By Anthony DiPonio, CHIA
Over the past several years, H&LA has seen a marked increase in interest from developers and investors in campgrounds and RV resorts. RV parks are rebranding as resorts as they add more amenities. Though camping is far from a new phenomenon, its uptick in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic helped introduce it to many first-time campers, which boosted participation to higher levels. One of the most popular pastimes in North America, camping has the added benefit for travelers of also being one of the most affordable and accessible vacation options.
As camping continues to grow in popularity, campgrounds and RV resorts continue to add more amenities that have attracted interest from guests old and new. These new amenities and accommodations allow for an RV resort to compete with hotels for leisure demand in warmer weather seasons.
Popularity of Campground Resorts
According to the 2023 North American Camping Report sponsored by Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), the number of first-time camper households totaled 6.4 million in 2022, down from 9.1 million in 2021. The year 2020 saw a staggering increase of 274% over the 2.7 million households in 2019. In addition, active U.S. camping households (meaning households that identify as campers) grew to 93.8 million in 2021, an increase of 9% over 86.1 million households in 2020. In 2022, the number slightly dropped to 92 million. The number of households who camped at least once annually was 58.4 million in 2022, up from 56.9 million in 2021. Camping accounted for 32% of all leisure trips taken in 2022, with more than half of travelers (60%) including camping in some or all of their travel.
According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) 2022 Annual Report, as revealed in its 2022 RVs Move America Economic Impact Study, the industry contributes about $140 billion to the U.S. economy, supports nearly 680,000 jobs, contributes $48 billion in wages, and pays more than $13.6 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Over just the past three years, this represents a 23% increase in economic output. RVIA notes that the median age of new buyers purchasing in the last two years has dropped to only 33 years old.
According to RVIA’s 2022 Campground Industry Market Analysis, there is a shortage of campsites, with consumer demand creating a need for both public and private campgrounds to continue to redevelop and expand their supply of facilities. The report indicates that campground supply would need to increase at a rate of 7% annually to keep pace with current levels of demand growth. Further, the study shows that during peak periods, most campgrounds are at least 76% full and 54% booked the rest of the year, indicators of an industry doing well during its operating season. Private campgrounds are more likely to have expansion opportunities and better amenities than public campgrounds, such as those in state and national parks, which are reliant upon tax dollars to fund expenses. With campgrounds now considered part of the outdoor hospitality industry, private equity firms have become increasingly interested in investing in this sector.
RV resorts have adapted to changing travel preferences and embraced the demand for enhanced experiences. In an era where travelers seek unique and memorable adventures, RV resorts have recognized the importance of providing innovative amenities. H&LA has identified some emerging trends in RV resorts from our studies evaluating the feasibility of campground resorts nationwide.
1. Increased Types of Overnight Options
Some RV resorts are reducing the number of standard tent sites in favor of other uses such as RV sites with more amenities, a greater variety of cabins, and glamping sites. Some Camp Margaritaville RV Resorts have added a multitude of different types of sites. For example, Camp Margaritaville offers RV sites with tiki-bars that can be rented at a higher price than standard sites. There is also a variety of cabin types that can accommodate up to 30 people.
There are many forms of glamping such as tree houses, safari tents, and yurts. Each of these offers a more upscale experience than what is typically offered. Yurts have been the most popular glamping option and have even been utilized by luxury hotel brands. Some RV resorts, like Camp Margaritaville, are charging rates comparable to or higher than hotels and resorts for their cabin or RV sites within their respective markets.
2. Upscaling Comfort and Convenience
RV resorts are changing the notion of camping by offering a wide range of amenities that elevate comfort and convenience. Today, more RV resorts are featuring amenities such as spacious full-hookup sites with water, electricity, and sewage connections, as well as cabins and RV rentals, allowing guests to enjoy the comforts of home on the road. Resorts are also investing in Wi-Fi connectivity, ensuring that guests can stay connected and maintain their lifestyle. By providing these essential amenities, RV resorts attract travelers who seek a blend of adventure and comfort.
3. Recreation and Leisure Facilities
To increase their appeal and popularity, some RV resorts are embracing the concept of all-inclusive entertainment by providing an array of recreation and leisure facilities. These resorts feature waterparks, inflatable floating obstacle courses, swimming pools, hot tubs, fitness centers, and sports courts catering to guests of all ages and interests. A waterpark component has become a popular amenity for RV resorts. For example, many Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks and Sun Outdoors Parks have a waterpark component tied to the resort. The availability of these amenities encourages guests to extend their stays and bring their children, ensuring a memorable vacation experience for everyone.
