nobody who
yearns for the days when they could take a leisurely walk and accidentally step
in a pile of dog waste.
As we exit from the current
crisis, just as important as it is to outline your expectations for your guests’ behavior, it is necessary for
you to outline what you are doing to alter your
own business practices in the interest of your guests’ wellbeing. These are
the assurances that will take those guests – both new and returning – from
their twilight zones into their comfort zones, helping your business to recover
from what has most assuredly been an economic disaster.
You will want to reassess
standards in your shared facilities. This might include spacing out seating
areas in pavilions, ensuring that separate employees in your store or snack bar
are handling food and financial transactions, actively maintaining a
housekeeping checklist in your rental units and restrooms, installing soap
dispensers and hand dryers if they are lacking in your restrooms, and
installing and maintaining hand sanitizer stations in frequent use areas. You
will also want to reassess some of your planned activities and events. This
might not be the best time to engage in shared food events such as potluck
dinners, barbecues, or make-your-own sundaes. It is probably also not a good
time to schedule events that involve close personal contact such as
arm-wrestling contests or three-legged races. Your playground should be cleaned
on a regular basis, and the clubs and balls on your mini-golf course should be
sanitized when returned at the end of a game. A lot of this can be thought of
as more of the “new common sense” rather than the new normal.
We will get over
this. Thinking over the concept of what is normal will help you to financially
recover all that much sooner.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19
Posted in Marketing Strategies, Small Business |
COVID-19: Your Response
March 21st, 2020
There is no question that
our world has been turned upside down within the last few weeks. Just when some
people were concerned that the spring allergy season was about to begin, we have
been faced with a worldwide pandemic of an entirely new and highly deadly virus
called COVID-19. One impacted state after another has responded in rather
serious fashion, starting with the states that were hit with the earliest
concentrations of outbreaks, eventually leading to a nationwide response at the
Here where I live, in
Massachusetts, we have been one of the most highly impacted states after
Washington, New York and California. As I am writing, most of our schools and
colleges are closed, restaurants and bars are closed, state and municipal
offices are closed, shopping malls and most retail stores are closed, and
hospitals and nursing homes are closed to visitors. Gatherings of 25 or more people have been prohibited,
including concerts, sporting events, theaters, conferences (including at least
one campground conference), and even church services and faith-based
gatherings. The terms “social distancing”, “self-quarantine”, and “sheltering
in place” have been added to our everyday vocabularies.
The Campground Industry
The impacts upon private
campgrounds are evolving on a daily basis. Let us start by looking at the
positive side of the situation. First of all, Americans are coming together
like we have not in years, sharing a common determination to overcome the
current crisis. Secondly, we will continue to find a healthy refuge in outdoor
environments. If nearby public parks and campgrounds are closed as a result of
the pandemic, you may be able to fill a new demand. Thirdly, campgrounds are
not being hit nearly as hard as businesses in many other industries, including
airlines, cruise lines, travel agencies, hotels, tourist attractions, and
restaurants. In that sense, we can count our blessings. On the other hand, many
campground owners have told me that their cancellations have exceeded their
reservations in recent weeks. Fear and uncertainty do not drive consumer
confidence and spending, and families who are facing layoffs at work no longer
have discretionary income to spend on vacations.
Keeping in mind that we are
all in this together, it is time to waive your usual cancellation policies for
the time being. Do not even ask questions. The tide will turn, and people will
return to the businesses that treated them honorably and respectfully. Next, go
out of your way to let your customer base know that you care about their health
and well-being and that you are introducing new measures to ensure their
safety. It is time for every business to introduce a personalized Coronavirus
Statement. This statement should be thoughtfully written and personalized for
your own unique situation. Outline any of your recreational amenities or
services that will be temporarily closed, curtailed or limited, stressing how
those actions have been taken in the interest of your guests and employees.
Outline the measures that you have taken to maintain cleanliness in your
facilities that remain open, including your store, restrooms, snack bar,
playground, fitness room, and rental accommodations.
When you have carefully
drafted your statement (and run it by
other sets of eyes for proofreading!), share it on social media and post it
to the Home page of your website, updating the statement as necessary, as the
crisis evolves and hopefully subsides. To post this statement to your website,
you can include it as text near the top of your Home page; however, you may
want to consider the alternative of providing a prominent link to a PDF file
that people may download, particularly if your statement is somewhat lengthy.
Another advantage to the PDF option is that it will avoid having text related
to the Coronavirus be what search engine robots are indexing, rather than text
that outlines the features of your park. One word of caution is to ensure that
your PDF file is tagged and ADA compliant. (Remember
when ADA compliance was one of your biggest concerns a few months ago?)
