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Once while traveling through the northeast, Heath ran into a campground office to check us into our campsite while I stayed in the RV. Checking in is hardly a two-person job, after all.
When he came back to the RV, I had made spaghetti. 🍝
Boiled the water. Added the pasta. Browned the meat. Add the sauce. Steamed the broccoli. Drained the pasta.
Dinner was on the table completely ready to eat.
Because THAT is just how long it takes to check-in at a campground sometimes.
They need your name. And your address. And your driver’s license number. And your license plate. And your car’s license plate. And here are the tags to hang in your windows so we know you’re a registered camper. And a good ten minutes of small talk.
Plus, hold on, let them radio to the guy who will lead the way in the golf cart and direct you to your campsite. You may be able to see your campsite from here and the person who checked you in already drew the driving route on your map, but it’s really best if you just wait a couple more minutes for him to show the way.
Meanwhile I’ve cooked an entire dinner because we’ve been driving all afternoon to get to our destination and we’re hungry and we want to eat and stretch our legs and get the RV all set up before the sun goes down.
It’s not exactly the best way to begin your stay at a campground and it’s one of the bigger things we want to update and automate when it comes to our campground.
No other hospitality business takes this long to simply let you onto their property. Even state parks will let you roll on in, take a site, and set up before you even pay.
When you stay at an Airbnb, you get an email with instructions on how to get to your destination and any codes you might need to access the building.
When you stay in hotels, you can check in at a kiosk or even on your phone before you arrive so you can go straight to your room.
But private campgrounds keep it old school.
With campgrounds, most of the time you can’t even book a site online. You have to wait until someone at the front desk answers your phone call and manually takes down your credit card information. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever called a campground to make a reservation and been asked to leave a voicemail so they can call you back 🙋🏻♀️)
These outdated processes are why Heath started Campground Booking back in 2016 and why we are adamant about bringing a seamless check-in experience to camping—beyond just online reservations.
Online reservations solve a lot of problems—like getting to pick your own campsite, book any time you want, and pay through a safe online portal instead of trusting the RV park employee to shred your CC info after she wrote it down in her notebook.
But what if at our campground we could make arriving even easier?
What if you could drive straight to your RV site because a map and directions were sent straight to your email when you booked and sent again to your phone on your arrival date?
What if you could arrive earlier and stay later because an automated message was sent to you saying “Your campsite is ready!” or “Your campsite is open tonight. Would you like a late checkout or to extend your stay another night?”
We’ve talked about this to a few people over the past year—how we can make an Airbnb-like seamless arrival for RVs. And the results are mixed.
RV parks owners have been pretty adamantly against the thought. It’s a better customer experience if we can meet them and talk to them when they arrive, they argue. What if someone backs into an electrical pedestal because they weren’t guided into their site by our staff? I need people to come in person to sign off on all our campground rules.
On the other hand, campers are mostly all for it. Less time checking in means getting right to the fun parts of camping.
But there’s a healthy amount of skepticism. How will I find where to park? Where are the bathrooms? What’s the code for the doors? Where am I going to find the wifi password if I don’t go in and get the same shiny and colorful map that every RV park offers?
As you may remember, our campground isn’t built yet (breaking ground in January) but we’ve still had quite a few campers in the past two months since purchasing the property. We’ve viewed this as a test run for us to see what works, what campers like, and how much time we need to be onsite to oversee the property. For example, I’ve now been validated that campers love having a water bottle fill station where they can get clean drinking water!
And Heath is thrilled to find that campers have loved 24/7 access to our coffee bar, which other than restocking on locally roasted coffee and cream, has been seamless to maintain and keep clean.
Two things we’ve always wanted at a campground but never seen before.
As far as automating the park and check-in goes, that’s maybe been the biggest surprise of all. (Because let’s be honest, who in their right mind wouldn’t love good coffee?! ☕️ )
We’ve had 43 reservations made in August and September for a total of 80 nights booked (not including any of our RVE Summit attendees). From those 43 reservations, we’ve had 0 messages from campers wondering where to go, where to park, or how to access our building.
Because through Hipcamp (which is a website for people allowing tenters and boondocking campers on their property) we send an automated message 48 hours before arrival. (The message will auto-send immediately if campers book within 48 hours, too). This message includes:
- Where to turn off the highway (+ a note that you’ll have a turn lane to make navigating in at night a little easier)
- Where to park your RV
- The code to the building + which door has coded access
- The wifi password
It turns out, that’s all campers need to know. They’ve all parked successfully. They’ve all accessed the building easily. No one has had any issues with finding the property. We haven’t had any issues with guests. We haven’t met most of the campers who’ve stayed with us. And when campers leave we end up with reviews like this:
“This place is awesome! Great value for all the amenities you get. We only stayed one night, but wish we would have stayed multiple. Clean bathrooms and kitchen. We really loved the coffee bar. We would stay here again in a heart beat. 10/10 highly recommend!”
That review came in over the weekend from a camper we never met while we went off to the mountains to play in the yellow leaves.
For most campground owners, the idea of completely automating camper arrival is too foreign to consider. Even for us, while we may dream of avoiding the 20-minute check-in process, the thought of eliminating it completely is daunting. What about people who arrive without a reservation? (We’re working on a really cool solution for that too.) What if people just pull in and steal a campsite without paying for their site? (We’ve already got a really awesome solution for that!)
But ultimately—once I’m not nine months pregnant—Heath and I want to get back to traveling more. And that means creating a business that can operate on its own while we are off exploring the world. Automating the check-in process to keep it simple for us and our campers is just one small part of that.
This month we’re going to be sharing a few more ideas we’re implementing at our campground as well as the progress we’ve made on the building process.
(Right now we’re in the middle of the rezoning process, which so far has required way less paperwork and hoop-jumping than the show Parks and Recreation led me to believe.)
Thanks for coming along on this journey with us. We cannot wait to start hosting campers at our finished property this spring!