As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, continues its course, forcing entire cities, states, and even countries to shut down, the hospitality and travel industries are among the hardest hit financially, especially family-owned businesses like RV parks and campgrounds.
Under this uncertainty, keeping calm is especially important for the folks running these hard-hit campgrounds. They must find practical and creative ways to keep visitors coming, keep their staff healthy (and employed), their entire business afloat, and their own families safe all at the same time.
Let’s go over exactly what’s going on and what you can do about it.
Real-time effects on local businesses
It’s clear that the effects of the pandemic are being felt by some campgrounds and RV parks already, as the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable explained in their recent firsthand account. At some parks, reservations are down by 58% from January through March, while others are being forced to close for good.
“The virus is killing us financially,” said one campground owner. “We can’t even fund legal requirements. Normally as soon as the snow melts, we have a sizable crowd. Being a small business, a few hundred dollars is a lot to us. Our income has dropped about $600 a week from short-term campers alone. Each season we lose from this virus is an additional $1200 to $2400 each. By now, I would have normally replaced natural attrition plus, which in this case would be between $4800 and $7200,” the campground owner added.
At a campground in Wisconsin that annually hosts over 4 million people, reservations are down by 100%. Meanwhile—they explained to Recreation Roundtable—they’re focusing on hiring unemployed Americans and “feeding and housing the international students unable to return to their home countries due to [the] Coronavirus [pandemic].”
By taking some of our very own booking data into account, we can see that COVID-19 has affected the number of actual bookings vs our projected bookings for January to March of 2020. The Y-axis is the approximate number of bookings, the X-axis is the 2020 projection starting from January. See the graph below:
What is going on?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus infections is over 1.3 million with over 72,000 deaths worldwide, and is currently active in over 199 countries and territories, including the United States, where the Coronavirus has infected over 300,000 people. Our country has surpassed the statistics of cases in countries like China and Italy, which makes the US the new hot spot for the COVID-19 coronavirus.
According to the most recent data from the CDC, different parts of the country are experiencing different levels of COVID-19 activity, with rural areas being spared some of the worst – encouraging news for many RV parks and campgrounds.
The duration and severity of each pandemic phase can vary depending on the characteristics of the virus and the public health response. However, in the context of the current situation and the generalized lack of confidence in when this health crisis will end, what can you do, as a campground owner, to remain optimistic and thrive as the world as we know it changes amid a new reality shaped by the virus?
The future may seem bleak now, but the truth is that just like any other pandemic the world has been through, this one shall also pass. And small businesses (which 98% of private campgrounds and RV parks are considered) can capitalize on the fact that more people want to take a break and enjoy the outdoors, while social distancing. To reap the benefits, though, owners need to act fast, be creative, and show the most strength now to succeed.
What can you do?
First of all, as mentioned, staying calm is one of the most important things you can do. Owners, remember, you are the heartbeat of your campground. It’s important not to show your staff or campers that you are too worried or that you don’t have control over the situation. Folks rely on you to remain calm, cool, and collected in order to remain so themselves.
Next, following and implementing local, state, and federal guidelines to keep the COVID-19 Coronavirus at bay is a must. The scientific community is hard at work to find a vaccine but there’s not currently any way to prevent the contagious spread of the disease in places where people gather or travel.
Maintaining a strong routine of in-depth cleaning and disinfecting (your campground), however, are proven ways to stop the virus from spreading at community levels, says the CDC.
As a campground owner or manager, it’s vital to maintain a clean space. With that being said, here are a few ways to ease stress during this highly emotional time and keep your family, staff, visitors, and yourself shielded. First, let’s highlight the basic CDC recommendations for keeping your campground and parks safe:
- Stop shaking hands – use other non-contact methods of greeting
- Clean hands at the door, and schedule regular hand washing reminders to your campers by email
- Promote ‘tap and pay’ to limit the handling of cash
- Disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, tables, desks, and handrails regularly
- Increase ventilation by opening any windows in buildings
- Manipulate your availability to stagger customer flow
- Use online transactions whenever possible
- Cancel all events and gatherings
Even with these tips, states and federal health authorities emphasize social distancing and limiting physical contact as paramount to flattening the curve of infections, so keeping from spreading the virus is the personal responsibility of not only ourselves and our families but also our staff and visitors!
Without encouraging unnecessary travel, your campground can still demonstrate to travellers that you’ve taken appropriate measures by creating simple pamphlets that explain your cleaning process and talk about how your campground setup is already designed to encourage social distancing.
For example, sites are always at least six feet apart. Drive those kinds of points home to your guests to earn their trust. Include steps that you expect guests to take in order to practice social distancing at your campground.
RV park online reservation software can help you reduce contact with travelers while helping you maintain your occupancy rate as online reservations become the new standard amid the pandemic.
