Kampgrounds of America owners overcame last spring’s COVID-19 closures to set new performance records during the summer and fall of 2020. North America’s largest provider of family camping finished the year nearly on par with 2019, which was a record year for the 59-year-old company.
In the first two months of 2020, KOA registration revenues were up 10.5% over 2019 totals. But COVID-19 swept over both the U.S. and Canada in mid-March, bringing stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. During the period from March 16 to May 17, Kampgrounds of America found itself more than 43% under its previous year’s performance.
“When the stay-at-home orders were first implemented in March, we began advocacy work at the federal, state and provincial levels to ensure our campgrounds could be deemed essential and remain open,” said KOA President & CEO Toby O’Rourke. “This work continued throughout the year as we first lobbied for long-term business to remain and then for short-term business to resume.”
Kampgrounds of America Inc. helped its 522 campgrounds weather those first early months by reimbursing KOA owners for 100% of reservation deposits and cancellation fees returned to campers in March and April. That amounted to more than $3.1 million in direct aid to KOA campgrounds.
“It would be an understatement to say that KOA put their money where their mouth is over the past year,” said John T. Baker II, owner of the Austin East KOA Holiday. “It’s one thing for a franchisor to say they have your back, but KOA proved it time and again during 2020.”
In partnership with other industry representatives, KOA’s lobbying efforts had a significant effect as local, state and provincial governments began loosening restrictions. By June 12, all states and provinces were allowing recreational camping. North Americans were desperate to get outside and enjoy nature, and KOA campgrounds were there to fill the need as a safe vacation choice.
Campers flooded to KOA parks in record numbers during that mid-May to early September summer “recovery period.” By September 7, Kampgrounds of America had made up most of its registration revenue deficit, setting new system performance records in June, July, August, September and October. Between early September and the end of December, registration revenues were up more than 25%.
“KOA campgrounds provided safe places for responsible recreation and a way to relax and recharge,” O’Rourke said. “The perfect antidote for stress is the outdoors and KOAs delivered on that prescription all across the United States and Canada.”
“During the summer, our KOA website, KOA.com, saw its highest traffic ever and surpassed $1 million in daily reservation revenue for the very first time on June 1,” O’Rourke said. That daily record performance became the norm for the rest of 2020 as campers rebooked canceled trips and took advantage of flexible schedules at work and at school. By the end of 2020, the majority of KOA campgrounds were at par or above their record 2019 revenue performance.
The Power of an Iconic Brand
Much of KOA’s 2020 success was driven by the hold its iconic brand held on new, inexperienced campers. Across North America, first-time campers represented 26% of all camping households in 2020.
When asked as part of a 2020 KOA internal market analysis survey, more than 50% of new Kampgrounds of America campers said that it was KOA’s facilities, services and amenities - plus its great reputation - that swayed their decision to stay at a KOA park. Nearly half of all campers surveyed said they would travel more than 25 miles out of their way in order to stay at a KOA campground.
When asked to name camping brands, nearly 90% of KOA campers - and 42% of non-KOA campers - named Kampgrounds of America at the top of their list. That correlates to 51% of all campers naming KOA above other camping brands, including Good Sam and Jellystone Parks, which accounted for only 2% of unaided brand awareness.
The momentum gained in 2020 has carried over into the first two months of 2021. Consumer traffic on KOA.com, the world’s most popular camping website, is up 25.6 percent during January and February, with nearly 21% of those sessions coming from new users. Actual reservations on KOA.com are also strong in 2021, with a nearly 60% increase in camping reservations during the first two months of the year.
“We are headed into 2021 with renewed spirit, strength and confidence in the role of our business in our communities, and the value we bring to our campers,” O’Rourke said.
O’Rourke noted that KOA’s 2020 Annual Report is now available and can be viewed by at http://koa.uberflip.com/i/1339414-2020-koa-annual-report.