Sorry not to have chimed in sooner I should have. I am a campground owner and avid RVer. From what I know of the many other owners I know Sue and I are a bit of a rare breed. I have many of the same feelings as Gary has written about.
I will try to hit some top of mind things but, there is no way to fully cover it. Please post back with questions. I have been on the board of my state association and attended national conventions. I am also on the marketing and technology committee for the Jellystone Franchisor. That exposure along with being an RVer before and after owning a cammpground gives me a bit of a unique perspective.
I'm happy to give honest answers but, please don't get mad at me if you disagree or if I make a mistake. I want the same thing you want, better and more predictable experiences at campgrounds. This write up is not meant to be comprehensive. Just a start. Also, allow for typos and/or mis-interpreted intent. All is meant to be objective and helpful. I hope you will find it that way.
First, I have stayed in few perfect or near perfect RV Resorts. The ones I have stayed in are all north of $50 or $60 a night. Most in the $70 - $100 range. If it is below $50/night then it will be hard for the financials to support the infrastructure. I'm sure there are exceptions. Disney doesn't even meet some of Gary's points, although they just started an initiative to fix that. Pelican Lake where Paul (Jetsmania) resides is the best I've stayed in so far from a pure RV Resort perspective.
GETTING CAMPGROUNDS TO IMPROVE: First of all, the best thing you can do is complain w/your lack of business. Second, email the campgroung w/thoughtful complaints or constructive criticism. Good owners/managers will listen and fix the problem especially if it is a low cost one like trimming.
We have an online survey every year that lets customer's anonomously tell us what they like and don't like. However, believe it or not most campgrounds have no formal feedback process. Also, there is no central place to complain. The state associations are for owner's benefit. Often when they get together for conventions much of the time is spent on worst camper stories. If you stay at a franchise (KOA or Jellystone) you can always complain to the franchisor office. I am a Jellystone and know every call is followed up on. I have heard good and bad follow up from KOA customers.
ARVC, the national association, just launched a national survey for all campgrounds. I think that in the near future, if a campground doens't have a formal feedback mechanism in place you probably won't want to stay there.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING: As an RVer, I can't stand the lack of truth in advertising. We are told by customers that our website and brochures are accurate. I am completely embarrassed when we get a customer with missed expectations.
Also, be warned. With very few exceptions, try finding a highly rated park in Trailer Life or Woodalls that also isn't a big advertiser. The inspectors for those directories get paid on the advertising they sell. What they get paid for the inspection alone doesn't even cover travel expenses.
We are not an RV Resort because our roads and sites are not ready yet. (We do have about 10 sites that would qualify) We do call ourselves a family camping and cabin resort because of all the family entertainment and amenities we offer.
We are clean and friendly. 95% of our customers are young families that are tenters to 30' travel trailers. We also have 30 full service cabins. We are no where near an interstate and would be considered almost a pure destination park, i.e. our customers generally stay in the park to have fun.
Our park is 35 years old. We have some deficincies in places and on sites. Not being able to fix all the problems at once, our approach is to kill the customer with kindness and help. We loan out cords, sewer pipes, leveling blocks, park their rigs (I have special insurance for that) etc. Our infrastructure has improved dramatically in the 4 years we have owned it and we have big plans over the next 3 years. So much so that I hope to be able to have an irv2 event someday and honestly say I'm ready for 50 big rigs. But, it will have cost multiple millions of dollars.
OK, enough about my place. It was for background purposes only.
FLORIDA CAMPGROUNDS: They have little incentive to get better. Most Florida Real Estate is worth more as another business than as a campground. Campgrounds in Florida are getting fewer and fewer. The best campgrounds are getting busier and busier. This isn't my opinion, this is industry fact and the topic of much discussion. The Fiesta Key KOA just sold for $20m and is closing for a condo development. The camping business was probably worth $5m tops.
DISCOUNT CLUBS: If a campground accepts one of those 50% clubs or Good Sam, they generally need the business and probably aren't that desirable. Especially if they apply in season. Also, those clubs generally only require that you allocate certain sites for the club members. You can bet that the best sites don't get allocated. You can also bet that you are treated differently. (FYI, we don't accept any but, I have many acquaintences that do)
TREES and MANEURVERING: Gary is right on. Often there is a trade off between landscaping/natural environment. There is no excuse for roadways not being 6" back of the road and at least 14' high. We have some sites that are RV Resort style (Pull through, parrallel, few trees etc). We have others that are heavily wooded and all grass. Customers want both and I hear about it when we get the wrong customer on the wrong type of site. So I guess my point is that there are often conflicting customer needs. However, if you call yourself an RV Resort that sure conveys a certain expectation.
COACH AND TOAD SITES: Agree. But please when you call ask the specific question. I am finding that more and more campgrounds know that when we are staying just overnight and we don't want to disconnect. The two KOA's around Savannah really seem to get the overnighter requirements. However, you pay $40+ for it.
