In the nine years since its founding, CampgroundViews.com has seen steady growth, led by its founder and CEO Mark Koep.
A full-time RVer with his wife, Katrina, who also helps with the business, and their son, CJ, who is 7 and daughter Melania, who was born this fall, CampgroundViews.com was created out of real-life experiences.
“We were traveling to parks and realizing once we got there that some of them where not what we expected,” Koep explained. “My wife and I came up with the idea of providing a way for campground owners to share videos and photos of their parks and the website was born.”
Koep continually touts the growth that campground owners see after he creates a video for a park as the reason why quality-produced videos are key for any campground’s marketing efforts.
“Some of the numbers these parks are getting is eye-popping,” he said.
Koep also operates a number of Facebook pages which have grown over the years to include hundreds of owners and vendors. Last spring, Koep held an online forum that connected software providers with his Facebook audience. The weeklong session saw nearly 200 people participate.
Still at its heart, CampgroundViews.com is about connecting the right camper with the right park, according to Koep.
Koep recently caught up with Woodall’s Campground Management (WCM) and spoke about the growth of the company and trends in the campground and RV park sector.
Below is an edited version of that discussion.
WCM: CampgroundViews.com isn’t just focused on one thing. Can you give our audience a glimpse of everything you do?
Mark Koep: We really have two avenues of business. The first is our search engine, CampgroundViews.com, and traffic has basically doubled on that site from 2018. It’s not at the Google level of traffic, but it is people looking for campgrounds and RV parks. It’s a good mix of visitors and that end of the business is doing well, and we started offering some different advertising opportunities there that are an inexpensive way to target an audience.
Then our second side of the business is our digital marketing services for owners. We use video and we are a huge proponent of video. That is what we feature and that is our main focus. Video is our focus because we are marketers first, and we know that the most effective thing a park owner can do to get a potential guest to come to them is to show them the park, and that is why we do video. This past summer was one of the busiest we have had on the video production side of things. We were all over the place and delivered amazing videos.
WCM: You have ventured into 360 videos. How has that technology improved and are consumers embracing it?
Koep: When it first came out there were a lot of comments from customers that didn’t know how to use it. They didn’t understand how to move the screen around, and we would get people saying that all they could see was the ground. Fast forward and they now know what 360 videos are and they love it, because it gives the consumer the power to tour the parks. If you can show a guest the park, allow them to tour it and give them the ability to then book online, that’s exactly what they want to do. In the near future, we hope to start partnering up a little bit more with different reservation system providers and getting the 360 platform out there into different vendor’s hands, so that they can use it on a larger scale.
If you think about the reservation engine as it exists now, it’s basically an extension of the hotel reservation, but the problem with hotel reservations is, in hotels your guests all fit in the same room, same bed, bathroom, shower, it’s all the same. In an RV space, every RV is different based on length and where doors are located. RVers can’t just book the same thing as everyone else. Without these videos they won’t be able to see a tree that might block their RV’s slide and make the decision to maybe move a site over.
WCM: Based off your interactions with owners and campers during your travels in 2019, how has the industry fared over the past year?
Koep: This last summer was the best season for campground owners and operators that I spoke with. Across the industry it really was a record-breaking year. I have been working on research, but what I think we are seeing is a second wave of Baby Boomers that have finally retired, and they are hitting the road in RVs. They don’t have a perception that RV sites need to be $30-a-night. Their perception of an overnight accommodation comes from hotels and so on and their price point is higher, and a lot of the high-end resort operators have really capitalized on this. They’re providing super high-end amenities and charging a premium price point.
Another big trend we’ve seen is there’s been a lot of money chasing the campground industry. For owners, especially those that operate smaller parks who are thinking about eventually selling their parks to retire on, there’s honestly never been a better time to sell a park than right now. There are so many investment groups interested in owning and operating parks and that trend is playing out when you walk the floors of industry conferences. There are a ton of people looking to enter the market at those shows.
