Pelland Blog

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

From Conventions to Camping Shows

December 9th, 2015

The fall campground industry convention season has just passed, when industry vendors from around the country – and beyond – make an effort to introduce you to their products and services, explaining how your business might benefit from what they have to offer. From old standbys to the latest innovations, you owe it to yourself to stay on top of the supply curve. Following a holiday respite, the convention season is soon followed by a full schedule of winter camping and outdoor shows, when it is your opportunity to shine in the spotlight. From Fort Myers and Tampa to Quebec and Montreal – and major cities in between – there are shows where your presence is desirable, if not a necessity.

Two key issues that I would like to address are:
1) How to choose the markets for shows to attend.
2) How to stand out from the crowd once you are there.

Which shows make your final cut?

When it is time to choose which shows to attend, there are many factors that come into consideration. First and foremost, there is the expense. Nobody can afford to be everywhere, and the expenses are far greater than simply the costs of exhibition. Secondly, there are the logistics of overlapping schedules and the necessary transportation and travel time. Finally – and not insignificantly – the camping shows are primarily being held in your off-season, when you really deserve some time off from those 60 or 80 hour weeks that you probably work throughout your prime season. Clearly, you cannot afford to select shows based upon random choices, and you do not want to continue attending shows without seeing measurable results. It is time to turn to Google Analytics for validation.

Rather uniquely, the contacts that you make with prospective guests at camping shows are generally going to be vaguely measured as “direct traffic” in your overview of website traffic acquisition. Most of these people will be typing your Web address into their browser while reading it from your brochure, rack card or other literature handouts. Some, on the other hand, will enter your campground name into a search box. Either way, the most important measurement for our purposes will be found in Google Analytics under Audience > Geo > Location, where you can then click on the United States (or other countries) to get a more detailed breakdown of states and even cities. You will also want to choose a custom date range to show the entire previous year of traffic, rather than the default range of 30 days, then also set it to compare to the same previous period (in this case, the previous year). That comparison allows you to view year-to-year trends.

Looking at the analytics of one of our clients, a large campground in the Northeastern United States, I see some remarkable increases in international traffic over the past year, particularly from the Western European countries of Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Sweden and Norway, along with similar increases from Mexico and the South American countries of Brazil and Argentina. Those are interesting statistics, but let’s look specifically at the United States, with the objective of choosing camping show locations. Start with the realization that you are more likely to find additional people who are interested in traveling to your destination if they are living in areas that have already demonstrated that interest, particularly if it shows an upward trend.

In this instance, I am looking at measurable traffic over the past two years from all 50 states. What we want to look for is a significant volume of traffic, so that we have a valid sampling from a viable market when looking at year-to-year trends. Percentages alone are unimportant. For example, a 113% increase in traffic from Montana that is the result of an increase from 37 visits to 79 visits is insignificant; however, a 17.5% increase in traffic from Florida, based upon an increase from 2,134 visits to 2,508 visits is a very significant upward trend that suggests that additional marketing efforts in the state of Florida might well prove to be productive.

Google Analytics will even allow me to break down Florida into 348 distinct locations, showing that the highest volumes of traffic with the most significant upward trends were from Orlando, Miami, Tampa, Miami Beach, Bay Lake, and Gainesville. On the other hand, the major markets with significant downward trends were Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers. Now, armed with the knowledge of where you have concentrated your marketing over the past two years, you might very well be witnessing a payback for your efforts. Clearly, this is the type of information that will help you to make more educated marketing decisions. Leave it to your competitors to throw darts at a map on the wall.

How to make a positive impression

When you attend a convention and trade show such as the Outdoor Hospitality Expo, you are more likely to enter a booth space with a bright, colorful display; cushioned flooring; promotional handouts; new product or service introductions; quality promotional items; and – most importantly – friendly and engaging booth personnel. People sitting at a table, more interested in making eye contact with their cell phones than with you, with booth furnishings that consist of little more than the sign provided by the convention management company and a bowl of leftover Halloween candy, simply have not demonstrated that they deserve your business.

