The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021]

 The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021]

Harvest Hosts just signed up its 2,000th location and it has plans to reach 3,000 by year's end. Here's how to find the best camping with the program.

Harvest Hosts is nothing short of a phenomenon in the RV industry, a service that lets you camp free overnight at wineries, farms, distilleries, tourist attractions, and even golf courses all across North America. 

While you are expected to patronize and purchase some of the produce or products at the Harvest Hosts locations where you camp, your RV camping is free, covered in the membership fee you pay to belong to Harvest Hosts.

With commercial campground fees of $50 a night pretty much commonplace now, Harvest Hosts is one of the best camping bargains available. Just a couple of stays more than pays your membership fee.

Here's a video we did on one of our stays not long ago:

The latest News from Harvest Hosts

In Episode 337 of the RV Podcast, we interview Joel Holland, the CEO, about his plans for the service in the coming months. You can listen t the complete podcast interview in the player below or on your favorite podcast app. But keep scrolling down for a transcript and video version of our interview with Joel.

And keep scrolling down for a  special offer to our community that will save you 15% off your membership fee.

Here's the video of the interview:

Here's an edited transcript of the interview with Joel Holland, Harvest Hosts' CEO:

Mike Wendland: Joel Holland joins us right now, from Harvest Hosts. And Joel, it's time to go camping again. How are you?

Joel Holland: I'm doing great. And I think like most of your viewers, I'm itching to get back on the road. We live out in Colorado. So, it's been our winter season, but the RV is winterized and I'm ready to de-winterize. So, it's exciting times.

Mike Wendland: And you are going to be traveling with a new companion, a three-month-old baby girl, right?

Joel Holland: That's right. Yeah, Waverley was born on December 8th. She's had all her baby vaccinations now, and it feels like she's going to be a good traveler. You never really know. But as far as driving her around in the car, she seems to like to look out the window and it's very… Really enjoys traveling. So, she got that from us, hopefully, that carries over to the RV.

RVers are Traveling Again!

photo of harvest hosts best camping interview

Mike Wendland: Well, let's talk about this year that is just now really getting underway. In most places, COVID at least seems to be on the decline. There's a general feeling that we're going to be able to travel again. You guys did a pretty comprehensive study, in fact, I think it's one of the more in-depth studies that we've seen anywhere, about travel, RV travel in 2021. And can you give us a quick recap of what you learned from that study?

People are hungry to find the best camping experiences 

Joel Holland: Yes, absolutely. So, we had 10,000 RV mainly owners respond to our survey. So, it's a lot of data. And it was very positive for the travel outlook, the high-level data points. 76% of respondents said they plan to travel more this year than last year, which was not hugely surprising. What was surprising was a full 60% said they plan to travel more this year than pre-COVID.

There's a lot of people who are just like, “I'm itching to get out and on the road.” So, we're going to see…

2021 is going to be a massive RV travel season

The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021] 4

And here's why it's going to be domestic, 81% of respondents said they do not plan to go internationally this year. 69% said they still don't feel safe getting on an airplane. And 56% said they don't feel safe staying in a hotel. No surprise, 99% said they do feel safe traveling in an RV. So, all this data, kind of, points to more travel, it's going to be domestic, and it's going to be in an RV.

Mike Wendland: Now, you guys still had a lot of people that were out using Harvest Hosts locations in 2020. As not every venue, of course, was open, but lots of people were out there using it. So, I wonder how everyone just prepared for 2021. Now, you've been around long enough that everybody knows what Harvest Hosts is, and with campgrounds so full, how are you guys going to handle all that? All those spots that are Harvest Hosts locations, how are they going to handle this demand?

Meeting the demand for more Harvest Hosts locations

harvest hosts review map showing locations
Harvest Host locations across North America

Joel Holland: Well, that's what we focus most on, our host locations and increasing that number with high-quality hosts. And so, we added hundreds last year, where we just announced, this month, we passed 2000 hosts in our network, which is great, right? Great geographic coverage.

There are 2,000 Harvest Hosts locations now

And it's a really good compliment to the campground inventory. Because to your point, we're seeing already, some early signs that campgrounds are sold out, state parks are sold out, national parks are sold out. So, I think Harvest Hosts becomes a great tool in the toolkit for finding a location to stay, especially during these busy times when it might be difficult otherwise, but we're working to add hundreds of new campgrounds a month.

