The State of Camping at KOA

“Camping” means different things to different people. To those trekking the Appalacian Trail, it means backpacks and periodic town stops to pick up supplies and mail. To others, it means putting the tent and family in the car and heading for a weekend destination. To children’s camps, it means coupling tradition, education and faith with traditional outdoor experiences. Then there are those who head to the garage or barn, insert the key and drive off in their recreational vehicle-some for the weekend, others for a week or two, and some for the rest of their lives.

This last group is growing rapidly. Recreational vehicle (RV) ownership hit 7.9 million U.S. households in 2005, an increase of three million over the 2001 figures. These numbers are expected to rise despite gasoline prices. The highest RV ownership rates are among those ages 55-64 … and tucked into that age span are the Baby Boomers who are starting, in 2007, to turn 60. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that serving the needs of RV owners (and Baby Boomers) is critical to the survival of the public and commercial campgrounds–and may offer opportunities for the booming family camp phenomenon we’re seeing in the children’s camp world.

As the Boomers retire, many plan to spend time, or more time, camping. As Willie Nelson sings, you will find Boomers “on the road again,” sans the trappings of business attire and attaché cases. Many of them will be towing along grandkids and/or pets of various species–especially dogs.

Great People, Great Service

As an industry leader, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) CEO Jim Rogers thinks his organization has a good handle on what is needed to successfully serve this rapidly growing demographic. One clue to the heart of his belief is on the nametag he wore at a recent meeting in the company’s Billings, Mont., headquarters—“Jim Rogers, CEO, Rver” (more about this later).

The second clue is his belief that KOA has to “invest a lot in people.”

Rogers defines this as good training programs, solid research and statistics and state-of-the-art technology for those people to use. Then he listens to his customers and adjusts the mix accordingly. The results: campgrounds that offer consistency, value for the buck, increased camper satisfaction and a 3-percent increase in same-campground nights in 2006.

“We’re not satisfied with good, we’re looking for GREAT,” he states emphatically.

Each KOA Kampground features hot showers, laundry facilities, RV and tent sites, clean restrooms, convenience stores and friendly service. Most campgrounds offer much more, such as Kamping Kabins, Kamping Lodges, Kamping Kottages, Internet access and Wi-Fi, swimming pools, pull-through RV sites with 50-amp service and deluxe RV patio sites.

Training, Training, Training

Of the nearly 450 KOA Kampgrounds, only 25 are company-owned, which begs the question, How does KOA achieve consistently friendly and courteous service?

The simple answer is training, training, training.

KOA offers new owners/managers KOA University, seven to eight days of training in technology, merchandising and marketing at the company headquarters. To ensure they’re following industry “Best Practices,” several segments of the KOA-U have been reviewed and approved by The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) for Certified Park Operator credits. Rogers is currently working with ARVC to achieve certification in other training opportunities, such as convention workshops.

The company also created The Twenty Group concept, which gathers 15 to 20 campgrounds in a defined region to exchange ideas, experiences and expertise, all in the name of improved customer service. Twice a year these groups meet specifically to discuss profitability ideas, management practices and cost-saving suggestions.

Additional programs are also available to help owner/managers train staff in guest services.

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