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How RV parks earn more money by eliminating RV sites

Have you wondered, with RV sales at an all-time high, why RV parks are eliminating RV sites in favor of cabins, yurts, cabooses and other accommodations? Read on . . .

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Over the last few years, RVers have complained of having trouble finding RV sites. One of RVTravel.com’s most popular story series focuses on campground crowding. While the RV industry is churning out new RVs in record numbers, thus putting more stress on an already crowded system, there’s more packing the RV parks than just RVs. More and more RV parks are building “guest accommodations” and each one built represents one less RV site to rent. What are guest accommodations and what’s behind the trend?

Getting in on the act

Seems like everyone wants to get in on the outdoor recreation act. But not everyone wants to invest in an RV. Maybe that’s a good thing, but here’s a typical scenario. Joe RVer cruises through an area where some of his relatives live. Sure, he’d like to see them, and the thought of sitting outside of his RV roasting weenies and whatnots has appeal. But the kinfolk don’t have an RV. But wait! Joe’s favorite RV park has a few park models. Those park models represent guest accommodations, and Joe’s relatives can rent for a night or two and the whole family is pleased with the end result.

Who else is happy about Joe’s reunion? You guessed it—the RV park owner. Here’s an actual quote for “Joe” and his relatives’ stay. Joe picks the Indian Wells RV Resort in Indio, California. He makes his reservation on March 3, for a three-night stay with an April 5 check-in. Joe is perfectly happy to book a standard, 50-amp back-in site. Before taxes, he’ll pay $288 for his three-night stay.

The relatives, on the other hand—Mom, Dad, and two kiddies—will drive their car into the park. Once there, they’ll share a one-bedroom park model unit. Their three-night stay will set them back $647.49 before taxes. The park owner sees more than double the income from renting out that park model space.

“Small incremental investment”

$40,000 buys one of these. parkmodelsdirect.com

Yes, the park owner has more invested in that park model site than he does a “bare” RV site with hookups. A recent story published in Woodall’s Campground Magazine suggests that the development cost of a park model site is about one-and-a-half times the cost of an RV site. But, quoting James Cook, an industry expert, the article points out the extra investment can rake in large dollars. “For one and a half times the cost of developing new RV sites,” says Cook, “you can make as much as five times the revenue with a park model. You’re making a lot more on that space for a relatively small incremental investment.”



One can imagine the thousands of RV park owners who read that story in Woodall’s. If they already have a developed park, rolling in a few park models isn’t too much of a stretch financially. One California park model retailer is offering a one-bedroom unit for $43,000. If an RV park owner can keep his vacancy rates down, his “relatively small incremental investment” could start earning cold cash in short order.

Let’s do the numbers

Of course, for every park model installed, at least one RV site isn’t available to RVers. Just how much “competition” are RVers up against with guest accommodations? We asked David Basler, a representative with ARVC, the RV park owners’ trade group, about the numbers. Speaking of the big picture, Basler told us, “A conservative estimate of private parks in the U.S. is 9,000. That is conservatively 1,000,000 sites at privately-owned parks.”

A million sites at privately owned RV parks. Now, in that heap of a million sites, here’s the present shakedown of what’s what. Roughly 80% of existing park sites are strictly dedicated RV spots. Nearly 13% of existing RV park stock is dedicated to camping cabins and park models. The remaining 7% falls to “glamping” sites, like yurts, tents, etc.

What’s the future hold for RV sites versus guest accommodations? A new resort under construction in Ocala, Florida, might provide some insight. Sunlight Resorts “Champions Run RV Resort” is set to open April 1 and will eventually have 482 sites. Of them, 125 are park model dedicated. That’s 26% non-RV sites—far more than the average of all the other parks in the country.

For RV park owners, building in more guest accommodations is a good thing for the bottom line. For RVers, it’s a good news/bad news situation. While the Ocala resort will hand over 26% of its sites to non-RVers, at least the inventory of RV available sites did increase. Better make your reservations long in advance.

How about you? Are you seeing more guest accommodations in your travels? Drop us a line by filling out the form below. Include “guest accommodations” in the subject line.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Other stories by Russ and Tiña De Maris

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Donald N Wright
6 months ago

I spoke with the owner of Eagles Nest a couple of years ago. The lower campground was all RV’s, the upper campground was a mix of RV’s and Cabins. He did not own the cabins, he leased out the space, so he gets twelve months of income from the leased cabin space. RV’s tend to be there six to nine months of the year due to snow & cold. So, leasing a space provided more money and less expenses.

Betty Danet
6 months ago

I can certainly understand a park like the one in Ocala catering to long term manufactured homes, especially with so many people not only wintering but relocating to Florida, and Ocala is a great area. Having manufactured homes or cabins is certainly preferable to some of the permanent resident RVs in many parks. It’s hard to get a spot in those parks as well.

Kenny G
6 months ago

I actually think offering some cabins or mini-homes is a good way of allowing those family members or friends without an RV to plan a stay with those who do. Plus, not all private RV parks are the most profitable venture. The problem is vacancy, especially during the weekdays. If we want to see more RV parks built, we should embrace the idea of a mix of cabins with RV sites.

Dave
6 months ago

As we were getting reservations for a month in NC on the beach, we found 2 parks that will only offer daily rates during the “season”. Well, multiply that times 31 and we were still looking.

Firefly
6 months ago

One commenter mentioned Sugarloaf KOA putting in “suites.” Down the road at Sunshine Key RV Park, several rows just off from the beach/waterfront are filled with identical trailers that are rented out just as if they were park models. Obviously not as nice as park models, but certainly easier to haul out to the Keys.

Mark K
6 months ago

In our full time travels, we’ve seen parks with cabins and park models but they are mostly empty during the week, so not sure how the financials are working out for those campgrounds.

Egwilly
6 months ago

THIS activity and other things are why we are selling our RV and quitting.

Diane Mc
6 months ago

We are currently at the Sugarloaf Key KOA in the Keys. RV park was destroyed by hurricane Irma, 5 yrs ago (direct hit). The “good” news, they rebuilt what was a cramped, sardine packed park with beautiful sites, some with paved patios, with space in between. They are currently building 2 buildings, in 2 different locations on the perimeter of the park. These will be “suites”. They are just concrete now, 3 stories, 1st floor open parking & 2 levels of “suites”. They have a beautiful pool/spa area, a small marina (boat rentals), small beach area, a pub with entertainment on the weekends & a small cafe for breakfast/lunch sandwiches, pizza, etc. For people who would like to visit Keys, but with no RV or RV owners with families with no RV, who would like to spend time together, probably a smart idea. They used have park models & Air Stream trailers for rent.

Charles Howard
6 months ago

Our Winter Texan Park installed about 10 smaller than Park Model units for rent in our 800 spot Park (about 50% Park & Mobile Homes already) a few years ago. It took a few more years but now they’re almost all occupied during the season.

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