We recently surveyed our campers for the 2022 camping season.
We asked three main questions.
1. What did you enjoy most about your trip?
2. What did you enjoy least about your trip?
3. If you could change anything about the camping industry what would you change?
After analyzing over 1600 responses the the primary challenges come from either not enough campsites, things that the campground could improve or not enough information when booking a campsite. While we likely didn’t need a survey to tell us that it was challenging to find a campsite the specifics as to why people struggle are insightful. As we discuss the results the majority of the recommendations apply to privately owned campgrounds. While some ideas may work at municipal or provincial campgrounds, we believe that their mandate and motivations are slightly different.
With camping growing in popularity over the last few years, many campers feel like there’s a major shortage in how many spots are available to book. In our survey, we found that campers felt stressed when they had to race to book a campsite online. This is especially frustrating for campers when they are put into a queue system to select their site or have to wake up at an ungodly hour just to make their reservation.
We also saw that campers were used to staying in a particular site and were quite frustrated when that site was no longer reserved for them. They would also find it more convenient to book multiple sites at once for larger group trips.
One concern we hear quite often is campgrounds either having too many reserved sites and nothing available for first come-first serve campers. Or the opposite. Campers would prefer to book ahead of time and know that their campsite is there waiting for them when they arrive.
Campers who prefer first come first serve options say that it gives them more flexibility in their travels. Their plans often change last minute and they don’t want to be stuck with hefty cancellation fees. It can also be challenging to know if you’ll have the time off of work several months in advance. While those that prefer booking in advance enjoy the security of having a guaranteed site.
The second concern is the number of seasonal sites versus overnight sites. From a campground owner’s perspective, there are pros and cons to each. Seasonal sites offer guaranteed stable revenue throughout the season. While the per night rate is often lower you know that someone will be in the site for the full season. However, campground owners often comment that seasonal campers set up more permanent structures such as sheds, canopies and small decks. And while the campers may get to know each other and build community, this can lead to some less desirable group think behaviors.
Campground owners who choose to have more overnight sites have to deal with more fluctuations in their booking revenue along with having more staff to check campers in and out. However, if there is an undesirable camper they likely will be checking out within a few days rather than there for the whole season.
When it comes to campers preferring seasonal or overnight sites it largely depends on the amount of time they can spend camping and how they like to camp. In our survey we had almost equal responses asking for either more seasonal or more overnight sites.
We did see a number of responses indicating that spots were already taken when bookings open. There are a two main reasons for this. First campground’s may (and should) be taking longer bookings first and then start taking shorter bookings. This means that if you are only looking to book for a weekend and someone has already booked for two weeks some of the spots will appear as reserved.
Second, and this may not be ideal to hear from a camper’s perspective, but campground owners can book in people ahead of time if they choose to. Sometimes they have a family reunion or other special event. Although this may not seem fair, assuming it is a privately owned campground the owners are free to make this choice with their business.
By far the largest complaint when it comes to booking a site is that campers will book and then seemingly not show up to use their sites. There were many comments asking to penalize campers who no-show or find ways to make sites available when campers haven’t shown up. We think there are two main issues happening here. First, campers might be booking stays for longer than they plan to use them. This could be due to needing to book a longer stay so they could make their booking earlier or the campground having minimum night requirements. The other main reason could be that campgrounds have stringent cancellation policies where campers would get very little money back if anything so they just don’t bother to cancel.
Queuing system – This is largely used to handle the influx of campers trying to book. Some websites can’t handle the large volume of campers and would crash if they let everyone start booking at once.
Booking Start Time – Campgrounds should choose a time that is reasonably convenient for the majority of their campers. Typically this is 7 or 8am local time.
First come first serve vs reservations – While there is no right answer to first come first serve vs reservations campgrounds could consider having some of each site type. You could also have a “must check in by X time” so that the sites can be relisted if the camper doesn’t show up. If you do choose to go with only first come first serve sites then consider still using an online software anyway. You can limit campers to booking the same day and then other campers can look to see what is available prior to arriving at your campground. Plus you’ll get the bonus of being listed on our marketplace.
Seasonal vs Overnight Sites – While there likely isn’t a perfect answer to this it will depend on what the campground owner wants to do. In a perfect world, we would see more sites being developed overall. However, this isn’t always possible due to land and financial constraints.
Reservation No-Shows – While this may not work for every campground, maintaining a waitlist and allowing people to recoup some of their booking fees when canceling may lead to increased profit. For example, if you return 50% of the booking fee and are able to fill the spot based on your waitlist, you’ll then get 150% of the nightly rate for that site.
The second category of survey comments was focused on the actual experience of being at the campground. As a campground owner, knowing which amenities will be the most attractive to your campers can often be difficult. And with new campers along with a shift in how people like to camp this can be an ongoing challenge. In no particular order here are the recommendations we received from campers.
Wifi – Campers want internet. A lot of comments were by campers who continue to work while they’re camping, so a stable internet connection is a must.
Food options at campgrounds – Campers want to see food stalls, food trucks, kiosks, and restaurants at their campgrounds. Not everyone wants to cook around a fire for every meal.
Equipment rentals – Campers are looking for more opportunities to rent things like boats, kayaks, tubes, and camping gear like tents and propane fire pits (during fire bans).
“More spaces and more rental opps for canoes kayaks etc. also food trucks would very nice”
More events and activities- Using the example of all-inclusive resorts, campers want to see event staff putting on activities and events like bingo, live music, volleyball, group hikes, and stuff for the kids.
More affordable glamping options – Campers commented about enjoying the rise of cabins and yurts, but feel that they’re highly competitive to book and sometimes quite expensive.
Dog-friendly options – Dog-owners left a lot of comments about looking for amenities like dog parks, activities for dogs, and dog-sitting.
Security and rule enforcement – While these comments were largely about enforcing noise rules against partiers, pets, and compressors, a few guests talked about wanting to feel safer at campgrounds.
Community dishwashing stations – A dishwashing station not only is convenient for campers it can reduce the environmental impact and help foster community at your campground.
Sites in bad condition – These comments mentioned things like garbage left over from previous campers, unlevel ground, wildlife presence, picnic tables in disrepair, etc.
Lack of amenities – The main topics of these comments were campers requesting more food options, stores, bathrooms, playgrounds, and laundry options.
Campgrounds that don’t offer online reservations – Some campers mentioned that they won’t book at campgrounds because of the frustration of dealing with phone calls or the uncertainty of first-come-first-serve campgrounds.
Clean Facilities – There isn’t much to add here other than campers prefer clean toilets and showers.
The lack of available camping sites along with campers expectations changing are the top two concerns we’re heard from campers. The industry is changing and some expectations are here to stay. As a campground owner to remain competitive you’ll need to adapt.
If you haven’t already switched to online booking software it is one of the easiest ways to improve. Not only is Let’s Camp free for you to use it will actually save you time and money so you can focus on other improvements.