by Tom Gonser (Revised 07/2011)

When we think of RV park characteristics that create positive first impressions on RV guests, many are obvious: A neat, clean, and well maintained park with an attractive office, facilities and common areas. Of course this includes a friendly, customer-oriented staff to confirm that positive first visual impression. But there are more subtle "messages" that RV parks routinely send -- and these messages are sometimes not the ones an RV park either wants or intends to convey.

Probably the most overlooked "message" is the collection of signs posted all over your park. How often we've been in parks having signs posted everywhere that start with "NO", or "DON'T'", or which contain the word "MUST". All too often these words are in capital letters, and frequently in a type style which provides emphasis to the message conveyed. It's a bit like "shouting". The purposes are usually legitimate: You don't want unregistered guests wandering into the park. You don't want your guests to be disturbed by unsupervised pets, loud, or late night noise. You don't want your plumbing clogged with debris. You may want unused lights turned off when not in use. And you may have good reason not to have guests walking in certain areas.

So what do you do? The unfortunate response of some parks it to post signs to address every conceivable "evil" your experience indicates might be encountered. Unfortunately, too often there is neither a sense of "Please do not'" do something, nor the hint that the request is "For the enjoyment of all our RV guests'" -- even though in many cases such is the case. Sometimes the pure volume of posted messages can create a sort of "sign overkill". Some parks have countless posted directives on virtually every possible option for human behavior. What this tells your valued customers is that your park's clientele is not the type of RVer community they'd want to be with very long -- or ever again.
What's needed, of course, is a thoughtful and coordinated scheme for using those signs which you find you most need. On rare occasion we find an RV park that has recognized the unfortunate consequence that countless negative and prohibitive signs will convey. Sometimes signs are combined with a light, cartoon-like image which softens the negative words. Sometimes the "Don'ts" follow a few words of explanation of why the request is made.

An especially sensitive issue is that which pertains to the monitoring and control of pets. The goal should be to make your park attractive to RV guests who do not have pets; but also to make your park attractive to those who do. They both are valued guests. While it's probably impossible to avoid the occasional thougtless RVer who does not clean up after the pet, there is much that you can do to get pet owners on your side. We find that invariably those parks which state their policy firmly but nicely, and follow up by providing either a potti station (with baggies) or an enclosed pet exercise area, get uniformly high compliance with the pet rules. By providing an obvious method for compliance with the pet rules, your message comes through loud and clear: the pet rules will be enforced. We think pet "policies" require careful consideration, because a lax policy will drive off both non-pet owners, and responsible pet owners. And rules and signs which go beyond being reasonable will make your park "pet unfriendly" to responsible pet owners.

Keep in mind there are signs which can convey a positive impression. We occasionally visit a wonderful small park along the Salmon River in Idaho where all sites are on a well manicured lawn. There are few obvious interior roads, but guests can't reach the well manicured grassy sites without driving on the lawn. The owners have taken advantage of this circumstance by posting a sign at the entrance saying "Please drive on the grass. It's there for your enjoyment". What a wonderful first impression!
None of this is to suggest that RV parks shouldn't have -- and enforce -- reasonable rules designed to provide for the enjoyment of all guests, and for the common sense care and protection of the premises. No one objects to registration materials that contain a set of "house rules". However, these, too, need to be presented in a thoughtful manner, indicating that the rules are to ensure the enjoyment of all your valued guests. We think it's completely appropriate for your registration materials to call attention to the rules you've adopted, and make it clear that for the enjoyment of all park guests the rules will be enforced. Properly presented, your guests will conclude that the "house rules" are reasonable, and were established to ensure their stay will be an enjoyable one.

In summary, we find most park owners are extremely sensitive to the "messages" they are sending by having clean, well maintained facilites, and a friendly, helpful staff. But the "messages" they are posting throughout their parks are often sending a conflicting signal, sometimes creating a negative feeling which may not be intended -- but which can result in guests choosing their future stops in locations that offer a more welcoming envirnonment.