The Camping Industry is set to boom! You might already be saying, “Brian, we know.” Everyone sees the regular reports from KOA, Sun Communities, ELS and Yogi about increases in their park attendance and/or stock value. The good news is practically ubiquitous.
Working at Southeast Publications I see guest guide quantity orders increase almost daily. Some would suggest that this is a result of lower gas prices, while others would say it’s the results of a more stable economy. While some of that might be true, I believe there are more items in play here.
Let’s start with the lower gas price hypothesis. I can definitely see why this could be a huge benefit to the camping industry, especially for RVs, but if you look at the 2015 KOA report page 16, you’ll notice that in 2012, 23% of the primary camping accommodations were in fact, from RVs. Well according to a report produced by AAA, the average gas price in 2012 was $3.60 a gallon versus $3.29 in 2014 where RVs constituted 21% of all accommodations. If gas prices were lower in 2014, why was the percentage of RV accommodations lower in 2014, than when the gas prices were higher in 2012?
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Well Brian, people are making more money, the market is more stable. Again, I think that the success camping is having is to some degree, a result of that however some of the major camping States like Florida and California have been severely impacted by the lopsided exchange rate that their usual Canadian visitors are facing. In 2012, the dollar was only worth ninety-nine cents Canadian. Today, every US dollar is worth a dollar-thirty-three Canadian. This imbalance, is causing a large percentage of the usual US camping patrons to either limit the length of stay while in America, decide not to travel here all together, or decide not to purchase new units here. We have seen this very real issue rear its ugly head, even in Southeast Publication’s business.
On a more somber note, let’s not forget the recent strange and unusually timed, weather events. The 59 inches of snow that poured on Sierra Nevada in March, the hale and floods in Texas that caused people to lose their lives. The unfortunate twisters that rocked Kansas and Oklahoma in May. The earliest tropical storm on record Colin pummeled north Florida in early June and the Floods in West Virginia and Virginia that claimed 23 souls. There has been some real weather related issues that has affected our industry this year but the numbers are all way up.
While some publishers would tout that the Outdoor Industry is in a downward spiral, I believe articles like those are intended to be a clever way to create controversy but offer no real intellectual value. While an effective marketing strategy, it’s not the kind of message I believe at all and I think there is a swell happening and here’s why.
Once upon a time, technology was a thorn in the side of camping. People would stay at home to watch their favorite shows or stay glued to a computer to soak up all the new information that previously wasn’t available without the internet. Kids would stay indoors playing online games or games on their Xbox or PlayStation all day and into the night. Why go on a “Duck Hunt”, when I can do this on my gaming system? What about work? Technology has created heighted FOMO, “Fear of Missing Out” and I cannot miss that email or not have the access to manage my FOMO. Nope! No Technology, NO CAMPING!!
What made things even worse is that campgrounds took the opposite approach. “Facebook?” GO OUTSIDE! Website, who needs one of those? My park doesn’t need Wi Fi and I don’t need to collect emails. These two very opposing viewpoints, in my humble opinion, created a major disconnect between the business and the customer. The good news is that the gap that has occurred in this sort of disconnect is closing.
Here is my case of why camping is going to BOOM sooner, rather than never.
Firstly, gone are the days where desktop computers and television sets were immobile. In fact, more people access the internet on their mobile devices than on their desktop. As for Television, you can stream just about anywhere these days. As wireless networks continue to vie for consumer businesses, their networks have no choice but to expand and cover more and more of America.
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Connection made. RV Resorts and Campgrounds have adopted Wi Fi technology within their parks making it easier for their visitors to access the information they require to enjoy their stay and manage their FOMO. Further, has anyone considered the probability that in the very near future there will be Wi Fi enabled RVs? Why is that hard to believe? You can have Wi Fi for airplanes, why not RVs? The technology is there; it just needs to be improved.
Ok Brian, what are you going to do about those kids that play those darn video games! Well, it appears that kids want to be outside with their mobile devices too. With the success of Pokémon Go, Southeast Publications has received several requests from their State Park partners requesting to allow them to use our Guest Guide creative to show guests where “Gyms” are located within the park. “Gyms” are usually found at areas of interest and are places where kids can play a sort of king of the hill battle with other teams on Pokémon Go. You’ve seen the news; businesses are being flooded by users looking to find Pokémon “Gyms” or “Lures”.
Regardless, with the overwhelming response of this type of game play, (Nintendo’s market value increased over 9 billion dollars in one week) you will see kids practically forcing their parents to go outside to catch these beloved Pokémon and other technology companies are now wanting to ride the wave of location based gaming. What a more exciting place to do this than OUTDOORS!! Kids CONNECTION MADE.
Now let’s go back a few paragraphs where we talked about lower RV accommodations. Where did the rise in business come from? If you said cabins, BINGO! Now there is a variety of cabins, yurts, teepees, treehouses and glamping accommodations that are appealing to more “mainstream” travelers that seek more traditional or padded accommodations. Once there, they see how beautiful some of these RV units are, or enjoy being outside so much that they make plans to either purchase a unit or return to that cabin.
Campgrounds and RV Resorts are now digitally marketing themselves more and competing within the online noise where they once were an absent voice. They are more effective in their digital strategy, posting their videos online, engaging their community within social media and fully updated websites are getting even better and more convincing causing more awareness of the benefits of camping and/or the RV lifestyle. These moves have inspired television show producers to create shows like, Extreme RV’s, Going RV, RV HGTV or add elements to their shows like Big Brother, where one of their recurring challenges included the “BB RV”. Larger web directories have also taken notice with Trip Advisor and Groupon now promoting the industry with other larger platforms joining the party.
Also, the workforce is becoming increasingly more mobile. You have digital entrepreneurs that can make a good living with online ecommerce stores or high traffic blogs. You can see the healthcare industry increasing their use of traveling nurses and other healthcare specialized services. If you listen to the Harvard Business Review, you’re seeing the workforce is moving to more contract positions utilized by large multinational organizations for special projects, enabling further remote work opportunities. These opportunities coupled with the recent technology enhancements that offers easier faster and clearer remote connectivity is allowing and in some instances, making it more appealing to travel more frequently if not indefinitely.
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The constant barrage of technological advancements has also impacted our culture. As the Industrial Age created more products, job opportunities and services prior to any age previously before, the Digital Age will create three times more opportunities to the businesses and workers that actively participate and continually improve their respective digital noisemakers.
Change is coming easier in the American culture as a whole thanks to technology. People want to be more mobile, visit new places seen on their devices, experience new things. Now that the camping industry is out there with the consumers, we stand on the cusp of a revitalization and not the ledge to a cliff.
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