Ever since the 1960s, the camping experience in North America has largely involved tents and RVs.
But there’s a new kind of camping product that’s increasingly being deployed in campgrounds across the U.S. and Canada. It’s called a park model.
While technically classified as recreational vehicles because they are built on a chassis, these 400-square foot units have the look and feel of cabins and cottages and they’re giving campgrounds a powerful enticement to lure families away from hotels.
The San Francisco North / Petaluma KOA campground in Petaluma, Calif. has installed 20 park models in the past five years. The units, manufactured by Phoenix, Ariz.-based Cavco Industries, have the look and feel of luxurious cabins, complete with tongue and grove pine wall coverings and ceilings, modern lighting and flat screen TVs.
“People want the luxuries and the accommodations they have at home. But more and more of them want to try the camping experience,” said Chris “Woody” Wood, the Petaluma KOA’s second generation owner.
“In a campground, you can knock on a neighbor’s door and ask them, ‘Hey, do you want to share a bottle of wine with me and roast marshmallows?’ People don’t do that in a hotel.”
And since park models come equipped with fully furnished kitchens, people can cook their own food and save money they might otherwise need to spend on meals out.
The newest park models at the Petaluma KOA are even equipped with USB chargers, so guests can keep their iPhones, laptops and other electronic devices fully charged. The campground also has free Wi-Fi service.
“It’s a huge convenience,” Wood said.
These luxurious park model accommodations are enticing people who might not otherwise find their way into a campground.
“We’re getting the non-traditional camper now. The folks that might normally go to a resort somewhere are now going to come to a KOA resort and enjoy all of the amenities that we have,” Wood said, adding, “We’ve got some people who are coming to see the wine country and they are preferring to stay in our park models because they cook their own food.”
Park models are also set up with decks, outdoor barbecues and fire rings with outdoor chairs, so families can sit around the campfire at night, share stories and enjoy the stars.
These accommodations are also a powerful enticement for families, especially when combined with KOA’s onsite amenities, which include a swimming pool, a jumping pillow as well as the park’s activities, which range from Harry Potter themed weekends with visiting magicians to Mardi Gras celebrations and Karaoke competitions. This is in addition to hay rides and face painting.
Park models have also given KOA and other campgrounds a way to diversify their business base so that they are no longer so dependent on traditional RV and tent campers.
“In 2007 and 2008, we went from having huge production of RVs to very little. So a lot of these investments in park models have helped campgrounds diversify their business base,” Wood said.
And while RV production is gaining strength once again, park models have enabled campgrounds to strengthen their own economic base, while enticing more and more consumers into campgrounds across the U.S. and Canada.