The global campground market is on the rise. According to Future Market Insights, the industry may expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.6% from 2020 to 2030. This makes this year a great time to get involved.
Whether you want to attract RVers, offer cabin rentals, or provide large event spaces, a campground can be a profitable business to launch or invest in if done right. Campground ownership allows entrepreneurs to capitalize on a growing travel sector while often enjoying attractive lifestyle benefits as well.
This guide will walk you through everything you need to learn how to start a campground. Topics include marketing, market research, competitive analysis, registering an EIN, obtaining business insurance, and more. Here’s everything you need to start your campground.
1. Conduct Campground Market Research
Market research is an important part of developing your campground business plan. Starting in the campground industry means knowing who the major players are, what trends are occurring among services and products, and who your target market is.
Several factors are driving growth in this sector, including:
- More travelers, especially millennials, are seeking affordable and unique outdoor recreation options.
- The ability to explore nature and unplug from technology through camping aligns with larger consumer wellness trends.
- Campgrounds also appeal to retiree roadtrippers and families looking to bond over experiential vacations.
- Increased RV ownership and #vanlife popularity boosted by the pandemic also feed demand.
- To capitalize on the expanding target demographics, innovative glamping accommodations with upscale amenities are gaining market share.
- Pet-friendly policies, loyalty programs, and special event promotions also help campgrounds stand apart.
- Greenfield opportunities exist for new market entrants, however, competition is stiff from large corporates like Kampgrounds of America as well as independent mom-and-pop owners.
- Utilizing digital channels for marketing and booking will be imperative.
- Campgrounds able to carve out a niche whether via unique lodging options, proximity to attractions, or hosting concerts/festivals will be best positioned to thrive.
By offering in-demand amenities from WiFi to food trucks in sought-after destinations, campground owners can capitalize on this demand and build recession-resilient businesses. Incorporating usage data and customer feedback will help guide investment decisions as well.
2. Analyze the Competition
Understanding the competitive landscape is critical for launching any successful business, and campgrounds are no exception. Whether seeking an attractive physical location or driving online bookings, research should guide investment decisions and positioning.
A market analysis report shows over 8,000 campground businesses presently operating. Sites like Pitchbook can uncover funding details and ownership changes for major competitors. Monitoring new campgrounds dotting the landscape via local news outlets and tourism boards provides additional signals.
Digital tools offer visibility into customer sentiment and engagement. Monitoring review sites like Yelp along with Google rankings and ratings enables benchmarking. Social listening via Twitter and Instagram hashtags reveals customer interests and pain points.
Google Analytics gleans website traffic levels and booking conversion rates. Dynamic pricing analytics from RateSpotter help optimize pricing against local peers.
Surveying campers at national parks and other feeder sites provides qualitative insights into regional preferences. Local tourism boards may share market research on visitor statistics and habits. This data guides facilities and features to incorporate.
Analyzing bookings data by source whether online travel agencies like RVontheGo or direct inquiries allows properly crediting marketing channels driving reservations. Pairing this with cost per click, impression, and customer acquisition metrics enables optimal budget allocation.
Between public data sources, digital listening, survey techniques, and booking analysis, campground owners can fully understand competitive offerings and demand drivers in any region. Customizing sites and services to identify gaps and opportunities allows new entrants to thrive.
3. Costs to Start a Campground Business
When starting a campground, significant upfront investments should be planned for. Securing attractive land and constructing high-quality facilities requires ample capital. Typical start-up costs fall between $1 million to $2.5 million.
- Land Acquisition: Purchasing 15 to 30 acres of vacant land suitable for campground development averages $100,000 to $150,000 depending on the real estate market.
- Factor in due diligence like environmental assessments, surveys, and permitting fees as well as adding 10-15% to the base price.
- Infrastructure Build Out: Clearing land, grading campsites, laying gravel roads, installing electricity/water/sewer to sites, and constructing central bathrooms/showers/laundry runs around $35,000 per campsite.
- With most new campgrounds ranging from 75 to 100 sites, total build-out costs often land from $750,000 to $1 million.
- Furnishings and Supplies: From fire pits to picnic tables, tent pads to WiFi antennas, essential gear must be procured. Budget $500-$1000 per campsite. The costs may also be higher if you opt for a luxury picnic approach or if you plan on hosting a summer camp for a larger number of people.
- Central buildings need appliances, furniture, cleaning supplies, etc. Allocate another $50,000 for these basics.
