As I build more and more websites for campgrounds and RV parks, and others, I keep hearing and reading the same counter to creating a new digital presence. And the resistance befuddles me. A lot.
One of the most common arguments I hear from campgrounds is that “well we’re pretty full as it is. We don’t need any more business.” I’ve also heard a lot of “we’re happy how we are” and “I don’t want to lose control over my reservation system.”
When you study any kind of business it’s pretty typical that whenever your sales reaches your capacity to provide a product or service you usually have a case of having a price that’s too low for the market. So if those campgrounds are full as it is, chances are the price is lower than what the market will bear so they’re losing money. This is a common thread in this article.
“We just don’t have any more spots to reserve - we’re full all season long!”
Well, there’s another component. Seasonal availability. So they have a limited ability to sell their product (a spot in their campground) based on climate or travel trends or whatever it is but it’s seasonal. That means that if they don’t sell at the highest price the market will bear they’re losing money.
A good website and reservations system will adjust pricing based on demand. That way when the number of reservations spikes, it automatically adjust the price up. When demand lowers, it adjust accordingly. This pricing model works very well in the hotel and airline industry with smart reservations systems taking the number of reservations and other demand factors into account and adjusting accordingly.
In fact when you make a reservation in Vegas, for example, their tourism board works closely with the hotels so that they know when there are large conventions or other events coming to town and the price of the hotel rooms are adjusted accordingly. Demand-based pricing is how the lodging and travel industry remains profitable.
Well, not really campgrounds.
In fact there are over 15,000 campgrounds across the US alone with the vast majority of those campgrounds still using a call-in reservation model. That means someone’s traveling and has to actually telephone the campground to make a reservation. Like they did in 1923.
From the perspective of a customer, this often means that the person or people at the desk are busy so you get an answering machine (or a busy signal - I’ve had lots of those as well). As a prospect I then move on to the next campground after leaving a message.
Or, another thing I do is just reserve at a KOA which will generally have a higher price but I can reserve right from my smart phone and know that I’ll have a quality experience even though the price is likely to be higher than a local campground.
Now I’ve also heard from campgrounds saying “well we just can’t raise our prices.” But the KOA in their neighborhood is often double the price of the local campground and they’re full, partially because they offer a really good web-based reservations system. But their website also shows lots of accurate and beautiful pictures of their campgrounds so you know what you’re getting ahead of time.
In fact, Mark Koep, owner of a website called Campground Views, says that campgrounds that hire him to do their photography and drone footage experience a whopping 80% increase in sales just by having better photography posted where prospective buyers can find it.
When I’m on the road and want to make a reservation there are often times that I won’t get a call back for several days after having left a message on a campground’s machine. Since I was trying to make a reservation for that night, I usually let them know that their tardiness lost them at least one sale. Probably more.
Then I find out their campground was literally half the price of what the KOA cost me for the same night’s stay and they claim “well we were full so we stopped calling people back.” Yeah, that’s how campgrounds are often run.
But if they had a demand-based reservations system it would have seen that they were closing in on being full and raised the rate.
Furthermore, let’s say that the person behind the desk makes $15 per hour and it takes them about 7 minutes to take a reservation. This is about what statistics show is the case. Given an hourly rate of an office worker of $15/hour each reservation costs the campground about $1.75.
However that reservation is taking the person away from doing anything else, including checking in guests. Furthermore, if a campground is large enough they actually have to have an individual or two whose sole job is to handle these reservations.
If you have 100 camp sites and 50 of them are available for the night that’s about $87.50 just to take those reservations. A web-based reservations system costs the campground nothing as the customers themselves pay for it (at least the one I implement works that way much like when you pay Ticketmaster to book your concert tickets).
With a six month season that campground now just saved $15,750 per year with a web-based reservations system. But wait, there’s more.
That system also did demand-based pricing so now prices fluctuated up based on demand so the campground made additional money. And they took reservations 24 hours a day (the Internet rarely sleeps) so they were literally making much more money in their sleep. And providing a better customer experience at the same time! And also while lowering their costs by moving reservations to a web-based system.
So who loses when a campground moves into the modern times? They’re making more money while reducing their cost of personnel. The customer is happier because they get a richer experience on their schedule and based on their demand.
But, really, the only true counter is just a reticence to change or being fearful of doing things differently than what has worked for decades.
So, as in just about every other business model, the same things works in the campground industry. You always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.