The Head Honcho's Industry Journal - April 2019

Camping and RVing is one of the last sectors of the travel and tourism industry to evolve through the use of technology tools. When I listen to campground owners talk about what they want from reservation management software, the simplest answer is that they still want ultimate control over their reservations. And that makes sense because reservations are the baseline product and revenue generator of the travel industry.

Staying at a campground is basically like staying at a hotel; except that the room is an intimate part of the great outdoors. The hotel industry has a mantra that highlights the basic goal of efficient hotel management; “Heads In Beds”. A hotel room is a perishable good that, if vacant for an evening, cannot be resold. That nightly revenue is lost. Aren’t campground spots the same, but different? Since the genesis of Bonfire, our mantra mimics that of the hotel industry. “Nites In Sites.” The pursuit of 100% occupancy is a constant struggle. It isn’t easy. But Bonfire has taken strides to make it simpler to reach your goal of no vacant sites.

When a new park owner signs up to talk to Bonfire’s Head Honcho, one of the first things that comes out of their mouth is “So, we just bought our campground.” To which my automatic reaction and response is, “CONGRATULATIONS!” The camping industry is an AWESOME industry. Its freeing, tons of fun, and in most cases, it can be highly profitable. The tools you use to manage your campground DO matter and can greatly impact the profitability of your campground.

When I first started Bonfire 3 years ago, I had no idea if campground owners would buy our product. But, I figured there had to be a few friendly, die-hard campground owners that could tell me what I didn’t know about their needs. So, I made 2,222 phone calls and asked anyone connected to the operations of a campground for feedback. And boy oh boy, did I get it. Managers described some of the current technology tools that do, as well as do not solve their basic problems.

One campground owner was sick and tired of having to message some support site only to get some pointless email response that didn’t solve her problem. She wanted to talk with an actual person. (Light bulb) Let’s give our customers something they can’t get anywhere else; personal customer support. This is the conversation that was the catalyst for the creation of the “Head Honcho” persona. Bonfire’s Head Honcho handles ALL of the customer support, as well as on-boarding and set-up for new customers. And the Head Honcho also happens to be the CEO of the company. If you ask Bonfire’s customers what they love about our product, you may find that one of the top two answers is “I can call the Head Honcho ANY TIME I need help.” (And they call his cell phone)

One of the key takeaways from my initial calls was not just “Who is a Bonfire customer?”, but more so, “Who is NOT a Bonfire customer?” Sure, every young technology startup company wants to dominate their industry. But Bonfire needed to start somewhere. And I think we nailed it. The second top answer for why Bonfire’s customers sign up with us is “It’s so simple”. Make it so simple that anyone can learn and use it. We have built and upgraded our product with a lot of features based on this positioning. But we have also NOT added features because of this focus. And for this reason, some campgrounds will not find our solution valuable; even if they LOVE how simple it is to use. A second key takeaway was that Bonfire needed to eliminate the frustrations of double bookings while also providing online reservations. So, if the site isn’t available, it doesn’t even show up online. This saves both the managers AND the campers a lot of frustration. And now that your sites are online, you can attract new campers and grow your business.

Once a campground opens the door to new tools that bring positive change, generally, other efforts are taken to increase that positive traction. Sometimes, just the marketing language you use to describe your campground can have a profound impact. For example, Shady Haven RV Park in Bakersfield, CA describes itself as a “Health & Wellness, Smoke-Free Community”. This label is the singular reason why some new campers have booked their stay at this park. Word-of-mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing channels in the camping industry. Do you remember in the early 2000’s when the Atkins diet was all the rage? Yeah, new uniquely labeled marketing can cause massive increases in new customers. The wording you use to describe the experience you offer to your guest has a direct impact on repeat campers as well as generating new regular customers. The only proof that matters is….. More “Nites In Sites”.

I wish all the campground owners and managers out there a prosperous, profitable, and progressive camping season. If you would like more tips and information on new ways to market your campground, to generate extra revenue, or even to check out Bonfire’s simple reservation management software, check out the links below. And as always, LetsBonfire!

- The Head Honcho of Bonfire

Marketing Your Campground

Making Extra Revenue Each Season

8 of Bonfire’s Most Useful Tools