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Majority of RVtravel.com readers would like to own RV park. Former campground owner says ‘stay away’

RVtravel.com regularly runs reader polls to take its audience’s temperature. Most are of only passing interest to me personally, but the one that ran May 22 hit home—as did the responses and how they shifted over time. The question was: “If you were given the opportunity to own and operate an RV park, would you?” And unlike most RVtravel.com polls, which typically provide a range of possible responses, this one expressly did not. As the poll makers wrote, “You’ve got to choose between a simple ‘yes’ and a simple ‘no.’ Some of you may say something like, ‘Sure! If it only had five spaces and it was next to a beautiful waterfall and kids and dogs and campfires weren’t allowed …’ It’s just gotta be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’ No ifs, ands, or buts!”

The immediate results

As someone who wrote a book last year about this very topic—one that detailed our family’s eight-year history of being ground into the dust by the weight of operating an RV park—I was intrigued to see the results and encouraged by the early returns. By that evening, 72% of the thousand-plus respondents had turned thumbs down on the idea, sometimes in vehement terms in the comments section. “No option for ‘No, Hell No!’. Too much work for too little appreciation of it!” wrote one poll-taker. “A simple ‘no’ doesn’t BEGIN to express the no-ness of my no,” wrote another, with Zen-like simplicity.

Explanations for why this is a truly asinine idea included the amount of work involved and the realization that owning a campground would put an end to one’s own travels. But the most cited objection was, strikingly—other campers. There are a lot of RVers, it turns out, who don’t like the way other RVers behave. “Dealing with the public would be the primary issue—and we’ve lost a sense of civility as a society,” explained one of the more civil respondents. Added another: “Big NO! Too many messy, inconsiderate (not to mention lazy and stupid) people camping now. Pick up after your dog, pick up after yourself, your family may not mind that you are rude but we do. Keep your music to yourself, save the profanity until you are in your own camper, leave the bathroom as clean or cleaner than you found it.”

And then there were the rants like this one:

“Big NO.
Sick of cleaning up after PIGS.
They don’t own the property so people just throw crap wherever they feel like.
Bathrooms are the worst. Did I mention PIGS.
Try to poop IN the toilet. Put the tissue IN the toilet.
Aim for the drain of the urinal, not the floor.
Don’t write your complaints on the mirrors.
Cans and bottles strewn outside.
I guess it’s too hard to use the cans management has provided.
I often wonder what their home and yard looks like?”

Majority switches sides, would like to own RV park

But then a curious thing happened. As the hours slipped by and more readers took the poll, the sentiment quickly reversed. Within 24 hours the “no” votes dropped from 72% of the respondents to just 43%; by Tuesday the gap widened even more, to 63% “yes” and just 37% “no.” And as of this morning (May 28th), with more than 5,400 respondents to the poll and 213 of them weighing in with comments, the turnaround is almost complete, with 68% saying they’d love to own and operate a campground and just 32% grousing about the workload and the public.

Wow.

Takeaways

In digesting these results, as well as the comments they elicited, I have a couple of takeaways. One is that of the 16 or so comments made by people who’ve actually owned a campground, or at the very least worked at one, the overwhelming majority were too happy to walk away and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience.

A second is that a significant number of those saying they’d jump at the chance did so on the basis of their experience as RVers, with little if any understanding of the difference between being a producer and being a consumer. To use my go-to analogy for this sort of thing, it’s as if I were to say that I’d like to become a rancher because I like to eat steak. That’s probably not the best strategy for making life choices.

A third takeaway is that an equally significant number of affirmative respondents are, if not desperate, at least wistful in their wish for something more than what they have, such as the commenter who wrote simply, “I’d really like to own something.” Several seemed to interpret the poll as a job posting; some said they think of campground ownership as a retirement plan; and some apparently just need housing or want to provide housing for homeless folks, as in “We are looking for an RV park to make into a homeless shelter!!”

A fourth conclusion is that not enough RVtravel.com readers have picked up my book, Renting Dirt—or that they have, but were not deterred by our experience. The siren song is strong indeed!

Also by Andy:

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, available at Amazon.com. He’s also just completed writing Turning Dirt, scheduled for release June 21, which provides a step-by-step primer for those determined to buy a campground despite his prior warnings. Early-bird discounts are available on his website for orders placed by June 20.   

##RVT1055

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Lillian Beahm
29 days ago

I stayed at Andy’s campground once. It was the cleanest place I have ever seen. My husband felt guilty walking on the bathroom floor when he went in to wash his hands.
The personnel were constantly tidying up and cleaning up. I commented to my husband that I could not believe how good the baskets of flowers looked because it was the end of the season. My baskets start to look ragged, but these looked perfect. He ran a wonderful campground.

Andy
28 days ago
Reply to  Lillian Beahm

Aw, shucks, Lillian–you make me blush. Thanks for the very kind words!

Doug
1 month ago

A lot has changed over the past 50 years in the RV industry. Initially, RV meant ‘recreational vehicle’, where the emphasis was to go out into nature, enjoying it with some of the amenities that you couldn’t or wouldn’t carry on your back.
My Dad’s earliest concept of an ‘rv’ was a Ford station wagon, but that was short-lived after a few trips to the hills with 4 kids in the back. Then it was a camper on a Dodge Power wagon which was reserved for his hunting trips (no kids allowed). Purely utilitarian.
Nowadays, ‘RV’ has turned into the meaning ‘Recreate your home vehicle’ with every convenience known to mankind jammed into a box on wheels.
Being the owner of a RV park now, catering to this crowd would be an absolute nightmare. If you’ve never worked in the hotel industry, this scenario, where people not only bring a suitcase into your establishment, but all of their toys, pets, tvs, boom boxes and then leave any broken lawn chairs, beer cans, pet poop, and garbage…well.

