We’ve been on the road for over 5 years and have stayed in hundreds of RV parks. Some have been nice. Some have been dumps. The one thing that none of them have been is innovative.
It’s true. The most innovative things that campgrounds and RV parks offer are wifi and online reservations.
Those stopped being innovative 10 years ago.
IoT Meets RV
I’ve been writing about the Internet of Things for one of my writing clients (you know I’m for hire, right?).
For those of you who don’t live on the bleeding edge of technology, the Internet of Things is:
...the network of physical objects, devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.Wikipedia
Thermostats that learn your heating and cooling preferences, self-driving cars, fitness trackers - these are all different aspects of the IoT.
I got to wondering - what would happen if the campground industry met the IoT?
What would a smart campground look like?
Lower Costs, But…
RVers can forget that RV parks are a business. We hear conversations where people want all the frills for $20/night, but we have also worked for parks and have seen first hand the expenses & overhead they have.
My goal isn’t to just use technology to be different, but rather explore ways of using technology to lower the overhead of running an RV park. Those savings could be split - offering customers lower rates while also increasing park profit.
Labor is the biggest area I’d want to minimize. I don’t want someone to have to:
- Babysit the park 24/7
- Answer routine, repetitive phone calls
- Check in new campers
- Clean up campsites in between outgoing and incoming campers
- Clean and maintain a bath/showerhouse
I don’t expect that an RV park can be totally automated and unattended (like a gym or laundromat), but it should be manageable by one on-call person or couple.
...Also Increase Social Interactions
Most RV parks are laid out with the goal of optimizing profit - which is logical because they are a business.
However, in many RV parks we struggle to meet the other people staying there.
I’m curious to see if a differently-designed RV park would increase social interaction among campers.
Could an RV park use IoT technology to lower costs, use a layout designed to improve social interactions, but still be more profitable than a traditional RV park?
The IoT RV Park
Here is our recipe for our “smart yet social” IoT-based RV park of the future. What do you think - will it fly or flail?
Our ideal location is a spot close to a popular but not big-rig (or working technomad) friendly state or national park.
Palo Duro State Park in Amarillo, Texas is a perfect example. It’s a gorgeous, scenic park well worth a visit. But the campground isn’t big rig friendly and there is little cell signal in the park. The other RV parks on that side of town are not well-reviewed.
There is open, flat farmland just outside the State Park entrance. Placing our smart RV park on that land would let us appeal to owners of large RVs, or RVers that depend on internet service. They could stay with us then daytrip into the state park.
We envision a small to medium-size RV park with 25-30 sites. It would be large enough to generate a nice side-income, but not so big it requires constant attention.
We would not have seasonal residents or even long term sites. We’d want to cater to the RVers that are actually traveling. We’d expect an average stay of 2-3 nights.
Most private RV parks optimize for profitability so lay out their sites in parallel. This maximizes the number of RVs they can fit into a space, but it also kills social interaction.
You can’t see your neighbor. Their entrance door is on the other side of the rig from your entrance door. When you are sitting out under your awning, you have an entire RV between you and them.
We’d optimize our smart RV park for social interaction instead.
We envision a park laid out in a big circle. When RVs are parked in the sites their entrance doors and awnings would all face into the circle. You’d be able to look out your door and make eye contact with other campers.
We’d build a covered gazebo with open sides for shade and protection from rain in the middle of the circle.
Inside the gazebo would be a circular propane fireplace, outdoor sinks, cooking area, and picnic tables.
Sites would all be a large, paved pull-thrus. RVs and toads should be able to stay connected for overnighting convenience. Awnings would go out over a cement patio.
Sites would not have fireplace pits. They require constant cleaning (and we don’t want to detract from our shared fireplace).
We’d experiment with no picnic tables at the sites. We would try and encourage people to share meals under the gazebo instead.
We are not dog owners ourselves, but know enough RVers travel with dogs that a dog run is necessary. We’d have to keep poles stocked with poop bags handy.
Bathhouses are a time and money drain.
They need constant cleaning. People treat them poorly (we’ve yet to see a campground bathhouse without signs of vandalism). Toilets, showers and hot water heaters need constant maintenance and repair.
So - no bathhouse.
We’re not aiming to serve the tenting market. We’re designing to appeal to self-contained RVs only. And sure - some folks wouldn’t stay without that amenity but we’re not trying to please everyone.
Pay at the Pole
Up until this point we haven’t really talked technology. Let’s add some intelligence to our RV Park.
I can take credit cards on my iPhone. I pay for gas at the pump.
Why not pay for a campsite at the power pole?
Run your credit card, select length of stay, choose some options, and submit payment. Receipt comes via email.
This eliminates the need for an office and staff to run credit card transactions.
When paying at the pole we’d give RVers the option of purchasing hookups or not. Hookups would increase the price ($15 without, $25 with, etc).
Paying for hookups would turn on the water and electric, and unlock the sewer cap.
The water and electric would automatically turn off at check-out time.
Many people who boondock at places like Walmart would happily choose a quieter, darker, and safer option if it didn’t cost $35. They don’t always need hookups for a quick overnight stay. Our smart RV park would give them a cheaper option.
RVs are big. It shouldn’t be all that hard to detect if there is one in a campsite, and check that against the payment status for the site.
If the RV spent the previous night paid, hasn’t re-upped, and it’s past checkout time, the system could automatically charge their credit card for the next night.
If the site is occupied but has not paid at all, the system would have to alert management that a freeloader is present.
Remote-viewable security cameras would be a must. But - the technology to read license plates is already in use by many police departments. We could possibly use that here to track down freeloaders.
First Come First Serve
Taking reservations is a time and labor suck.
You need someone on the phone with access to a computer. You need software to manage the reservations. Databases go corrupt. Reservations get cancelled and changed. And then what about the deposit?
I know many RVers don’t like parks that are “first come first serve” - but I think most of that is the not knowing if there is an open site till you get there.
What if you could get a reliable, up-to-date view of the number of currently-open sites at any time?
Our smart campground would know which sites are occupied and paid for.
That data could be fed to both a website and an automated phone system. Potential visitors could check before coming, see the number of currently-open sites, and gauge the odds that they would get in.
Wifi is the biggest puzzle of our smart RV park.
On the one hand, it would be tough to market a “Smart RV Park” and not offer wifi.
We could install reliable, high-speed wifi and then offer it as another up-charge option while paying at the pole. If you bought wifi, you’d get an access code emailed to you. Your wifi access would expire when the campsite expires.
Don’t need wifi? Don’t pay extra for it.
The challenge with offering it is support. No matter how solid the park side of wifi, people will still have issues connecting. Wifi is hard to understand for some people, they don’t know how to connect their devices, or could lose their access code.
Many fulltime RVers have their own 4G-based internet setup anyway (we do, we can’t rely on campground wifi when our income requires being connected).
So maybe we don’t offer wifi at all. Better to not offer it than advertise it and have it be a crappy experience for people.
So Tell Us
What do you think of our smart RV park? Would you come visit? Would you be scared off?
Your comments below, please leave: