We are currently visiting the sunny state of Florida. This area thrives on winter visitors and the RV Parks and campgrounds are regularly booked full of guests. Unlike the snowbirds we are not looking to stay in just one spot for 3 months but would like to travel around the state to the different areas. What we have found is shocking and frustrating all at the same time. The vast majority of the “full” parks are not “full”. Instead they have about 90% occupancy meaning they do have empty sites that could be rented for a few days. These sites are sitting empty earning the property owners no income and notably no income from higher daily rate guests!
Unfortunately when we call to check on availability, and if they answer the phone, their response sounds something like this, “well we are pretty full and I am not sure we can get you in…”. This problem is more pronounced at the publicly managed state, county, and city parks where they will boldly place “No Vacancy” signs when 1/3 to 1/2 of the sites are empty. This is usually justified by the staff because those sites may have a reservation coming in 2 days from now. Why do so many parks make it so difficult for guests to visit? Why do so many of the office staff seem flustered just trying to figure out their availability?
Having visited thousands of parks across the country we have found the following 3 factors to be the root cause of this problem:
- Inadequate inventory management and scheduling
- Poorly trained or motivated staff
- Improper pricing and reservation rules
Inadequate Inventory Management and Scheduling
It is amazing in this modern age just how many RV parks and campgrounds do not use some sort of property management software to reserve, schedule, and optimize their sites. There are a plethora of software choices available ranging from free to expensive, cloud based to local install, connected to stand-alone all designed with features that make it easier to answer a simple question “Do you have a site available for 2 nights starting on x day?” These same software packages can be integrated with your online reservation forms, customer contact lists, and other business management solutions to make running your business easier.
If we were to put a number on it about 35% of all campgrounds and RV parks still use paper and pencil to manage their inventory. These tend to be the parks that are not as willing or able to make adjustments and properly schedule guests. The paper parks also tend to result in staff that is less willing to work with you.
Poorly Trained and Motivated Staff
We have all met them and have dealt with them in the past. You know who they are and can even paint a picture in your mind of what they look and act like. That unmotivated staff member who would rather be somewhere else, speaking with someone else and doing something completely different than they are right now. They are not happy to speak with you, could care less about your needs, and don’t really know how to help you if they wanted. Do they have any sites available? No is the easy answer, does not require any effort and gets that person out of their hair quickly. So how do you fix this problem?
It probably starts with you. Do you know and love your business and customers? Do you understand what it takes to run your park? Do you have an easy to use system to schedule and change reservations? If the answer was no to any of these questions then your first step is find a professional to run your park or consult for you. There are both companies and individuals who specialize in making RV parks and campgrounds successful. They have succeeded in the past and are able to formulate a plan for your park going into the future. By getting the proper people in place you can then develop a training and hiring plan to find the right people to work for you, set measurable quality guidelines, and measure results.
Improper Pricing and Reservation Rules
Pricing is the single most important factor to your occupancy and business success that is completely within your control. Imagine for example that Bill Gates decides he wants to own an RV and travel on the road but he only wants to stay at parks where he is the only guest. He is willing to pay $50,000 per day for the right to stay at your park with no other guests plus he wants to stay there for 3 years. Well you have just hit the jackpot and can ignore everything above for 3 years but what happens when he leaves? What type of guests do you want in your park? What do you want your average occupancy rate to be? What type of guests do you want at your park? Your pricing schedule to a large degree dictates all of these factors.
In Florida, in the winter, rates go up exponentially. In the Florida Keys there are parks that charge $150 per night, $750 per week, and $2500 per month. Can you guess what percentage of the guests are staying for a month versus a week or day? While in other areas of the state the prices are not as extreme but close. There are parks that are completely full all winter season but they are only earning a few hundred dollars per MONTH per guest whereas other parks average 3/4 occupancy but earn a few hundred dollars per WEEK per guest. Can pricing really be that important? The answer is yes.
Setting a proper pricing schedule for your desired client mix is critical to running a successful park. If you want daily guests rather than seasonal guests do not set a low (or any) seasonal prices. For example Lazy Days RV outside Tampa offers a daily rate ONLY (no weekly, no monthly) but they do offer Rally rates; guess what? They are a popular rally destination. Your pricing dictates your mix of guests.
Reservation policies can be as important as pricing to your guests (sometimes more so). Around January 1 popular state park campgrounds open up their reservation window for the July holidays. The window is usually open at an odd time and day but nonetheless all available sites are booked within minutes of the open. While this can seem like a success it also breeds cheating. There are individuals who will reserve their maximum allowable sites and dates just to make sure they have a site and then later cancel reservations as their travel plans coalesce. The ensuing follow up for the unlucky folks who missed the reservation window becomes a tedious nightmare of daily checks of the website in an attempt to plan their vacations. The end result is a negative feeling toward the park managers and operators… not a good thing.
The best reservation policies tend to be those that require hard commitments with significant deposits and clear cancellation policies (if someone cancels within 72 hours a full refund should be the norm not the exception for short term stays – obviously longer term stays would need more notice). They also allow for a small number of walk up or last minute reservations.
In the end it is up to the park owners to set the tone for their location. Some don’t care to improve their park while others really want to make it better. Addressing these three problem area will take you a long way towards improving your business, revenue, and guest satisfaction. If we are to be so bold to add one more critical factor… please… please… please answer the phone during business hours. Even if it is to write down a return number and then call back you will be miles ahead of the majority of your competitors.