Amir Harpaz is the Co-founder & CEO of Book Outdoors, Board Member of the Florida & Alabama Association for RV Parks & Campgrounds, and Vice President of Harp Development. Amir was invited by Newbook to speak at the Tourism Innovators Conference at the Gold Coast in June. I was lucky enough to spend a bit of one-on-one time chatting to him for this week’s podcast.
An accountant by trade, Amir joined the family real estate development business his father started in 1980. It wasn’t long before Amir fell in love with the Tourism and Hospitality Industry. He joined the Florida & Alabama Association for RV Parks & Campgrounds as a board member. Amir share with listeners his latest achievement, co-founding Book Outdoors. Book Outdoors is a much-anticipated solution to the online booking dilemma that exists within the Caravan and Camping Industry.
The Florida & Alabama Association for RV Parks & Campgrounds is the largest association in the USA, with approximately 450 member parks. It represents roughly forty percent of RV parks in Florida. Fort Myers Florida has approximately fifteen to twenty RV parks within the city limits alone. RV Parks host transient clientele, or ‘tourists’, and permanent residents, with the ratio dependent on the location of each park. Some parks are one hundred percent residential, comprising entirely of people who chose to live full time in RV’s, cottages, cabins or manufactured homes.
The Millennial takeover of the American RV Industry
In this week’s episode of the podcast, Amir shares insights into the unprecedented growth within the RV Park and Campground Industry in the USA. He describes the increased focus on developing each park into a destination that offer entire experiences for guests to enjoy. He paints a inviting picture of new parks with large playgrounds, waterparks and swimming pools. He explains how they are designed to attract emerging target markets. In addition to these tempting facilities, some park owners have parks located close to natural assets such as lakes or national park. These owners can offer a myriad of additional activities such as kayaking, canoeing and bushwalking. This can also dramatically increase the popularity of park.
Amir explains to listeners that Millennials are the driving force behind this change. Sixty percent of all RV sales in the US attributed to this generation of young experience seekers. However, ten to fifteen years ago it was baby boomers on nomadic journeys who were driving the industry. In response to the massive shift in the traveller type, manufacturers are producing new styles of RVs designed to suit the needs of this fresh yet dominant target market.
The Issues with 100% Occupancy
Last year eighty million Americans went RV’ing or camping. Seven million of these people reported to travel between three to five times each year. This increased interest in RV and camping holidays has resulted in a steady growth in RV sales. Half a million RVs sales were recorded in the last financial year alone. While such growth is great for the national economy, it has resulted in increased competition to secure a site within RV Parks that can accommodate the older style RV’s and the new types of vans that are being manufactured.
Many parks have reached 100% occupancy year-round, which sounds like a dream to park owners strugglingly with occupancy, but over time it can present a number of issues not only for park owners but the increasing number of people choosing RVing as their preferred holiday option. Amir explains that this particular issue has led to his parks introducing conditions whereby guests cannot rebook until the current season has ended, allowing new people a chance to secure a booking. Restrictions around rebooking ensures a constant flow of new park guests, which assists park owner to avoid market stagnation and also provides an opportunity to maintain a profitable pricing strategy.
In the podcast Amir and I also discuss issues some park owners have in accommodating the new types of vans being manufactured to meet the needs of the emerging target markets. Often these vans are too long to fit on traditional pads within older parks and require 50AMP’s instead of 30AMP power connections available through a lot of parks that have been handed down from one generation to another. While many new and refurbished parks are enjoying 100% occupancy, some legacy parks owners without the capital to upgrade their facilities struggle to keep afloat.
Industry Dilemma Solved by Book Outdoors
Contributing to the issues introduced by a rapidly increasing market is the lack of a reliable online booking engine that can adequately assist RV and camping holiday goers to check availability and book a site or accommodation type. A large number of people wait until the last minute to book are often left calling countless parks one by one in hope of securing a last-minute booking.
Over the past five years Amir and a group of industry leaders have attempted to work with existing Online Travel Agencies (OTA) to design and introduce an online booking platform that meets the needs of the RV and camping Industry. Stakeholders want to work together, but traditional OTA’s are more focused on the Hotel Industry and are unwilling to allocate the resources required to properly understand a new market. Instead OTA representatives try to manipulate existing online booking platforms to suit the RV industry, which is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.
Amir points out that the Hotel Industry is very standardised across the world, with quality rating and room types being the key variants. In the Caravanning and Camping Industry however, there is a large number of varying accommodation types in the US alone, which can differ greatly to the accommodation types available through parks in Australia and across the rest of the world. Existing online accommodation platforms are not built for the diversity of options available within the Caravan, RV and Camping Industry. Furthermore, platforms that exist in the market cannot be integrated with existing booking software used by park owners, causing additional frustration to park owners.
Amir explains to listeners that these are just a few of the issues presented by working with OTA’s to develop a suitable online booking solution, and there is a long list of additional factors that need to be considered. Commission structures along with Hotel Industry sales manager’s lack of understanding of the RV industry are just two other factors that need to be taken into consideration. Amir pints out that OTA’s have spent tens of millions of dollars within the Hotel Industry conditioning the market to use their platforms to find cheap hotel rooms, not an outdoor experience to be enjoyed.
In the podcast Amir introduces the audience to Book Outdoors, an online booking platform designed by RV Industry leaders due to be released in September 2019, that addresses these industry concerns. Book Outdoors can be integrated with existing property management systems, has an industry specific commission structure and sales team, offering a solution that frustrated park owners can trust. Tune into the podcast to learn more.
Also in the podcast
During my chat with Amir we also discuss:
- The importance of empathy
- The future for Book Outdoors within the Australian market
- Industry disruptors in the USA such as Outdoorsy and RVshare
- Alternative accommodation OTA’s such as Hipcamp and Glamping Hub
- The advantages of RV Rental Companies such as Cruise America & El Monte
The increasing crossover between the traditional hospitality market and the outdoor hospitality space
You can listen to the full episode here.