KOA: Where are the RVs?

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    Photo from a recent KOA promotional email.

    By Chuck Woodbury
    I found the news segment below by a San Diego TV station interesting. In two minutes, it says something significant about how camping has changed, and how KOA is placing increased emphasis on serving campers without RVs. In this video, the owners of a Chula Vista KOA discuss their family-owned business and how it has changed through the years.

    Pay attention as the camera pans 360 degrees around the park as they talk. What’s missing? RVs! What you see are, first, is an “Eco-Tent” (to serve “Glampers”), then one cabin after another. It isn’t until the camera is almost finished panning that you see a few RVs in the distance.


    SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? To me, it’s that at a time when record numbers of RVs are being sold, and few new RV parks are being opened to serve them, that the largest chain of campgrounds (RV parks) is modifying its business model to serve customers without recreational vehicles rather than those with them. That means decreasing the number of RV sites in favor of permanent dwellings — cabins, Eco-Tents, lodges, yurts, teepees, even covered wagons and cabooses outfitted as overnight accommodations.

    Most KOAs are independently owned, often family businesses, and the owners have every right to conduct their businesses the way it maximizes their income. But for those of us who travel with RVs, how they are changing isn’t helping improve the shortage of camping spaces that many of us encounter more with each passing year.

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    Cindy Martin

    I have seen the opposite problem – campgrounds that do not allow any tents. When we were a kid and my family was dirt poor, tenting was the only way we could camp. So I wish all campgrounds had a tent area. That said, yes, putting in a few cabins is helpful (we’ve used them on cross country trips) but we do need RV sites desperately. Again, can’t we just have overnight spots without a bunch of amenities (probably not a KOA then) just to park for the night or a day or two? Many people do want those things as they have kids or are vacationing. But some are just traveling and need a place to lay their head. Moderation in all things, please.

    Ted Denman

    KOA is the next to the last camping choice for me. They are way over priced, and usually noisy. No thanks. Go ahead and make them a “cabin” camp.

    KellyR

    When I was a kid, there were no motels. Instead one would stop to stay in one of the cabins that were lined up like a motel. The dad got a camping trailer. I looks like the cabin idea is coming back except with a lot of glamp. When I pull into a park with cabins I do not understand who would want to stay there – BUT for everyone that stays there, taking up and RV space, there is one less person on the road in an RV. I’m kind of thinking that one less RV is a good thing. Maybe glamping will eventually straighten out some of this RV space shortage thing we are going thru now??? Then maybe, without Glampers buying entry level RVs, the entry level junk RV companies will go out of business and only people that can afford them and really want to camp will have the road for themselves again. Hope I live long enough. Ha!

    1880 Prospectors Ghost

    The Younger Generations are nothing more than watered down Sissified Glamper’s anymore which would have a Hissy-Fit if they woke up without being able to walk across a carpeted floor to do their morning business in the Loo, and then didn’t have their bacon and eggs cooked on an electric stove, and their coffee made in an electric percolator in a modern kitchen.

    Becky Nicholl

    KOA’s work perfect for overnight camping when we are on the road traveling. They are near the interstate so it is easy on and off and they usually have pull through sites so we can just pull right in , late in the evening, and right out in the morning.

    jane shure

    Back in the 70’s KOA used to be a nice place to camp. The rates was reasonable and the camp ground was well maintained. I used to tent camp by motorcycle and car. Today I see the campgrounds has in some cases seen better days. I now have an RV. The spaces are jam pack tight and the rates are out of this world. For what some of them charge I might as well get a motel room. I once inquired at a KOA in Las Vegas about their rated ans was blown away by the cost. I told the people there I might as well take a hotel room for the price they charge. Any more I try to avoid KOA like the plaque. I will park on a side street if nothing else is available.

    Joel and Betty

    Chula Vista RV, a large park right on the ocean is our favorite place although expensive. Filled up with snow birds in the winter. Always full and with reservations.
    So even successful, the Marina landlord has decided to build a hotel and shopping on the large property….hundreds of spaces gone.
    They are closing Feb 1, 2019. So with KOA full of cabins etc, we wont be going to Chula Vista anymore.
    They intend to build a new park somewhere inland in the near? future.
    Bad news in San Diego area of southern Calif.

