NH campsites remain a bright spot during the pandemic | business

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Some campsite owners feared 2020 could be their worst year due to COVID-19 restrictions. But for many it was the best year as people took refuge between the trees and the fresh air. And even if travel restrictions are relaxed and vaccinations are readily available, camp reservations are showing no signs of slowing as the 2021 season gets underway.

There were 86.1 million households camping in the US in 2020, up from 82.3 million in 2019, according to the annual North American Camping Report from Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the world’s largest system of private campsites nearly 500 locations in the US and Canada. The number of first-time campers has skyrocketed from 4 percent of all campers in 2019 to 21 percent of campers last year.

Due to a lack of travel opportunities and the need to escape the home environment, people went camping more often in 2020 as well. The number of households that camped three or more times rose from 18.9 million in 2019 to 22.7 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic was just happening as the campsite owners were preparing the grounds to prepare for summer 2020. After the closure, Jeremy Sprince, executive director of the NH Campground Owners’ Association, spent a lot of time working with the state to clarify the differences between a campsite and other hospitality options.

Last year Sprince spent most of his time communicating the changing restrictions to its members and working with the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force. “Our owners have always put safety first, and the campsites are big enough to fit our personal space needs,” he says.

For pass-through campers – those who come and stay for the occasional weekend – it was disappointing not being able to make reservations due to restrictions, but for the seasonal campers who usually stay in the summer it meant putting off their lifestyle and making a big investment. Annual campground rental costs between $ 3,000 and $ 5,000, and the cost of an RV can range from $ 20,000 to $ 300,000 or more. For seasonal owners, your campsite is your summer home.

Gradually, the restrictions were relaxed and the campsites adjusted. But a lot of group activities like games and crafts are off the table, Sprince says, and a lot of entertainment has been canceled. But with frequent cleaning, activities like mini golf and small boat rentals were successful.

“Some adjustments had to be made, but most owners were up to 85 to 90 percent of normal operation by the end of the year,” says Sprince.

Then came the rush. According to the KOA report, 48.2 million U.S. households camped at least once in 2020, including 10.1 million households who camped for the first time (7.7 million due to COVID-19).

The 120 members of the NH Campground Owners Association did not need a report to confirm the campground explosion.

Some say it’s hard to find the time to call people back just to let them know that many sites are already booked for the season.

The northeast region benefited particularly from people’s need for large open spaces and, according to the KOA report, has seen an 11 percent increase in camping since 2015, the biggest leap in North America.

“Camping has been exploding for six years. Some of our owners tell me that reservations are even better than last year, with some areas as high as 20 percent, ”says Sprince. “It’s a fantastic time to be a campsite owner.”

A patchwork of travel restrictions that varied from state to state and from month to month created great uncertainty in 2020. Although some restrictions remain in place, the number of regional and national visitors is likely to increase and international travel could resume by the fall.

One of New Hampshire’s largest campsites, Danforth Bay Camping & RV Resort in Freedom, has more than 300 pitches. Reservations and visits have increased year after year, with an extremely busy start to 2021, in part due to early spring and the lack of snow, says General Manager Dianne Battles.

“We have seen a huge increase in new first-time RV owners. We certainly saw it during the 2020 season, and my prediction based on what I already see is that 2021 will continue that trend, “she says. “In addition to new campers, we also have many of our returning customers who book several longer visits during the season.” Battle says that “normal” campers will be returning this season with fewer restrictions.

The Silva family owns and operates Cold Springs RV and Cold Springs Camp Resort in Weare, both of which have benefited from the RV sales and the camping boom. Todd and Michele Silva run the 400-site campsite and are seeing more and more people booking early and looking for longer stays.

Many of last year’s newcomers returned for additional visits, says Michele Silva. “I think [with] Many of the home-schooled children were able to stay longer, so it was our busiest fall, ”she says. “Also, a lot of sports didn’t take place, which would disrupt camping, but last fall there wasn’t that much to hinder.”

Some of the changes Cold Springs has made include offering outdoor movies and socially distant bingo tables, says Michele.

While Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season, in the camping world it is often the day some take reservations for the following year. “That’s right, people are now booking for 2022. As soon as we open it, they will definitely book in advance, especially the holiday weeks,” says Michele Silva.