Some campgrounds will be
impacted more than others. If your park’s primary selling point is that it
offers a remote natural setting, you might be offering the type of escape that
will be sought by an even wider group of people. If your campground has
proximity to local, state or federal parks that remain open and offer
recreational opportunities, try to capitalize upon that positive situation. On
the other hand, if your guests primarily stay at your park due to its proximity
to one or more major tourist attractions that have been closed as a result of
the pandemic, you will need to improvise a more creative approach. Similarly,
if people have historically flocked to your campground to partake in a
well-organized activity program, you may need to find alternatives that will
involve smaller gatherings and greater opportunities for social distancing. You
may want to even rethink or rename certain events. Just this morning, I found
myself updating the activity schedule on a campground website, and the annual
“Hooray! School’s Out for the Summer” weekend suddenly took on a different and less
jovial connotation, at a time when most schools are closed for either the next
two weeks or the entire semester. Prepare to adapt and modify your schedule.
Another impact will involve international travelers who would normally vacation in the United States. Many campgrounds have seen a steadily increasing volume of traffic from overseas, and many campgrounds in the Northeast rely upon an annual influx of guests from Canada. Travel from Europe is currently banned, as is traffic in both directions at the border crossings between the United States and Canada. It almost makes one long for the days when the greatest impediment to Canadian visitors was an unfavorable currency exchange rate! On the flip side, gasoline prices are currently at historic lows, which will help to encourage domestic travel.
The bottom line, as I sit here in mid-March, is that we have no idea where the chips will have fallen come Memorial Day and beyond. This may be the summer when people more than anything need to escape to the outdoors and experience a natural setting. It could even be that simply sitting around a campfire could be exactly the cure that the doctor has ordered.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19
Posted in Business Ethics, Marketing Strategies, Uncategorized |
Revisiting Lessons from the Wine Trail
January 20th, 2020
Five years ago I encouraged
campground owners to take a close look at the tasting events at wineries. I
wrote how wineries – and small wine producers in particular – rely upon tastings
as they seek new and expanded markets, and how many campgrounds share the same
I wrote how tastings meet one
of several objectives:
- To introduce wine enthusiasts who are familiar
with a brand, have previously purchased its wines, or who are likely to
purchase (often in case quantities) new vintages that they might enjoy.
- To introduce a winery to connoisseurs who might
be unfamiliar with its offerings.
- To welcome casual wine consumers who are still
refining their tastes and who will appreciate the time that is spent to help
them to broaden their palates.
As opposed to the free
tastings that were commonplace a generation ago, most tastings today are fee-based.
Nonetheless, wineries know that their costs of running tastings are roughly
twice the actual cost of the wines that they pour. As is usually the case,
smaller wine producers have far greater costs and competitive challenges;
however, what they also understand is the old adage about having to spend money
to make money.
My wife and I recently spent a
week touring wineries and attending a variety of mostly private reserved
tasting experiences in the Sonoma Valley of California. Fortunately, we were
there about two weeks prior to the Kincaid Fire that essentially shut down the
county for several harrowing days, when the fires and destruction from the 2017
Tubbs Fire were still in the forefront of most people’s memories and far too
evident in Santa Rosa and other parts of the county.
The key to wine events these
days – whether in Northern California or at small local wineries that might be
closer to your place of business – is to provide visitors with a variety of options.
Yes, you can still belly up to the bar with ten or twenty other people for a
$20.00 flight of tastings consisting of two ounce pours, usually on a walk-in
basis. There are also wineries that schedule weekend entertainers, with outdoor
seating to accommodate several hundred people who will buy their wines by the
glass or the bottle. Many wineries will also offer pairing options with charcuterie,
cheese, or fruit plates, an ancillary source of income.
Regardless of the level of
tasting, an important component is the conversation between a knowledgeable
person pouring the wine and his guests. People are asked for their thoughts and
opinions regarding the taste, flavors that come to mind, and initial
impressions. The discussions are always friendly, never condescending, and
encourage a sense of discovery.
Our favorite events from our
recent vacation week were private 2-3 hour tours and tastings that were
reserved weeks in advance. These included a black glass tasting at Matanzas
Creek Winery; a Meritage Blending Experience at Dry Creek Vineyard, where we
carefully tasted, blended, and bottled our own bottles to take home; a truly
behind the scenes tour at Francis Ford Coppola Winery; a private tour and lunch
at Benziger Family Winery, led by Jill Benziger; a private tasting of reserve
wines at Ledson Winery & Vineyards; and a Pinzgauer Excursion (on a
six-wheel European military vehicle) at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards,
guided by Rob Bundschu. Some of these remind me of my visit to Robert Mondavi
Winery back in the mid-1970’s, when Michael Mondavi was pouring the wines at
Not everyone who attends a
wine tasting makes a purchase of even a bottle of wine, let alone a case or
more. That said, most of these pricey private events are tailored toward
selling either wine club memberships or cases of reserve wines that are only
available at the winery itself but that can currently be shipped directly to
consumers in 43 states. Although there is no pressure to purchase (because your
tasting fee will already cover all costs), the hosts are earning commissions on
Campgrounds can also explore
new ways of reaching out to their customers, generally translating into three
groups of people who are very similar to the people who attend wine tastings:
- Your existing campers, who have stayed with you
through the years (and sometimes
generations!) but who still need to be reminded that you care, that you
continue to offer new activities or amenities, and that there is no reason for
them to consider camping elsewhere.
