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RV park convention news: Fewer white campers, electric vehicle impact and more

Andy Zipser is attending the annual conference of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. Here are some observations from the early going.

As the annual conference of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds got underway in Raleigh, N.C., this week. A theme common to many of the first speakers and panelists is that the future of RVing is trending younger, less white and more technically demanding.

Many of those conclusions were presented by Ann Emerson, a Kampgrounds of America executive, drawing on KOA’s annual camper survey. “This is the last generation that will be primarily white” she said to a room of several hundred campground owners and vendors, only a handful of whom were non-white. Fewer than 40% of new campers – their ranks dramatically bolstered by reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic – are white, she added.

For long-time RVers having a hard time making campground reservations, one notable KOA survey finding is that because of the pandemic, 25% of remote workers – enabled by increasingly robust wi-fi systems – stayed at an RV park for 10 or more days at a stretch. That experience underscored the observations of several speakers, who stressed that wi-fi has progressed from being a campground amenity to becoming an expected utility, as became true of cable TV or sewer connections in recent decades.

Meanwhile, the next big technological demand from the camping public is already preoccupying the industry, starting with repeated references to the Ford F150 Lightning and its reported 135,000 pre-orders – and climbing. Sixty percent of last year’s new RVers were younger than 40, said Josef Hjelmaker, chief innovation officer for RV industry heavyweight Thor Industries, “and they’re the ones buying electrical vehicles.” But the EV phenomenon will spread beyond the younger cohorts, as costs come down and battery efficiencies go up – changes that “are coming, and they’re coming fast.”

For campground owners trying to keep up with market demands, that means providing adequate numbers and placement of level two charging stations – at a time when the EV industry has not yet standardized placement of charging ports or plug configurations. One audience member observed that he’d been in this predicament before, when Betamax and VHS were vying for market acceptance, only this time the cost of a wrong choice will be enormously greater.

Technology was also front and center during a presentation which, despite its broad title, “The Future of Campground and RV Park Management Starts Now!” actually focused on RV campground booking systems and how they are following in the footsteps of vacation rental businesses. Among the high points RVers should expect, as more and more campgrounds adopt the practices outlined by Shawn Cordes, head of product for RoverPass:

• Have a minimum of 90% of all bookings made online within the next three to five years. This will be achieved in part by charging an extra fee for phoned-in reservations.
• Require up-front deposits of at least 50%, but 100% would be better.
• Set a refund deadline for canceled reservations, after which the entire payment is forfeited. Make a refundable deposit available – for an additional fee.
• Go to 100% digital payments – no checks or cash.
• Charge a lock fee for specific sites.

Unlike past conventions, at which such proposals would provoke some pushback from the audience, this year there was none.

##RVT1026b

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