SIC 7033

This industry classification includes establishments primarily engaged in providing overnight or short-term camping sites for recreational vehicles, trailers, campers, or tents.

NAICS Code(s)

721211 (RV (Recreational Vehicle) Parks and Campgrounds)

Industry Snapshot

In the late 1990s, more than 40 million Americans went camping every year. Additionally, 30 million recreational vehicle (RV) enthusiasts were in possession of 9.3 million recreational vehicles (a general designation for motorized or towable vehicles that provide temporary living quarters). According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), nearly 10 percent, or 8.6 million, of vehicle-owning households in the United States owned at least one RV. By the year 2010, the number of RV-owning households was expected to reach 10.4 million. The average RV owner was 48 years old with a household income of $47,000. RV trips were less expensive—20 to 80 percent cheaper — than comparable vacations based on other forms of transportation and lodging.

Commercial recreational vehicle parks and campsite establishments (i.e., campgrounds) typically provide RV owners and campers with inexpensive outdoor, recreation-oriented accommodations located near scenic and water recreation areas, national parks and forests, historic sites, theme parks, or major travel routes. The basic features of campgrounds are RV sites (ranging from rustic clearings to "pull-thru" concrete pads with utility hookups for water, sewage, electricity, and propane gas), tent sites, rest rooms, and shower facilities. Other typical amenities include cabins to rent, convenience stores or snack bars, picnic areas and grills, coin-operated laundry facilities, garbage and sewage disposal stations, swimming pools or natural swimming areas, fishing and boating facilities, recreation halls, playgrounds, sports facilities, nature and biking trails, movies, cable TV hookups, telephones, and motorcycle accommodations. Moderately expensive resort and membership establishments also feature such "country club" amenities as 18-hole golf courses, tennis courts, and spa facilities.

Recreational vehicle parks and campsites are frequented by a wide range of the population, including middle-aged or senior citizen couples, often on prolonged trips with wide-ranging travel itineraries; families with young children; and young people or couples. Establishments may cater exclusively to such demographic groups.

Individual campgrounds may contain anywhere from one dozen to several hundred RV pads and/or tent sites. Establishments may be open seasonally or year-round, depending on climate and the nature of the surrounding tourist attractions. Rates may vary by season. Senior citizen, RV club member, and other discounts are typically available, and longer-stay rates may also be discounted.

By the 1990s, the RV and campgrounds industries had given rise to a wide array of affiliated businesses and services. Companies such as Cruise America and the Canadian-based Go Vacations International furnished motor homes and travel trailers on a rental basis to both domestic and international tourists. Various international, national, regional, and state directories (including computerized databases) were being marketed, along with such "lifestyle" magazines as RV Times and Trailer Life. Specialty RV storage facilities, RV equipment and accessories retailers, and RV emergency road services were also available.

Organization and Structure

By the late 1990s, there were approximately 16,000 campgrounds and RV parks in the United States, of which approximately two-thirds were commercially owned. Public camping facilities were also operated by the National Park Service (440 campgrounds), the USDA National Forest Service (4,000 campgrounds), the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (53,000 campsites), the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (504 National Wildlife Refuges), state park and forest systems, and county and city governmental bodies. These public campgrounds typically offered few amenities and some did not accept reservations, or did so only on a limited basis. Public campgrounds were free of charge or very economical; typical rates ranged from free-of-charge to $12 per night for tent sites and $10 to $20 per night for RV sites with hookups.

In comparison to public campgrounds, commercial campgrounds were more easily accessible, more predominantly oriented to RV camping, and more concentrated in the East and the upper Midwest. These commercial campgrounds, numbering approximately 8,500 in the late 1990s, typically offered more amenities (including reservation services) and were slightly less economical, although rates were still inexpensive in relation to the lodging industry as a whole.

The National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), founded in 1967 as the National Campground Owners Association, has provided networking, advocacy, convention, and information services for commercial campground owners. The ARVC, with approximately 3,500 members in the late 1990s, sponsored the Go Camping America Committee to promote campground tourism, as well as the RV Park & Campground Industry Education Foundation to provide educational programs and publications to commercial campground owners. Many states established campground associations affiliated with the national ARVC. Government bodies that have promoted campground tourism include the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration and the Rural Tourism Development Foundation, which was established in 1993.