- Campers who have never stayed at your park and
who need to meet you and learn about what you have to offer.
- Non-campers who are just exploring and getting
introduced to the concept and need some assurance that they will enjoy the
Either in your early or late
shoulder seasons, how about holding a Camper Appreciation weekend, open house,
or another special event? How about a private event for your seasonal campers,
possibly even being held off-site, where they will be given the opportunity to
renew their seasonal contracts for the following year? Make any such events
significant and special, with genuine costs incurred on your part. If possible,
make it a free event; otherwise, keep the cost to a bare minimum. I am not
talking about a potluck dinner, where the people attending are asked to provide
the food and you simply provide soft drinks and snacks! This should be a truly
memorable marketing opportunity for
your park. You may want to consider requiring reservations or capping the total
number of people who attend at the number that you can comfortably accommodate.
Keep in mind that not
everybody staying at your park is looking for the lowest cost experience. Many
are willing to pay for a special and somewhat exclusive experience that has
value added. What can you offer that is equivalent to the access to reserve
wines that are exclusively available at a winery?
Whether or not you offer a
loyalty card, you know the people who are your frequent and most profitable
guests. Try to reward them and take them to the next level! Can they be
encouraged to become seasonal campers or to stay even more frequently with a
simple incentive or two?There are
many ways to expand your reach as you seek to introduce new people to your park
and to encourage existing campers to become even more profitable. Take some
examples from the wine industry and use them to your advantage!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: customer incentives, customer rewards, wine tastings
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Is Your Customer Service Succeeding or Failing?
May 2nd, 2019
I attended a trade show in
Florida late last year, flying into and out of Daytona Beach International
Airport, a smaller airport that is serviced by only three airlines (Delta,
American, and JetBlue) with a limited number of arrivals and departures. During
the event, we stayed at the Hilton Hotel that was the designated host hotel for
the conference. At the close of the conference, we were anxious to return home
to Bradley International Airport. We had a connecting flight in Charlotte, where
the airlines were already cancelling flights in advance of a large storm that
had a bullseye on the Carolinas. Timing was critical.
Our flight out of Daytona
Beach was on a plane that arrived with a mechanical issue that needed to be
addressed, delaying departure on this, the last flight out of the airport for
the evening. The delays were extended, due to the fact that there are no
technicians available in Daytona Beach to sign off on a safety report. The
plane was not moving until after a technician could drive in from Orlando. The
gate counter had a line of people who were trying to explore their
alternatives, essentially the choice between spending another night in Daytona
Beach or waiting for the plane to be approved for its late departure. Unless
your final destination was Charlotte, you were going to be stranded there for
at least another day.
Some of the passengers were
more irate than others, taking out their frustrations on the gate agents, seemingly
without understanding that the situation was beyond the control of those
airline employees. In our instance, treating
them with due respect, one of the gate agents and her supervisor went well out
of their way to find alternate arrangements to get us home with the least delay
possible. Flying to another airport, such as Boston or Providence, was not an
option because our car was parked at our home airport outside of Hartford.
American Airlines departures from Daytona Beach only fly to Charlotte, so our
workaround involved getting us to another airport with alternate destinations.
The airline pulled our
checked bags (refunding our baggage fees), paid for a taxi to take us to the
airport in Jacksonville, arranged for a ticket agent to work overtime to meet
us at the ticket counter in Jacksonville (that was otherwise closed by the time
of our arrival), and paid for us to spend the night at a Hilton Hotel near the
airport so we could catch an early morning flight that would connect in
Philadelphia rather than Charlotte – ahead of the coming storm. This was
customer service above and beyond anything that could be reasonably expected.
Let me add that we were not flying first class but in economy seats.
If you have been following the news recently, you probably recall that several airlines have suffered some widely reported public relations disasters. There was the United Airlines incident where a passenger’s puppy died after they were forced to stow it in the overhead bin and another incident where a passenger was dragged from an overbooked United Airlines flight when he refused to voluntarily surrender his seat to another passenger. Recovering from bad press can be a slow and difficult process. Fortunately for most small businesses, customer relations incidents generally occur on a one-on-one basis. As long as you do the right thing, reasonable people will appreciate your efforts. These are example of successful customer service. The customer service failures in this story begin with Hilton Hotels.
The ticket agent working
overtime at the American Airlines counter in Jacksonville was tasked with
making our hotel arrangements at the nearby DoubleTree by Hilton airport hotel.
