By Chuck Woodbury
What’s good for business is not necessarily good for consumers. Or RVers.
For example, selling a ton of hamburgers is good for McDonald’s, but for its customers, a steady diet could lead to obesity and heart disease. A Double Quarter Pounder Cheeseburger with 740 calories has 42 grams of fat (more than half of a suggested daily allowance), including 20 grams of saturated fat, and 1,360 milligrams of sodium. And yet, McDonald’s sells these all day long, fattening up America and the world.
So, you might ask, what do hamburgers have to do with RVing?
Well, it’s my way of clarifying to you up front that I understand that not every product or service sold on the planet is good for us. Coca Cola isn’t exactly a health food.
So now we come to KOA, Kampgrounds of America, once referred to as the Motel 6 of campgrounds when its parks were less expensive. I am here today to suggest that KOA is no longer focused on serving RVers. Today, it’s about “glamping,” offering non-RVers stays in luxury cabins, designer tents, yurts, tee-pees, railroad cabooses, covered wagons and other profitable “glamping facilities.” Other RV parks are doing the same, but KOA is the best known.
This summer, an RV site at any KOA close to a popular national park may cost you $100, $150 or more a night — that is if you are lucky enough to find an available space. For example, a two-day weekday stay in my 32-foot motorhome at the KOA in West Glacier, Montana, for a full-hookup Super Site “with grass” goes for $199.70 a night. It would be higher on weekends or holidays.
But good luck getting a reservation. Most of the popular KOAs are already booked solid this summer.
So now here comes KOA with a proposal to turn its campground in New York’s Adirondacks into another Terramor Glampground (its first is in Bar Harbor, Maine), which will include 80 luxury tents, a lodge, swimming pool, event pavilion and employee housing. How about RV sites? None! Zero! RVers stay away!
In case you are interested, a two-night stay in late July in a two-person Bayberry Tent at the Bar Harbor Terramor will cost you $1,058 total ($529 a night).
More RV campsites needed
At a time when there are more RVers than ever vying for increasingly limited places to stay, KOA’s priority, I suggest, is maximizing profits at the expense of serving you and me the best it can. There is more money to earn in a glampground. Now, if I place my businessman’s hat securely upon my head, I understand. But as an RVer, I don’t like it a single bit.
KOA has every right to do whatever it wants, and the name of the game for almost any business is making money. But I am writing now from an RVer’s perspective. Let KOA build as many Terramors as it wants. But will somebody out there start building some affordable RV parks to make up for what KOA and others take away, to help satisfy increasing demand? Did you notice I used the word “affordable?”
The problem is, I don’t see anyone screaming and yelling about how RV parks are disappearing when they are needed more desperately than ever. Oh, yes, there are new RV parks, but many, if not most, are “resorts” where the cost of a night’s stay starts at $150 (or more). Others are designed for full-timers — modern day “trailer parks.”
When RVing suddenly got popular during the pandemic, RV manufacturers dumped a couple million quickly built units of questionable quality onto the camping scene. But in that same time relatively few new RV parks and campgrounds were created. Our Crowded Campgrounds column, which appears weekly in this newsletter, is by far our most popular feature. Last week’s installment attracted more than 430,000 views as of Friday evening (picture that: four Rose Bowl crowds). Read today’s offering.
Toby O’Rourke, the CEO of KOA, is in my opinion an exceptionally smart businesswoman. She knows what KOA needs to do to make money and I believe she always has an eye on the future. But from what I have observed of her lately suggests to me her company is now heading in a direction that is more passionate about serving the profitable “glamping” crowd than RVers, the traditional foundation of KOA’s business.
If you have ideas or a whole lot of money and want to invest in a chain of reasonably priced RV parks and campgrounds that ordinary people can afford please contact me. I’ll help any way I can.
(And in the meantime, please consider supporting RVtravel.com with a voluntary subscription. We’re the only RVing consumer website that is significantly supported by readers. Because of that we can post an article like this without fearing the loss of advertising support.)