LEVEL SITES: From an RVer standpoint I am with Gary 100%. From a campground owner perspective I know how expensive and hard this can be. Especially when you are on a mountain/large hill like us. However, RV Resort in the least should mean level sites. The standard for sites is 1" side to side and 4" front to back.
Tip: make sure you ask if it is level when reserving. Some customers don't care much about level but, when you ask, the campground will endeavor to find you a level site.
GETTING MAD WHEN THE CUSTOMER COMPLAINS: No excuse for that. Despite our deficincies our CSI is in the top 10 in the Jellystone system. I have no use for campground operators who see it otherwise. Often their approach to the customer is, "your camping, get over it." My answer is "your customer left unhappy and you don't make any money, get over it." I won't bend on this either. Campground owners should see a customer complaint as an opportunity to impress. I don't mind problems when they are handled quickly and with sincerity.
However, customers who come in with voltage meters and freak when the voltage gets below 118 drive many campground owners nuts. The tolerance in the national electric code is 15%. On a 120v that is 102v. That is way too low but, anything above 108 should be fine. However, "RV Resort" should indicate the ability to handle 50 amp service at all the sites that offer 50 amp. Please let me say that customers w/those voltage meters have helped us identify problems we didn't know we had. That is a good thing although we couldn't always fix it right there.
Tip: Complain nicely. At least give the campground the impression that if they help you, they can make you happy. If they think you won't be happy no matter what, there is no benefit in helping. Also, it is so much easier to help a nice guy. We are humans who work very long hours in season. Most of us want to be good at what we do. I guess it is the honey/vinegar thing.
I've actually had my head in an old pedastel scraping off the corrosion on the bars and connections to squeeze a few more volts out on a Holiday weekend. It was a hot ped too as I didn't want to shut everybody down. We got that row fixed in the off season but, trust me, I desperately wanted to make that customer happy right then. I think they left happy w/our effort but, will want a confirmation on the power situation the next time they camp and rightfully so.
ADD ON CHARGES: This is a heavy debate item in the industry. Our sites include up to 2 adults and 3 children in our marketing. We rarely charge for overages. I think we got it right as we get few if any complaints. Charging extra for kids is ridiculous in my book. Kids mean you are likely to blow more money in my campground at the store or game room or whatever. Get those kids in here. Charging for purely 50 amp is not right. However, there are preferred sites, which in many campgrounds upgrade to 50 amp. However, the whole site should be upgraded not just the electric.
WiFi: No excuse for not working. Very simple. I have a cheap system installed 4 years ago myself and have had zero problems. A repeater goes down once in a while but, we can generally fix it ourselves. Also, we have never charged. That is also ridiculous in this day. I have been a speaker on this topic multiple times at conventions over 4 years and I will not bend or give a campground a break on this. However, it ain't getting fixed anytime soon. I just use a wireless broadband card and don't even try anymore. Before this card I would book a campground based solely on WiFi and then get there and it is out of service. Of course, they don't tell you that on the phone.
DELIVER WHAT IS PROMISED: No comment needed. Any business needs this. All I can say is that be specific when you call and get a name. I can tell you that reservations people lie to owners about what really transpires over the phone. This is so they don't get in trouble when making a mistake. I can also tell you that many customers lie, some just to get a discount. This makes owners get cynical over time. It is human nature I think. I have been guilty of it on occasion. We try not to let the very few PITAs (PM me if you don't know what that means) turn us into untrusting machines.
HONEST TRUTH ABOUT PROFITABLE CUSTOMERS: Please don't get mad at me on this. For most parks the perceived least profitable customers are two fulltimers or near fulltimers in a big motorhome with no kids. They use the most power and spend no money because they have everything or have become professional campers. They will also expect and need the most out of their site. With the exception of my kids always dropping a few bucks in a place, I would be my own worst customer. I even have one of those voltage meters.
Some parks are set-up to just serve this type of customer but, typically they wouldn't be a good transient park. Or they are very expensive.
RICH ARE GETTING RICHER: Another trend is that the better parks are thriving and growing fast while the lesser rated parks are getting fewer and fewer customers and going out of business. It is hard to pull out of this spiral without a huge infusion of capital. Given the dynamics and economics we customers shouldn't expect some of the smaller or lower rated parks to improve dramatically unless there is a sale.
My own park has done very well in the four years we've had it. But, I have put a ton of money into it. However, I feel I have to put a ton more into it or risk dying a slow death.
There is also a trend of institutional buyers such as Equity Lifestyle Partners and Morgan Management who own 100's of properties.
While this may seem awful for some, it is good news for consumers on the quality of parks. However, overall prices will probably increase. The middle of road, value parks will probably become less and less, or become straight seasonal/monthly parks.