When he called both Hilton reservations and the local hotel’s front desk, he
was told that no rooms were available. I fired up my laptop, went to my Hilton
Honors account, and saw that there were plenty or rooms available at the hotel.
What Hilton would not do – after 10:00 PM
on a night where they had dozens of vacant rooms that would otherwise generate
zero income – was honor the so called “distressed passenger” discounted
rate that is the usual arrangement between hotels and the airlines. We had to
pay for the room ourselves, and then provide a receipt to the airline for
reimbursement (which was processed and paid quite promptly.) Think of this from
a campground’s perspective. If you have unsold inventory at the last minute on
the day before the start of a summer weekend, you are likely to offer space at
a discount rather than leave a site vacant. For a hotel, 10:00 PM on the night
of arrival is definitely the last minute to sell an otherwise vacant room.
Also if you have been following the news, you know that both Hilton Hotels and its DoubleTree brand have suffered some public relations disasters over the past year, not the least of which was the incident in December of 2018 where a registered guest (who happened to be African American) was evicted from the DoubleTree Hotel in Portland, Oregon for using his cell phone in the lobby. With bad press like that, you would think that DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels would be going out of its way to try to cater to its customers. Public relations disasters are almost always preventable, and public relations success stories almost always result from employees who have been empowered to do the right thing, every time and under all circumstances. Of course, this does not mean that every Hilton or DoubleTree Hotel is problematic, but bad press for any member of a franchise casts a shadow of doubt over the entire chain.
Some might argue that providing exceptional customer service is too costly and time-consuming or that the good deeds are rarely recognized beyond the direct recipient. I would argue that consistently positive customer relations can serve as the foundation of a company’s success. In the long run, it is a winning strategy.
Wait, There’s More …
Did I mention how pleased I was with American Airlines? Well, it did not take long for this enthusiasm that American Airlines had generated to get flushed totally down the drain. Allow me to explain …
Three months later, I happily returned to American Airlines to book a flight from Hartford to Colorado Springs, paying $463.00 for my round-trip fare. My return flight was one of 40 flights that were cancelled on March 7, 2019 when 14 of American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800s were taken out of service due to mechanical issues with overhead bins.
notification of the flight cancellation, I called and spoke with an American
Airlines ticketing agent who, over the course of a lengthy telephone
conversation, assured me that my ticket had been transferred to United
Airlines for a return to Hartford via United. On the basis of this
assurance, I checked out of my hotel, returned my rental car, and proceeded to
the United Airlines ticket counter in Colorado Springs, where I was told that I
did not have a ticket.
Going back and forth between the United and American ticket agents in Colorado Springs, I was told that American Airlines would not transfer my ticket because I had purchased a basic economy fare. I understood that this fare meant that I would board in the last group, not have pre-assigned seating, would not be eligible for upgrades, and that I would not qualify for flight changes or refunds due to changes in my plans. I was there to fulfill my end of the agreement and was not of the understanding that this fare would disqualify me for the transfer of my ticket to another airline in an instance of a mechanical failure on the part of American Airlines.
any viable options, I paid United Airlines $1,312.00
(plus a $30.00 baggage fee) for economy seating on my return flight. The
American Airlines ticketing agent in Colorado Springs told me that I could
contact American Airlines for reimbursement for the unused portion of my fare.
I requested not only that reimbursement but reimbursement for the full amount
that I paid to United Airlines after I had been told that American had
transferred my ticket.
While I understood that American Airlines was under no obligation to offer me this compensation, I would hope that under consideration of my past loyalty and future travels, it would choose to do the right thing. It did not. It has been over 6 weeks since I wrote to American Airlines, and they have not even responded to my letter, let alone issue a refund. I know that, like several other airlines, American has been taking a hit with the grounding of its Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. On the other hand, they have not been too preoccupied to prevent them from spamming me on a daily basis, promoting dubious travel deals and a variety of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. I will pass.
lesson I have learned, in addition to NEVER
again buying a basic economy airfare ticket, is that big companies like
American Airlines can never be trusted to do the right thing in the long run.
My enthusiasm has been crushed, and my loyalty has been obliterated. Thanks for
nothing, American Airlines!
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: AAdvantage, American Airlines, basic economy airfare, DoubleTree Hotels, Hilton Hotels
Posted in Business Ethics, Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
The Basics of Branding
January 1st, 2019
If somebody asked you the
name of the font used on your latest brochure or directory ad, would you be
able to answer that question? In fact, if you paid somebody to design that
advertising for your business, how long would it take that designer to identify
the font? I actually encountered a situation about a year ago where a
campground owner asked her website designer for the name of the font that was
used as a substitute for a logo on her website. The website designer responded
that she did not know, and that it was “just something that she thought looked
According to Thomas Phinney,
the CEO of FontLab, there are perhaps 300,000 fonts in the world today,
contained within about 60,000 font families (representing variations of a
single font.) Those 300,000 fonts are not your biggest concern; however, the
fonts that are used in your own advertising – from your website to print to
signage to apparel – should all be singularly consistent. Fonts are one of the
key components of branding, where “close enough” or “looking nice” is just not
good enough to protect the integrity of your business.
