Campgrounds driving first-dollar sales

Operators in the Hope area take advantage of market opportunities

RV’s, cars packed with camping gear, camper vans, bicycles, and motorcycles travelling in packs are a common and welcome sight in Hope as the summer tourist season provides a short window of opportunity for this key export market.

Unlike most markets considered to be “export” markets, the tourism market is unique that the people to which we export our hospitality, scenery, adventure, and dining come to us. However, just like other more traditional “export” markets such as manufactured goods or raw materials, the product is consumed by a person outside of our local economy, and the money coming in is new first-dollar money, bringing wealth into our community. Rather than providing shipping logistics or navigating customs regulations, exporters in the tourism sector often invest heavily into direct marketing and promotion and into building relationships with travel agents, bus line operators, and other potential retailers of their products scattered literally around the globe.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Barker, vice-president of operations for Holiday Trails RV resorts, the operator of the municipally-owned Coquihalla Campground (as well as Sunshine Valley RV Resort, Bridal Falls Camperland RV Resort, and Bridal Falls Water Park).   Following is some of Mike’s insight into their experience in the local tourism market (answers are paraphrased).

AdvantageHOPE (AH): Holiday Trails has run the Coquihalla Campground for two years now, how has the experience been so far?

Mike Barker (MB): Overall, our experience has been really positive. From the beginning the goal was to make a first-come first-serve equal opportunity traditional public campground. We’ve made some improvements, we are getting lots of positive comments and lots of returning customers. We are somewhat unique in that we operate three campgrounds within 35 kilometres of each other. This was one of the concerns that the town had, but it is working out to be a positive experience for all. All of our managers and staff (about 70 employees between the three locations) are local people, so they are able to inform guests of opportunities in the whole area such as Ross Lake, provincial campgrounds, and other attractions.

AH:  I have heard comments critical of your changes to pricing, however what are your customers saying at Coquihalla Campground?

MB: When we came in we looked at pricing and decided that the product was undervalued, especially compared with provincial parks in the area.  The camping season is short and there is considerable overhead. We provide a good, comfortable, safe, and clean environment that gives clients value for their dollar. It is critical to note that there were some concerns raised from long-time customers, however there have been no concerns from new customers or European clients and we have many repeat customers.

AH: How does Hope compare with other communities in which Holiday Trails conducts business?

MB: Hope (as a community) has been great, the district has been supportive and helpful and initial dealings with new district management have been positive. This (Coquihalla Campground) is unique (in the Holiday Trails portfolio of properties) in that the town (district) owns it. Definitely there has been a “negative” element creating costs such as theft and vandalism, however our strong local connections help to mitigate those costs and we work closely with local authorities. Again our local staff is what makes it easier to do business and navigate any potential issues – we have awesome staff who take a lot of pride in our product. We also support local business in many instances, and that keeps our reputation strong.

AH: How do you see Coquihalla Campground fitting into the overall tourist experience in Hope?

MB: The campground is in a unique location and situation – a provincial-park quality product in an urban setting with pedestrian/cyclist access to many close amenities. Holiday Trails Resorts will continue to invest in capital improvements in the Coquihalla Campground over the course of the 10-year contract. We are seeing a lot of traffic in the shoulder seasons such as on Thanksgiving weekend and Easter weekend and are seeing some customers treating a stay in Coquihalla as an event in itself. We are in competition, however the competition is not just between campgrounds, it is our community competing against other communities and camping competing against other forms of recreation. We are confident that when we do a good job it results in people staying in the area longer, therefore our staff are knowledgeable about local events, amenities, and businesses.

AH: What do you see as business opportunities in the local tourist sector?

MB: A sporting goods store, businesses focusing on the winter aspect such as proximity to Manning or Hemlock, bike rentals, biking events, river tours and other river-focused businesses, and motor-sport servicing, sales, or gear. I see opportunity for businesses to take advantage of hours, to be only open when customers need you. There is potential for Hope to become a destination, however the bulk of current businesses focus on a service break for travellers. This isn’t a bad thing and we should do it well, but there is just opportunity for destination-focused business.

The Coquihalla Campground is just one of many campgrounds in Hope and Silver Creek, and in surrounding areas such as Sunshine Valley, the Fraser Canyon, Skagit Valley, and Bridal Falls.

Tyler Mattheis is executive director of AdvantageHOPE. He could be reached at 604-860-0930 or email info@advantagehope.ca.

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