One of the challenges for almost any campground is the generation of a continuous flow of new campers who will grow the business and expand its customer base. You cannot simply rely upon your existing clientele and word of mouth to grow your business. People move, their interests change, and the population ages. If your campground caters to a significant number of senior citizens, you have certainly faced the reality of long-time campers who are now living in nursing facilities or who have simply passed on. Regardless of the reason for the “customer churn”, you have campsites and rental units that need to maintain the highest possible occupancy rates.
The replacement campers will generally come from one of three sources: existing campers who have never stayed at your park, existing campers who have not stayed at your park either frequently or recently, and non-campers who need to be persuaded to give camping a try (and to try it out at your park). Needless to say, there is not a one-size-fits-all marketing approach that will effectively reach all three of these groups. Non-campers clearly need a greater incentive than it takes to simply persuade a previous camper to return.
Probably the most cost-effective way to reach each source of replacement campers is the Internet and promotions on your campground’s website; however, it is necessary to give your offers some serious thought before posting them online. There are several pitfalls to avoid.
- Do not make an offer so broad that you are offering discounts to customers who do not require the discount. You may want to consider requiring that a discount be requested at the time of reservation. You probably do not want to grant a 10% discount to everybody who pulls out a membership card at the last minute when they see a GoodSam or AARP logo on the wall behind your registration desk. For the same reason, just because the fourth week in August is historically a slow week, you probably want to think twice about offering a blanket price cut for that week. There are some people who want to camp that week and who do not require an incentive to do so.
- Try to avoid offers that are limited to “new customers only” in a manner that might run the risk of creating ill feelings with your existing, loyal campers. Alternatively, you may want to reward those folks by offering a discount to both parties if they refer a friend and bring in new business for you. DirecTV has used this approach very successfully in recent years, offering its subscribers and their friends a $100.00 discount for referrals.
- Do not offer a discount of little or no perceived value, since this will likely generate little if any results. If you are old enough, you will remember the days when the manufacturer’s coupons that were clipped and redeemed in supermarkets offered discounts like “Save 7¢”. That kind of offer these days is perceived as not being worth the time to clip – let alone redeem – the coupon. A more typical coupon offer these days might read “Save $1.00 on 2”, with a very short expiration date. With this in mind, how many new campers will be generated by a “Save 5% on your second night’s stay, excluding weekends and holidays” promotion? You guessed it: Zero.
- On the other hand, do not give the store away in a desperate attempt to bring in business. Yes, deep discounts will always generate business, but at what price? The Groupon concept is based upon discounts of 50% or more. After offering the deep discount and paying Groupon its fees, merchants inevitably lose money in the hope of generating new customers who will return and pay the full price. That rarely happens, and many Groupons are purchased and redeemed by existing customers. Generating business by losing money is not part of a sound business plan.
- Do not presume that all incentives need to be monetary. Smart marketers often utilize merchandise incentives, understanding that most consumers are willing to attach the full retail value of merchandise that costs the merchant 50% (or less) of the retail price. Possibilities include free bundles of firewood, free boat rentals, free games of mini-golf, or free passes to local beaches or attractions. Be sure to total the full value of the merchandise as part of your promotion.
- Do not presume that people only respond to discounts. A growing number of businesses are finding that customers are willing to reward businesses that allow them to act in a socially responsible manner when making a purchase. Sometimes a discount may be involved as an added incentive. For example, consider a $10.00 discount on a night of camping (or, better yet, on food in your restaurant or snack bar, if you have one) in exchange for 10 non-perishable food items that you will donate to a local food pantry. Everyone wins, and you can also benefit from publicizing the successful event in a variety of avenues.
The bottom line is that, if you are serious about generating new business, think beyond the same old, tired incentives that are available anywhere and everywhere. Almost everybody offers a weekly discount, a midweek discount, and discounts for active duty military. You need to give people incentives with either a real perceived value or discounts that give them a sense of exclusivity.
Want to carry the incentives to the next level? Consider partnering with other local merchants. Here is just one idea: Consider partnering on an otherwise historically slow weekend with your local Ford dealership. Offer campers a substantial discount on a weekend of camping, doubling the discount if they are driving a Ford motor vehicle. Get the dealership to participate in the discount in exchange for your promotional efforts and the opportunity to display some of his latest Ford truck inventory with trailer-towing capacity. He gets people into a temporary outdoor “showroom” where he has the opportunity to sell a potential vehicle or two, your campers get a discount and a mini auto show, and you fill more campsites. Hate Fords and love Chevys? You get the idea. Ski resorts have been using this concept for years, in successful cross-promotions with Subaru and other manufacturers of all-wheel drive vehicles.
Whatever incentive programs you provide, promote them aggressively on your website and within the social media. If you can arrange them far enough in advance, include them in your brochures and related print advertising. Just as the incentives need to be realistic, you need to promote the incentives – and get the word out – in order for them to succeed. There may be some trial and error in determining what works best for you, but one thing is certain: What works best is whatever the campgrounds down the road are unwilling to try. Capitalize upon your competitors’ lack of imagination!
This post was written by Peter Pelland