The goal is 3,000 by the end of 2021

Our goal this year, in 2021, is to add 1000 new locations and end the year with over 3000 Harvest Hosts locations.

Mike Wendland: Why so much interest in these Harvest Hosts locations? Besides the fact that they're free. They're free basically, except for whatever you purchase there.

Joel Holland: Totally, You know what's interesting? I think that the free factor is the least compelling reason that Harvest Hosts has been so successful. I think what travelers are looking for are unique experiences. And campgrounds are super important, they provide a lot of utility and I use them hundreds of days a year, but Harvest Hosts locations are truly unique.

And I've seen from some of your travels with Jennifer, an alligator farm, right? Alpaca farms, staying at wineries where you can both indulge in the tastings and not have to drive anywhere, parking among the vines, or parking in a lavender field. These are really memorable experiences.

And I don't want to speak for everyone, but one of the reasons that we got into RVing was to see the country and come away with stories, and you really get this really unique experience and storytelling experience from Harvest Hosts.

So, I think that's why it's been popular for members, for hosts. We have so many joining the program right now, and it's because they love our members. In fact, when we survey our hosts and we ask them, “Why are you in the Harvest Hosts program?” The number one response is that they enjoy meeting our members and sharing their lifestyle with them.

I thought that was really touching because the number two answer was the additional revenue, which I expected, right? You expect a business to participate in a program to make more money, it's a business. But really, our hosts love our members because we have wonderful members. And I think that just translates, RVers are just typically wonderful people.

Mike Wendland: I think about this alpaca farm that Jennifer and I visited in New Mexico a couple of years ago now, and it was about this time of year, and it was just truly a unique experience. We got up close with those alpacas. We got to learn about them. And the wonderful woman who runs that farm told us that she was so glad to be on Harvest Hosts. She said that she couldn't travel as much as she would like, at all, really, because she's caring for the animals, but through Harvest Hosts, she got to vicariously travel through all the people that she had met.

And we've stayed in touch with her throughout the years, and I think that that's just been multiplied so many times. You hit the word experience. It's an experience, and I'd even use the word adventure, so many of those spots. Talk about your favorite places. And we mentioned a few, but you also are a participant, as the CEO of Harvest Hosts. What are your favorites?

The CEO's favorite Harvest Hosts locations

photo of joel holland ceo of harvest hosts

Joel Holland: That's a fun question. So, we, of course, love wineries because we love wine, and I love the setting. So, I'd say, on any and every trip we go on, we always sprinkle in wineries. More and more recently, breweries and distilleries have started joining our program, and we're up to a few hundred of them now.

And they're really… That's a kind of, a lot of fun and a whole different experience. And then we like to add in, kind of, our museums and other attractions are what we call them.

But I'll give you a couple of examples. So, when we drove across Kansas last year, we stayed at the underground salt museum, the Strataca Underground Salt Museum. And actually, you take an elevator 400 feet down into the ground and you see how salt is made, and you see them blasting it out of the walls.

That's pretty cool. I had no idea how my table salt arrived at my table. Now I know. So, very educational. Driving through Nebraska, we went to the Golden Spike Tower, which is the world's largest train yard, and they have this huge observational tower. You can go up and sit in.

Hundreds of thousands of trains couple and decouple every day. I mean, the scale of this operation is mind-boggling, and it, kind of, brought out my inner child. Everyone loves trains, seeing it was really cool. And the last one, I'll say, Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire, it's a railway that's been there since the 1800s. And this thing, at a certain point, is on almost a 45-degree angle, chugging up a hill using coal. I mean, it's cool. So, these are the unique experiences that I love talking about.

Harvest Hosts just got $37 million in investment funding

Mike Wendland: So, the big news for Harvest Hosts in the last couple of weeks though, I saw in all of the trade publications, was a $37 million investment. What was that all about? And what will you do with all of that?

Joel Holland: Yes, it was a big announcement, and it's very exciting. We're essentially going to use the money to continue growing this program. Number one, to make it available to more RVers, because I really truly believe that any RVer that uses Harvest Hosts comes away a little happier, from the experience.

