Starting any new job or business comes with a ton of new learnings.
If you’re in the throes of starting up your first campground or stepping into a new role as a manager, I wanted to share some advice from a recent conversation I had with a first-year operator.
I spoke with Kris on a recent visit through Meeker, Colorado. Kris is the on-site manager at Colorado Trail and Hitch and recently finished up her first year at the park.
Formerly a campground for oil and gas workers, Trail and Hitch was recently renovated by Kris and a group of Colorado investors who have breathed new life into the camp as well as the surrounding area.
To make their park unique among the increasing competition in the campground space, they converted an entire section of the land to be devoted to a tiny house village.
Each tiny house was sourced from somewhere different, creating a truly thoughtful experience.
While Kris gave us a tour around the campground, she shared with us some of her biggesst lessons from her first year running the campground.
#1 Piece of Advice for New Campground Owners
During our time together I asked Kris if there was one thing she would share with new campground owners, what would it be?
“You can’t please everyone. Even though you can try really, really hard.”
While Kris is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, she learned during her first year running Trail and Hitch that you won’t always be able to make every customer happy. This is important to recognize when running a business as customer-centric as a campground because there will inevitably be difficult customers.
Related article: How to Handle Bad Campground Reviews
But from my perspective, Kris is doing a pretty incredible job of keeping her guests happy from the looks of her Google reviews.
But that wasn’t the only advice Kris had for new campground owners.
5 Tips for New Campground Owners and Managers
#1 Share your story on social media to attract initial guests.
Social media can feel like a luxury when you’re busy pouring concrete, answering phones, checking in guests, and doing a million other little things.
However, Kris attributed much of their first-year success to documenting the Trail and Hitch journey publicly. When the campground received a new tiny house or a new item in their camp store, she snaps a photo and will jump on Facebook or Instagram to share.
From my experience talking with other park operators, social media can feel a bit overwhelming at times. The truth is, it can actually be pretty simple and not time-consuming when you follow a recipe.
Here are a few things you can do to capture your story on social as a campground operator:
- Snap photos of your park at golden hour (the hour after sunrise and before sunset) when it’s bathed in sunshine
- When something happens that excites you, stop for a moment and take a photo to post it (example: New amenity completed, new store addition, etc.)
- Spontaneously click “Go Live” on Facebook and do a quick video tour of your park. People on Facebook love the authenticity that comes with a Facebook live and typically these have a much greater reach than other posts.
#2 Curate a thoughtful camp store.
While it’s helpful to have some of the basics in your camp store (toilet paper, s’mores, firewood), Trail and Hitch has put together an incredibly thoughtful camp store filled with local items from around Meeker, Colorado.
As you walk around and look at each item, it was sourced from a nearby artist or local business.
In my six years of RV travel, I’ve never actually purchased a piece of clothing or felt the desire to shop in a camp store (other than for an essential item). But I did happily grab a t-shirt and beanie from Kris’ store.
From a guest perspective, curating items from around your town helps the out of town campers experience more of the local flare without even leaving the park.
Plus, with each new item that she receives, Kris shares the piece on social with a direct purchase link to her online store (which she says typically converts a few sales each time).
#3 Leverage technology to spend less time in the office and more time with guests.
Not leveraging technology to run your park will result in significantly more time spend answering phone calls and emails (and less face time with guests and in the outdoors).
In the instance of Trail and Hitch, they do operate with an existing online reservation system.
However, even with an existing online reservation system in place, Kris still receives 5-7 phone calls per day from guests who prefer booking with a person.
Hearing this number was interesting to me because we know from working with parks across North America that ~60% of people prefer to book online when given the option. This means that if Kris were not leveraging a booking solution, she would likely be fielding over 20+ phone calls per day.
It’s really crucial to not under estimate the amount of time that will be pulled away from managing your park if you don’t leverage the right tools.
#4 Facilitate community at your park.
When thinking about community at your park, the first thing that comes to mind may be a large party crowd (which you’re probably intentionally trying to avoid).
However, I’m talking specifically about facilitating one of the many groups of RV communities who can come and gather at your campground.
This year a small RV group hosted a meet-up at the Trail and Hitch site, which Kris cited as one of the most meaningful moments of their year and something she looks forward to doing more of in the future.
Attracting groups to your campground doesn’t have to be complicated.
For example, at Trail and Hitch, they’ve designated an entire area where guests can gather in one location. In addition to a firepit (a campground classic), they hung outdoor lights, built a stage, and even positioned their tiny houses in a circle formation to highlight this area.
When you have those community elements in mind at your park, you will inevitably attract groups.
I personally have been planning in-person events for RVers for the past few years and know that it’s areas like this that make a campground a great venue for groups.
To provide some context to the value of attracting groups of RVers, our annual RV Entrepreneur Summit brings together 400 campers. At our most recent in-person event, we booked over 1,000 camper nights at the park and many of our attendees booked a repeat visit before departing.
On top of this, if you’re able to attract the right type of RV event or community, you will likely experience a significant uptick in add-on revenue for your camp store during this time.
If you’re interested in hosting group events at your park but aren’t sure how to get started, trying creating an Events page on your website. Share some of the reasons your park would be a great place to host an event and include contact information if they have questions. Sometimes just having the option listed out on a website is enough to entice someone to book their event with you.
#5 Distribute your inventory on as many OTA’s (online travel agencies) as possible when getting started.
This year 80% of Kris’ tiny house reservations came from Airbnb.
While most of the RV sites were booked online or over the phone, having additional distribution through Airbnb, VRBO and other channel partners was incredibly powerful for Trail and Hitch.
Ultimately, as a new campground, you want as many eyeballs as possible on your park to attract new guests. At Campground Booking we partner with sites like Outdoorsy, GoRVing.ca and others to help highlight our parks to new audiences.
Like with running any business, you’re going to have a lot of trial and error during your first year. I’m grateful for Kris spending some time with me to share her journey as a new campground operator.
One of my biggest personal takeaways from my time at Trail and Hitch actually didn’t come from what Kris said but what she did. She took the time to walk us around her park and show off what obviously means a lot to her. I have no doubt she takes this kind of care and attention with all of her guests and no doubt this has contributed to a successful (re) launch of the campground.
If you ever happen to be passing through Trail and Hitch in Meeker, Colorado — would highly recommend you stop by and say hello.