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.
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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