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