Chain Campgrounds. Chain campgrounds, despite the connotations of this label, are often distinctive, independently-owned businesses that are affiliated under varying arrangements with commercial campground organizations in order to take advantage of national or international marketing and reservation services. In the late 1990s, the largest chain was Kampgrounds of America (KOA), based in Billings, Montana. KOA held a network of more than 550 franchised campgrounds in the United States and Canada. While many of these establishments were roadside facilities with few amenities, others were destination resorts. Best Holiday Trav-L-Park Association, a non-franchise chain founded in 1982, included 71 independent parks that shared a central reservation service. Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park Camp Resorts, established in 1969 and geared to families with children, consisted of 72 member campgrounds with a theme based on "Yogi Bear," the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character. Chain campgrounds typically offer rate discounts for repeat customers within the campground network.

Independent Campgrounds. In the 1990s, establishments in the independent campgrounds category varied widely in size and quality, ranging from small-scale, modest operations to such destination resorts as Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort in Florida. Many independent campgrounds were registered with the nation's leading RV owners' club, the Good Sam Club, as Good Sam Parks. Other independent campgrounds were older facilities that weren't equipped to handle the parking and hookup requirements of the newer, larger, and more luxurious recreational vehicles.

Membership Campgrounds. In the 1980s and 1990s, membership campgrounds were destination resorts typically operated on one of two membership bases. One form of membership campground offered RV pads and campsites free of charge to members who paid a membership fee and annual dues. A second form of membership campground offered access to RV pads and campsites on a timeshare basis. Both forms of membership campgrounds often belonged to networks, whereby members could extend their privileges to affiliated membership campgrounds for nominal fees. Membership campgrounds were often oriented toward golf, tennis, water-recreation and/or boating, and provided clubhouses and restaurants. Initiation fees for membership campgrounds started at $5,000 (although memberships were often resold at discounted rates), with annual fees starting at $100 or more.

Background and Development

Several cultural forces provided the impetus for the commercial recreational vehicle parks and campsites industry. The central factors, of course, are the national enthusiasm for camping, which has been ranked by the U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States as the fourth most popular participatory sport/activity in the country, and the American passion for automobiles and recreational vehicles. America's camping tradition can be traced to the desire for an affordable form of travel and tourism, particularly given the geographical expanse of the United States; the nation's scenic diversity and natural endowments, which give weight to such tourism slogans as "See America First" and "Discover America;" a national ambivalence about city life, with its crowds, pollution, and noise (conditions, unfortunately, sometimes reproduced within busy campgrounds); an idealization of nature and the "frontier," and a corresponding adoption of Native American traditions; the conservation and ecological awareness movements; the country's outstanding interstate highway system; and the development, dating from the last quarter of the nineteenth century, of the national park and forest systems. The prestige and popularity of national parks at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and California's redwood forest have played no small role in making camping one of the most popular leisure activities in the country.

"Sagebrushing," as the first wave of automobile-or RV-based camping was called, became a cultural phenomenon in the 1920s and 1930s, continuing even throughout the Depression. Such camping became even more popular after World War II, particularly among the burgeoning suburbanite population, and it utilized wartime technology such as four-wheel drive. By the 1960s, recreational vehicles became increasingly prominent on the camping scene, spurring the development of private campgrounds featuring utility hookups and a new level of amenities. The 1970s and 1980s marked the development, initially in the Pacific Northwest, of membership campgrounds. In the 1980s, record crowds at the most popular public campgrounds, in conjunction with Reagan-era federal budget cutbacks, created further growth opportunities for the commercial campground industry.

Current Conditions

According to the RVIA, the RV industry hit a 20-year high in 1998, as measured in shipments of RVs to dealers nationally. That year's total of 292,700 RVs represented a 15 percent increase over 1997. Results for the first three quarters of 1999 suggested a continuance of the upward trend, as the 251,000 in shipments was a 9.5 percent increase over the same period in 1998. "These robust numbers confirm that RV travel has entered a new era of growth," said David J. Humphreys, president of the RVIA, in a press release. "The industry is now benefiting from an influx of baby boomers into the RV ownership ranks, long projected by market analysts."

Demographic studies confirm the industry's positive outlook. The University of Michigan Survey Research Center predicted that the number of RV-owning households in the United States would rise to 10.4 million by the year 2010, a 21 percent increase over the 8.6 million such households in the late 1990s.