While building RV pads is NOT cheap, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than any cabin. And cabin maintenance (daily laundry and cleaning) is way higher than just an RV site. I don’t see how this is “more economical” for them. I’d be very curious to see the actual profit margins on both types. Also, many campgrounds (Jellystone is another big brand) have both. And guess who that serves: RVers with friends/family who don’t have RVs. A mix is what is really best for everyone.
Good lord… OK, reality check: what’s more “glamorous” — a yurt or a $200K RV? Plus, you acknowledge that the magical market is just responding to demand, but then wonder why the cost for parking your behemoth is increasing and you’re somehow now a victim? C’mon! Admit this is really just a rant against those “liberal elites” who can afford $200 for a night in a cabin, but not a $200K RV. If you can’t afford to park your vehicle, maybe you just can’t afford it. Grow up.
What I haven’t seen mentioned in the comments is…. Do the RV manufactures care that there’s less spaces for their products to be used? At this pace, will more of Elkhart Indiana will be facing unemployment?
I believe RV manufacturers do not or will not invest in creating campgrounds because it is a major investment. Here in Southeast Wi, there is land available zoned commercial/agricultural but mention a campground you have a better chance at a dogfight let alone asking town fathers for a variance is next to impossible. We do have a great state owned recreational area called Bong Recreational located in Kenosha County. I guess it’s where located. Personally myself my wife and I found a campground in Eureka Wi. Family owned no frills, great fishing,Only thing I can complain about is the best campgrounds here in this are always booked, yours in camping, Ray and Joy
Lots of good comments. Having been in the resort business, hotel, cabins, restaurant, trailer park, gas station, small cabins, large cabins, for 43 years. 640 acres of private land Surrounded by 1 million acres of federal. Population 86 except on holiday weekends.
We’re now in out 3rd year full time on the road (@80 yrs)
We’ve learned a lot over the years. Today’s RVers are about the same as those we saw 45 years ago. When they come in to the restaurant after closing on July 4th in shorts & flip-flops after 6″ of snow & 30 deg temps. They still need a fire in the fireplace & hot food. Yes it’s true, there are some crazy people out there, & some smart business owners.
But rule #1?
“The business of business is staying in business.”
Beyond that, if your neighbors aren’t who or where you like in your RV, we/you can move.
Although I am a member (what was I thinking?), I seldom if ever book into a KOA unless there is absolutely no where else to park my 34-foot class-A. Too many amenities I don’t use, but am forced to pay the nightly fee for. I’ve said before and I’ll say it again … KOA, why not have tiered pricing, like you do for full hook-ups v.s. electric and water only? Just issue arm bands to those who want to buy-in to the amenities.
I read the Woodall’s newsletter. Several times a week there is a story about a proposed campground that is not approved because the locals fear more traffic, noise and in at least one case campfire smoke. The owners of the proposed facilities apparently lack the ability to address these issues. So the local planning board or commission rejects the application and the campground idea ends there. Developers and consultants as well as owners need to acknowledge these issues and address them in reasonable ways or no new campgrounds will ever get built.
We must say for the past 23 years of RVing for us…we have avoided KOA as much as possible. They are 90% of the time been more expensive than others. Probably because they ALWAYS have so many amenities. Lots of kid stuff that attracts families. Other RV Places have it but not to the extent of KOA. We always try to stay at the local Mom & Pop RV places. Unfortunately they are disappearing too quickly.
Our way of RVing is to explore the area not the RV park entertainment & perks. When we travel our beautiful Country we do stay at RV Parks. When we RV we Boondock 90% of the time and enjoy Nature’s entertainment.
RVing has gone the way of ocean cruises. Cruise ships are now floating amusement parks, so it’s not surprising that RV campgrounds are going in the same direction.
