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KOA Opens Virtual Convention with State-of-the-Industry Report

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Kampgrounds of America (KOA) President and CEO, Toby O’Rourke, opened the first day of KOA’s 2020 Virtual Convention on Monday reflecting on a challenging, but ultimately successful, year.

O’Rourke spoke of the dramatic growth in demand for camping after the easing of stay-at-home orders across North America. She also spoke of KOA’s success in lobbying to keep campgrounds open as essential service providers for fulltime RVers and traveling workers.

“Campgrounds, and in particular KOAs, are essential for the well-being of North Americans,” said O’Rourke. “I’m proud to be part of an organization that is united in a mission of connecting people to the outdoors and each other as that is what we have all needed most this year.”

Pointing to the challenges of other sectors of the travel industry such as hotels, air travel and cruise lines, O’Rourke noted that the United States and Canada have seen a 45- 60 percent decrease respectively in total travel spending. Hotel occupancy fell below 50 percent in 2020.

“But that’s not the trend we have seen at KOA,” O’Rourke noted. “We are down just 3 percent from a record year in 2019.”

KOA has also seen an influx of people either new to camping or returning to camping. This year, 26 percent of campers were first-time guests and 20 percent returned to camping after a hiatus. This means nearly half of all guests in 2020 either started camping for the first time or restarted again. Of note, these new campers tended to be younger and were more likely to travel with families.

O’Rourke also dubbed 2020 “the year of the RV.” Manufacturers scrambled to meet demand and KOA’s research agreed. According to a special COVID edition of the North American Camping Report, 54 percent of campers said they were more likely to buy an RV as a result of the pandemic.

“The big question is, will these new campers keep camping in 2021,” admitted O’Rourke. “Yes, I believe so. In fact, 43 percent of new campers say they are likely to continue camping next year.”

In addition to O’Rourke’s remarks, Whitney Scott, vice president of marketing, spoke to the agile shift in marketing that assured KOAs were supported at the local level amidst differing state and local COVID restrictions.

“Our 2020 marketing plans went out the window,” said Scott. “We took a hyper-local approach and created tools to help our campgrounds directly. These efforts really helped us move forward quickly and recharged our marketing power.”

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