The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting influx of new camping families has had a profound effect on campgrounds, but none more so than the 75-park Jellystone Park Camp Resorts system.
The so-called “Yogi Bear Parks” collection goes by the official name of Leisure Systems, Inc. It’s been around since 1969 and was one of the few camping companies (along with Kampgrounds of America Inc. [KOA]) able to weather the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1980s.
To call Jellystone Parks “family-oriented” would be a massive understatement. The brand is tightly bound to the old Hanna-Barbera Yogi Bear characters. All of the parks push the Yogi merchandise to campers and keep the kids occupied with a plethora of fun activities. There are pools, water slides, “splashgrounds,” jumping pillows, wagon rides, and foam parties.
There’s also a poor employee (no doubt the newest hire) who dons the big bear suit and strolls around hugging everybody.
It’s hard to imagine a company better suited to take advantage of the sudden influx of brand-new, young camping families with kids who began flooding into the lifestyle in 2020. Despite the tough early months of the pandemic, Yogi Bear parks saw a 10 percent increase in business in 2020. Now, Leisure Systems is reporting a 47 percent growth in camping sales through September 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. The company is well on its way to its 15th straight year of record annual performance.
Investors are bringing their checkbooks to camping
All of the massive growth has caught the attention of real estate investment firms, which have been very busy this year buying Jellystone Park locations in the U.S. from smaller, independent owners. The investment firms are also buying non-affiliated campgrounds and converting them to the Jellystone Park brand, as well as building new resorts, according to Leisure Systems CEO Rob Schutter.
“These groups have the financial resources to update, expand and improve their parks and operations, which drive sales and profitability,” Schutter recently stated. The Jellystone system recently opened new parks in Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. New Yogi campgrounds are also under construction in Georgia, Illinois, Texas, and Utah. Jellystone also has signed contracts with five more campground developers who have yet to announce construction dates.
Demand for camping spots at Jellystone Parks is so high, many owners and managers have already opened 2022 reservations. While the kid-friendly Jellystone Parks may not be the first choice for senior RVers sans kids, a footprint of 75 campgrounds scattered around the U.S. does provide a fair amount of potential landing spots.
It’s likely that Leisure Systems, Inc. is the canary in the coal mine when it comes to the involvement of investment firms and larger corporations in campground ownership. Investors always follow the money, and there’s plenty of money to be made in camping right now.