More people than ever before are spending weekends, holidays and vacation time in campgrounds. But they’re not all staying in tents and RVs.
“Many of them are staying in luxurious park model cabins, cottages and other accommodations that feature all the comforts of home,” said Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
While tenters and RVers remain the primary customers of America’s campgrounds, park operators have discovered that there is so much market demand for fully furnished cabins and cottages that it behooves them to invest in rental accommodations.
And they’re doing so in record numbers, from small, independently owned campgrounds to the biggest campground and RV resort chains in the country, including Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), Milford, Ohio-based Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts and Chicago-based Equity LifeStyle Properties.
In fact, there has been so much investment in park model rental accommodations that roughly a third of the nation’s privately owned campgrounds now offer their guests these luxury rental accommodations. And the numbers of campgrounds that are investing in these and other rental units continues to grow.
“This is music to our ears,” said Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association, the trade association that represents the manufacturers of recreational park trailers or “park models,” the fully furnished, luxury cabins and cottages that have become the hottest selling commodities in the campground business.
“Many of our manufacturers are literally racing to get these units in place in time for the summer camping season,” Garpow said, adding that the pre-summer rush can be a nail-biter for campgrounds, many of which have already booked units that are just now arriving.
Such is the case at West Glacier KOA in Glacier, Mont., which just received six park model cabins in late April. “We’re hooking them up to septic and electric utilities right now,” said park owner Theresa McClure, adding that five of the six units are already booked May 14th, when the park opens for the summer camping season.
“It’s just crazy,” McClure said of consumer demand for park model cabins, which KOA markets as Kamping Lodges. “We could probably put in 12 and they’d all be booked.” McClure said the units are popular because unlike the bare bones cabins of years past, her new Kamping Lodges include bathrooms, kitchens with full size appliance and outside decks with beautiful views, complete with a barbecue grill.
Bryan Kastleman, manager of Hill Country RV Resort in New Braunfels in the Texas Hill Country, just added 13 more park models to his 382-site park, boosting his total number of available rental accommodations to 33. He said the new park models will help him capture more Winter Texans as well as families wanting a weekend getaway or summer retreat. The park models he ordered also include lofts, which are popular as an overflow sleeping and play area for children.
“Families like park models because they are more private than a hotel room because they don’t have common walls. They have decks. They have kitchens. And families love having lofts for their kids,” he said.
But beyond the cosmetic appeal, rising demand for rental accommodations in campgrounds also reflects significant sociological changes taking place in America, said Profaizer, who overseas the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds.
“Families are increasingly time deprived and the dynamics of the summer vacation have changed,” she said. “People are camping closer to home because they don’t have as much time off to take extended trips across the country. Oftentimes, both parents are working and their kids are often involved in extracurricular activities, which limit their ability to travel.”
In addition, she said, many families are finding that it’s easier and more convenient to rent a cabin for a weekend getaway than to spend their limited free time packing, setting up and taking down tent camping equipment. For others, having a cabin rental gives them an opportunity to experience camping in the great outdoors even if they don’t have an RV.