By Silvana Clark
Campground owners and managers … here’s a little secret. Campground guests talk to each other--about your facilities. Yes, while you are in the office, the people in Site #26 are chatting with the nice couple in Site #28. Surprisingly, the subjects of conversation are similar. After the perfunctory “Where are you from?” and “How do you like your rig?” and “Want to see pictures of my adorable grandchildren?” several topics come up time and time again.
As a frequent speaker on customer service at state and national RV conferences, I approach my visits to campgrounds like a middle-aged Nancy Drew. Simply asking, “What bugs you about this campground?” yields a wealth of information unavailable from an online survey. After staying at more than 300 campgrounds across the United States, I have found four areas (and simple solutions) where guests wish campground owners would improve.
1. Look and sound as if you want me to stay at the campground.
“Why do people who answer the campground phone sound as if they are bored, or at the other extreme, sound like they are in the middle of a catastrophe?” asked a frequent visitor. The staff person answering replies to questions with one-word answers or “I don’t know.” “When someone sounds apathetic on the phone, I’ll drive a few miles further to another campground just because I don’t want to give my business to a rude person,” said a full-time camper.
Another frequent complaint involves front-desk staff being so busy on their cell phones that they forget to acknowledge someone coming in to register. I can hear you now, saying, “My staff members are trained to keep their phones out of sight so they can deal professionally with guests.” How often do you observe staff members when they don’t expect management to be around? Just this morning, I waited five minutes in the campground office before anyone even made eye contact with me. One employee was on his phone, while the other worked on a computer.
Solution: Adopt a policy of answering the phone with an upbeat tone. One manager occasionally had his mother call to make a “mock” reservation and report on the service she received. Train staff members to extend a friendly greeting to a guest, even if the person can’t be helped immediately.
2. Clean the bathrooms.
Restrooms are the ideal place to get feedback about a campground. Women helping their children shower or even drying their own hair form an instant bond by complaining about restrooms to each other. And complain they do!
In no specific order, here is a list of what many women see in campground restrooms:
Flimsy shower curtains that don’t reach the edges of the stall
Dead bugs in the plastic overhead lighting
No toilet paper
Sinks filled with hair and “gunk”
I have plenty of photos to prove my point! One woman told me, “We planned to stay here a week, but left after a day because the restrooms were so gross.” Dirty restrooms equal lost revenue.
Solution: Clean and maintain the bathrooms! This doesn’t mean everything needs to be completely remodeled. I’ve stayed in many campgrounds with older facilities. Colorful paint, decorations on walls, and even a live plant create an atmosphere that shows that campground managers care about guests.
3. Help campers find their site.
This topic sounds minor, yet it occurs in the majority of campgrounds. A guest registers and is told the site is #43. The guest uses a map to get in the general vicinity, peering at each site, anxiously looking for site #43. Some numbers painted on stakes in the ground are so faded as to be unrecognizable in the daytime, let alone at night. Right now I’m looking at a silver pole with a tiny number 167… painted with gray paint. Anyone more than 10 feet away can’t see the number. At a campground I visited in the fall in New England, beautiful multi-colored leaves blanketed the ground after a windstorm. The leaves also covered every site number since the numbers were painted directly on the road.
Solution: Use larger site numbers in prominent locations, glow-in-the-dark paint, and prominent arrows pointing to the designated side of the site. A bonus point can be earned for those who can escort guests to their site and help them set up. Why have people frustrated within the first 10 minutes of their arrival?
4. Help guests leave the campground.
Here’s where the guys chimed in. “Campground owners know every road and turn in their campgrounds, but we don’t! If I arrive at night and want to leave the next morning, it sure would help to have some exit signs.” In the last 12 campgrounds I stayed in, only two had exit signs. Why have guests leave a campground frustrated because they took two wrong “loops” trying to leave the park?
A frequent RV’er stated, “As I stop at the last stop sign before exiting the campground and get on an actual road, it would be so helpful to have a sign pointing to the direction of that major road. I get very happy seeing even a small sign just indicating which direction to go to the next town or to a freeway.” Most people have GPS, but those extra signs make a difference if GPS is slow or inaccurate.
Solution: Signage, signage, signage! Granted, some campers are just passing through and will never camp with you again. Yet they are more than willing to share their experiences with other campers. On many occasions I have heard someone say, “So, you are heading towards the beach? We stayed at this great campground with clean restrooms and friendly staff. Be sure to camp at __________Campground!”
Acting on these four “secrets” can result in additional business and satisfied guests spreading the word about your campground.
After staying in more than 300 campgrounds, Silvana Clark now shares her experiences with campground associations and park agencies looking to improve their customer service and increase business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.