The goal is to reach 10,000 Harvest Hosts locations!

So, we want more people to know about it, which means we need more locations, right? We want to be able to support… Like right now, we have 2000 businesses, I'd love to have 10,000 small businesses all over the country in our program, both because it's great for our members, but it's also really good for the small businesses that we work with.

Harvest Hosts locations profit as members spend $40 million a year with them!

photo of harvest hosts winery

We've run some numbers this year, our members are going to spend over $40 million with the hosts that they visit, and that translates into an average of an extra $13,000 per host that's in the program.

Some of our hosts are making $50,000 a year in additional income. And, number one, we never take any of that. There's never any cost. To be in the program as a host, we charge nothing. And we've had some really heartfelt stories of hosts who are going to lose… Essentially lose the farm because of COVID, and Harvest Hosts members were the only ones who continued showing up because they were able to safely travel in the RVs.

So, long-winded way of answering your question. We're going to grow our membership and we're going to grow the hosts. That money is going to be used to do a lot of hiring. So, we have a number of jobs that we're hiring for. And we're going to invest a lot more in our technology and in our marketing and advertising.

How Harvest Hosts works: What members get and what's expected of them

Mike Wendland: Now, we should explain how this works because there's a fee, a membership fee that we, as members, pay. And then while there is no charge to overnight, the member is expected to patronize the place that they're visiting. A winery, buy a bottle of wine. Or the farm, some produce. Walk us through that a little bit.

Joel Holland: Yes, and thank you for pointing that out. So, our annual membership fee is not expensive. It really isn't. It's the cost of one or two nights at a campground. The reason we keep it so low is that our members are, kind of, expected to support the local businesses that they visit.

And so, what we say is, take some of the money you're saving from a traditional campground, purchase the local product. So, buy the wine, buy that fresh produce that you mentioned. On average, our members spend about $50 per night. It's not a requirement.

We say, spend $20, right? A minimum of $20 to say thank you. But amazingly, our members spend an average of $50 per night, but they come away with more than just a place to stay.

They always come away with fresh honey, alpaca scarves, a case of wine. So, you're not leaving empty-handed. And it feels good to support these small businesses like you mentioned.

Harvest Host's expectations for 2021

The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021] 5
Our Harvest Host spot at the Heron Hills Winery

Mike Wendland: It does. Walk us through 2021, Joel Holland. Where do you see 2021 going? Not just for Harvest Hosts, but for camping in general. You've done this survey that we talked about, but from your own gut instinct, as you talk to other hosts, and as you stay tuned to the industry, what do you think 2021 is going to look like?

The growth curve already is massive!

Joel Holland: Yeah. So, I can give you some pretty specific evidence that 2021 is going to be huge. January and February of this year, we saw about a three… Between a 300% and 400% increase in traffic to our website in membership sign-ups over last year at this time. And remember that January and February of last year were pre COVID.

So, there's really no… It's not that last year was small. Last year was normal. This year, 300% to 400% higher in the winter months. To me that says that March, April, May, June, July, August, I mean, it's going to be bananas, in a good way. I mean, I think people are going to be out exploring and adventuring.

Plan ahead for the best camping experience with Harvest Hosts by reserving early

It's going to mean you're going to need to plan a little more ahead, right? If you… Call those hosts a little bit earlier, make those campground bookings a little bit earlier, be prepared for more people on the road. I think that's the big thing this year.

Mike Wendland: How early should people call? Because many of the sites say just a day ahead of time, but I think it does require a little more forethought as you start to look where you want to stay.

Joel Holland: Yes. And it all depends on where you're going. So, if you're in a hotspot, right? If you're down in Florida, and we have a couple of very popular locations there, it requires a little bit of, maybe a week or two ahead of time, give them a call, or use our new booking system to reserve.

Advice on getting the best camping experience you are seeking

When I travel, I typically do it one to three days in advance because I like the spontaneity of RV travel. So, I use the Harvest Hosts program not too far ahead, I go a few days out, but I also try to choose locations that are a little bit off the beaten path, right? It's easy to choose that location that is right off the highway, but everyone is doing that.