There is only one font that
represents such universally recognized brand names as Ford, Coca-Cola,
AT&T, and Kleenex. For example, the font used in the Coca-Cola logo is
called Spencerian script, a popular font in the United States from about 1850
to 1925, adapted by Coca-Cola in 1885 with special alternate character
ligatures for the capital letters “C”. Needless to say, that font has shown
some staying power! Also script based, the Kleenex logo is based upon the
Montauk Pro Bold font, with proper kerning to connect the letters as if they
were written with one continuous swipe of a marker.
Fonts such as these were not
chosen randomly, even though we years later think of them as everyday
acquaintances. The characteristics of various fonts trigger a series of
predictable emotions – from strength and reliability and trustworthiness to
modernity and cutting edge and fun. These fonts then go hand in hand with
color, which is also anything but random. I still own sets of the old Pantone®
Process Color System swatch books that were the color reference standard in the
days before the personal computer came into everyday usage. Those color values
allowed designers to communicate color values with a consistency from one
project to another, allowing for the matching of very specific colors on press.
In theory, computers and monitors today can reproduce as many as 16.7 million
colors, described as various combinations of red, green, and blue (RGB) color
pixels. In practice, those colors are often difficult to share from one
computer to another because identical colors may appear with considerable
differences when viewed on two uncalibrated monitors.
Then there is the issue of
the differences between the RGB (monitors) and CMYK (print) color spaces, which
do not even come close to perfectly overlapping and translating from one to the
other. Generally speaking, if colors are to be reproduced both online and in
print, it is necessary to work in the CMYK color space, where the differences
will be less pronounced when converting to RGB than when converting in the
opposite direction. None of this is particularly easy, which is part of the
rationalization for turning to experts for assistance. When you thought Kodak®,
you thought yellow and red, and when you think UPS®, you think brown,
but the world has gotten more complex. Fonts and colors are only two components
that come into play in the design of an effective logo that will stand the test
of time. (Keep Coca-Cola in mind as your long-term goal!)
You can design your own
logo, use clipart, buy one online for $79.00, or find thousands of graphic
design hobbyists who will design you a logo, of sorts, for $5.00 on fiverr.com.
You will get what you pay for. Work with a single designer (it is not a
competition!), expect multiple concepts and revisions, reject clip art, expect
multiple formats including a vector file, and expect to pay a fair price. Ask
yourself if that designer in Bangladesh or the Philippines has any
understanding of the concept of camping.
Along with a logo, try to
develop a tagline, something that is clever, not a cliché. It is almost not
necessary to identify the companies associated with the following taglines, but
I will disclose them at the end of this article if you happen to get stumped on
- Can You Hear Me Now?
- Where’s the Beef?
- When You Care Enough to Send the Very Best.
- Think Small.
- Just Do It.
- We Try Harder.
- You Deserve a Break Today.
Franchises from McDonald’s to Kampgrounds of America (KOA) recognize the importance of consistency in everything from fonts to colors to taglines, but you do not need to run a franchise business in order to think smart like one. Once you have established your branding, it needs to be used everywhere, without exception. This includes your signage, your building exteriors and interiors, and your apparel and branded merchandise. Branding is inherently not “generic” in any sense of the word. When there is a range full of cattle that all looks alike, you need to make your cattle stand out from the rest. It’s all about branding.
(Need help with matching the taglines with their corporate parents? Here you go: Verizon, Wendy’s, Hallmark, Volkswagen, Nike, Avis, and McDonald’s.)
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: branding, color, fonts, logos, taglines
Posted in Marketing Strategies |
Put Directory Advertising to Work!
September 19th, 2018
This is the time of year when ads are due for next year’s print advertising in state campground association directories, local tourism agency guides, and big national directories like the Good Sam Directory. Unfortunately, most of us have too much on our plates, too many hats to wear, and too many balls to juggle. Pick your excuse, but then pause before you simply renew your ad from last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Too many of these decisions are based almost solely upon how much money we are willing to spend, failing to treat advertising as a well-planned investment.
If you are satisfied with the status quo in your advertising, it must mean that you are content with your current volume of business. On the other hand, if you are seeking to grow your business, sometimes it is necessary to shake things up with your advertising. Even if your park is booked to capacity for most of the year, there are ways to reach out to new markets that might make the occupancy of a fixed number of campsites more profitable.
Thumbing through the pages of the 2018 campground directory for one of the larger state associations, I am seeing 1/16 page ads with dark text that is almost unreadable against dark background photos, poor quality photos, excessive amounts of text that can only be read with the help of a magnifying lens, and a serious lack of coherent design. I am also seeing ads that, regardless of size (but not 1/16 page!), command attention and stand out from adjacent ads where the only thing in common is the cost of the advertising space.
