Monday, December 4, 2023


The secret way RV parks will soon charge you more

By Chuck Woodbury

As I noted in issue 1,000, I have now purposely stepped out of the spotlight after 20 years of basking in its glow as editor of this illustrious publication. But I am not gone. Hah! Far from it. I am not retired and the last time I pinched myself I was not dead. I still have words in me that must come out. A writer writes and always will. It’s a law of nature.

What I must tell you about today is something I bet you have never thought of. Mike Gast, our new and incredibly magnificent contributor, will have much more to say on this subject beginning next weekend. But here’s a little preview.

You’ve heard of dynamic pricing, haven’t you? Airlines, hotels and Uber drivers practice it. It means you pay for services based on supply and demand. If you book a hotel room five months in advance for a holiday weekend you will likely get a better deal than if you try to reserve it two days in advance when only a few rooms are left. Same goes for plane tickets. And, with Uber, if you want a ride at 4 a.m., it will cost you far less than a ride home from a sold-out Red Sox game – “supply and demand” at work.

So here is my preview of your RVing future. It’s scary if money is important to you. The message is this: Be prepared to pay more for a campsite in the years ahead, and be prepared to be denied a reservation for reasons you will never know…

TO VASTLY SIMPLIFY, the campground industry is starting to get sophisticated in learning all it can about you. This is a new thing. And it’s not doing it for fun! It’s doing it to dig deeper into your pocketbook. How they learn everything about you is another story: We’ll cover that later.

With dynamic pricing, as space fills up in an RV park, before offering you a price for a campsite, the park’s sophisticated reservation system will determine in a nanosecond not only how many spaces are left to sell, but who will spend the most during their stay. Through artificial intelligence, it will know, for starters, if you’re driving a half-million dollar motor coach or a $15,000 stick-and-tin travel trailer (think 3 Little Pigs straw house).

If the owner of the luxury rig and the owner of the trailer try to book a last-minute campsite, the big rig owner – who is likely wealthier – might be enticed to pay $90 for a site that normally goes for $45 – “he/she can afford it.” The family in the inexpensive trailer will be far less likely to pay the premium price and instead head over to Walmart. The campground owner has thus picked up an extra $45 thanks to an algorithm.

But wait, there’s more…
Here’s why: The RV park’s reservation system will also know the history of each camper. The algorithms in the booking system will know that the RVers in that big ol’ motorhome usually check in, sleep, then head out at 8 a.m.

But the RVers in the inexpensive trailer? The RV park’s sophisticated reservation system will know that the family has a history of spending a lot of money where it stays. For example, they always buy groceries and ice cream cones at the park store. They usually buy firewood and often stock up on propane. Most days, the booking system knows, they opt for premium WiFi at $10 to $15 a day. The booking engine knows that Mom and Dad rent pedal cars for their kids to race around the campground (to terrorize other campers). When the kids are too pooped to pedal anymore, Mom and Dad will slip them a sawbuck ($10) to play on the water slide rather than sit around the trailer and watch cartoons. Oh, notes the algorithm, Mom almost always drops a load of quarters into laundry machines.

So, if both families want a last-minute campsite, and the park only has a few spots left, which camper do they really want to stay there? The family that “spends where it stays” will probably get a far better offer.

Algorithms rule!

So this is your future. It’s already here, but still on training wheels. Be sure to return next week to learn more about this from Mike Gast. And we’ll stay on top of the issue as it evolves.

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Chuck Woodbury
Chuck Woodbury
I'm the founder and publisher of I've been a writer and publisher for most of my adult life, and spent a total of at least a half-dozen years of that time traveling the USA and Canada in a motorhome.



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DW/ND (@guest_200991)
1 year ago

I don’t recall reading this previously – so thanks for posting again Chuck. I think the nay sayers below are missing the point of personal privacy invasion and equity or equal opportunity for everyone. To be sorted out and selected for your “ability” to pay is not being fair to other families who may have higher priorities than being wealthy – like spending quality time with their kids, etc!

Larry Lee (@guest_200949)
1 year ago

This is already in place at Natchez Trace STATE PARK in Tennessee!

