Some Thoughts About Directory Listings
by Tom Gonser (Updated 07/11)
It would be interesting indeed to know how often RV destinations are chosen well ahead of the arrival date -- and conversely what percentage of those decisions are made "on the fly" -- often sometime on the arrival date. While no doubt many RVers like the peace of mind that goes with having advance reservations at all stopover points, many of us truly appreciate the flexibility of just "showing up", or perhaps making a cell call a couple of hours ahead of our arrival time. It's likely the experience differs from park to park. However it's fairly easy for each park to "measure" the extent to which guests are making last minute decisions: Just compare the average daily number of advance reservations to the total check-ins for a sampling of dates, and you'll know. The higher the ratio of your "walk in" guests, the more the following discussion pertains to you.
The comments below relate primarily to those occasions when RVers choose your park as a result of a "last minute decision". We're personally quite familiar with this scenario, because we often defer a choice on where we'll stop for the evening until we have "more data" upon which to make our choice. These bits of late-breaking information might relate to the latest weather forecast; whether we need to arrive fairly early in the day to resupply the RV (or perhaps take care of some items of personal business); or when we just find ourselves in an attractive new area where we conclude we'd like to do some exploring.
Resources RVers Typically Use:
Like most RVers, we travel with one of the major print directories -- in our case, the Trailer Life Directory. We have no choice but to update to a new one each year, because the old one has become so dog-eared from our heavy use of it as we quickly sift through the list of "candidates" -- usually for that same evening's stay. As a practical matter we may not have last minute access to the websites of parks where we might plan to visit, since we're rolling down the road. And even if we did the websites usually lack the information most crucial to our judgement: An independent rating by Trailer Life or Woodalls.
One notable exception to our reliance on printed directories is our increased use of online park reviews, particularly at the website http://rvparkreviews.com/. This is becoming an increasingly valuable tool for us because it provides, in addition to a summary of the park's amenities, at least an overview of guest ratings. That said, one needs to be a bit skeptical of guest ratings, because it's impossible to determine what the motivation might have been for a laudatory comment; or for that matter, a highly negative review. The ratings provided by Trailer Life and Woodalls are often less than perfect. But at least there are some objective standards which are applied as consistently as possible within the limits of human shortcomings.
Some Key Factors in Directory Listings:
If as we suspect our experience in making a last minute selection of an RV park is common to many RVers, then it follows that the information supplied in a park's listing, plus any supplemental ad it might have in the directory, becomes crucial to influencing a great many "last minute choices" among the RVing public. Said otherwise, a park's potential for business success depends significantly on "getting it right". Let's examine some of the more important elements:
1. As noted above, we place some degree of credence in the park's rating. In the context of the Trailer Life Directory's rating system, we like to see reasonably high numbers, particularly where the indicated daily rate is above average for the region. The first of the three numbers relates to activities -- often pools, spas, game rooms, etc. This one might be of interest to young families traveling with kids -- but it's of almost no interest to us. The second number describes the restroom facilities. A low rating here and we'll surely not give that park a second thought. But our attention will be focused on the last number. This third number is supposed to describe, in a somewhat subjective way, the overall environmental setting of the park. A high number here suggests to us that the park is in a nice area, with pleasant natural features and good landscaping, and relatively free of distractions such as railroad or highway noise. Of the three numbers used by Trailer Life, this is the one that most attracts our attention.
2. The Directory's listing covers the same elements for every RV park included in the publication. Thus there will be a description of "how to get there", a listing of amenities, number of sites, interior road surface, an indication of site spacing, last year's prices, etc. Since the elements listed are the same for every other park, there's not much park owner control over the standard listing elements. Experienced RVers learn to "read between the lines" of these listings -- but that's beyond the scope of this article.
3. If a park purchases advertising space, there is of course complete control over what information is conveyed. In some cases the regular listing's description of how to get to the park (driving directions) can look so complex that it is likely to dissuade many readers from even giving it a try -- particularly big rig owners who dread finding themselves in an area where they cannot turn around. A quick fix for this is a simple map contained within the ad making finding the park appear far simpler. And what's so often completely overlooked is a format for directions that more and more RVers are using -- information that can be used by the RVers' onboard GPS system. The Directory listing typically does not include the exact street address of the RV park it is describing. Many of us have onboard GPS systems that allow us to enter a street address, and let the GPS guide us directly to that location -- providing voice prompts as we go ("in five hundred feet turn left...). In addition to the street address, we'd recommend that park owners also publish the exact GPS coordinates of their park, so that RVers with more limited GPS systems can use that method to create a "waypoint", and then follow it to your park. Even a seemingly tiny detail like including a zip code in your address can have an impact. As we weigh choices of where to find an RV park, we're often interested in the weather forecast for that area. By far the easiest way to get this information, even at the last minute by using a smart phone, is to enter a zip code. Zip codes are not included in Directory listings -- but they can easily be used as part of a separate ad. As odd as it might sound, easy access to a park's zip code has had a role in influencing our decisions on a number of occasions.
4. Where a separate ad is purchased in a Directory, we think it's important to highlight those key features that are most important to a given park's clientele. For instance if RV club activity is a key part of the business plan, and the facts support it, the ad should tout the size of the clubhouse, number of guests it can accommodate, and the facilities (e.g. full kitchen) available. The fastest growing amenity in the RV park industry has been WiFi. Particularly where a park has installed a free wireless system for guest use that fact should be highlighted -- because free wireless is unquestionably a key marketing tool. In recent years the Trailer Life Directory has recognized this, and now shows "WiFi" where it is offered as a free amenity, and adds the "$$$" code to warn readers that they'll have to pay a fee to use it -- and most RVers have learned that could be a very large penalty indeed.
5. We recognize there are significant costs associated with purchasing a separate ad in the main print directories. While the size of the ad obviously has some relationship to the attention it might draw, in our view the inclusion of the key information elements in that ad may be as important as its physical size. Even the largest of purchased ads will fall short of its intended purpose if it fails to consider the items we've addressed above. Moreover, the biggest ad is not always the best strategy, as some of our internal sample polling has suggested that RVers may think the purchase of a very large ad may have inflated the park's designated rating.
6. Perhaps the fastest growing "directory" influencing RVer choices these days is actuall "word of mouth" -- very much including what RVers are reporting online about their experience with various RV parks. RV Park Reviews Online, noted above, is perhaps the quintessential example of word of mouth advertising, despite the fact that we believe RVers should read these reviews with considerable skepticism.