So, I like to look for the ones like in Kansas, there's an alpaca farm, Heartland farm, run by three nuns in their eighties. It's only a 15-minute drive off the highway, but it's amazing. And so, it all depends on location, but I think you can… I'll put it this way, you can be a lot more spontaneous with the Harvest Hosts program than you're going to be able to be with campgrounds.

Save money on your Harvest Hosts membership

Mike Wendland: Now we're talking… We're recording this in mid-March, and I want to… This, kind of, goes forever, that's the beauty of podcasts and videos, that they're on there forever, but mid-March of 2021 as we record this. There is a time announcement that I want to make sure all of our listeners and followers receive because prices are going up. So, walk us through the current membership, and then what do they do if they can get that renewal or their first membership before April 1st of 2021?

Use this link to get the best Harves Hosts price: RVLifestyle.com/HH

Joel Holland: Yes. So, currently, membership prices are $79 per year, which gives you access to 1600 wineries, breweries, farms, distilleries. For an additional $20, you get the golf upgrade that adds on about 350 golf courses. On April 1st, we're increasing prices to $99 per year, for the standard membership. However, it's only going to affect people who sign up after April 1st. And one of the things we've done, because we've raised prices in the past, we raised them in 2019.

We never raise prices on existing members. We like to reward your loyalty, right? So, we have some members who joined six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years ago. They're still on the program. They're still paying the price that they paid when they signed up back then. We never raise prices on existing members.

So, if you sign up now, and I would recommend going to RV Lifestyle, go to the website, use their link and their coupon code, because you going to actually get a discount. That discount is locked in for life as well. So, whatever price you pay, there are no surprises.

It's not like a cable company, where they give you a low rate and then jack the rate on you later. I hate that. So, we give you a price, that's the price you're going to pay forever, as long as you're a member.

Mike Wendland: Well, Joel Holland, the Harvest Hosts phenomenon continues, 2000 host sites now. The only thing I didn't ask you about is the golf courses. We've stayed at a golf course. This is one of the neatest secrets about Harvest Hosts. When you stay at a golf course, you're pretty much all alone at night, you have incredible scenery. I mean a golf course.

And there's nobody there at night and early, early in the morning. How did that come about, and how does that work? It's a little extra fee for members, but you might want to give them an idea about the golf course membership part.

The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021] 6

Joel Holland: Totally. So it is an additional fee, it's not much, it's a $20 upgrade or add-on. The reason it's separate was, we actually bought the RV golf club in November of 2018. And the way that we paid for the purchase was to make it an upgrade for our members. What's interesting is, now, about 30% of our members have taken the golf upgrade.

So, it's very popular. I promise you that 30% of our members are not golfers, but what's nice about the golf course inventory is that most of them do not require you to play a round of golf. You can simply go to the clubhouse, have breakfast before you hit the road, or grab a nice sandwich for lunch, or have a cocktail in the evening.

I mean, it's nice. They always have food services in the pro shop or at the bar. And Mike said, the… Golf courses are beautiful. I mean, they're just beautiful. And a lot of these parking lots, empty out completely at nighttime, and we're usually parked right along one of the holes.

So, you're looking at a hole. I like to sit there and have a beer and watch people's struggle while they putt because it just makes me feel better as a bad golfer.

Mike Wendland: The Harvest Hosts phenomenon continues…, Joel Holland, CEO, congratulations on the big investment and the continued growth. And we'll see you out there at one of your Harvest Hosts locations, hopefully, this year.

Joel Holland: Thanks, Mike. Always a pleasure.

 

 

The Harvest Hosts Phenomenon: How to get the Best Camping Experience [2021] 7

 

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Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

3 Comments

  • It’s good to know that there’s all those great places to camp using Harvest Host. I’m looking forward to taking delivery of my LTV Wonder so I can enjoy them.

  • I was disappointed in the first Harvest Host place we wanted to camp at. On their information page they stated that we had to buy at least $40 worth of their products as they don’t make any money from Harvest Host guests. If we didn’t they wouldn’t let us come to camp again. Also they said Harvest Hosts guests are more trouble than guests that pay for a camp site. We didn’t go there we could tell they didn’t want us to stay there. I hope other hosts are better than those hosts.

  • Sounds like a good program if you drink alcohol. For those of us who don’t, not so much. It limits you to the farms only. Probably not worth it then.

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