    Egwilly

    If you look closer at the picture, fully 1/3 of this KOA is RV storage folks! Those trailers are not camping there.

    Kevin Curtis

    While I agree that is more difficult to find RV spots these days, I prefer to retain proper perspective. I have no association with this park or KOA other than as an occasional customer. The video was recorded in a small section of the park that is a small percentage of the total capacity. There are many RV spots not captured on the video. Look at satellite view: https://www.google.com/maps/place/San+Diego+Metro+KOA/@32.6549874,-117.0806096,482m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m8!3m7!1s0x80d9520269e08549:0x14cda96a8cece7bd!5m2!1s2018-10-22!2i2!8m2!3d32.6566687!4d-117.0807169

    David Davis

    To all the “oldtimers” looking for reasonably priced RV spots. If you want to “Camp” get s tent or popup and go to a state park.
    If you want to own a RV, it’s easy to find a reasonably priced place to “park” your RV.
    I’m pushing 70, living on SS and my IRA. Fulltimng for 5 years. My “parking” averages 600 a month or less.
    This “shortage” of RV parks will run just like the golf courses in the 90s. Golf got so popular, courses were jamed, prices got higher, they built more courses, prices went up more. BAM! Bad economy, interest dwindled now we have golf courses going out of business, tee times apkenty at cheap prices.
    THERE IS NO CRISIS OR SHORTAGE!
    Only a shortage of common Sense. People wanting RVs with all the bells and whistles actually believing that these vehicles will funtion as efficiently as their car or truck. People think they can wrap up all the convenience of home and drive it on our crumbling highways with no adverse results. Then they want to park theses things next to streams, build campfires and expect peace and quiet.
    Like I said, no common sense.
    Again, I’m an old geezer, fulltimng for 5 years. I’m living in a 18 year old RV and I am attached to oxygen 24/7.
    The last thing I want is some smoky polluting campfire, and I don’t want to be jammed in like sardines in a parking lot. We drive about 10,000 miles a year, so we aren’t living in a trailer park either.
    Sorry to rant, but I’m sick of hearing about the shortage of affordable RV spots, people stupid enough to depend on Camping World for their RV needs, and people who obviously were wise enough to save enough money to buy an RV but not smart enough to make a good choice purchasing this RV.
    Finally, to all the people foolish enough to buy a RV and make payments on it?

    Martin de Little

    We are English, and have just enjoyed 4x weeks (late September early October) in your splendid country pottering around California, Arizona and Utah in a Cruise America 25′. Now you guys will no doubt have views about Cruise America but for us it was brilliant. Brand new to RV ‘ing it did what it said on the box and that was all we needed. – a great experience. Observations as newbies include: KOA sites consistently give more bangs for your buck than other sites. Wi Fi in all sites everywhere was at best slow or useless. Folks were always warm and friendly . The rules and regulations attending a night at Snow Canyon (Utah) were hilarious e.g. “dog leads may be no more than 6’ long”, and with no hookups the “generator can only be used between 12 noon and 4 pm”. Wonderful . I am gonna frame that notice for our home.

    BO

    When we were visiting the national parks out west, we stayed at a KOA that sounded like the one headlined in this article. All we saw on the way in were cabins. Finally, after making over half the circle around the campground, we came upon the RVs. Out of curiosity, I counted the RV spaces vs. cabins. I cannot recall the exact number, but the cabins outweighed the RVs…and the RV spots were so close together, the owners had to guide you into the space! If you wanted to sit outside, you had your nose practically in your neighbor’s plumbing!

    When our son told us a few months ago, they were going to a local leaf peeping location, we offered the camper to them. They preferred the KOA cabin. I am picturing in my mind the camping cabins we stayed in when KOA first started offering cabins. NOT! These cabins rival many of the Airbnb/VRBO cabins. Not only are they taking up what could be RV spaces, but the local hotels must be missing a few folks as well!

    Bottom line: these campgrounds are really not meant for the kind of recreational camping we love; rather they are hospitality accommodations, pure and simple.

