This week we interview the newly named CEO of Kampgrounds of America about the changing demographics of camping in America.

Toby O’Rourke shares with us highlights of the company’s latest study and reveals that millennials now make up 35% of all the active campers in the U.S. She also talks about how her company is continuing to grow and thrive in an increasingly digital world.

Plus an update from Mike and Jen on their new RV, their travel schedule for the next month and an off the beaten path report from the Burketts.

Show Notes for Episode #234 March 20, 2019 of The RV Podcast:

Mike and Jennifer talk about their recent activities and whereabouts

This is a photo of us taken Monday, after signing on the dotted line and buying a 2019 Leisure Travel Vans Unity FX. We're giving it a shakedown trip now.

RV LIFESTYLE NEWS OF THE WEEK

Two Canadian national parks install country's first electric vehicle charging stations
Two Canadian national parks in British Columbia are the first in the country to install electric vehicle charging stations. Glacier National Park and Yoho National Park are both along the Trans-Canada Highway and are part of a national goal of improving electric travel. 

Improvements to cell coverage debated at Grand Teton National Park: Would it take away from wilderness experience?
The debate about whether to improve cell service at Grand Teton National Park was in the news last week. Proponents argue it would help retain workers and assist in emergencies, while those against say excellent cell service takes something away from the wilderness experience.

Great whale watching opportunities along Oregon coast in upcoming week
If you're planning to be anywhere near the Oregon coast between March 23-31, you might want to check out some of the many whale watching sites. The gray whales are making their way from Mexico to Alaska, and will be swimming by, and many special view sites are set up to see the giant mammals that week.

Fire at Forest River factory in Elkhart, Indiana, leaves production of some towables in question
A fire last week completely destroyed the factory in Elkhart, IN, where the Forest River Vibe and Vibe Extreme are built. Officials were still trying to determine what caused the blaze as of this writing, along with what will become of the towable trailers and jobs of those who built them.

 This part of the podcast is brought to you by RadPower Bikes,an electric bike manufacturer offering direct to consumer pricing on powerful premium electric bikes. Now with free shipping 

RV INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK

 This week we interview with Tony O’Rourke, the new CEO of Kampgrounds of America:

Mike Wendland:           Well first of all, congratulations.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you.

Mike Wendland:           I think we first started interviewing you when you were doing marketing, digital marketing, and then of course President and now CEO President and the Chief everything of Kampgrounds of America. So congratulations Toby.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you, I appreciate that.

Mike Wendland:           You know one of the things that you do [inaudible 00:00:20] is you do the annual camping report every year.

Toby O'Rourke:             We do.

Mike Wendland:           And I know it's a little early, it hasn't been completed yet, but can you give us any sneak peaks of what the data is showing for 2019 compared to previous years?

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, so now we've been doing the North American Camping Report for five years, which is great to look at it as a body of work that shows the trends over the past five years. And there's several key trends, things we've talked about before, but we definitely are seeing a lot of people camp, and people are camping more frequently. That's my favorite part of the data, is we're seeing 72% increase over these past five years in the amount of people that are camping at least 3 times a year, which is exciting. The data's also pointing, similar to past years, increases in millennials camping and also increases in diversity.

Mike Wendland:           Now when we talk about millennial camping, they camp a little different than the traditional demographic, don't they? They get more of them on a site. How-

Toby O'Rourke:             Well, several things. I think there's a lot of misperceptions. People think that millennials are all tenters, which actually is not true, in fact 35% of RVers are millennials, according to our research. But yes, millennials do tend to like to camp in groups. We see the average group size of a millennial camping trip being 8-10 people. We keep that in mind as we think about how we design campgrounds. It's good to have sites located near each other or multiple different site types located near each other because we know people are coming and then they want to spend time together.

Mike Wendland:           It's funny, we just have stayed at two of your facilities on our way out here. We love it because of the consistency of the amenities. They're always clean, they're neat. You follow up with us, ask us, give us an opportunity to give feedback, which I think is … We know that is shared with the franchise.

Toby O'Rourke:             It does.

Mike Wendland:           Tell us how all these things have come together in the KOA marketing strategy.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, our marketing strategy is largely digital. We are very focused on being a digital marketing department. So everything is online intending to drive people to KOA.com, and the results of that have been great. We've seen an 11 point increase in online reservations over the past few years, and 48% of all of our advanced reservations are made online. And to your point, we integrate the reviews right back onto our website that we're gathering from campers. Everything's integrated into mobile. We have a strong social media angle as well as blog content.