Today’s campers are not the simple “back to basics” kind that dominated back in KOA’s heyday of the 50s to 70s, seeking the restorative powers of unplugging from modern life, but are instead of the generations who have grown up expecting to be pampered as a deserved entitlement just for “being”. Not only is the kitchen sink thrown into the “primitive” lifestyle of camping these days, but so are widescreen tvs and 24/7 packaged entertainment via the internet. “Glamping” is simply the latest incarnation of the idea of “getting back to basics” as it has been reinterpreted in the 21st century. In time, it will probably morph into full size wall-screen, high resolution projections of long lost natural scenes, complete with surround sounds and smells, incorporated into luxury suites with full wet bars, hot tubs, delivery services, etc. for a mere $2,000/night… “Getting away from it all” has been replaced by “pretending to get away from it all”…
There is some of us that appreciate camping, having a campfire, looking at the stars no matter we’re at. Don’t get any that.
Ultimately, If a market exists, it will be serviced. In 20 years, hypothetically, KOA may have 90% cabins for glamping and 10% of the spaces for travelers with campers or RVs. If a market in a free market has an under serviced demo, that demo will ultimately get serviced better, but only if a PROFIT can be turned. In my hypothetical, someone will fill the space that KOA has chosen to remove from its business model if in fact the glamping cabin becomes KOA’s bread and butter.
Profit is not a dirty word. It is a necessity in order to participate in any business space, in any industry, serving any customer, a product.
KOAs have been a regular part of my RV experience for 20 years. Some better than others but we make our own notes and return when needed only to the ones we rate well, for our purposes. We have blacklisted a few. We look forward to others. They are a travel staple for the Proofs.
I think this is trendy and will eventually dry up…then they’ll have to go back to what they do best, serving RVers and keeping a few cabins.
Hi Chuck, just to clarify what is your definition of an affordable night at a campground. Does your affordable campground have any amenities full hookup, concrete or dirt pads, pool maybe. When you give me the answer please let me know what you think affordable should look like not just in dollars.
Since Chuck has not replied, I will. You bring up a valid point regarding desired amenities and the associated definition of ‘affordable’.
For me, dry camping on a gravel pad works much of the time. $25. If electric is included, and I can get water, $30. I use almost no electricity, but like to top-off my ‘fresh’ tanks. Full Hookups on a gravel pad warrant $40, in my book. I know there is lots of overhead to build a park, and maintenance. But, I don’t think each hookup adds much to the nightly cost of a visit. That changes for people with EVs, and the cost to charge them, or people with multiple ACs in hot states.
Dewayne, I suppose I think of affordable in relation to the majority of RVers. Not poor, not rich, those who are reasonable in their spending depending on their financial circumstances. If they want a concrete pad, then maybe they are willing to pay more, etc. Obviously, what is affordable to one person may not be to another. We’ll do a poll on this and see what our readers think. Look for it in the next week or so in one of our RVtravel.com newsletters. Thanks for inspiring the question.
It is sad to see how it’s all changing. We liked KOA “back when” – it worked well for us when we had all the grandkids, as they didn’t all fit in our RV and we could rent a “basic Kabin” next to us for them and my son and we could all camp together for the week. I didn’t mind the cost, as it was reasonable then, but there is no way we could do that now. Sad, my youngest generation of grandkids and us won’t be able to have that opportunity now. It’s getting to be “camping” will now be one more thing for the “rich folks”. ;-(
My husband and I began camping years ago without young daughter as a way to be able to take a vacation without having to take out a loan or put reservations on credit cards. We were broke. We tent camped then purchased two small fixer upper campers that served us well for many years. But like everything else in this world, we began noticing the prices at many campgrounds, including KOA increasing. We also noticed that for people like us, who primarily tent camp, it was becoming more difficult to find campgrounds outside of state or national parks who would allow tents. This year, we began checking prices around March and decided we would probably not be taking a vacation this year. The few campgrounds who would allow tents are now charging fees in line with what used to be considered premium camper sites. I do not have the budget to pay $75 for a tent site without water or electric…yes, this was an actual price for an unshaded site at a coastal campground. My husband has a saying…Joe and Jane Lunchpail are being priced out of everything anymore. I used to laugh when he would say this….but not now. One campground I called asked me what I would be camping in and when I replied a tent, I got a very condescending “we don’t allow tents at this resort” before she hung up on me. It’s sad but a fact of life for those of us who budget and save our pennies and live frugally so we can take a vacation each year so we will have a staycation again this year and enjoy our home, our deck, our grill and maybe next year we can unpack the tent and go camping….hope springs eternal
Thank you for your very personal and very real story, Dena. I’m sure many people can relate to it. Good luck on going camping next year.🤞 Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at RVtravel.com
We have discovered that many KOAs are not big rig (42′ 5th wheel) friendly as they were mostly built back when RVs were smaller on average.
