Part I: ARVC’s misleading name, to whit, it’s not really a ‘national’ org

There’s only one national organization that non-franchised campground owners can turn to when they need help with their business, and that’s the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC). It’s unfortunate, therefore, that ARVC is “national” more in name than fact, and is scarcely an “association” in any meaningful sense of the word.

For a better understanding of that first point, take a look at the map above. The blue states are ones that have state associations affiliated with ARVC: if you own a campground in one of those states, you can’t belong to ARVC unless you first belong to that state’s ARVC affiliate. Indeed, so entwined are these relationships that the blue states are charged with collecting dues on behalf of the national association as well as themselves—there is no option for paying dues directly to ARVC. Want to benefit from national membership but don’t see any value in belonging to the state organization? Too bad. This is an all or nothing proposition, not dissimilar from other bundled “services” we’ve grown to resent.

Own a campground in one of the six green states? You’re comparatively lucky there, because in those states you can belong to either ARVC or the state ARVC-affiliate—or both. Your choice, courtesy not of ARVC but of those state affiliates, which apparently feel confident enough in their offerings to believe they can attract members without having to ride ARVC’s coattails.

Then there are the grey states, of which there are 24, or roughly half the total but more than half by any other measure, such as land area or population. Those are the 24 states that don’t have an ARVC affiliate in the first place, so prior state association membership isn’t a consideration—for ARVC. Take a closer look, however, and you might realize that the country’s four most populous states—California, Texas, Florida and New York, accounting for fully a third of the U.S. total—are all grey, and while they don’t have ARVC-affiliated associations, they most definitely have their own campground membership organizations. They are, in other words, competitors.

How many campground owners in those states do you think might belong to both ARVC and to their own, unaffiliated state associations? To both ARVC and TACO (Texas Association of Campground Owners), or to ARVC and CONY (Campground Owners of New York)? Some, to be sure, but far fewer than would be the case if those independent associations weren’t around. Indeed, as illustrated by the California Outdoor Hospitality Association, former ARVC state affiliates have a distressing tendency to jump the ARVC ship when it seems financially feasible to do so: COHA did so in 2019, and hasn’t looked back since. Other non-ARVC associations, meanwhile, are reaching across state lines to create larger industry groupings, as Florida has with Alabama.

The result is an anemic “national” organization from which its potentially strongest affiliates have seceded altogether, while its main membership base is sustained by a mutually dependent relationship with state affiliates that might not otherwise stand alone—not unlike two drunks leaning against each other for support. That mixed allegiance led Greg Gerber, the now-retired editor of a daily RV industry watchdog publication, to observe that ARVC has a muddled public mission. “Does it represent campgrounds, or is it an association of state associations that represent campgrounds?” he wondered in 2016, in his seminal report, “RV Industry Death Spiral.”

Good question, and one that ARVC has never answered, even as it continues to trumpet its standing as “the only national association dedicated to representing the interests and needs of private RV parks and campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada.” Which is true as far as it goes, but that seems to be progressively less each passing year: even as its overall income increased by 50% over the five years since Gerber wrote his report, overall membership has declined and now sits below 3,000 campgrounds—or less than a quarter of the industry overall.

Next post: Part II of why the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds should rethink what it calls itself, in this case focusing on what it means to be an “association.”

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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