Mike Wendland:           Now the reviews, how important is that? And tell me why campers should look at those reviews. You don't filter those, by the way, do you?

Toby O'Rourke:             We don't, unless there's profanity or a personal attack on somebody and that person's named, we'll take those out, but other than that, we don't ever filter those out. We get over 200,000 reviews back from campers every year. We publish those on our website. It's extremely important to us to do that. One, reviews are important because they give the campground owner feedback, and they know how to make their park better. And a lot of our campground owners, most of them, actively manage those reviews so they can make the experience better for the camper. And secondly, it's really important for the guest. We know that reviews are very instrumental in people making camping decisions. People don't just book anymore or buy anything without looking at reviews, so we want to make sure that those are available for campers. Something fun.

Mike Wendland:           How fast are you guys growing? It seems like I keep looking at new KOA campgrounds everywhere we travel.

Toby O'Rourke:             Last year we added 16 new campgrounds to the system. Those were conversion parks. We currently have 13 campgrounds being built, franchise locations that are being built right now. And that's the most we've had in a number of years, so really, really strong growth. We're seeing a lot of investment by owners in our current parks, inside improvements. And then also our best owners adding campgrounds to their portfolios, so there's an increase in multi-ownership as well.

Mike Wendland:           A couple years ago you introduced the Journey sites and I think the Resort sites. How has that played? Are people … Is that registering with them? Do they understand the differences?

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, I think it's starting to. So, we're a year out from our requirement of having every KOA in one of those three brand positions. KOA Journeys, which are overnight parks, primarily. But the majority of our system is what we call a KOA Holiday, which has some recreation, has cabins, has certain patio sites for RVs. And then the KOA Resorts, which we have about 20 of those. Those are all-in destinations. Shouldn't have to leave the campground if you don't want to.

                                    Now yes, I do think that consumers are starting understand the differences. We do research on that every year. The awareness has been increasing across the brands, and the understanding and the feedback we get from our research is that people think it's very helpful for their travel planning. And to know what the experience to expect, which was our goal all along.

Mike Wendland:           Talking about that experience to expect, what should campground users be sure that they're going to experience when they visit a KOA, no matter which category it happens to be in?

Toby O'Rourke:             Well, the things we pride ourself on is guest service. It means something to put on the KOA yellow shirt. That represents a certain level of service commitment that we make to our campers and I think that's a big differentiator for us, is in our service. But we also feel very strongly about quality. We have quality inspection teams are constantly canvasing the country making sure campgrounds are measuring up to the standards we have in place for quality. So, if I could sell anybody on KOA's, it's they're going to have a very clean campground, consistent experience and you're going to have a great service.

Mike Wendland:           And we love the laundry facilities.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, you're going to have laundry, you're going to find swimming pools. We'll always have a-

Mike Wendland:           And the dog runs.

Toby O'Rourke:             Dog parks. Kamp K9 is very important to us. We know that most people are camping with some pet. I say some because sometimes we get parakeets or cats, the majority are dogs.

Mike Wendland:           I've had people with snakes who answer our survey.

Toby O'Rourke:             Snakes, there you go. But we have what we call Kamp K9 dog parks across our system, and every branded campground has a Kamp K9. Dogs are very important to us.

Mike Wendland:           Yeah, our surveys show, on our sites, about 70%.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yep, that's about right. That's what we see.

Mike Wendland:           70% say that that's why they bought an RV or a key factor, so they could travel with their pet.

Toby O'Rourke:             That makes sense, yes.

Mike Wendland:           And now you can let them loose in a nice little area at a camp. Well Toby, thank you for spending some time for us.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you.

Mike Wendland:           We look forward to … We stay at them almost every trip.

Toby O'Rourke:             I appreciate that. Thank you for being a customer.

Mike Wendland:           Well first of all, congratulations.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you.

Mike Wendland:           I think we first started interviewing you when you were doing marketing, digital marketing, and then of course President and now CEO President and the Chief everything of Kampgrounds of America. So congratulations Toby.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you, I appreciate that.

Mike Wendland:           You know one of the things that you do [inaudible 00:00:20] is you do the annual camping report every year.

Toby O'Rourke:             We do.

Mike Wendland:           And I know it's a little early, it hasn't been completed yet, but can you give us any sneak peaks of what the data is showing for 2019 compared to previous years?