Lori (@guest_132934)
2 years ago

So very sad — but, alas, true. Goodbye open road, stopping for the night on a whim at a wide open RV park, lured by “sale” prices, having 20 feet of space on each side of your rig when you do park. Dang it, if I wanted to make reservations, I’d stay at a motel. There. I said it. I do mourn those happy days.

DENNIS J CHARPENTIER (@guest_131614)
2 years ago

So far in my short history with dynamic pricing, corporate campgrounds are more likely to have this sophisticated, wallet gouging system in place. Ever more incentive to stay at trusted family owned campgrounds. As our camping club has experienced, only mom and pop will fight for your group business, give you free firewood, and appreciate your stay.

Keira B (@guest_131611)
2 years ago

I forwarded this story to some friends who own an RV park. They had a good laugh. Their employees can barely keep the reservations straight, let alone track any of the spending habits of their guests. This type of system is a long way off for most RV parks.
Also, most RV park owners are small business owners, and are usually making a very small profit. I hope we find technology that helps them stay afloat. Weren’t you complaining about a shortage of RV parks?
Being a business owner myself, I have looked at buying 4 different RV parks, and decided that they are a very poor investment. If they were more profitable, I might be interested.

Bob M (@guest_131348)
2 years ago

While some maybe skeptical about Chuck’s Editorial and opinion. I believe it’ll eventually happening. You don’t think corporations are buying up large campgrounds for millions of dollars for small change profit. Their already developing programs to price campsites in their favor. I don’t live far from a area that may have around 1000 park model campers and a development with over 1000 vacation homes. It’s known since computers the supermarket there increases the price from Memorial day to labor day. The same thing will happen to corporate owned campgrounds. Before you know it these corporate owned campgrounds will be selling stock to get larger and profit the stockholders.

Gail Wagner (@guest_131329)
2 years ago

The cost of the system itself will prohibit many smaller parks from using it. Smaller parks also tend to have more “regulars” from the local area who are known and welcomed. Only the larger corporate-owned commercial parks will likely turn to these systems…and algorithms are why so many folks are leaving sites such as Facebook!

KDL (@guest_131179)
2 years ago

This article is a bunch of malarkey! I’ve owned and operated for 32 years a 53 acre RV Park resort with 250 sites, 24 cabins with a 33 pad mobile home Park, right in the center of big tourism. It’s near Dollywood and Pigeon forge and Gatlinburg. This article is fear mongering. Just plan ahead and do your due diligence on where you want to stay and what you want as eminities.

Sharon B (@guest_131595)
2 years ago
Reply to  KDL

Yes, but it sounds like you are not Big Corporate. You are still human.

ark (@guest_131169)
2 years ago

I think, that author of this article has no clue of what he/she is talking about. All of it is pure speculations. Market price is still exists in America, altogether with competition and right of choices. As long as campground business is not a monopoly, they cannot dictate the prices. I am more concerned with the state of our media and a professional journalism when read that kind of BS.

Irv (@guest_131165)
2 years ago

Demand pricing is easy to beat—just plan ahead.

we seldom stay in commercial campgrounds. Most are overcrowded, smoky, noisy, dumps. State and national parks are much better!

Ellen L (@guest_131160)
2 years ago

I work camp in North Central Florida. I, personally, don’t consider that I am “camping” in our 38′ Renegade Super C motorhome. I think of it as “RVing.” Our rates only differ by being a back-in or a pull-thru site. I do find that people wait till a couple of days before a holiday to call for reservations and then are surprised that we do not have availability for their size RV. Our resort has been here 20 years – when campers were much smaller. We are adding 200 sites later this summer and I’ll wager those will be full for holidays, too. The construction has been going on for a year. There’s a LOT to building an RV resort.

Sharon B (@guest_131598)
2 years ago
Reply to  Ellen L

Its word interpretation, but to me it’s still camping. I camp in my tent and I camp in my small RV aka travel trailer with full amenities.

Firefly (@guest_131156)
2 years ago

How does this fit in with your complaints that there is a campground shortage? Now you want to complain that campgrounds are going to earn higher revenues. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to have more campgrounds then you need to ensure owners can get a reasonable return on their investment. Yield-based pricing is one way to do that. I’ve already seen some public parks (I think it was Indiana State Parks) that charge small premiums for weekends and holidays. Or, if you want, discounts for weekdays and low season camping.

Jason S (@guest_131155)
2 years ago

What’s this article suggesting… they should all be government run? That economic concept hasn’t worked out well for Venezuela or any other country that’s tried government run business. Profit allows service quality and availability.

Sharon B (@guest_131600)
2 years ago
Reply to  Jason S

Jason…come back to the story. No they are not talking about Venezuela nor about the government. They are just talking about big buck corporate owned. ‘Bienvenidos en Estados Unidos’.

Last edited 2 years ago by Sharon B
Steve C (@guest_131141)
2 years ago

If you don’t like the way campgrounds set their prices, feel free to risk your own money to open your own campground–then you can lose money just as much as many of them have over the years before they learned how to maximize revenue during their very short seasons of being able to be profitable.

You can’t have it both ways–either you want to have campgrounds available, so they have to be profitable, or you should stop whining about how difficult it is to find an uncrowded campground.

Rob H (@guest_131138)
2 years ago

I’m not sure what the point of this article is. RV parks are a business, like any other. They take advantage of tech that supports their business. So? Are you against economic profit for those that are in business? Why pick on RV parks? Hotels have always charged more on holidays and some require two night minimum stays on weekends. It’s called capitalism. Its main drive is profit. And it uses supply and demand to increase prices when demand is high and have greater discounts when demand is low to attract customers. It’s how people can stay in business, pay taxes, support their staff, and provide services. What’s the issue?

robert (@guest_131132)
2 years ago

Yes I just booked a site and picked my site and when I went to pay they wanted to charge another $10 to make sure they did not give to someone else. I said no but now we will see tomorrow night what site I get. Another campground I prebooked a site a week ago now wants the payment or will cancel. That may be ok just never run into it before.

Seann Fox (@guest_131124)
2 years ago

Just more reasons why I avoid commercial campgrounds. In the last 14 years I have averaged one night every 3 years in a commercial campground that’s because I couldn’t find a boondocking spot while traveling. I find it extremely funny that the RVIA always shows pictures of a family all alone camped in an idyllic setting by a lake with canoes and bicycles and everything else but the reality is cheek to jowl packed in like sardines campgrounds oh that is so much fun I just can’t believe it

Heather Warner (@guest_131109)
2 years ago

This is the reason why when shopping for my RV I’m already figuring in the price of going solar and composting toilet so that I can boondock. I want to RV to enjoy nature not resort parks full of people watching outdoor TVs when the real entertainment is a 100 yards away.

Drew (@guest_131088)
2 years ago

I wonder how much it’ll change in the next year. The place we’re visiting this week has shut off the power in the park. They will save a ton of money over that time…in a sense they have increased their rates by withholding service. The place is Jackson Rancheria. We’ll still have a great time but will probably have to put around 100 bucks of gas in the tank from the use of the generator.

Joe (@guest_131084)
2 years ago

I believe there was an article a short wile back that Camping World is getting into the booking system. They bought Nomad Reservations and retooled it as and is selling it to campgrounds. It appears to be loaded with information that campgrounds can use to track your travels. I will not be surprised if Camping World starts buying up some of the Mom and Pop campgrounds (maybe they are currently doing that under different names). If that happens then watch the algorithms start ticking away at light speed.

Chuck hopefully I did not spoil next weeks articles, I look forward to reading them!

Traveller (@guest_131100)
2 years ago
Reply to  Joe

If CW gets involved, there goes any hint of reasonable pricing and convenience. Please wake me when the nightmare is over. The whole point of RV’ing is freedom to be spontaneous and avoid the cost of a resort. Turning Campgrounds into the same type of reservation and congestion nightmares of air travel, cruises, and hotels takes most of the pleasure away. Keep in mind that if enough money is spent, these same campgrounds will lean on local city councils to pass ordinances forbidding Walmart or other free alternatives.
It’s time for RV Travel to advocate for alternatives and pushback suggestions rather than a weekly sad-sack depressive report on how RVing is going to suck more and more each year.

Joe (@guest_131143)
2 years ago
Reply to  Traveller

Many campgrounds have already voiced their concerns to the local city and county councils about Walmart. This is why many of them do not allow over night stays.

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