What Makes a Great RV Stay?

4YrAnn

In May we celebrated being full-time RVers for four years. We’d heard many people stop after 18 months or maybe last three years. We’ve also met many, many people who have been on the road for 15, 20 or more years. We still consider ourselves newbies, but we have learned a few things along the way.

Awhile back, someone on a forum said they were going to be renovating a campground and wanted some input about what RVers want. I started to write a comment in response, but realized I had a full blog post (at least one) wrapped up in the answer to that question.

So to all RV Park managers and owners, all campground hosts and corporate execs — and everyone in between — this post is for you.

Make It Affordable to Stay at Your Property

Let’s say you decided to charge $50/night for full-hookups for a site at your RV park. Sounds like a deal — definitely cheaper than the $99 rooms at the motel down the road, right?

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You might be cheaper than the local motel room, but you’re also comparing apples to oranges. RVers have different expenses than those traveling by car. For one thing, it can cost us around 35% more in fuel just to get to your location.

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking your only competition consists of the other RV parks and campgrounds in the area. An RV driver can always choose to park the rig in the back of a motel/hotel parking lot and pay a similar rate for better water pressure and someone to make the bed in the morning. Your competition is broader than you think.

Though reports these days are saying RVers plan to travel regardless of higher fuel prices, we’re seeing fewer plates from far away — most RVers are traveling locally or regionally — not as many are traveling long distances as they used to. We’ve seen enough campgrounds and RV parks with huge “For Sale” signs on them to know that the RV industry (regardless of what well-meaning clubs and manufacturers are telling you) is still struggling.

Popular visiting spots might be booked weekends (mostly locals, from what we can see), but we’ve been on the road since mid-May, haven’t made a reservation yet, and haven’t had any trouble finding a place to stay any night we’ve needed it.

The bottom line? Don’t price your overnight RV park rates so high it doesn’t make sense for someone to stay there. As an even better incentive, offer discounts for extended stays or weeknights or both.

The Flip Side of ‘Pet Friendly’

We won’t stay anyplace that doesn’t have a well-defined and enforced leash rule. Why? We’re allergic, so we appreciate neighbors and park managers who don’t let animals run freely.

Sure, it’s common courtesy, but it’s a matter of protecting your livelihood as well: if someone gets bit or winds up in the hospital as the result of an allergic reaction from a loose animal, you could be liable for that injury to them. You could see higher insurance premiums, and the fallout could affect your reputation. Worse, you could lose everything in one very long, complicated and ultimately devastating lawsuit.

As owner/manager, set the example. No guest likes it when they’re told they need a leash while your pet runs wild around the property. Yes, it’s your home, but it’s also a business. And see above for potential legal problems if something should happen.

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Finally, don’t get me started about dogs that are allowed to bark madly or poop widely. We have not been back to a park in Salt Lake City where “long-termers” (people who park their RVs for long periods of time in a park) let their dogs crap in the tenting area. We’re not tent campers, but seeing that made us wonder what our temporary spot of grass was drenched in….

EEWWW!

Fire Rings

Campfire rings are popular amenities with lots of campers, especially weekenders, vacationers, and families with kids. Smores, scary stories, roasting hot dogs… it’s all a part of the outdoor experience enjoyed by a lot of people who RV.

But why on earth are those fire rings always right underneath the neighbors’ windows? Why aren’t they closer to the rig that’s meant to use it? If someone wants a fire, they should be the one to smell the smoke, don’t you think? Some of us are well aware of the toxic contents swirling in the air from those homey campfires. You have your right to the romance of a campfire, but don’t I have a right to preserve my lungs and nostrils and general respiratory tract?

So please, please, please, move those fire rings so they’re closer to the rigs of those who will be using them, instead of next to the neighbor who would prefer not to put up with the smoke. Please.

Respect Non-Smokers’ Rights

Speaking of smoke…. Non-smokers know how fast and how far the awful stench of cigarette (and cigar) smoke carries, even when there’s no breeze to urge it along. We’ve been forced to close our windows and turn off our fans to keep the smell out of our rig. On hot days and nights, we’re forced to turn on our air conditioning (cha-ching! If you’re not charging me for the electricity, you should think about this for a minute) when cigarette smoke swirls about.