A well-designed ad should be part of a carefully executed marketing campaign. It should mirror the design and objectives of your website, collateral advertising, social media content, and overall branding. Even if your park is part of a franchise like KOA or Leisure Systems, you will want to capitalize upon the dollars that the corporate offices spend on national advertising campaigns, maintaining a consistency with their branding specifications and quality standards, while singling out your park’s individual identity and key selling points. It involves more than including the KOA logo or Yogi Bear graphics in an otherwise disconnected ad.
My best advice is to avoid trying to design ads yourself. You cannot design your own ad using software like Microsoft Word or Publisher and expect it to be press quality. There are too many details that cannot be properly fine-tuned using that type of non-professional software. You will also want to resist the urge to save money by having the directory publishers design your ads in-house. Almost without exception, the most highly skilled graphic designers are not designing free ads in that type of production-oriented environment. Finally, you do not want to take your chances with a freelance from a site like Fiverr.com who knows nothing about your business. All of your ads should reinforce one another with a consistency that steadily builds your brand awareness. If you are not already using a marketing company that has developed an overall marketing strategy for your park, consider hiring a local graphic designer who is experienced, has a solid portfolio, and has a proven track record.
Even the best designed ad can leave you with lingering questions regarding its effectiveness. With online advertising, running Google Analytics on your website can pretty clearly demonstrate how much traffic is coming from referring sites. It is quite possible that your analytics will show that an expensive Good Sam ad is a far better value in terms of cost per click than an inexpensive ad that sends little or no traffic to your website. With print advertising, it is far more challenging to measure results, although you may consider using unique website landing pages and unique phone numbers (either local or toll-free) using a call tracking service provider.
Now that you have an advertising campaign that has been effectively designed, here are a few pointers that will help you to get the most bang for your buck:
- Never allow an ad to print without seeing a proof, and always get a second set of eyes to proofread, because we rarely catch our own errors. If anything needs to be corrected, demand to see a new proof.
- Ask if any discounts are available. These might include a 15% agency discount and early payment discounts. If color is available, ask for it at no extra charge. Advertising rates are frequently negotiable.
- Ask for preferred ad placement. This generally means right-hand pages, with your ad adjacent to related editorial copy, not placed on a page with nothing but other advertising. Negotiate this premium ad space at no charge, as either a new advertiser or a loyal advertiser.
- Learn to say no, but also learn to say yes. Do not waste money on advertising that is not a natural fit for your business, but remain open to exploring new opportunities.
- Keep it simple. When it comes to ad content, less is usually more. Avoid the temptation to include the kitchen sink, but keep in mind that “white space” is not necessarily white.
- Include an incentive and a call to action. The incentive may be strictly emotional, and the call to action may be finalized online, following a link to your website.
Print advertising is alive and well, but plan it carefully to ensure that it will be as effective a component in your marketing mix as possible.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: directory advertising, print advertising
Posted in Marketing Strategies |
What’s in a Name?
August 7th, 2018
In the campground industry, there are instances where it makes sense to change the name of a business, particularly if the old business name is too closely associated with a previous owner or has garnered a questionable reputation. In other instances, a park will change its name when it joins a franchise system and adopts the name that is assigned to its local area. Sometimes new owners will want to make a fresh start, after purchasing a park that they love that comes with a name that strikes them as less than well-informed.
Name changes are neither simple nor inexpensive. When Nissan decided to change its brand name from Datsun to Nissan back in 1984, its direct costs were said to be $500 million. It cost the company $30 million just to change the signs of 1,100 dealerships, as well as another $200 million to replace the “Datsun, We Are Driven!” ad slogan with a new campaign designed to build its new identity. Name changes should not be taken lightly because they carry innumerable costs, including the following:
- Filing changes and paying the associated fees with your Secretary of State
- Updating business registrations and licensing
- Checking trademarks
- Designing a new logo
- Replacing signage
- Replacing all of your advertising materials, from business cards to your website
- Checking the availability of a new domain name (which may, in itself, determine or at least influence the new business name)
- Taking measures to ensure that traffic from your old website redirects to your new site, without the new site needlessly taking a hit in its search engine ranking
- Correcting listings on every website that references or links to your business
The website-related issues start with checking on the availability of a new domain name that will well-represent the new name of your business. To do this, you cannot simply enter a URL into a Web browser and presume that it is available because a website does not appear. You need to perform what is called a “whois lookup”, and a quick and easy way to do that is to go to https://whois.com/. If your first choices are already taken by similar businesses in other states, that might impact your choice of business name. Even without taking potential trademark issues into consideration, any businesses with the same name are going to confuse consumers looking for your site and will probably adversely impact your search ranking for years to come. Keep in mind that you do NOT want to settle for a non-dot.com variation of your desired domain name because too many people who see a .xyz, .dot, .fun, or .web URL will not recognize it and will type in the .com variation anyway.