The new owners of the Ashuelot River Campground with 81 places in Swanzey, the brothers Rick and Greg Smith and Greg’s wife Pam, are also looking forward to a busy season. “The combination of first owner and takeover so close to the opening day created a steep learning curve,” says Rick Smith. “When we took over in March, there were already several sold-out weekends this year. Since then, reservations have been coming in at a healthy pace and we have a waiting list for some appointments. The signs are that it will be a strong year. “

Smith says they followed New Hampshire’s Safer at Home guidelines and made the recommended changes to the park. “It helps to have clear business-specific guidelines from the state that are updated frequently,” he says. “We posted a COVID-19 message on our Facebook page so guests know what to expect when they arrive. We put the same reminders in the check-in parcels, put up signs and installed protective grids. We know that it is important to be conscientious, but we are grateful that it is less restrictive than last year. “

The state COVID-19 guidelines for camping sites call for social distancing and the use of masks.

At Mascoma Lake Campground in Lebanon, owners Leo and Nadine Goyette are celebrating their 8th season, and Leo Goyette says they have made many improvements to the 102 pitch campsite to meet the increased demand, including converting some tent pitches to RV sites.

“The whole industry has only just really picked up speed,” says Goyette. “With record sales of RVs, campsites are seeing more demand. Since it is a relatively small campsite, it fills up pretty quickly. “

He says they are on the railway line and still want to accommodate the hikers and bikers who are easy to get around with tents.

“One area we’ve seen a big increase is in travel nurses because we’re so close to Dartmouth-Hitchcock. We try to live up to them, but unfortunately [we] many have to turn them away, ”says Goyette. “Another unique feature for us is that we have 26 boat docks and people here can use a boat for a fraction of the cost of living on a lake.”

Darlene Goodbout, who with her husband Rob owns and operates the Lincoln-Woodstock KOA in Lincoln, says reservations are well ahead of 2020. “We weren’t sure what would happen in 2020, but it was the best summer we’ve ever had. This year it looks even better. “

She says people find comfort outdoors, and there is more than enough space between her 135 campsites to create that comfort. Employees are cleaning bathrooms more often and providing hand sanitizer at main locations. You have made some adjustments to the activities. “We do fire truck drives and some group activities, but less than in the past. But there are so many things they can do to keep themselves entertaining, including mini golf, a playground, and a fishing pond, ”she says.

Goodbout says they have seen a huge increase in first-time campers and RV owners. “People were buying new RVs and had no idea what to do when they got here. The dealers go through it all, but who remembers all of that – they’re so excited, ”she says. “From parking and setting up to the water, sewage and tanks, it’s a learning curve.”

The KOA report also notes that many first-time campers, 34 percent, found this a great way to get away from the crowds and noise, and 33 percent saw it as a safer way to travel due to COVID-19. About 15 percent said they were able to work remotely and homeschool children from the street.

More than half of the Boomers, Millennials and Gen Xers surveyed plan to increase the number of camping trips in 2021, while 64 percent of couples with children also want to do more camping. The number of mobile home households has increased by more than 2.5 million. And although the pandemic created serious supply chain problems, there are still many models on the New Hampshire properties.

“Every dealer in the country sees unprecedented demand. It’s been uninterrupted since last year, ”says Scott Silva of Cold Springs RV. “Many just want to get out” As a member of the Association of Recreational Vehicle Dealers, he sees national data confirming that all recreational sectors, including boats, bicycles and swimming pools, are booming. He says it’s common for RV owners to upgrade, and trade-ins typically make up 45 percent of sales.

However, there are many first-time buyers, so trade-in sales have dropped to 10 percent of sales, says Silva. Current owners are either selling in a private sale or are hanging on their units. “We call agents weekly and try to get everything that is available. We tell people to buy early and order in advance. I may not have it on site, but it will be there soon. “

In terms of jobs, more people are applying this year, says Silva. “I think people come from other areas of the hospitality industry, like catering,” he says.

Because Mascoma Lake Campground is located in Lebanon, an area where there is a shortage of both affordable housing and labor, the Goyettes benefit from offering mostly seasonal pitches. “We are only about 10 percent temporary and 90 percent seasonal, which makes it easier in terms of personnel. It’s a lot less work that 30 or 40 campers don’t check in on a Friday evening, ”says Goyette.

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