Travel & Camping Industry Still Showing Resilience

According to the most recent Longwoods International tracking study of American travelers, (Travel Sentiment Study, Wave 17), the constantly changing threat of the COVID pandemic has “taken its toll on consumer confidence in official information sources.”  This is evident in the recent numbers, especially when those numbers released on August 3, 2020, are compared to April.

  • The percentage of travelers relying on the information on the safety of U.S. travel from the CDC or other federal health agencies has dropped from 57% on April 22nd to 45% in July
  • Confidence in information from the White House Coronavirus Task Force slipped from 24% in April to 17% in July
  • Reliance on information from state health officials has decreased ten percent, from 36% in April to 27% in July

This response makes sense considering the numerous changes to suggested practices in the past month, most of which can be accredited to the CDC and other federal health officials learning new information about the Coronavirus as it runs its course.  We’ve gone from complete shutdowns with essential only businesses open, to fully opening, to requiring masks in a matter of months.  With a microlens view, guidance varies from county to county in the US and province to province in Canada.  Schools in the US are basing returns this Fall based on County Compass guidance, surveys from their student families, size of classes, etc into consideration.  In WI, neighboring counties may differ between plans with one offering virtual-only classes and the next offering in-person with social distancing and mask requirements.  In Canada, Travel Measures vary from one province to the next.  The chart below outlines self-isolation requirements for domestic travelers entering into each province or territory, as well as restrictions on travel across provincial and territorial borders.

As we can see, so much is changing in a short amount of time.  With this much change, there is bound to be uncertainty with sources and interpretation of information.

“The mixed messages and results in response to the pandemic appear to be weakening public trust in official information sources at all levels,” said Amir Eylon, President and CEO of Longwoods International.  “Growing distrust in official information will only make a coordinated response to COVID-19 more difficult.”

The amount of people changing their travel plans due to COVID has also increased from 69% to 73% since Longwoods the last study.  This certainly may be a good thing for campgrounds, as previous travel plans included flights and long-distance travel.  RV sales increasing could indicate that many who were traveling abroad have changed plans to “staycations,” or vacationing close to home.  Many of our guests radiate 30 min to 2 hours from our location.  So as previously mentioned in “RV/Camping Industry Proving to be Successful Through COVID-19,” be prepared to welcome in guests that are new to camping and need your help in creating an amazing customer experience.  Think “how do I level out” and “what do you mean by ‘pumping’ my unit?” kinds of questions haha.

Other statistics that seem to be dropping include opening up local communities and feeling safe within communities.  Only a third of travelers support opening their local communities to visitors and those who feel safe eating in local restaurants and shopping in local stores which is now at 40%, down drastically from 57% noted in the Wave 13 Study.     

One statistic showing consistency is the percentage of American travelers who feel safe traveling outside their community.  Currently noted at 43%, down just a tick, from 44% noted in the June 3rd release of the Wave 13 Study.   In Canada, the overall sentiment seems to be, “If you’re from my province, please visit.  If you’re from the US, stay home please.”

There are some positives however to note for our industry! A monstrous 84% of travelers note that even though their mode of transportation may have changed, they still plan to do the following activities during their vacations before Fall:

  • Go to relax or recreate at an ocean, lake, or river;
  • Participate in other outdoor activities or adventures,
  • Go on a hike or bicycle ride

Safe to say at least two out of three of those activities apply to your business.  In your next Facebook post or online ad, it might make sense for you to highlight guests doing some of those activities!  Right now is the perfect opportunity to build your brand and gain trust from your return and prospective guests.  Naubil Oropeza, Digital & Social Media Content Manager urges us all to bulk up social media strategies now more than ever.  She states in an article on Miles Partnership, “Those that inform, communicate and evolve will be better positioned to advance during the recovery period.”  Here is a great example from a campground in IA, showing a beautiful sunset – simple, beautiful, easy.

Meanwhile, let us not forget that the camping industry is made up of doers.  The hit the adventure economy may have taken is unprecedented, but they are putting everything they have into preparing for an uncertain future while staying afloat.  Think about companies like Outdoor Research Seattle Store, (OR), a highly respected maker of apparel, gloves, and accessories for serious outdoorspeople.  When the Coronavirus began burning through metropolitan Seattle in late February and into March, OR executives were faced with the following situation: do we keep working while giving something back or shutdown?  Part of OR’s business included manufacturing of clothing and accessories for the Department of Defense; running factories in Seattle and near Los Angeles and not just overseas because the federal government requires such items to be produced domestically. “OR restarted its factories and made a leap—without any specific contracts or previous experience—into making protective masks for medical workers and other frontline personnel.”

At this time, OR is cranking out more than 100,000 masks every week and they aren’t solo in their endeavors!  Many other outdoor companies switched gears to some degree, to manufacturing masks or protective gear, including Michigan sandal maker Chaco, North Carolina’s Kitsbow Cycling Apparel, and Maine-based L.L.Bean, which rerouted fabric destined for dog-bed liners. 

What does this mean to you and your campground?  It means there is HOPE.  Think of a few months back (or even weeks back for others!) when we weren’t even sure if there would be a season, let alone a campground to manage.  Some of the owners were new to the industry and what a welcome wagon of the year 2020 has been!  Others, even if seasoned, have never had to persevere something so challenging as the impact of COVID-19.  And you’re still HERE.  And your guests are still arriving.  And you’re still surviving the season.  You leaped into the year not knowing if you’d have reservations honored, if you would get employees back, if you could afford payroll, or if you’d have to cut expenses so severely it wouldn’t be worth opening.  But you TRIED.  Step back and think of everything you’ve had to do just to be open.  Many of you have changed your policies, your practices, your sanitization plans, your activities, how you serve food, how you offer services and you’ve had to do it all with changes happening on a whim.  I don’t know how many times we’ve updated our website verbiage, confirmation emails, and signage on the grounds…but we are OPEN.  Let’s not forget to take pride in the accomplishments that are made during a season where sales could’ve been zero and have faith in the statistics showing us the remainder of the season will be strong.  Here’s hoping we see that recovery and congratulations to all of you for showing up.