You wearily pull your 40-footer and toad into one of your favorite parks. All you want is to set the stabilizers down at that wonderful site on the pond you reserved eight months ago. But there’s a problem.
You forgot to pay a site-lock fee, and now you’ll be spending the weekend wedged between the swimming pool and the bike rental shack.
How did something like this happen? Simple. Campgrounds are crowded. Demand for those perfect sites – or any site, really – has never been higher. Campground owners are struggling to fit the proverbial 10 pounds of … stuff … into a 5-pound sack.
The advent of the site-lock fee
RV manufacturers continue to crow about their record production numbers. They topped 600,000 units in 2021 and expect to blow right past that record in 2022. Here’s another fact for you: Most of those RVs are huge.
Many campgrounds, on the other hand, are faced with a mixed-bag inventory of long sites, short sites, pull-through sites, and back-in sites with all sorts of amenities and power offerings. Some are lovely getaways on the aforementioned golden pond. And some are the back-of-the-park variety, complete with a stunning view of the green waste pile and campground shop.
Consider this scenario. A family goes online to book a spot for their 15-foot tent trailer. They select a campground’s last long 80-foot pull-through for the weekend. The next guy on the park’s website is driving a 40-foot-long mansion, but the only site left for the weekend is a 30-foot back-in spot.
In the past at most parks, the campground owner would be free to move the tent trailer folks to the smaller site and grant the motorhome access to the larger site. Likely, the move was executed by a sophisticated automated system designed to maximize the use of a park’s inventory. It didn’t really matter that the tent trailer folks really wanted that big site they had reserved, perhaps because they were traveling as part of a group.
If the tent camper folks had the option of accepting a site-lock fee and paying a bit more to guarantee that site, the campground’s booking system now knows it doesn’t have the option of moving the tent camper for the 80-foot site to make room for someone else.
Get used to site locks
While far from universal, site-lock fees are becoming more common on campgrounds throughout the U.S.
For example, about 170 of Kampgrounds of America’s 520 parks use a feature it calls “Select My Site,” according to Andy Metroka, KOA’s Senior Vice President of Information Services. Metroka said Select My Site has had a high campground adoption rate for such a new feature.
KOA isn’t alone. Almost all of the plethora of camping reservation systems in the market offer campground owners some sort of site-lock feature.
Yet campground owners are a bit torn when it comes to adding the site guarantee feature to their reservation systems.
On one hand, you have owners who see site locks as a revenue generation tool, just another part of the reservation transaction. In exchange for the loss of flexibility to move campers from site to site to accommodate the maximum number of reservations, the campground gets paid a premium. The campground is compensated for its loss of flexibility and the camper gets a guarantee of the site they really want.
Campgrounds who have adopted lock fees such as KOA’s Select My Site feature are finding that many guests are more than willing to pay the premium.
On the other hand, there are still owners out there who reject site-lock fees because they either don’t want to “nickel and dime” campers when making reservations, or they don’t want to lose the ability to move campers to maximize their parks.
Remember, it’s optional
The site-lock fee option is here to stay. More campgrounds will be adopting it as site demand climbs and empty sites – even midweek – vanish.
It’s important to remember that any site-lock fee is simply an option offered to campers, not a requirement. If it doesn’t matter where on a park you camp – as long as you fit – don’t click the site lock box.
But if you really, really want that special spot and don’t want to take any chances, then make the click.