RV PRO

May '16

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68 • RV PRO • MAY 2016 rv-pro.com on is the staff, to make sure they're engaged in meaningful work, that everybody's got the right focus and knows the objectives for the year. Beyond that … it could be almost any- thing. Since becoming CEO, I had the opportunity to name an individual, Toby O'Rourke, to a position we hadn't had here before, which is chief franchise operations officer. That allows me to pull back from the day-to-day operation on the franchise side of our business and focus more on strategy and people and our company properties. It also allows her (O'Rourke) the opportunity to gain experience in various aspects of our company, which I think is very important for succession at some point. RV PRO: Talk a little bit about your outlook for this year. KOA had a killer 2015 – revenues, for example, were up at 92 percent of KOA campgrounds. Can you, and how do you, top that in 2016? Hittmeier: It's a good question; we actu- ally have similar conversations about that all the time around here. At some point, you can't keep going up. Last year was a killer year, as you said, but the interesting thing about that: It was the fourth year in a row we'd had a 'killer year.' We were up in 2015 over another good year. So far, 2016, is looking very promising. Occupancy on our vacation leisure side, or people who are staying a week, or three days or four days – not the long-term monthly camper – is up about 7.5 percent over the prior year. Our total revenue is up almost 16 percent through the end of March. We think the summer's going to be very strong. Reservations for the season are up 18 percent right now. Advanced deposits are up almost 13 percent. Value card sales, which is our loyalty program and a predictor of future stays, is up about 7 percent this year so far. Everything we use to predict the future is very strong. Consumer confidence is high, gas prices are going up but they're still below last year, and the National Park system is celebrating 100 years, so that will help encourage people to get out, which I think is very good for all of our campgrounds. RV PRO: With so many positives, there has to be a flip side. What are some of the biggest challenges facing the camping industry today? Hittmeier: I think the biggest concern right now would be external factors. If the economy goes sideways or gas prices dra- matically increase, things that aren't pre- dictable at this point. Camping continues to be a very valuable and desirable experi- ence for individuals. We continue to push for improvements in facilities and service, and that's one of the biggest issues – not just for KOA, but camping in general. Most of the camp- grounds built were built in the '70s, maybe '80s, so there's a continual need to improve the infrastructure associated with them. O u r b i g g e s t f o c u s r i g h t n ow i s improving the outdoor experience associ- ated with a site, and creating an amenity package along with that. Sometimes we KOA looks to grow its market primarily by convincing independent campgrounds to convert to KOA-branded campgrounds. Hittmeier says the campground system adds about 17 to 20 campgrounds a year through a conversion process.

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