BUSINESS UP 25 TO 40 PERCENT AT SOME LOCATIONS

Some park operators say they already have large numbers of reservations for the 2021 camping season

After initially bracing for economic catastrophe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of New York’s private campground and RV resort operators have had their best year ever as families have embraced camping and the Great Outdoors in record numbers.

Year-to-date business levels at some New York campgrounds are up by as much as 25 to 40 percent over 2019 figures, according to Campground Owners of New York (CONY), which hosts CampNewYork.com, the travel planning website.

“Most of our members have had an incredible year, despite opening four to six weeks late and despite the continued closure of the Canadian border, with record numbers of first-time campers keeping them busy throughout late spring, summer and fall,” said Donald G. Bennett, Jr., CONY’s president and CEO.

Campgrounds reporting dramatic year-over-year increases in business include Pine Ridge Park Campsite, a 150-site campground in Constable, near the Canadian border.

“We thought we were destined for a depressing year,” said campground owner Kristal Fletcher, who noted that Canadians account for much of her business. “Boy was I wrong! Overall numbers were up 26 percent with Labor Day weekend up 61 percent (over 2019 figures). If the numbers stay like this and the border opens, we will have to start parking them like they are playing Jenga!”

Fletcher attributed her business increase to huge numbers of first-time campers as well as visits by people who normally camp in state park campgrounds. “A lot of campers that are usually state park only campers decided to try privately owned parks because of the state park closures with the pandemic,” she said.

Dr. John Shim, CEO of the 1000 Islands / Association Island KOA in Henderson along Lake Ontario, said his business was up 40 percent this year. “Many New York state residents have discovered that there are nice getaways right here in state,” he said, adding, “We had many first-time campers. Our waterfront cottages had almost 100 percent occupancy. Our waterfront RV sites are almost fully reserved most weekends for 2021.”

Canadians typically account for about 15 percent of annual revenue at Lake George RV Park in Lake George. But despite losing the entire month of May plus all of its Canadian visitors, Lake George RV Park actually surpassed its 2019 figures by the end of August, according to park owner Dave King. “This is miraculous considering we were down 6 percent in camper nights as of the end of August and have received three times as many cancellations as any previous season,” he said.

King attributed the increase the exceptionally strong demand for camping, which enabled him to implement a rate increase he had planned for this year. “The rate increase had literally no impact on demand, even though we have abbreviated service and amenity restrictions due to COVID,” he said.

Visits by southern New York state residents, American retirees from Mexico and the influx of new RVers also more than offset the loss of Canadian visitors at Lake George, King said. “We missed the traditional longer stays of our Canadian guests as the trend for most of the U.S. population is still long weekends — 3 to 4 nights — whereas the typical Canadian summer vacationer stays one to two weeks.”

Moving into fall, King said Lake George RV Park has been busier than expected, even though all regional events have been cancelled due to COVID. “We are seeing signs of families planning on home schooling coming out in potentially significant numbers mid-week this fall,” he said.

Truman Hartshorn, co-owner of Lebanon Reservoir Campground in Hamilton also said his business has been exceptionally strong this year. “Week after week, most weekends mirrored the busy holiday weekends of prior years,” he said. “Even though we had no planned activities, no music and no get-togethers with the pavilions closed, camping flourished.”

Families were relieved to get out and camp after a long winter and spring with COVID restrictions, Hartshorn said. “Campers came out to enjoy the outdoors and entertain themselves with the available amenities, including swimming, fishing, hiking, boating and mini golf. In July we opened the game room, and the commercial playground that was installed last year, which helped broaden the appeal of the park. Of course, the hot, dry summer played a role in keep occupancy numbers up as well,” he said.

Hartshorn said many of his campers were first-time campers as well as people who previously camped in state park campgrounds. He said his fall shoulder season is also proving to be stronger than normal due to the cancellation of school sports programs, which has created more time for families to travel.

Robert Palmer, who co-owns and operates the Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Mexico, with his wife, Marion, said his business is also up this year, despite their early closure due to the pandemic. “We were closed due to COVID-19 for the first six weeks (of our season), but once we were able to open, we saw a big uptick in weekday business, which helped to make up for the initial loss. Overall, we will finish the year ahead of last year due to the increase in people buying campers and looking to get out of the house and return to something ‘normal’ like camping in the Great Outdoors.”

Gregg Nicholls, who co owns Lake Bluff Campground in Wolcott with his wife, Kelly, said he expects business levels at their 149-site park to be up this year compared to 2019 figures. He credited CONY for its help educating park operators about COVID regulations.

John Tinelli of Triple R Camping Resort in Franklinville also credited CONY for its successful effort to have the state of New York declare campgrounds as essential businesses, which enabled them to reopen in time for the summer camping season.

Tinelli said he expects to achieve double-digit revenue growth at his campground this year, despite opening late and facing other COVID-19 restrictions. “(We had) $60,000 in cancellations in April and May. Our new splashground never got to operate. Yet, at the end of the season, we are looking at all of that being made up and finishing with record double digit profit,” said Tinelli, who operates the campground with his wife, Jennifer.

Pam Bonnice, who owns Paradise Cove Campground in Durhamville with her husband, Dave, said they had a successful 2020 despite being closed for the month of May. Paradise Cove is a 120-site seasonal campground that is normally open from May 1st to Columbus Day. “Besides opening late, our season went very well,” Bonnice said, although she had to prorate her seasonal rent to account for her park’s closure in May.

“Our season was quiet because we did not have activities as normal, so people came to camp and actually spent more time with their families than usual,” Bonnice said. “Many had their family members come in and visit. It was nice to see that interaction. So, besides losing a month of fees, propane, firewood and store sales, it was a successful season.”

“Overall,” said Hartshorn of Lebanon Reservoir Campground, “camping has proven to be a bright spot in the tourism industry this year.” 

 About Campground Owners of New York

Campground Owners of New York is the trade association that represents the private campground and RV park industry in New York. Based in Pittsford, CONY provides education, government affairs and marketing services for campgrounds, including hosting CampNewYork.com, a travel planning website, and publishing a printed directory of New York campgrounds. Campground operators referenced in this press can be contacted as follows:

— Pam Bonnice, Paradise Cove Campground in Durhamville, (315) 762-0210 or paradisecovecamp@aol.com

— Kristal Fletcher, Pine Ridge Park Campsite in Constable, (518) 806-8831 or kfletch8313@gmail.com

— Truman Hartshorn, Lebanon Reservoir Campground in Hamilton, (315) 824-2278 or truman@lebanoncampground.com

— Dave King, Lake George RV Park in Lake George, (518) 792-3775 or dave@lakegeorgervpark.com

— Gregg Nicholls, Lake Bluff Campground in Wolcott, (315) 587-4517 or camplbc425@gmail.com

— Robert Palmer, Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Mexico, (315) 963-7096 or info@jellystonecny.com

— Dr. John Shim, 1000 Islands / Association Island KOA in Henderson, (315) 938-5655 or johnshim@koa1000islandskoa.com

John Tinelli, Triple RV Camping Resort in Franklinville, (716) 676-3856 or john@triplercamp.com