4. On-site Dining
Recognizing the desire for convenience and diverse culinary experiences, some RV resorts are incorporating on-site dining options within their premises, such as casual cafes, restaurants, and food trucks. By offering a range of food and beverage options, RV resorts provide a convenient dining experience, allowing travelers to stay on the property without venturing far from their accommodations.
5. Enhanced Outdoor Spaces
Many RV resorts have been designed essentially as a parking lot for RVs, crammed closely together resulting in very little green space throughout the park. Today, some RV resorts understand the importance of nature, and the desire to connect with the outdoors. To cater to this preference, many resorts are expanding their existing outdoor spaces, creating landscaped areas and scenic trails for guests to explore. Whether it’s a walking path, a picnic area, or a pet-friendly park, these resorts provide improved opportunities for guests to immerse themselves in natural surroundings. More space between campsites also allows the guests to be more comfortable and have a more natural feel. The emphasis on outdoor spaces encourages guests to engage in outdoor activities.
6. Unique Experiential Offerings
To set themselves apart from traditional camping sites, RV resorts are introducing unique experiential offerings that appeal to diverse interests and passions. These may include wine tastings, cooking classes, live entertainment, workshops, and guided nature tours. By providing these immersive experiences, RV resorts create opportunities for guests to learn, engage, and connect with like-minded individuals, spreading a sense of community and improving the overall vacation experience.
Below are a few examples of RV resort expansions announced in recent months and some amenities that will be new to guests:
• For the 2023 season, Camp Fimfo – Country Hill in New Braunfels, Texas, expanded its resort to include more sites, hiking trails, dog park, alpine coaster, and a wedding venue. The resort opened with 290 sites, three food and beverage outlets, waterpark, swim-up bar, miniature golf, and sports courts such as basketball and pickleball courts.
• Great Escapes in Bryan, Texas, opened in 2022, with 100 sites. The resort will open approximately 200 more sites throughout the 2023 season. The new sites will include a mix of RV sites and cabins. When the resort initially opened, amenities offered were a Wibit Lake, pool, basketball court, an area for food trucks, activities center, and golf cart rental. The resort is expanding to include new amenities such as an outdoor movie theater, jumping pillow, hayrides, gaga ball pit, dog park, fitness center, and an outdoor stage for live entertainment.
• A Camp Margaritaville RV Resort in Henderson, Louisiana, opened this May. The property transitioned from the Cajun Palms RV Resort. The resort has 452 RV sites and 25 glamping cabins that accommodate up to 12 people. Additional amenities include three pools with private cabanas, an adults-only hot tub, swim-up bar, poolside snack bar, License to Chill Bar, a restaurant serving lunch and dinner, miniature golf, a waterpark with an interactive pirate ship play structure and splash pad, cornhole, volleyball, basketball, pickleball courts, and a dog park.
• Clay’s Resort, a Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in North Lawrence, Ohio, expanded in 2023 to include an interactive water play structure for children, a new 4,500-square foot swimming pool, cabanas, and more modular cabins.
• Coachella Lakes RV Resort will open in August 2023 in Coachella, California. It will have 360 RV sites and 15 cottages. The resort will also include two outdoor pools, three hot tubs, splash pad, indoor and outdoor fitness facilities, pickleball courts, amphitheater, bocce ball, dog park, 18-hole putting course, and five lakes, which will allow kayaking and paddleboarding.
Average Spending Compared to Hotels/Resorts
Camping has historically been a cheaper alternative to staying in a hotel or resort, but the spread between these types of lodging is decreasing. The graph below shows the average amount spent per trip on daily expenditures at each property type. This includes lodging accommodation and on-site food and beverage.
Hotel and resort guests spend the most on lodging and on-site food and beverage compared to glampers and campers; however, this can be attributed to a greater percentage of hotels and resorts offering food and beverage and other amenities. This implies that hotel and camping/glamping rates can be comparable as many RV parks are increasing the scope of their amenities and services, which is allowing them to charge higher prices.
Looking to the Future
The future of camping is looking particularly strong, as evidenced by the steady entry of younger campers. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many campgrounds and RV parks/resorts experienced growth unlike hotels due to travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders. Future growth will be fueled by younger couples with children, who are now camping more than older generations.
Like hotels, RV resorts are finding that innovation will continue to drive demand as properties are continually adapting to trends to capture various guests. As RV resorts add more amenities, they will aim to increase yearly occupancy and daily rates. By offering enhanced amenities and experiences, RV resorts are poised to capture demand from leisure travelers by offering more options to guests looking for lodging accommodation. The enhanced amenities allow the resorts to compete with area hotels for leisure business in peak seasons.