Ideally, smokers should have to smoke in their own rigs. They should have to inhale their own second-hand smoke, not blow it around where the rest of us are trying to live a more healthy lifestyle. You probably can’t make a rule about this (if you can, do it), but you can limit where people smoke. They shouldn’t be able to smoke in any of the buildings or common areas — period.

If you smoke — quit. You’re smarter than being a smoker, aren’t you? (Yes, we have a history with smoking. We’re unabashed anti-smoking advocates. There’s no good reason to smoke. Wastes time and money. And it kills you. ‘Nuff said.)

Give Us Some Space

Which leads us to how so many of these problems are the result of all the sites being so close together.

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Every time we’re in an RV park or campground where every rig or tent or pop-up camper is jammed next to its neighbor, we wonder why people subject themselves to “vacationing” this way! It just doesn’t seem like camping to be wedged so close to someone that you can hear them snore at night…..

Yes, we’ve heard you say you have to make all the money you can in a short period of time… your season is short… blah blah blah. I say, then get another job during the winter and give us some space. Some of us might even pay a little extra for it. To not have to hear the TV next door or smell charcoal lighter fluid every time someone decides to barbecue…. worth a few more dollars to make up the lost sites.

Jojoba Hills SKP park in Southern California has this right: though there aren’t many rental sites available (it’s a private resort), those that are are often huge. HUGE. We’ve stayed at a site there large enough for two rigs and a toad…. ! Best of all, when you look out over the hills in the distance, it’s easy to forget you’re in an RV park. You have all the amenities of civilization but the illusion of being in the middle of the high desert. Ah! Now that’s what we’re talking about!

Slow Down

We recently stayed at an RV park where signs along the gravel roads said, “Speed Limit: A Crawl.” 5 mph is good. 10 can sometimes be good. Anything faster is dangerous, especially if kids are around — or older, retired RVers who aren’t seeing and hearing as well as they used to.

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Set a speed limit. Post it. Include it in your rules. Enforce it.

Pet-Specific Washers

We once met a man who was disinfecting all of the washers and dryers before he used them in an RV park laundry room. He and his wife are so sensitive to various fragrances, detergent additives and other irritants that they had a ritual they had to go through to get a facility ready to use.

Is that so extreme? Not really. Those of us with pet allergies worry that someone had their doggie pillows and blankies in the washers. Easy solution: dedicate one of the machines to pet stuff. More places are doing this, and we appreciate it.

Take Charge

If you’re going to bother to have rules (and you should — lawsuits are not a good reason to have to find a new line of work), enforce them. One particular RV park owner we know and adore has been known to sit in the dark near those she thinks is violating rules (dogs off leash, someone smoking on another person’s site). If they’re caught after a firm but friendly warning, out they go. People soon learn that she means what she says, and her returning guests act accordingly. As a result, she and her husband have one of the best-run RV parks we have ever stayed in. And because of that, we return (every year if we can).

We’d looked forward to staying at an out-of-the way RV park and campground outside West Yellowstone. We’d met — and were impressed by — the owners when we’d visited their on-site restaurant and poked around the property, vowing to stay there the next time we were in the area. As a matter of fact, we re-routed ourselves to go there in the summer of 2012. The campground was overrun with groups of families and friends, some in RVs, some in cabins, who seemed to think they owned the place. They traipsed through our site, even peering in windows. Yuck! Worse, when we complained, the owners asked us to write out a complaint because “we’ve been trying to get a reason to kick them out.” They offered to let us stay for free, but we left anyway. They didn’t want to run their own property — they wanted their guests to do it. Bad, bad, bad idea.

It’s your property, your business. Don’t abdicate your responsibility. Enforce the rules. Take charge.

Identify Yourself

Know your true identity: are you a campground? Resort? RV park?

We stayed at a “resort” once that didn’t have sewer hookups… the restrooms were filthy and not cleaned in the five or so days we spent there… If you call yourself a “resort” or an “RV park” people will expect higher quality and more amenities than if you call your property a “campground.”

If you’re a rustic, primitive campground with few amenities, say so. RVers will not return to a place where they feel they experienced a “bait and switch” scam. People have expectations when they hear “resort” in a name. “Luxury RV Park” suggests something very different than “rustic campground.” Don’t try to be something you’re not and you’ll attract the very guests who will fit your property. They’ll be happy, you’ll have fewer guest relations issues, and the entire experience is better for everyone.