    Bob

    Ivor
    It’s called Quartzsite LTVA
    Walmart parking
    BLM
    National forest disbursed camping

    Roger

    Chuck, Search is your friend when doing research. Suggest you pull up the map of that campground. They did the interview in the corner of this huge campground where those cabins and tents are. Most of the campground is RV and tent sites.

    Cliff Perrin

    We stayed at the Chula Vista KOA the first week of September 2018, at the West Coast end of a cross country trip. The KOA was packed with RVs and people in cabins over the long weekend and then thinned out during the week. Exceptionally clean and well landscaped. Your camera crew must have been there midweek, to not have seen the MANY RVs there. Some of our RV neighbors lived locally and said they would go there just because of all the activities provided for their kids.

    Rick

    Building new campgrounds is a daunting interest. Think about it. You have to put in all the infrastructure of a small community (Electricity, water, sewer, cable tv, internet wifi, swimming pool, hot tub, concrete pad that supports 50K lbs. etc etc) and THEN you have to rent it for $$$$ in order to break even. And most people don’t want to pay $$$$ to rent a campground space. Their CAMPING for crying out loud, how expensive can it be? They think:”I can rent a nice hotel room for this cost or less.” And then you have to deal with repairing the water pipes and sewer hookup and electric pedestals broken by novice RV owners who don’t have a clue on how to drive an RV much less back one into a tight space. All this and not to mention the hassle with local governments in getting permits etc to build one in the first place. It’s no wonder there aren’t more campgrounds being built.

    Janice Kibbe

    My husband and I stayed at the Chula Vista KOA for a couple of days in January 2018 before heading down the Baja. The video shows the cabin and eco-tent area NOT the camper/RV area. This KOA was meticulously clean, beautifully landscaped, very friendly staff, and larger than most sites. Your story on this KOA is misleading because the tent/camper/RV areas are plenty.

    Dave

    Change – it’s always happening! Think about cars, today Millennials don’t want to bother with a car, or even a license for that matter. They would prefer to participate in a car sharing approach (think Uber). The passion we once had for tinkering in the garage on your favorite auto is long gone. Now cars are simply appliances like the Keurig in their kitchen! Why should we be surprised if rather than the “headache” of owning an RV, learning to drive one, fix one, or for that matter, even getting a license, has moved on to “camp sharing”. Why buy an RV you’re only going to use 2 weeks out of the year and have sitting and depreciate the rest of the year? Instead, rent a cabin or an “eco-tent” (now they feel like they are saving the environment too – NOT)! Is it so bad, maybe not, the concept of sharing resources is actually pretty cool. Is it for me, no, I’d prefer to tinker, repair my own RV, learn a new skill, etc.

    As for your concern over campsites… while I appreciate your attempts to raise the warning flags, I must admit it is getting somewhat tiresome. Fortunately we live in at least a somewhat still capitalistic society. Supply and demand will work in this situation too. As the demand increases for camping spaces two things are going to happen, initially costs will go up (think golf courses in the 90’s), then, as those “greedy” capitalists see money opportunities (I prefer to think of them as smart investors), supply will begin to increase. It just takes time, will it happen soon enough for us to enjoy it, maybe not. Will it eventually result in oversupply, you bet – think of golf courses now.

    All that said, I think the concern is a bit over blown. You have to remember that Millenials are the a big part of the current RV rage. However, a couple things about Millenials, they lose interest fast, and far too many can’t tell the difference between a Phillips and flat head screwdriver. When they have to rely on repair men to fix everything that is always breaking on these RV’s you can bet they will just as quickly move on to the next thing (think of the lunacy of tiny houses). I’m betting we are at the peak of RV buying. In the very near future as all these Millenials go off the road and stop posting on YouTube about their amazing RV life, things will change.

    The other part of the RV rage is all the boomers that are retiring. One thing to remember about retirees though, THEY DIE! After this initial glut comes through of boomers, it will level off because the geezers (like us) are kicking the bucket. Just like everything the boomers did it caused a big wave, flattened out, and then left a wake of financial disaster behind it. Yep, just wait until the kids are left with a big, hulking RV, they can’t use and have no where to store. Available boomer RVs will begin to skyrocket just about the time Millenials completely lose interest – market glut!! Yippee, our very own personal RV recession. LOL