What’s The Future Of The Family Run Campground?
There is no denying that the typical campground has changed over the decades. What used to be a fairly small and niche enterprise has exploded into a multitude of business of all sizes and forms. Some examples of these include state or county campgrounds transferring their daily duties to off-site organizations, family run campgrounds selling their business to corporations, and campgrounds opening up in backyards and vacant land.
This article by Andy Zipser on the RV Travel website opened up a very interesting conversation about the traditional family run campground and whether it’s in danger. Zipser talks about his family’s process of selling their campground to a larger corporation. In addition, the article discusses the upheavals being faced by smaller, family run campgrounds and whether or not they should sell.
Why sell a family run campground?
According to Marilyn DeWard of The Campground Connection, family run campgrounds are sold for various reasons.
“A lot of the mom and pop campgrounds are just that: mom and pop. They are operated by elderly couples who have health issues, they miss being away from family, it’s their 10 year exit plan anniversary, or it could be divorce, or the death of a spouse.”Marilyn DeWard, The Campground Connection
The Campground Connection is a full service connecting campground and resort buyers and sellers. Their website features a search function and map for campgrounds for sale across the nation.
DeWard has seen an uptick in corporations becoming interested in the camping industry because of COVID-19 and the explosion of RV purchases.
“I do see corporations and investment groups coming into the market more so now than in the past. With a surge of “new” campers, campgrounds and RV parks were filled to capacity in 2020. Investors watch the market, and I think they saw the surge of sales in the motorhomes, followed that to campgrounds, and saw a merging market. Of course, they wanted a piece of the pie and they came out in droves.”Marilyn DeWard, The Campground Connection
However she adds that because of these new campers, some of these buyers also fall in love with the lifestyle and want a change of pace.
“Most buyers are coming out of a corporate job. They are done ‘working for the man’ and want the freedom to own and operate their own business and be their own boss. Most are couples with children who are looking for a lifestyle, change of pace, and a good environment for their children to grow up in. The average age of the buyer is around 45 to 60 years old.”Marilyn DeWard, The Campground Connection
Cherry Hill Park
So, with this new buying storm brewing, is the family run campground doomed?
An example of one that is going strong and evolving with the times is Cherry Hill Park near Washington, D.C. In 2021 Cherry Hill Park is celebrating its 100 year anniversary. It started out as a poultry farm in 1921 and has been run by the same family for five generations. The campground offers sites for RVs and tents, as well as stays in log cabins, yurts, glamping pods, and large-scale rental houses.
Owner, Mike Gurevich says, “You learn a lot growing up on a campground. We hold true today to the values we’ve always had—good hospitality and friendly service don’t go out of style. We pride ourselves on providing each guest that visits us with the best camping and tourism experience in the region.”
Evelyn Townsend, the Marketing Director for Cherry Hill Park says that their guests appreciate the family-run aspect of the campground and seek them out because of it.
“We often hear from guests that it’s obvious we’re a family run campground and that they appreciate it. We think we’re able to offer a personal touch—we resolve guest issues directly, we have a personal relationship with our staff, and we are able to reinvest in our business to improve and grow rather than satisfy a board of shareholders. We love that Cherry Hill Park is a campground like few others, where our passion for camping and hospitality translates to an excellent guest experience. For us, excellence is a matter of personal pride.Evelyn Townsend, Cherry Hill Park
While we’ve certainly noticed some recent transitions where campgrounds have sold to corporations, we’ve noticed in many cases that the guests are less happy. We hear that some personality is lost while prices rise and amenities are reduced. We really feel that the personal touch inspires us to go above and beyond for our guests.”
Townsend has noticed other trends in the camping business. These include a shift from retired couples to vacationing families, growth of resort-style campgrounds, growing diversity in the types of families who camp, and exciting new developments in electric vehicles that could bring serious change to the industry.
“We’re excited for it all. We’ve managed to last 100 years because we love adapting to changes and shifting our business to meet people where they’re at.”Evelyn Townsend, Cherry Hill Park
Townsend also adds that with a strong family business, the benefits can be passed down to the customer.
“A major trend we’ve noticed is that many family-run campgrounds are in the process of generational transition. Kids who grew up in the business are becoming very active in high-level management decisions. This means you’re starting to see more technological solutions. Campground software is improving, and owners are pursuing things like better WiFi, digital security, online ordering and delivery, charging to site, and remote check-ins. We feel a family-run campground can offer the perfect blend of traditional customer service values, efficiency, and convenience, and that’s what we strive to provide our guests.”Evelyn Townsend, Cherry Hill Park
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