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, so now we've been doing the North American Camping Report for five years, which is great to look at it as a body of work that shows the trends over the past five years. And there's several key trends, things we've talked about before, but we definitely are seeing a lot of people camp, and people are camping more frequently. That's my favorite part of the data, is we're seeing 72% increase over these past five years in the amount of people that are camping at least 3 times a year, which is exciting. The data's also pointing, similar to past years, increases in millennials camping and also increases in diversity.

Mike Wendland:           Now when we talk about millennial camping, they camp a little different than the traditional demographic, don't they? They get more of them on a site. How-

Toby O'Rourke:             Well, several things. I think there's a lot of misperceptions. People think that millennials are all tenters, which actually is not true, in fact 35% of RVers are millennials, according to our research. But yes, millennials do tend to like to camp in groups. We see the average group size of a millennial camping trip being 8-10 people. We keep that in mind as we think about how we design campgrounds. It's good to have sites located near each other or multiple different site types located near each other because we know people are coming and then they want to spend time together.

Mike Wendland:           It's funny, we just have stayed at two of your facilities on our way out here. We love it because of the consistency of the amenities. They're always clean, they're neat. You follow up with us, ask us, give us an opportunity to give feedback, which I think is … We know that is shared with the franchise.

Toby O'Rourke:             It does.

Mike Wendland:           Tell us how all these things have come together in the KOA marketing strategy.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, our marketing strategy is largely digital. We are very focused on being a digital marketing department. So everything is online intending to drive people to KOA.com, and the results of that have been great. We've seen an 11 point increase in online reservations over the past few years, and 48% of all of our advanced reservations are made online. And to your point, we integrate the reviews right back onto our website that we're gathering from campers. Everything's integrated into mobile. We have a strong social media angle as well as blog content.

Mike Wendland:           Now the reviews, how important is that? And tell me why campers should look at those reviews. You don't filter those, by the way, do you?

Toby O'Rourke:             We don't, unless there's profanity or a personal attack on somebody and that person's named, we'll take those out, but other than that, we don't ever filter those out. We get over 200,000 reviews back from campers every year. We publish those on our website. It's extremely important to us to do that. One, reviews are important because they give the campground owner feedback, and they know how to make their park better. And a lot of our campground owners, most of them, actively manage those reviews so they can make the experience better for the camper. And secondly, it's really important for the guest. We know that reviews are very instrumental in people making camping decisions. People don't just book anymore or buy anything without looking at reviews, so we want to make sure that those are available for campers. Something fun.

Mike Wendland:           How fast are you guys growing? It seems like I keep looking at new KOA campgrounds everywhere we travel.

Toby O'Rourke:             Last year we added 16 new campgrounds to the system. Those were conversion parks. We currently have 13 campgrounds being built, franchise locations that are being built right now. And that's the most we've had in a number of years, so really, really strong growth. We're seeing a lot of investment by owners in our current parks, inside improvements. And then also our best owners adding campgrounds to their portfolios, so there's an increase in multi-ownership as well.

Mike Wendland:           A couple years ago you introduced the Journey sites and I think the Resort sites. How has that played? Are people … Is that registering with them? Do they understand the differences?

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, I think it's starting to. So, we're a year out from our requirement of having every KOA in one of those three brand positions. KOA Journeys, which are overnight parks, primarily. But the majority of our system is what we call a KOA Holiday, which has some recreation, has cabins, has certain patio sites for RVs. And then the KOA Resorts, which we have about 20 of those. Those are all-in destinations. Shouldn't have to leave the campground if you don't want to.

                                    Now yes, I do think that consumers are starting understand the differences. We do research on that every year. The awareness has been increasing across the brands, and the understanding and the feedback we get from our research is that people think it's very helpful for their travel planning. And to know what the experience to expect, which was our goal all along.

Mike Wendland:           Talking about that experience to expect, what should campground users be sure that they're going to experience when they visit a KOA, no matter which category it happens to be in?

Toby O'Rourke:             Well, the things we pride ourself on is guest service. It means something to put on the KOA yellow shirt. That represents a certain level of service commitment that we make to our campers and I think that's a big differentiator for us, is in our service. But we also feel very strongly about quality. We have quality inspection teams are constantly canvasing the country making sure campgrounds are measuring up to the standards we have in place for quality. So, if I could sell anybody on KOA's, it's they're going to have a very clean campground, consistent experience and you're going to have a great service.

Mike Wendland:           And we love the laundry facilities.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yeah, you're going to have laundry, you're going to find swimming pools. We'll always have a-

Mike Wendland:           And the dog runs.

Toby O'Rourke:             Dog parks. Kamp K9 is very important to us. We know that most people are camping with some pet. I say some because sometimes we get parakeets or cats, the majority are dogs.