When you attend one or more of the conventions this season, take some notes about the factors that drew you into some booths and that drove you away from others. In addition, compare your show presence with that of your leading competitors at the camping shows that you attend or where you exhibit. Is your booth up to par? An album of snapshots and that sign made by your talented twelve year old daughter is simply not going to persuade people to stop, particularly if you are working from a booth on the perimeter of a hall where the main attractions are campers and motorhomes that look like they just rolled off next year’s assembly line.

To make your camping show presence as effective as possible, allow me to offer a few absolute rules and a few added recommendations. First the rules:

  • Leave your cell phone in your pocket. If you get a call, let it go to voice-mail, then check your message away from your booth, when the time is appropriate. When you are speaking with a prospective camper, he or she is the most important person in your life at that particular moment. Everyone else can wait, and you never want to give that person any other impression.
  • Leave your frown and bad attitude at home. Even when you answer your office telephone, where your image is not visible to the person at the other end of the line, a smile can always be detected. Would you want to consider spending your valuable vacation time with somebody who comes across as some sort of grouch?
  • Make friendly and direct eye contact, always at eye level. With the exception of the occasional person using a scooter or wheelchair, the people approaching your booth are standing. You do not belong in a chair behind a table. Either stand (taking breaks from your booth as needed, again when the time is appropriate) or sit on a stool that positions you at eye level. The importance of standing, incidentally, is a strong argument in favor of that investment in cushioned flooring, particularly for a multi-day event. In fact, I have even witnessed people specifically entering a booth with cushioned flooring, hoping to rest their feet and giving the booth attendants an opportunity to engage them in conversation.
  • Gather contact information. Encourage people to sign up for your newsletter or enter a drawing for a prize with recognizable value. Ask them to identify specific areas of interest that relate to your business. Somebody who is interested in possibly spending a weekend in your area is an entirely different prospect than someone who is looking for a seasonal site. Keep your information gathering to a minimum. If you plan on following up online and have no intention of ever doing a direct mailing, there is no reason to ask people for their mailing addresses. The more intrusive your efforts appear, the more likely that people will decline to provide you with their contact information.
  • Do not leave your booth unattended. If the show hours are from 9:00 to 6:00, get there well in advance of the opening and never, ever leave (or start breaking down) early. The person who stopped by to look for you when you were not there may not return and could very well be a lost customer.

Now the recommendations, the subtleties that can make the difference between generating acceptable results and generating exceptional results:

  • Invest in a professional booth backdrop, with lighting, then take the next step and invest in professionally designed graphics. Exhibits themselves are relatively inexpensive these days, with some great deals to be found online and on sites like eBay. Forget about the textured panels and Velcro tabs that might come with the backdrop. Professionally designed graphics are intended to whet the appetites of passersby, providing an opening for you or your booth staff to tell the rest of your story.
  • Plan in advance, and be prepared with the little things. Of course, you would never forget your business cards at home. You will also want to remember water bottles, pens and paper, even a bottle of aspirin or acetaminophen. Despite a headache or a potential backache (see, you should have gotten that padded flooring!), the show must go on!
  • Always engage the people who enter your booth space. In fact, work the aisles and encourage them to enter! Listen to what interests them, and go through a process of discovery to best determine why they should choose your park over any other. Be prepared to get the conversation back on track if it goes on a tangent, spending too much time on small talk that is unrelated to your business.
  • Have some great giveaways available, with your branding imprinted of course. Put them aside for your most qualified prospects or to reward existing customers who stop by. Whatever you choose, the item should be useful and reasonably high quality. Do you want your company to be identified with an item that is defective, useless or quickly breaks? A highly visible promotional item is far more desirable than something that gets dropped into a bag or put into a pocket, out of sight.
  • After the event, follow up with your new prospects as immediately as possible. If you have asked them – and they have provided – their preferred means of contact, use that avenue for your follow-up.

There you have it. Attend the fall conventions, take notes to best prepare for the winter camping shows, do some basic research to choose what are likely to be the most productive venues, be prepared for your booth space to stand out from the others, then be prepared to engage people in the friendliest manner possible. Give them your literature, gather their contact information, and follow up. Taken all together, this is one of the best formulas for success when it comes to increasing your occupancy rates next season.

This post was written by Peter Pelland