In order to ensure that traffic from your old website will redirect to the equivalent pages on your new site, have your webmaster employ what are called “301 redirects”. These will seamlessly send visitors to your new site while signaling search engines to update their links. If you have a series of alternate domain names, either referencing the old or new business name, you will also want to set those up as domain aliases so they will direct visitors to your new online presence. Of course, you will probably want to reference the old business name on the new site, at least for a year or so. Something like “Welcome to New Campground, formerly Old Campground!” will assure people that they have arrived at the right place.
Updating the links on all of the sites that reference your business will be perhaps the most time-consuming and potentially frustrating, yet critical, process. It is important to maintain your continuing flow of incoming referral traffic. Some sites will require you to log in to your account, others will have an update form, and some others might require a phone call or email. In each instance, you will want to update your business name and Web address; however, while you are there, check to see if anything else should be updated in the listing. Start with the most obvious and important resources, then work your way down the list. For campgrounds, the list will include:
- Your state association website
- National ARVC and the Go Camping America website
- Your listings with Google My Business and Bing Places for Business, which will also affect their respective online mapping resources, Google Maps and Bing Maps
- Good Sam and the campground listings on GoodSam.com
- Your Facebook page, including an update of your Facebook URL to reflect the new business name, and an update of your profile photo and cover image
- Any other social media accounts that you are using
- Campground review sites such as RVParkReviews.com, GuestReviews.com, and Campendium.com
- Broader review sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp
- Your regional tourism agencies and local chambers of commerce, if you are members
- Any other referring sites that show up as significant sources of traffic in your Google Analytics
Finally, there are literally dozens of local directory sites that you will want to at least try to update. Although few people actually use these sites as resources when looking for campgrounds, these sites are important because they can influence search engine rankings. You can attempt to update these listings yourself; however, some will charge a fee, and whatever you update might still be undone by one of the data aggregators that feed these sites their listing information. Alternately, you can go direct to the four major data integrators to search for and update your listings:
There are companies like Yext that will provide this latter service of updating your local directory listings for a fee. Another option is Insider Perks, a company that specializes in working with campgrounds, and probably a better choice. With everything involved on this checklist, maybe that old business name isn’t looking so bad after all. One thing is certain, and that is necessity to consider all of the costs in advance of making such an important decision.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Axiom, business names, Factual, Infogroup, Insider Perks, Neustar/Localeze, whois lookups, Yext
Posted in Domain Name Registrations, Marketing Strategies, Review Sites, Site Submission Resources, Social Media |
Start a Disruption (Updated)
May 27th, 2018
Successful business concepts today generally involve entirely new ways of thinking. In the world of computer software and mobile apps, the terminology is known as disruptive technology, and it refers to the fact that nothing really new or transformative comes from simply applying a new coat of paint or polish to something old and familiar. In a broad sense, the personal computer and the cell phone were among the greatest disruptors of recent time.
If you go back in time, other ground-breakers included the friction match, the printing press, the incandescent light bulb, the internal combustion engine, film, radio, television, and so on. Certainly, some of these inventions evolved over time rather than instantly bursting onto the scene. Television, for example, gradually evolved from radio to the flat-screen displays of today.
From the dozen local VHF channels of the early years, came UHF adapters, cable, and satellite systems that now bring hundreds of programming options into the home of any subscriber. Even the remote control has evolved by leaps and bounds from the original Zenith Flash-Matic, introduced in 1955, to the programmable, multi-function devices of today. I remember a very primitive one-button remote control on my family’s Sylvania console TV back in the 1960s. We could not watch TV during a thunderstorm because lightning made the remote control go crazy, endlessly changing the channels on the motorized tuner!
Disruptive ideas are far from limited to the technology industries. In the customer service industries, we need to think less like our grandparents and more like our next generation of customers. For campground owners, this means thinking outside the box, seeking out the next new idea that will appeal to your guests. When was the last time you invested in a major piece of new recreational equipment? Not simply a new playground, but things like a fitness course, canine agility park, jumping pillow, gem mining station, laser tag, or spray park. And when is the last time that you really shook up your activities schedule, adding an event or two that will run the risk of being ahead of its time but that could also prove to be overwhelmingly popular?
There are a couple businesses in New Jersey that fall under the “who wudda thunk it?” head-scratcher concept category. Stumpy’s Hatchet House was founded in 2015. Its first location, in Eatontown, was the first indoor hatchet-throwing facility in the United States, probably a lot more fun than either bowling or darts. Customers pay $40.00 per person for a two-hour session that includes safety training, a lesson, hatchet rental, and use of a hatchet pit. A separate party room can be rented by groups, or the entire venue can be rented for $1,500.00 per hour (up from $1,000.00 a year ago.) Spectators (referred to as “non-throwers”) pay a cover charge of $15.00 each. Stumpy’s is opening 3 more locations in June 2018, with a total of 12 locations soon to be in operation in 7 states.