Mike Wendland:           I've had people with snakes who answer our survey.

Toby O'Rourke:             Snakes, there you go. But we have what we call Kamp K9 dog parks across our system, and every branded campground has a Kamp K9. Dogs are very important to us.

Mike Wendland:           Yeah, our surveys show, on our sites, about 70%.

Toby O'Rourke:             Yep, that's about right. That's what we see.

Mike Wendland:           70% say that that's why they bought an RV or a key factor, so they could travel with their pet.

Toby O'Rourke:             That makes sense, yes.

Mike Wendland:           And now you can let them loose in a nice little area at a camp. Well Toby, thank you for spending some time for us.

Toby O'Rourke:             Thank you.

Mike Wendland:           We look forward to … We stay at them almost every trip.

Toby O'Rourke:             I appreciate that. Thank you for being a customer.

 

The interview of the week is brought to you by SunshinestateRVs.com, where every new or used Roadtrek motorhome is delivered to the customer free, anywhere in the country

OFF THE BEATEN PATH REPORT  

Patti and Tom Burkett

 By Tom and Patty Burkett

Lots of snowbirds spend a season or two or three in the Southwest, and much of what’s to be seen in this country is well known.  But don’t despair of finding some hidden treasures even in a metropolis like Phoenix.  As we pulled off the highway, following the prompts of our GPS, we saw big blinking temporary signs for tennis match parking.  We assumed, when we pulled into the sizable parking lot at the Musical Instrument Museum, that most of the cars here were overflow from the championships down the street.  Wrong again.  The museum was a full as the parking lot, many crowded into the outdoor plaza to watch the Irish dancers performing in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

The $20 admission price was more than we’d usually pay for a roadside attraction (after all, you can see The Thing for $2 and Wichita’s underground troll for free), but here we were wanting a break and so we splurged.  It was a good choice.  We’ve seen a lot of museums, large and small, and this is among the best of them.  We started on the first floor, where an expert demonstrated the Apollonia Jazz Organ, the centerpiece of the mechanical music gallery.  We were reminded of demonstrations we’d seen at the Circus Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin and the Herschell Carrousel Factory in North Tonawanda, New York.  If you’re a fan of calliopes, band organs, seam organs, and player pianos, these are great places to visit.

We spent several hours on the museum’s second floor, devoted to music of the world and the world of music.  The interconnected galleries are organized geographically.  For each region, a display focuses on the instruments and music of a specific cultural group.  Working examples of a range of instruments are on display.  Beside them are traditional costumes and often the tools used by instrument makers.  One thing that sets this museum apart is the way technology is put to work to make the experience personal.  At each display is a monitor playing field recordings of the instruments  in situ.  Every visitor has a set of headphones and a receiver, and approaching a display triggers the playing of the recording.

A crocodile zither

One of the things that struck us was the parallels among cultures.  Most, if not all, have a plucked or bowed string instrument—think lute or guitar or fiddle.  Most have a flutelike instrument, and most have some form of percussion, be it logs, copper bowls, or stretched animal hides.  Cultures we might consider primitive have extraordinarily sophisticated music-making devices,  Indonesia has an entire orchestra of instruments of which we recognized not a single one.  The place of music in each culture was also remarkably consistent, with forms reserved for religious rites and others dedicated to social purposes.

Downstairs again, we spent a good deal of time on the music lab, where we were able to play examples of many of the instruments we’d seen upstairs—wooden keyed xylophones, gourd drums, and a theremin.  Of course, we were joined by many enthusiastic youngsters also intent on making music, so it was a cacophonous experience.  Next door was the conservation lab, where a few recognizable (and many unrecognizable) things were in the process of being repaired, cleaned, and restored.  One giant tuba-like horn hanging fro the ceiling looked like something from a Doctor Seuss book and must have required the wind of an elephant to operate.

Among the collections were BB King’s famous guitar Lucille, costumes used on stage by James Brown, the piano on which John Lennon composed Imagine, and many other incomparable bits of memorabilia.  Before leaving, we stopped in the café for a snack, and were moved by the many quotes on the wall.  Like Carlos Santana, we were inspired and overwhelmed by what we saw here.  You will be too.  Keep an ear open for music.  There's plenty of it to hear along the roads that take you off the beaten path.

This part of the podcast is brought to you by Leisure Travel Vans, the leader in innovative, compact luxury motorhomes with its Serenity, Unity, and Wonder product lines.

 

RV SHOWS THIS WEEKEND