Simple economics. Nuff said.
It is all part of the social reengineering of the rv population. there are KOAs that cater to the rving customers but they are in the lesser populated areas. the bulk on the popular highway routes are after the top dollar not the rver who for twenty years prior supported the KOA with their regular stays. i had two campgrounds with one non koa laugh at me at their pricing rising in two years when their pricing scheme resulted in a decision to bypass their use in the future. they are in-fact socially reengineering the type of clients and rigs they prefer. they are looking to manage less rv sites and people shortening their stays so they can also carry less staff during the slow days during the week. time will tell how this all plays out. in the meantime adjustments are made. today let a campground I used for 24 years know it is clear my business is no longer welcomed and they could care less. best of luck for the long haul for these campgrounds who forget their loyal customers.
I’m an old man now, but I prefer to live in the present world with my spouse, children, grandchildren great grandchildren and, oh yes, cancer than to pine for the world I inhabited fifty years ago when I would pull down a gravel side road or across an open field to park for the night in my car or truck for free and occasionally cop a shower at a public campground.
The key word in Chuck’s editorial is “affordable.” If there weren’t enough people who think these glamp-grounds are affordable, they wouldn’t be increasing in number. If you truly can’t afford your RV lifestyle as you wish, change your wishes to meet your means. If you don’t like the activities of the campers around you, go where they are not. Truly nothing in life is promised, but, I think, if you look around you’ll find what you need.
Exactly! I love how people who drive these ridiculous monsters see themselves as rugged individualists who worship the free market, but then suddenly become rabid socialists when the amount to park is suddenly higher than what they paid ten years ago.
We’ve been staying in KOAs for probably a good 15 years, if not longer – in tents, the original rustic cabins, the deluxe cabins, 2 popups, and now a small TT. They are our go-to for overnight stops, or transition nights, handy for servicing our tanks. Sometimes, they’re even our destination.(We mostly dry camp in public CGs.)
The deluxe cabins have been wonderful for a friend and me to take a getaway trip when I didn’t want to tow the trailer. It is great to have options for some of our group events – members who don’t have a camper or fly in stay in whatever cabins, etc. a venue (private campground, state park, and so on) may have. I know families who meet up and have people who don’t or no longer camp, or again, fly, so they don’t have an RV.
To say a campground should not have cabins, etc. is at least as elitist as saying no RVs older than X# years.
Is glamping bad for “us”? The analogy of junk food seems to imply as much. In a country largely free to make choices, I think that businesses should be free to explore new markets and for consumers to try them. And it’s not like there won’t be significant capital costs to create these high end experiences. So, any business is taking a pretty big risk if the idea of glamping doesn’t pan out in the long run. There are over 500 KOA campgrounds. Is this really as big a problem as the piece seems to indicate?
And there are luxury hotels, golf resorts, etc. If KOA goes upscale, so be it. The Free Market will create new low cost places to take its place. Nothing to see here folks…move on.
Uh, no, the market won’t create more affordable campgrounds. Most of the proposed new campgrounds are being rejected by towns/counties due to objections from neighbors.