This rather affordable provision would also help you to maintain a stable online presence, paramount under challenging times within this newly shrunken market.
Use email to keep in touch and remain transparent with your customers and potential visitors suggests the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds. This ensures maintaining trust with your guests, which is as important as ever.
Here are some ways to use technology in your favor to maintain visibility and earn trust:
- Stay active on Facebook and other social accounts, including Google My Business to keep campers updated on your hours
- Stay in the know of what’s being said, by whom, and when. Respond promptly to stay ahead of any misinformation
- Share statements showing you care
- Share detailed cleaning procedures of your facilities
- Inform which amenities/activities are closed/open
- Make a point to mention what you’re doing specifically to lower human interaction
- Put self-check-in and self-check-out in place
- Be flexible with cancellations and rescheduling
- List your procedures for updating guests on what’s happening
- Date your posts since information is changing so fast. Do not give the chance for old information to be misinterpreted
- Share photos of your staff cleaning, hand sanitizer stations, other health precautions you’re making
- Make sure to mix in regular postings of campers having fun!
- Be calm and cautious of your tone of voice, others will mirror it. Guests will sense it
- Verify all information before sharing. Your guests depend on you
- Customer service is more important than ever right now. The parks that are serving their guests the best are the ones that will keep business
- Be empathetic. Provide answers to questions in advance by website, social, videos, etc
- Host a Q&A
- Share local resources
Moz.com, a Seattle-based tech company that provides marketing and analytics tools for small businesses has also created a great piece with tips on what local businesses can do amid the pandemic. Interestingly enough, Seattle is one of the hardest-hit cities in the country. So they have a unique perspective on handling COVID-19 related issues.
They suggest small businesses:
- Comply with all government regulations – start your day off with local and national news to stay abreast of what’s happening
- Communicate with guests abundantly – via social media, email, and even phone. Let folks know if anything has changed, including hours of operation, etc
- Operate as fully as they can – utilize e-commerce, encourage bookings for later seasons, adjust your marketing strategy
Keep your sanity
An outbreak of pandemic proportions causes fear and uncertainty, and COVID-19 is no exception, especially for a generation that hasn’t experienced anything like this before. Small business owners and employees experience anxieties as the shutdown may cause unemployment and a financial crisis.
Coping with the stress of this health and financial crisis depends on each individual. As people react to disasters in different ways, the CDC explains and offers some advice on how to cope with stress, anxieties, and depression triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Association of Psychology gives us some tips to keep calm and thrive during the pandemic.
Help is on the way
With 98% of campgrounds and parks considered ‘small business’, this industry should expect to benefit from the hallmark $2.2 trillion stimulus package approved by Congress, aimed at supporting the US economy, small businesses, and workers during this Coronavirus pandemic. A quick look at the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, shows the provision of a $350 billion paycheck protection program to ensure small businesses keep their employees and prevent layoffs.
Also, it includes a 50% payroll tax credit on worker wages for businesses with fewer than 500 employees. The historical stimulus package also provides help to sole proprietaries and contractors.
Stay put. This is an ever-changing situation and being consistent, having policies in writing, and keeping staff abreast of how to deal with this information, will be helpful to keep your business running and preparing for the next wave of visitors
If possible, make sure that one person is in charge every day to post updates on the Coronavirus and your campground facilities as information is prompt to change. Again, maintaining your mental peace is at the top of the list of ways to keep weathering the storm as this COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic reaches the top of the hill, the upcoming months (as WHO, the CDC, and the White House, whitehouse.gov project).
Despite the inevitable losses and difficulties, don’t stop your regular marketing efforts either. Keep driving. Remember that outdoor recreation is a crucial part of the American fabric, and is an industry that generates $778 billion in output, comprises 2.2 percent of the United States GDP (Gross domestic product,) and supports 5.2 million jobs. The industry isn’t going anywhere.
There is light at the end of the tunnel for the camping industry. Prolonged seclusion will prompt people to hit the roads, as they long for fresh air – just check out all of the internet memes about the quarantine!
“Outdoor summer recreation visitor numbers were previously forecasted to be record-setting prior to the pandemic,” says Nick Haggard, Alpine Media’s Director of Sales. “Given many spring break travel plans were canceled our resort partners expect large crowds for the third quarter,” he said.
While this forecast is specifically for resorts, the concept nevertheless applies to campgrounds and parks, as people would avoid flying and opt to hit the road instead.
At the same time, many campgrounds around the country are providing life-essential products and services to those on the front lines, including food, water, propane, electrical, and laundry to other essential businesses, as well as temporary housing for folks who are displaced.
So keep calm, keep your campers and staff informed, keep your campground clean, and remember, the tradition of exploring the outdoors and camping will weather this storm.