Located in West Berlin, New Jersey, Diggerland USA is the first and only construction themed adventure park in North America, where children and families can drive, ride and operate actual heavy construction machinery. The park covers about 21 acres and is comprised of over 25 attractions, the majority of which are real, diesel powered, full size, pieces of construction equipment. Guests who visit Diggerland USA can drive full size backhoes, dig giant holes with real excavators, and operate just about every sort of construction machine you might imagine. Guests pay $129.00 for a one-hour package operating one machine, $258.00 for a two-hour package operating two machines, $387.00 for a three-hour package operating three machines, and an extra $395.00 to smash a car. There are also group packages and special adult sessions called Diggerland XL, designed for adults over the age of 18 and including more unrestricted equipment operation.
Both of these businesses fall under the umbrella category of the adult fun industry. Time will tell whether these ventures will take off and succeed in the long run, but most service businesses today are not planning where they will be 50 years from now. Serial entrepreneurs work within a far shorter time-frame (typically 10 years) within which to take risks, hopefully profit, move on to the next venture, and sell to a new investor. When you come right down to it, how many campgrounds are not currently for sale, given the right price and circumstances, along with a ready and willing buyer?
A park that embraces concepts on the cutting edge (no hatchet-throwing or excavator puns intended) will profit in the short run and tremendously increase its value in the long run.
This post was written by Peter Pelland
Tags: Diggerland USA, Stumpy's Hatchet House
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |
Give Your Guests More of What They Want
February 24th, 2018
I opened a box of breakfast cereal recently, and 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.
There are so many instances where corporate marketing decision-makers seem to underestimate the ability of their customers to make informed buying decisions and to alternately choose substitute products. Then there are instances that border on collusion, where companies follow the lead of a competitor who trail-blazes a reduction in product size without a corresponding reduction in price. For example, it only took one orange juice company to shrink its half-gallon container down to 59 ounces before every other company quickly followed suit. The same thing happened with ice cream, where the half-gallon container somehow evolved into a quart and a half. Perhaps the greatest offenses to consumer intelligence are meaningless comparison claims. I recently purchased a 50 ounce container of liquid laundry detergent where the label prominently stated “25% more ounces” (in a 36 pt. bold font) “vs. 40 fluid ounces” (in a 6 pt. light font). Needless to say, that claim did not influence my purchase.
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. (One of my pet peeves is the imposition of so-called “convenience fees” for the making of reservations themselves!)
My best advice is to bundle as much as possible into your basic fees, promote the value within your rate structure, and stop presuming that people are comparison shopping for price without reading the fine print. One trend that I hope does not make inroads with the outdoor hospitality industry is the growing practice of hotels to impose so-called “resort fees”. This practice is so deceptive that it has generated lawsuits filed on behalf of consumers by 47 state attorneys general, who had recently negotiated an agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, until the Trump administration ordered the FTC to back off, siding with the hotel industry rather than the interests of consumers. Nonetheless, guests have little or no tolerance for deceptive rate embellishments.
Consider the All-Inclusive Approach
A far better – and opposite – approach is 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 such as Mexico and the Caribbean. The concept has since been embraced by resort operators, cruise lines, travel agencies and online booking companies, several major airlines (including United, JetBlue, and Southwest), hotel chains (including Marriott and Hilton), and even 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. 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 now 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.
Unfortunately, when I perform a Google search for the terms “all-inclusive campgrounds” or “all-inclusive camping resorts”, the results are pretty limited. I am more likely to find dude ranches, cabin resorts, and family resorts that do not fit the definition of a campground. Nonetheless, it seems that there is a small but growing list of campgrounds, ownership groups, and franchises that are discovering and beginning to capitalize upon the “all-inclusive” buzz words.
When I clicked through to the website of a campground in Michigan that calls itself “all-inclusive”, I found that it did not charge extra fees for most of its planned activities (something that is not all that uncommon); however, it charges extra fees for bike rentals, boat rentals, boat launching, and a few other “add-ons”. Another park in Wisconsin is promoting its all-inclusive pricing but is also charging for a short list of optional services that include boat and golf cart rentals, its laundry, and honey wagon service. Finally, a Jellystone Park in Texas is really promoting an all-inclusive pricing concept that includes full use of a wide range of recreational amenities – from miniature golf to a jumping pillow to a splash park. In each instance, the point of emphasis is not the list of fee-based options but the list of what is included at no additional charge.
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
Tags: all-inclusive, campground industry, campground marketing, Club Med, resort fees, vacation packages
Posted in Consumer Trends, Marketing Strategies |