If you’ve already started making your 2022 summer camping plans, this isn’t going to come as a surprise. The rates you’ll pay at many private campgrounds are going up.
While our current cycle of inflation holds much of the blame for higher campground pricing, it isn’t the whole story. Sure, the costs to campground owners for everything from electricity to garbage disposal to lumber are all up substantially. Campgrounds are just like the rest of the nation when it comes to the inflationary abyss.
But another overriding factor is that bedrock of the capitalist system … supply and demand.
Prior to the pandemic, many private campgrounds didn’t expect much action midweek in the summer, and “shoulder seasons” were the great frontier that few seemed able to crack. Owners were able to staff down on Monday through Thursday, finding time to cut the grass and get ready for the next weekend horde.
That changed in the second half of 2020 when pandemic restrictions eased, and a flood of old and new outdoor enthusiasts crowded the campgrounds. All of a sudden, there were no more days off for park owners or their staff. Demand for the limited number of campsites became insane. The money rolled in, but so did the headaches.
Managing demand through increased campground rates
The only way to manage a limited inventory of anything during periods of extremely high demand is through pricing. When demand goes up, pricing follows. When campgrounds find their price “ceilings” and demand begins to equalize, smart owners adjust again, always looking for the “sweet spot” in rates.
Does this mean private campground owners are price-gouging RVers? Probably not. Private campgrounds are in business to make a fair profit. As stated above, campground owners are currently facing price pressures of their own for nearly everything they purchase to run their parks, including staffing costs.
When campgrounds are operating at or near capacity seven days a week, it’s just good business to maximize potential rates. It’s much more expensive to operate a full campground than an empty one with increased waste disposal, more labor for cleaning, increased power use, as well as wear and tear.
I recently talked with a leading campground insurance broker who said campground insurance rates are increasing substantially (up to 70 percent) due to claims caused by Western fires, floods, and other calamities. He said he is encouraging owners to raise their rates whenever possible.
The breaking point
Longtime RVers often lament the loss of freedom brought on by the need for advanced reservations and increased rates. No doubt, many have either regretfully given up the lifestyle or are changing their habits to accommodate the new normal.
There are still millions of new RVers flooding the available campground market. For every longtime camper either giving up RVing or unwilling to tolerate increased rates, there are likely 10 RVers more than willing to pay what it takes for a night of camping.
Waiting it out
At RVTravel.com, we hear from experienced RVers who are willing to wait out the newbies. The belief is that, sooner or later, the new RVer will awaken to the realization that RVing today isn’t what they thought it would be.
While waiting for newbies to abandon the lifestyle is certainly a strategy, it’s one that will take a while to play out—if it ever does. In the meantime, RV manufacturers continue to crank out more than 600,000 rigs a year. It takes a lot longer to build a new campsite than it takes to build a new RV. While many park owners are scrambling to add as many sites as they can and new investors have dozens of new parks in some stage of construction, it isn’t likely that their efforts will have any meaningful impact for quite a while.
Are increased campground rates worth the cost?
Just like supply and demand, the value proposition is also a central feature of capitalism. What isn’t worth the increased rates for one RVer may well be a bargain for the next in line. It comes down to personal choice and making smart buying decisions.
For most, RVing is still a luxury activity that has to be weighed against the lifestyle’s negatives as you go along. If your style of RVing is what the private parks offer, then you pay their rates. If you are willing to flex a bit to find other, less-expensive options, you might be able to better control your costs.
So, what can you do?
Unfortunately, the days of pulling into a park at 4 p.m. and “seeing what they have available” are likely gone forever. RVers now must be master planners, and that includes knowing exactly where and when you want to go, as well as what amenities you can’t live without. The “resort” tag usually (but not always) means more amenities and a higher fee. If that’s not what you’re looking for at a particular stop, keep looking.
Cheaper state park campgrounds might be an option. But again, the crowd of new campers love state parks, too, so the need for advanced planning for state park camping won’t diminish.
Boondocking is another option for those not willing to pay the going rates at private parks. But it’s likely that the face of boondocking is changing too. The “rolling homeless” in many locales have discovered boondocking havens like Walmart, causing many stores and restaurants to rethink their overnight parking policies. Boondocking on public lands will also begin looking different as the crush of new RV owners discover they, too, have what it takes to camp off-grid.
RVers who do their homework, especially in competitive campground markets, may be able to find some rate differential. Even a $5 savings in a daily rate can add up over the course of a few weeks.
The key to successful RVing in the coming months will be to stay informed. While there likely won’t be many “deals” when it comes to rates this summer, smart RVers can still maximize their dollars as they travel and get the most out of one of America’s last best outdoor lifestyles.