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Be Honest

Resist the temptation to nickel-and-dime your guests. If you’ve got coin-operated showers, say so. If cable or wi-fi access will cost a few extra dollars, own up to it in your advertising so your guests will know what they’re getting before they get there.

We recently stayed at an RV park where the owner had a barbeque. It was advertised as “$9.99.” Turned out it cost us about $50. Where’d the extra $30 come from? Well, perhaps the option we picked was higher than the advertised price (maybe we got a $12.99 option?!?)… When he said, “Pick out a drink over there,” he didn’t mention beverages would cost us extra… so maybe each drink was another $3 (which we wouldn’t have gotten if we hadn’t thought it was included… we don’t drink with our meals). And that dessert? We were willing to pay extra for it, but something tells me it wasn’t a $15 dessert (no matter how good it was). So we might stay there again, but we won’t be opting for the nightly buffet. What’s worse for this owner? After the BBQ experience he doesn’t much credibility with us. We’ll second-guess everything he tells us, double-check every bill he hands us or price he quotes us.

Another RV park we know of advertises itself as “the quiet place,” and even posts signs around that say, “Shhh! It’s quiet here!” But because they allow ATVs to run all over the place (even encouraging ATV use), there isn’t much quiet to be found.

Simple solution? Quit advertising the park as a “quite place.” The identity they promote attracts two different kinds of guests — those who want a peaceful environment, and those who want to zoom around in ATVs. Every guest who comes because “it’s the quiet place” will be disappointed — and won’t likely return.

Train Your Staff

I blogged about a very bad experience we had in The Dells during the summer of 2011 (you can see the full post here). Make sure your staff knows which sites are available, for how long, what they include, and all that. Make sure every person working the desk and taking reservations by phone is familiar enough with the various sites to know whether a particular rig can park in it. Most RVers have a lot of patience, but that’s no excuse for running a lousy operation. We also have the freedom to stay someplace else, which is what we’ll do if we have a bad experience. Start by staffing your property with people who RV and you’ll have most of the training battle won.

Know the Area

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We stayed at an RV park outside of Yellowstone National Park, but after a day’s drive in and dealing with tons of traffic and delays, we were glad the park hosts knew of several local hiking trails. We ended up hiking in some very remote areas where we didn’t see another soul — exactly what we wanted! We might never have found these spots without the help of those at the park. It made the difference in the length of our stay, and our decision about returning.

Travel Via RV Yourself

We were filling our fresh water tank at an RV park in Illinois before heading out one day and the (yes, *new*) owner stopped and demanded to know what we were doing. She apparently thought we were stealing her water…!?! A maintenance man who came around later said he’d been working there for about a dozen years, but with this new owner, he wasn’t coming back. She didn’t know the RV experience — she’d apparently bought the park thinking she could just make some money….

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Don’t buy or run an RV park because you think it would be fun, or because you dream of being an RVer…. If you don’t stay in parks, you can’t imagine what people want or need. The best places we’ve stayed have been owned or managed by people who RV. They know what RVers and campers want and need when they’re on the road, and they provide it.

Keep In Mind That RVers Share Info

Sure, you’ve seen us standing near the pedestal where the hook-ups are, chatting about where we’re heading or where we’ve just been, swapping stories, sharing notes.

But we also do that before and after we’re on your property. We subscribe to forums and read each other’s blogs. We tune in to others’ reviews and comments about where they’ve stayed — what did they like? What didn’t they like?

I’m not going to follow a Twitter feed for your campground or RV Park. Sorry. I’m just not. I am going to subscribe and follow comments about campgrounds and RV parks in the places we plan to travel. I want to know what others have experienced — good and bad.

And I’ll share our experiences — good and bad.

Make It Right

If you do something wrong, admit it and correct it. Don’t give us excuses — we’re full-time RVers. We’ve heard them all: “Sorry, just got a new person to clean the showers…” “Sorry, the bandwidth has been giving us problems the last few days….” Sorry, sorry, sorry. We know you’re sorry… What we want to know is what you’ll do about it. Make it right. Make me want to stay here again. Make me want to give you a good review.

Make my travel day just a little bit better than it was before I got here, and your property will be filled with happy campers and RVers (because you know the difference between them, right?!?).

What About You?

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What about you, our faithful readers? What makes a great stay in a campground or RV park for you? What would you add to this list?

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About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
This entry was posted in On the Road, RV, RV Parks & Lifestyle and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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