Spike
1 month ago

Last year we visited the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. It has a large attached campground and protective services are performed by the National Park Service police.

The Police horse barn had a couple of officers visitors could talk to. I asked them just what kind of issues they dealt with. Let’s just say that a large campground open to the public is a cross section of the general public…good, bad, and very bad.

No room here to repeat the situations they described that happen, but they include drugs, drunks, fights…some very violent that include weapons, domestic disputes, threats, dealing with emotionally disturbed people, etc.

My brother worked for the Minnesota State Parks for over 40 years. Same issues come up.

No thanks.

Robert
1 month ago

Having been a business owner for 39 years and then finishing my working years in a retail position for 7 more I can tell you working with the public takes a special person. Today they feel like they are owed something with out earning it

Dave
1 month ago

Maybe an RV “overnight only “ type of facility with just the basic amenities (water/electric) close to the interstate, for those traveling that just need a quick pit stop. Making it a simple operation for the owners as well.

tom
1 month ago
Reply to  Dave

Yes, we need more of the “just one night” in and out operations. Nothing fancy, water and power, maybe a dump site. All pull-throughs, no unhooking.
Stayed in one on the way to Tucson. Pulled in, hooked up, pay was on the honor system ($20 a day). Next door was a great little restaurant. Perfect for the night. I’ll plan on stopping there again.

Tim
1 month ago
Reply to  tom

Tom, please name this stopover as we will be heading to AZ. next Jan.

Scott R. Ellis
1 month ago

I suspect a correlation between people who actually actively RV, read the newsletter promptly, and said no; and people who daydream about it, get around to the newsletter sooner or later, and said yes.

squeakytiki
1 month ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Or you know….those of us who ‘actively RV’ may have been doing that and might not have had internet for a few days. Just a thought.

Billinois
1 month ago

I think owning a campground is something only a young couple should consider. Those who think of it as a “retirement project” will quickly find out it is anything but.
I spent decades in public-facing careers, real estate management and IT, and I can tell you working with the public requires a very specialized skill set. Especially in today’s world of personal entitlement. Times have changed and public service is not like it was 40 years ago.

bull
1 month ago

Be CAREFUL what ya wish for to those that would love to own a RV park.

IF you think the “Job” you got now or had in the past is tough just imagine BUYING A JOB that will become the biggest PITA of your working life dealing with people traveling or on vacation and their unrealistic expectations?

Your in for one heck of a surprise when your “retail” customers start raining on your parade because the $25/ night “service” you provide does not match their $100/night expectations.

You think selling a “retail product” is hard just wait until you are selling a “retail service”. On top of that you are selling a “retail service” to those customers traveling or on their “Vacation” and you know what that means!

That’s when the slightest issue becomes a BIG PROBLEM for you the campground owner!

Here is how Machelle who writes the campground owners section of this newsletter started the first sentence in her most recent article:

“I think I could have had a heart attack last week.”

Dave
1 month ago

The author unwittingly makes a case for corporate owned campgrounds, which he dislikes. He makes the case that private campground ownership is an undesirsble venture.

Tom A B
1 month ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if campgrounds start charging a refundable security deposit. $50 to clean up a messy site might be an effective deterrent.

DANIEL G SALVAGNO
1 month ago

Forgot to mention, would not own a CG, too many NEANDERTHALS now.

DANIEL G SALVAGNO
1 month ago

Our experience pre covid was mostly pleasant with our trailer at numerous parks. It seems covid has driven many NEANDERTHALS away from PLANES TRAINS and BUSES and in to RVs. Agree with comments re PIGS! At least knowing sooner or later we or they unhook and go. Our sympathies to owners, good managers and other good campground users.

Leonard Rempel
1 month ago

I believe IMHO that people who want to own a campground are the same people who think owning a restaurant would be a “fun” idea.
Let me tell you now, IT IS NOT! Having spent 30 years in the restaurant/hospitality business, I can’t count the number of people who told me that since they know how to cook and love food that they would like to own a restaurant.
Owing a restaurant is similar to owning a grain farm (of which, strangely I have done both). You can become moderately rich owning them, only if you start out being extremely rich!

Traveler
1 month ago
Reply to  Leonard Rempel

For Pete’s sake, if it’s their dream, let them do it! Just because you didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean they won’t. If they go broke, THEY are the ones suffering while you gloat. It’d be a sad world if everyone had the same dreams, desires and work ethics.

Susan Banks
1 month ago

I think there is owning a campground where all responsibility is on you to being part of a corporate company where everything is done in a corporate way, no one single person has all angles of the business. We find VT CG clean, not over crowded family owned small and they are engaged with every day aspect of the camp. They are neat tidy, no lights under the rv, no loud music. Just great like
Minded people enjoying what VT has to offer. That Type I could own.

Tammie
1 month ago

I have been following the rv adventures of a couple John and Mercedes who are known as RV Odd couple or odd squad. When covid left it difficult to find open campgrounds and for other reasons they took over an old campground called thunder canyon in Alabama which just recently opened. Rather than purchasing it, it is a members only campground which has founding members etc. and has varying membership fees. I think this concept might be interesting to actually owning your own campground, and just wanted to share it with your readers.

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