To better understand what’s happening within a relatively small industry, such as commercial campgrounds and RV parks, it can be helpful to look at “adjacent” businesses and associations. In that regard, recent complaints by hunters and skiers suggest the difficulties—driven by public policy changes and climate change— that await campers trying to enjoy an increasingly diminished great outdoors. Meanwhile, a 2022 survey of the “attractions industry” has found that travelers and tourists of all sorts are becoming measurably less satisfied because of understaffing and overpricing, a pair of developments that will resonate for growing numbers of campground customers.
In Colorado, three hunting groups resigned last week from the Colorado Outdoor Partnership, asserting that their concerns about wildlife management and habitat “have been increasingly underrepresented, not responded to and often ignored.” The Colorado Outfitters Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management were among more than 30 organizations that pulled together in 2016 to work on reconciling outdoor recreation and conservation in a sustainable way, but their resignation speaks to a growing imbalance in the group’s discussions.
“There’s no room for any conversations around wildlife and habitat management,” Dan Gates, a founding member of the partnership, told Jason Blevins, who writes for The Outsider newsletter. “Nothing can be done for wildlife and habitat because there are all these other distractions on this landscape.” Luke Wiedel, with the Elk Foundation, added that his group’s involvement was limited to “check[ing] off a bunch of boxes . . . so they can say we had wildlife groups approve our statewide recreational plan.”
“If we are really going to have meaningful and impactful conversations and action revolving around recreation and conservation, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves some serious philosophical questions about wildlife and habitat and capacity and impacts,” Wiedel explained. “We need to all come to the realization that we all have an impact—hunters and all recreational users—and then we need to decide what we are going to to do about that impact.”
Meanwhile, even as Colorado is celebrating one of the best ski seasons it’s ever had, this year’s abundant snowfall is an outlier after a decade “that has seen more sad seasons than epic ones,” according to Ski magazine. Indeed, the 2015-’16 season was dubbed the “non-winter” on the East Coast, and the season before that was considered the worst in Utah’s history, even as some resorts in Canada didn’t open at all. But while Colorado skiers this year are plowing through so much powder that some especially high-spirited ones are wearing snorkels, it’s been a very different story elsewhere, and especially in the Alps.
Warm weather wiped out nearly a month of racing at the start of this year’s season, and ski lodge operators who have been in business for decades are publicly fretting that their livelihoods are on the line. With preseason training on melting glaciers heading toward extinction—despite such desperate measures as resorts covering glaciers with fleece blankets during the summer—and invasive cacti colonizing some Swiss mountainsides, nearly 200 world-class athletes addressed a letter earlier this month to the International Ski and Snowboard Federation (FIS) demanding action over climate change.
“We are already experiencing the effects of climate change in our everyday lives and our profession,” the athletes wrote. “The public opinion about skiing is shifting towards unjustifiability. . . . We need progressive organizational action. We are aware of the current sustainability efforts of FIS and rate them as insufficient.” FIS has not yet responded.
As if it weren’t bad enough that outdoor recreation is under stress from poor planning, overuse and more extreme weather, a further contributing factor to user unhappiness is a decline in overall service from recreation providers. As reported by PGAV Destinations, which plans and designs various “destinations” (think theme parks, zoos, museums, aquariums, etc.), overall consumer satisfaction scores slipped in 2022 relative to historical averages in categories including staff friendliness, feeling welcome and value received for the money spent. Multiple studies, it added, “show customer expectations are soaring, but the customer service they receive is declining.”
What’s happening? The PGAV report cites a 2022 Hubspot survey that found customer service leaders don’t have the resources to deliver the customer service people expect—expectations, I’ll add, that get pumped up by higher prices. The missing “resource” is labor, which is in short supply throughout the hospitality and destination industries, and especially so at campgrounds and RV parks. “Staffing problems can cause lower quality, higher pressure on staff, closures of food and retail locations, longer lines and many other issues,” the report helpfully observed. “All of that adds up to upset customers.”
Put it all together and it’s clear the campground industry faces enormous, even existential challenges, but for the most part remains unable even to name the threats—never mind engage in the kind of fact-finding, discussion and debate that could lead to an active response. You know things are bad when the only way you can assess a situation is by analogy or proxy, inferring rather than directly observing. But that remove won’t make the reckoning any less painful.
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