This study also found that RVs were increasingly appealing to younger consumers. Although Americans aged 55 and older owned approximately one-third of the total RVs on the road in the late 1990s, the segment experiencing the most growth in the industry was baby boomers. RV ownership by Americans aged 45 to 54 increased 25 percent in the mid 1990s. By the end of the decade, approximately 45 percent of the nation's RVs were owned by boomers between the ages of 35 and 54, compared to the 40 percent owned by those aged 55 and older. The University of Michigan study also determined that nearly 25 percent of boomers intended to purchase an RV sometime in the future. A study by Louis Harris and Associates found a similar buying pattern — more than half of all likely RV buyers fell in the 30-to 49-year-old range.

This demographic trend indicates a positive outlook for leisure activities, such as RV camping, that are favored by middle-aged and older populations. As Business America noted, "The progression from tent camping to RV camping as campers grow older is evident." Therefore, the aging of baby boomers should ensure a phase of renewed growth for an industry that achieved peak profits in the late 1980s, but experienced a slight downturn at the beginning of the 1990s.

A separate trend affecting the campground industry in the 1990s was the growing ecological and environmental awareness that was reflected in the international tourism industry by the advent of "ecotourism." Some campers and campground owners, increasingly concerned about minimizing their negative impact on natural and wildlife environments, had turned to environmentally sensitive camping methods and products, including the recycling or careful disposal of garbage, food waste, and sewage. The New York Times reported that "operators of private campgrounds, while still eager to draw customers and make profits, are more aware that the lure of the outdoors means preserving the outdoors." Public campgrounds also responded to this trend; in 1993, Yosemite became the first national park to develop a comprehensive garbage and food waste reduction strategy.

Industry Leaders

Thousand Trails, Inc., founded in 1969, had $67.9 million in revenues in 1999. That year, the firm's 106,000 members had access to a network of 53 private campgrounds in 17 states and British Columbia. Its subsidiary, Resort Parks International, is a network of affiliated, private RV and condominium resorts.

Kampgrounds of America, Inc., (KOA) is the world's largest system of franchised campgrounds. Established in 1962 to offer overnight amenities for cross-country travelers, KOA was comprised of about 550 locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Japan by the late 1990s. About 90 percent of the campgrounds were franchised, with the remaining 10 percent company-owned. KOA recorded revenues of $26.6 million in 1998.


Traditionally, many commercial campgrounds were modest, owner-or family-operated establishments. Therefore, only a limited number of seasonal or permanent positions were created by the industry. These positions were typically for registration clerks, convenience store clerks, janitors, groundskeepers, and recreation-related employees.

America and the World

The United States has historically been dominant in the recreational vehicle parks and campsites industry, and American RV owners and campers have fueled the commercial campground industries in Canada, Mexico, and other popular international camping destinations. By the late 1990s, Kampgrounds of America had established several franchises in Canada, Japan, and Mexico. International visitors to the United States comprise a significant percentage of KOA's customers, and vacationers from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in particular, have increased the U.S. RV rental market.

Vacationing in "caravans," as recreational vehicles are generally called abroad, is popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, notably, in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. As in the United States, campgrounds abroad have been established by both government bodies and commercial interests. In the 1990s, international campground operators included EuroCamp and Eurosites. National campground operators included Big 4 Tourist Parks (Australia), Azur Camping (Germany), The Best of British (Great Britain), Top 10 Holiday Parks (New Zealand), Club Caraville (South Africa), and DomanTuristAB (Sweden).

Further Reading

Bellafante, Gina. "The Sedate Outdoors." Time, 19 August 1996.

Hoeffel, John. "Where RVs Dare Not Go." American Demo-graphics, February 1996.

Kampgrounds of America, Inc. Web Site. Available at .

National Economic Survey of Campgrounds & RV Parks. RV Park & Campground Industry Education Foundation (bi-annual).

National Standards for RV Parks and Campgrounds. American National Standards Institute.

"Research Reveals Larger, Younger RV Market." Recreational Vehicle Industry Association Web Site. Available at .

"RV Fast Facts." Recreational Vehicle Industry Association Web Site. Available at .

RV Park & Campground Report. National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (monthly).

"RV Shipments at a 21-Year High." Recreational Vehicle Industry Association Web Site. Available at .

"RVs in High Gear." Advertising Age, 10 July 1995.

Thousand Trails, Inc. Web Site. Available at .

Trailer Life's Campground & RV Services Directory. (directory of the Good Sam Club).

Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies, 1997 ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1997.

"Woodall's Market Facts." Woodall's Campground Directory, 1997.

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