RV parks – also known as caravan parks and often doubling as campgrounds – have an enduring appeal, especially in a country boasting such spectacular wilderness as South Africa.
South Africa is Africa’s second most visited country, attracting around 10 million overseas visitors a year. However, RV parks and campgrounds are also popular with South Africans travelling within their own country.
The cheapest form of holiday accommodation going, campgrounds and caravan parks are nevertheless far from the sole preserve of those on low incomes. Retirees craving tranquillity, frazzled corporate urbanites fleeing the city and families seeking wide open spaces in which their children can frolic – just three huge demographic groups for whom a hotel room or apartment isn’t necessarily the gold standard.
The back-to-nature intimacy of a tent or caravan speaks to something innate in humans and is durably popular, seemingly immune from the fluctuations of fashion.
A recession-resilient, lifestyle business
The same dynamics also appeal to those choosing to run RV parks. The working hours are long – it’s a seven-day a week business where customers stay overnight – but this ‘lifestyle’ business is a relatively low-stress occupation.
The sector holds up well during economic downturns – arguably even excels when competing for business from a cash-strapped populace against pricey hotels.
Caravan parks also have greater scope for expansion if bookings consistently outstrip capacity – again, in contrast to hotels, which can’t generally build themselves additional rooms too easily.
Location is vital in two ways. First, the site itself and its immediate surroundings should ideally be both visually beautiful and tranquil from an auditory perspective.
The latter point explains why, while proximity and access to tourist hotspots is important, being too close to busy roads is – unlike most sectors – not actually a good thing. The constant background ambience of highway traffic rather spoils the back-to-nature mood that most guests expect.
South Africa isn’t short of areas of spectacular natural beauty. The most popular RV parks and campsites are, to give a few examples, near or within national parks, near game reserves, on riverbanks, nestled in the mountains or walking distance from beaches.
Purporting to showcase 37 of South Africa’s best campsites, this article back’s this assertion up.
Along with the location and its surroundings, the range and quality of amenities on offer – which varies enormously – is, of course, a prime determinant of the price of pitches and the businesses themselves when put up for sale.
However, more amenities, of course, means a greater management and maintenance burden in terms of both manpower and costs.
At the most basic end of the scale, visitors simply get a pitch to park their caravan or erect their tent and a basic bathroom block with cold showers (if any showers at all).
At the other end of the spectrum, sites might offer hot showers, Wi-Fi, electrical hook-ups, laundry facilities, restaurants, swimming pools, children’s playgrounds and myriad other facilities.
Some RV parks are exclusively for caravans, others also offer tent pitches. Some also offer static caravans equipped with all manner of modcons, luxury tents that are ready to occupy on arrival and various other niche accommodation like log cabins.
Many forward-thinking parks recognise their symbiotic relationship with other tourism-related businesses, striking reciprocal marketing agreements with restaurants, game reserves and wine-tour operators. They might, for instance, offer discounted tickets to various attractions through their website, taking a percentage of the sale in return.
Based in remote locations campgrounds and RV parks won’t, it’s reasonable to surmise, get much passing trade.
The savviest operators therefore invest heavily in their digital presence as well as their facilities. Supported by high-quality photography, a modern, mobile-friendly website and shrewd use of Facebook and Instagram can be hugely important.
TripAdvisor ratings have a significant impact on an RV park’s fortunes too.
Marketing efforts should showcase not just the facilities, but local attractions too (highlighting their proximity). Shrewd operators highlight activities guests can do on site or within walking distance, such as nature trails, birdwatching, fishing or canoeing.
Make sure that, if you are going to buy an RV park or camping ground, you keep these important factors in mind! It will be easier to edit what an already existing business has to offer than to completely change things!