What is happening to make camping so expensive these days? Camping used to be cheap fun; especially with RVs! Gone are the days of $10-15 per night campsite fees. Even before the global pandemic, we noticed the sudden uptick in escalating camping fees. But at what cost? Why has simple camping become pretty much a rich man’s game?
Up until the last few years, taking the family camping was a great way to enjoy the outdoors together for just a few bucks. Also, camping was a relatively cheap way to take the family on a mini weekend getaway even with the motorhome or camper. Oh, but that’s so not the case anymore!
Coupled with rising costs of food, fuel and propane, campers are easily shucking out over $150-$200 for a simple campsite for a 3-night weekend. The cause for concern now is, “can average people even afford to go camping or to an RV park?”
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Camping Fees on the Rise! Why are Campgrounds Rates So Expensive?
What IS the average cost of a campsites?
According to CamperReport, “RV campsites cost between $25 and $80 per night depending on the location, the size of the space, and what connections are offered. In my experience, an average camper trailer spot with power and water costs about $45 a night.”
However, as we’ve been traveling around the U.S. since the Covid pandemic hit, we’re seeing rates as high as $200 and even more a night for an awning-to-awning tiny RV campsite. In fact, there are a few places we’ve paid upwards to $75 a night (2021) for a simple campsite with full hookups, picnic table and fire pit.
This is precisely why we are seeing more RVers are choosing to boondock over campgrounds. Plus, we’re also noticing a drastic increase in RV membership sales that lock down prices to minimize camping costs. So I guess we all want to know, why is there such a surge of increasing campsite fees?
What’s causing these camping fees to increase so drastically?
Most RVers think that the drastic increase to campsite fees is due to campground owner greed. However, the further I dug into my research, that’s truly not the case.
It takes an incredible amount of money to effectively run a campground or RV park. As the inflation tornado hits everything else, campgrounds and RV parks are also in its’ path. So, I’ve broken down the reasons for the drastic increasing campground rates and camping fees that most don’t even realize.
Supply and Demand
With the recent influx of RV sales, campgrounds are raising their rates to keep in line of the high demand of campsite rentals. Frankly speaking, they can get away with it because it’s all about supply and demand. With more RVs and campers being pushed out by the RV manufacturing industry, the demand for campgrounds and RV parks, campgrounds are striking gold.
According to PRNewswire’s article, “Across all campers, families (couples with children) are the group most likely to continue camping in 2021 as they noted plans to spend more nights camping (70%) and taking more camping trips (64%). Sixty-two percent of all first-time campers in 2020 plan to camp the same or more camping nights in the coming year.”
So, even that alone explains the campground’s drastic rate increases. Simply put, because campgrounds can. Campground and RV Park owners know people are going to pay what they charge.
And partly, you can thank COVID-19 for this. Younger families are working remotely and their children’s distant learning has allowed them to go camping while working and school. Plus, because of the costs of distant vacations and airfares, an alternative to spending less for getaways is to buy an RV and go camping. And lastly, families just want a fun getaway without worrying about crowds. Simply put, they believe that camping is a much less expensive and safer option.
To view additional findings of the 2021 North American Camping Report, visit the KOA Press Room. To view past versions of the annual North American Camping Report visit KOA.com/north-american-camping-report/.
First, campgrounds or RV parks located near high tourist areas are subject to higher rates Just like the hotel and lodging industry, campground owners want a piece of the pie too.
Also, camping fees are also generated by million dollar views, close proximity to water or near by tourist areas.
Competition or Lack of Competition
Competition and lack of competition plays a big part into how campground rates are figured. Camping fees are compared to what other RV parks and campgrounds in the same locale are charging for their campsites.
At the same token, just as much as campgrounds vie for business by staying competitive with other nearby campgrounds, the lack of competition also drives up the cost of camping. If there’s only one campground in any given area, quite literally, they can charge what they want to for their campsites. And, they know they’ll get it because people are always willing to pay for convenience.
I know this may sound a bit unethical but hotels have have been doing it for decades. And now, campgrounds and RV parks have jumped on the bandwagon; basing their campsite fees on occupancy.
