There are tons of reasons why people dig camping but perhaps the most common is the fact that camping brings us closer to nature. With the ever-rising costs of hotels and guest houses, it is no surprise that many are on a hunt for cheaper holiday alternatives. Sure, there are hostels and Airbnb’s but today we are going to talk about campsites and how to start a campsite business from scratch.
What to consider before starting a campsite business?
In the best-case scenario, you know why you want to own and run a campground. Probably, your parents have been carrying you from campsite to campsite since you were born or you’ve just discovered that spending the night outdoors is cool. Oh, let me guess – you’ve spent hundreds of hours staring at camping sites on Pinterest and Instagram… Well, that’s totally fine.
Location is the key to success
You can have all the desire and passion in the world but if your campsite is located in the wrong area, you are doomed. So first things first – how to nail the perfect camp spot right away?
When choosing a place for your camping site you should consider a handful of factors but first you must get it right – are you building it or are you purchasing an already existing camping? The tips we are going to share apply to both cases.
We already said that people go camping because they enjoy being closer to nature and spending the night outdoors. That means that your campsite should be either out of town or in a town, which is near popular hiking trails, lakes, mountains, rivers, etc. The key is – the area you are in should have plenty to offer in terms of outdoor activities – rafting, diving, climbing, mountain biking, you name it.
You can’t expect that people would just come and lay on your grass all day long. You have to make sure your campsite offers way more than camping spots. A cheap and yet effective way to do so is by simply positioning your campground near popular tourist attractions. Ideally, your place would be easy to reach by the public roads.
Purchasing an existing campsite VS building a brand new one
This question has been puzzling entrepreneurs for decades now. Since we don’t want to push you in any direction we will just list the pros and cons of these options and let you decide what is best for you.
Let’s assume you prefer to purchase a campsite for sale. The good news is, you will deal with far less paperwork because this campsite is (supposedly) licensed and has obtained all the necessary documents in order to function properly. The bad news is – you don’t just buy a property since there’s more than meets the eye.
Unless renovated, an existing campground could be a financial trainwreck. Chances are you will have to spend a lot of cash on renovating the place. Campgrounds require less maintenance than hotels but when the previous owner hasn’t maintained his property for years you would be the one bringing new life to the camp. Carefully evaluate whether the investment is worth the hassle. It’s a matter of simple mathematics here – consider the sum you should spend on buying the site, add the sum needed for renovation and draw the line. I bet you already know the price range in your area – how much time would you need to reach level zero? You don’t want to run out of cash before you open doors, do you?
It may sound counterintuitive but sometimes it may be cheaper to build a brand new campsite than to try to rebuild one. Here is why – old campsites are not always functioning in accordance with today’s standards. This means that the local government might force you to renovate certain areas in order to give you permission to operate (think about electrical systems, sewage and things like that).
What is often missed is the fact that when you go for renovating an existing campground you sometimes need to ultimately destroy the current buildings and rebuild them again. The catch here is – you pay twice – once for their deconstruction and once for their construction. And sometimes this may be more expensive than building a brand new campsite.
What’s more, you don’t only buy a campsite. You buy it’s history as well. This means you inherit all good and bad reviews, the reputation of the site and everything in between. In other words, you should get yourself familiar with the property before you invest in it. Do your due diligence and examine this particular campground’s online reputation. See what guests loved and what should be improved. Was this campsite full most of the time? If yes, why is it for sale? If no, why so?
This will give you the bigger picture and let you evaluate the strengths, the weaknesses, the opportunities, and the threats that all affect the business in one way or another.
If there is no campsite for sale nor an opportunity to purchase land and build your campground from scratch, don’t get moody. Probably there are campsite owners that will gladly rent out their property. However, this is a tricky option since only long-term rents are profitable. You will need time to get your business up and running and in order to feel safe, you must rent the campsite for at least 10 years. Also, make sure you have an option to buy out the property after a certain amount of time. This will further motivate you to turn the campsite into a profitable business.
In my opinion, the best option is to buy some land and slowly turn it into the campsite of your dreams. Buy more land than you actually need and start off with a small capacity. 15-20 tent spots and just as much campervan/caravan/RVs spots are okay to start with. Over time you can scale up and reach the demand for more space. The purpose of buying more land than you actually need is, in fact, an opportunity to grow your business when you have the resources. Want to add a restaurant to your campground? No problem! A pool, a beach volley playground, a tennis court, extra toilets, and bathrooms? No problem either. You must think in advance. Especially if the location is near public roads and popular tourists sites you should be able to scale quickly.
Planning out your campsite
Let’s imagine you already have a flat field. How do you turn it into a modern campsite without making it posh?
The bare minimum
The good thing about campgrounds is that you don’t need many buildings. In short, you can kick off with a reception and a couple of bathrooms and bedrooms, all of which can fit in a single building.
Once you know where you’ll place your only construction, it’s time to plan RV areas and tent spots. Remember that while tents do not necessarily require electricity, RVs do. You should carefully outline and create power supply systems that work seamlessly. Think about all types of plugs and sockets that are common in caravans and campervans.
Many campsite owners seem to neglect natural shadow. Believe me, nothing compares to tree shadow. Make sure there are enough trees on your land. It is true that campervans and caravans usually have their own awnings but for tent lovers, the sun is the enemy. Plant as many trees as possible and as a general rule have plenty of greenery scattered all over the campground.
When you google “how to start a campsite business” the chances are you’ll stumble upon articles that opportunistically tell you that you can start with tents only. While this is partly true, my advice is not to go for it. It is hard to scale when you offer only space for tents and if you don’t make any profit you aren’t going to break even. This is why you should have RV spots from day one.
When you already have regular visitors it’s about time you take your campground to the next level. This means that you should start offering some additional extras that will make your guests’ stay more enjoyable. This could be a swimming pool, a restaurant, a playground or an in-house store.
Many campsite owners see swimming pools as a great way to net some additional income. Swimming pools attract not only camp visitors (many of whom see them as a plus) but ordinary people as well. You can charge for using the swimming pool only. This way you will attract people from your area who will come to enjoy the hot summer days at your property. If you go for a swimming pool consider two things – make sure noise pollution is kept to a minimum or your guests’ vacation might get ruined. The second tip is – add a bar next to your pool. The bar will net you some extra cash from chips and drinks.
Apart from having a swimming pool, some campsites have a restaurant or some kind of cafe, which serves breakfast and hot drinks. These are as well capable of generating cash though they require a higher initial investment and more staff in order to operate. Consider the expenses before building a restaurant. Maybe the cafe is not a bad idea but if you want to cut the unnecessary expenses make it self-serviced and offer food only in the morning.
It is a good idea to have a room where people can just sit in a do some work on their laptops. Think of it as a tiny coworking space where you can make a meal (when it is pouring outside) as well. People staying in tents will appreciate this space where they can read a book or just browse the internet.
Nowadays it is impossible to run a business (any business) without being online. You have to be active on social media and submit your business on various directories such as Google Business, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local.
We will not go into details on how to set up your social media accounts but will only cover the benefits of being online.
First and foremost, it is crucial to have your own website. On your website, you can share information about your campground such as location, capacity, amenities, features and extras, prices, nearby attractions and so on. Make sure you have your contacts listed so guests could easily reach you. To further ease the reservation process it is a good idea to think about a camping management software. There are plenty of options to choose from. Some of them are paid, some of them are free.
These days reputable businesses are easily found on Google Business, Bing Places, and Yahoo Local. Put simply these are business directories that allow you to submit your business including your name, address, contacts, and some basic information. These business directories help customers find you thus bringing organic traffic to your website. Also being listed there boosts your SEO.
Speaking of social media, most campsites usually set up profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. Social media is a great and mostly free way to promote your campsite, reach potential customers, and engage with your audience. We advise you to go beyond posting photos from your campground but actually deliver some valuable information to your community of followers.
The more people engage with you online the more traffic to your website and the more actual reservations. On tips how to improve your social media presence, check these articles – here, here, and here.