As skyrocketing numbers of advance reservations at RV parks and record-breaking shipments of new RV units highlight a strong and growing demand for RV campsites around the country, developers of sites and resorts to serve these RVers are pushing to meet the challenge.
According to founder and CEO of The Jenkins Organization, Ricky Jenkins, whose RV parks have reported up to a 300% increase in advance reservations, this was an opportunity they saw coming.
“We saw similar opportunities in the RV campgrounds business that existed three decades earlier in the self-storage business,” says Jenkins, who first explored the industry by renting an RV with his family. His now grown daughter said she would have bugged her parents about going to RV parks had she known about them as a child.
The Jenkins Organization (TJO), which was founded as a self-storage facility company 31 years ago. What began with an acquisition of a KOA in Colorado Springs in 2019, has grown to owning 1,231 RV campsites at parks in Texas, Colorado, Missouri, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. And TJO has an additional 1,571 campsites in development.
With six acquisitions under its belt, TJO is now in the RV resort development business, launching five new properties under the brand, “Great Escapes.” Two of these are being made possible by opportunity zone legislation in Texas that provides tax benefits to businesses willing to invest in economically challenged areas. Incentives like this help to offset the many factors that go into deciding where to locate new resorts.
However, building new campgrounds isn’t without its challenges.
On the political front, sometimes municipal governments try to pass laws to make it financially impossible to build or expand, according to the Executive Director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO), Brian Schaeffer.
“We fight to educate legislators and government officials that RV parks are not full of undesirables,” says Schaeffer.
Development challenges to meet the demand of the new influx of RVers were echoed by the Chief Marketing Officer at Northgate Resorts, Tessa McCrackin, who cited weather delays in construction at their newest Texas luxury RV resort, “Camp Fimfo” in New Braunfels, Texas. The camp, which opens in July, has 200 RV sites and several large- and medium-sized cabins and is designed with an eclectic modern charm to evoke summer camp nostalgia. It is targeted to families and will feature a waterpark, sports courts, a jumping pillow, large lawn games, and activities for children. For adults, the RV resort will feature a hot tub, a “Filling Station” café, a swim-up bar, coffee and food trucks, and craft workshops.
Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Northgate, which began acquiring RV campgrounds in 2013, is the country’s largest franchisee of Jellystone RV campgrounds. Fourteen of their 18 resorts are Jellystones, three of which are in Texas.
Back in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio, business is booming for TJO who are targeting families with children at their new resorts. They are installing as “standard” amenity packages features such splash pads and floating water parks, laser tag, human foosball, gem mining, Water Wars, gaga pits, jumping pillows, and more.
About 40% of RV owners have dogs, Jenkins estimates, so parks and washes for large and small dogs are popular.
“Consumers today expect a high level of guest experience, so we are working hard to meet these expectations,” says Jenkins. “As such, all of our park managers attended the Disney Institute’s Quality Service Course.”
At least a dozen new campgrounds and RV parks -- with over 2,500 sites -- have either just opened or are scheduled to open in Texas this year and early next year. Expansions are also underway at several existing parks, which plan to add over 200 sites this year.
“Campgrounds and resorts are where 99% of all RV’s end up,” says Schaeffer. “You simply can’t spend a weekend camping on the beach at Malibu or on a cliffside of the Grand Tetons. The lifestyle in RV parks and campgrounds is very wholesome and should be celebrated across the board.”
Despite the difficulties RV park owners face in developing new campgrounds and resorts, both Northgate and TJO are optimistic about the continued growth of the industry.
“The pandemic has certainly accentuated the desire for families to recreate together,” says Jenkins. “We anticipate this trend to continue as more families are exposed to the RV lifestyle.”