Typically, the price of a campsite is based on occupancy of two adults and maybe two children. Campgrounds and RV parks are now tacking on extra fees for those with larger families. Sadly, we’ve seen many campgrounds and RV parks charge an additional $5-10 per person to accommodate campground services and amenities usage.
However, before you think campgrounds and RV parks are being discriminatory towards larger families, I can honestly see their point. More occupants means using added usage to services such as water, sewer, electricity and WiFi.
But, one other thing to think about is each campground’s liability insurance policy is based on a certain number occupancy. If they go over that occupancy, campground owners may be required to pay for extra coverage or face a stiff fine.
Campground Facilities and Amenities
Some campgrounds charge more due to the amenities they offer. Campgrounds and RV parks that have all the bells and whistles such as dog parks, fancy playgrounds, pools, hot tubs, etc., cost the RV park money for upkeep, management, replacement.
Also, some campgrounds or RV parks with waterfront property may have canoes and kayaks along with other equipment for recreation. Also, throw in a dock that costs upwards of thousands of dollars. While some campgrounds may charge rental fees, others may include those into the cost of renting a campsite.
But further, let’s not forget the cost of each campsite’s picnic table, fire pit, grill, and landscaping. A wood picnic table rarely last 10 years without needing replacement slats, which might be required yearly to eliminate bleed sap. And those subject to harsher weather, campground owners are lucky to get 5 years of usage out of each picnic table.
Just taking a gander at what some campsite amenities cost, a cheap wood picnic table starts at about $250-300 while much sturdier metal tables cost upwards to $1000 each. A campground fire ring for each campsite costs roughly $300 each. And, those permanent grills cost campground owners about $250 each. So, multiply those by the number of campsites and you’ll see why campsite fees are so out there.
I know this grates on RVers and camper’s who have pets, the rise in Campground liability insurance is due to allowing pets. Insurance rates have risen to all time highs. And, campground owners also have to recoup the cost of building doggie play areas and pet damages to facilities. Let’s not forget the management has to pay an employee to clean up after dogs (and cats!).
Many fail to realize the cost of upkeep. From repairing picnic tables and benches, fire rings and trimming tree branches to ensuring water spigots and electrical pedestals are working properly, those each are their own line item expense.
And let’s not forget, it costs money to replace things that have been damaged, become unsafe or outdated. Of course, those expenditures are passed onto the campers.
The significant rise in employment costs is one of the biggest budget crunchers for campground owners. Wages, company share of medicare and social security of each employee, health insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits all trickle down. When each or a multitude of those costs increase, the campground or RV park owner will recoup those costs by increasing campsite fees.
Like any insurance, campground liability insurance is through the roof. Not only due to inflation but the rise in insurance claims due to dog bites, children falling off playground equipment and claims of negligence. Campground insurance premiums are at the top of their expense list. This is why there are stringent rules on how many dogs per campsite and occupancy I mentioned above.
Those of you who own property know first hand at the increase in real estate and property taxes. Well, each municipality gives no breaks to RV parks and campgrounds. When campground property is reassessed, their tax bill increases.
Who do you think is going to eat those taxes? The campground owner? Nope! The campground owners pass those tax increases onto you, the campsite tenant.
Further, some states incur taxes on certain property associated with the campground such as vehicles, maintenance and administration equipment.
Inflation bosses our wallets around which boldly explains the rising costs of camping. It doesn’t take a business major to appreciate all the campground’s expenses (i.e. property taxes, insurance, employee expenses, utilities, and property upkeep, amenities, equipment, etc.). It’s a given that the campgrounds and RV Parks are passing those costs onto the consumer.
Final thoughts on why camping fees are increasing
Well, it looks like these escalating camping fees aren’t stopping anytime soon. We hope though, this explains why campsite fees are increasing; oftentimes drastically in some locales. I think as an RV owner though, it’s important that we all know and appreciate the costs of running a campground. But that doesn’t negate the feeling we’re all having trying to find affordable campsites anywhere we want to travel to.
And lastly, if you are considering running your own campground or RV park, here’s some great resources that give you much more incite on what it costs to operate and own a campground.
How to Start, Run, and Grow an RV Park, RV Resort, or Campground Business: Step-by-Step Guide from Idea to Business Plan to Growth
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