WCM: Glamping is everywhere now-a-days. Are you seeing the investments from campground owners seeking to provide more glamping experiences?
Koep: That is a hard one to answer because there is no true definition of glamping. Glamping in my mind is high-end camping where owners provide all the amenities. The price point that they are charging is meant to reach a different audience. It’s not campers. It’s people who want to try something different than a five-star hotel.
When you talk about smaller parks, they don’t have the staff, training or ability to offer that high-end glamping experience. I’m not saying they can’t do it, but as an operation I don’t think they’re mentally prepared to do that. But what they’re able to do is install park model RVs, cabins or RVs that are set up on a site, and then rent those out. They are used to doing that and so we’re seeing more and more of that because it creates a high-dollar income, and it also allows people who don’t own RVs, and who don’t want to tent camp, to come into the resorts and experience that and it’s kind of a gateway into getting them into the RV lifestyle.
I just know the folks that are most successful right now in the glamping space, it’s not so much that they have a glamping resort, it’s that they provide an amazing experience.
WCM: What are you noticing when it comes to larger development firms entering the space? How are they impacting the market?
Koep: There are companies that have identified the market that makes the most sense for them and they are investing significant capital back into parks and amenities, and they are charging premium prices.
Now there is a catch there if we look long-term. If prices keep moving up it’s going to change the way people RV and so honestly the biggest trend I’m watching on the manufacturer side is the push to solar-powered and self-sustaining units. We are almost at a point now with the lithium batteries and the solar setups on RVs where they do not need an electrical hookup anymore.
If you think about that as an overall experience, if you eventually remove the need for an RV to have utility hookups, what does an RV park or campground provide? That’s a big question because if part of the sell is, we provide full hookups and all these other amenities, well you just lost the biggest thing you’re selling, which is the hookup.
Now all of a sudden, you’ve got to install amenities and people aren’t going to be willing to park unhooked for $90-a-night unless the amenities are worth it. I think long term that is something that needs to be considered.
WCM: Do we start to lose the feel of what camping is as more of the larger development companies move into the space?
Koep: These investment groups can come in for a profit, but in the end it’s going to come down to the consumers. They could buy a park and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to charge $100-a-night and we’re just going to hire some kid to run the office.’ Well, guess what, nobody is going to stay at that park, and so then they’re going to have to hire a real manager and they’re going to have to drop their rates and improve their amenities. You are going to see that and what I’ve not seen yet is where somebody builds a park, overprices it and under performs.
Usually the investment groups are savvy enough to where they kind of identify that early on and they’ll hire an onsite manager or general manager who runs the park well. There’s actually a few examples out there where these investment groups have come in, stumbled for a few months, and immediately identified what they needed to fix. Then they are willing to put the investment into it because the reality is the returns are there right now. As long as you provide that good experience, and your numbers make sense, you’re going to be fine.
WCM: You are a full-time RVer and you have owned a number of RVs. Obviously, it is no secret that the RV industry has been battered by quality issues over the past few years. They are working hard to find solutions to repair issues. Are you worried that impacts the future of camping, as far as people getting burned out and not wanting to own an RV?
Koep: I don’t think it impacts people’s desire to go camping. People are going to camp anyways but they’re going to start looking at alternative routes of doing so. I have been shocked to hear how many people are building their own units or refurbishing older units. I haven’t really seen that in the past and it’s one of those things where people are looking at the cost of owning an RV and deciding they could build one for cheaper and design it the way they want it.
It’s not so much the quality of the units as it is the after the sale attention these consumers are getting. RVs are generally built to be used for weekends and vacations, but after your first vacation if you buy a new RV and something breaks you should be able to easily call somebody, and have it fixed quickly. That isn’t happening. If you’re doing that to thousands of people around the country, what are they going to say to other people who are thinking about buying RVs?
I still think the campground sector as a whole has a lot of growth left in it, even if the RV industry continues to trend downwards. There is so much diversity in the industry right now, and the price points out there are attracting new consumers.