- Permits, Licenses, and Professional Fees: Zoning approvals, environmental impact studies, architectural renderings, and legal document filings can cost $50,000 or more. Consultants may charge $100 per hour.
- Insurance Policies: General liability, property damage coverage, worker’s compensation, and other essential policies add around $15,000 annually.
- Working Capital Reserves: At least 6 months of operating capital should be accessible to cover staff payroll, maintenance, utilities, and other bills during low winter months or unexpected dips in occupancy. Estimate $100,000 buffer.
Small business loans can help with startup costs in the tourism industry. Whether building tent sites and campground service buildings or designing camping and outdoor activities, having a budget helps keep you on track.
- A manager earning $65,000 annually, 10 seasonal attendants and housekeepers at $15 per hour for 30 hours a week during peak season, and a year-round maintenance worker at $45,000 per year entails roughly $400,000 in annual payroll.
- Utilities like electricity, water, telephone/Internet, garbage collection, and sewage disposal average $100 per campsite monthly.
- Gasoline and supplies for mowing, plowing, repairs, etc. add $40,000 more. Yearly maintenance, repairs, and upgrades like road grading or replacing damaged sites cost around $25,000.
- Marketing expenses including brochures, listings sites like RV Park Reviews, and Google/Facebook ads often fall between $10,000-$30,000 based on competition and occupancy targets. Loan interest payments may also persist for 5-10 years.
With extensive planning and capital, campground owners can reap the rewards of a truly recession-resilient outdoor hospitality business for decades to come. Let me know if you need any clarification or additional details on expected start-up and ongoing costs!
4. Form a Legal Business Entity
When establishing a campground, the legal structure carries major implications for liability exposure, taxation, and expansion options. Weighing the pros and cons of each framework guides new entrepreneurs.
A sole proprietorship constitutes the simplest and most common small business structure – over 70% of firms follow this model according to IRS data. For campground owners, key perks include low start-up costs given no formation filings are required, along with income tax reporting via personal returns. However, the owner assumes unlimited personal liability for debts and legal claims.
Partnerships allow two or more co-owners to share control and combine resources in operating the campground. A formal agreement dictates each partner’s financial obligations and decision-making power. This facilitates a broader talent pool and capital mix to launch the business while still limiting compliance duties. Yet unlimited liability persists for each partner.
A corporation forms a distinct legal entity from the owners to confer additional credibility with vendors and access to equity markets. The increased separation buffers owners from legal and debt liabilities. However, significant paperwork, ownership restrictions, and double taxation of profits and dividends counterweigh the protections for most small campground businesses.
Limited Liability Company (LLC)
Forming an LLC combines the pass-through taxation benefits of a partnership with the liability protections of a corporation. The limited liability shield protects personal assets from any campground debts or lawsuits. Only owner capital invested stands at risk. LLC operating agreements allow flexible profit/loss and control allocation between investing members.
5. Register Your Business For Taxes
Forming a legal business entity for your campground also necessitates obtaining unique identifiers for tax and employment purposes. The IRS requires most businesses to operate under an Employer Identification Number (EIN) rather than using Social Security numbers.
An EIN simply provides a 9-digit number to incorporate your business dealings distinct from personal identity. This EIN facilitates opening business bank accounts, registering for state taxes, and eventually hiring employees or contractors.
Thankfully obtaining an EIN takes just a few minutes online. Simply navigate to the IRS EIN Assistant and answer a few basic questions about your entity name, structure, and ownership. This self-service tool then instantly assigns your unique EIN.
The IRS does not charge money or require complex documentation to generate this essential business number. You may wish to consult an EIN verification service to establish proper Dun & Bradstreet business credit files leveraging your fresh tax ID.
With an EIN secured, campground owners must also register with state departments of revenue to collect any required sales taxes from customer transactions. Most jurisdictions provide online registration portals detailing various tax categories, filing schedules, and documentation involved in compliance. These state sites clarify if sales tax even applies to campground services in your region.
6. Setup Your Accounting
Proper financial record-keeping constitutes a crucial pillar for any prosperous campground operation. Tracking revenues, expenses, payroll, taxes, and assets provides visibility into profits while ensuring IRS compliance. Yet most outdoor hospitality entrepreneurs lack formal accounting training.
Deploying QuickBooks early on streamlines organizing all aspects of campground finances. Robust integration with bank and credit card accounts automatically imports transactions for intelligent categorization. Built-in invoicing and billing simplify collecting customer payments. Dedicated payroll features guarantee accurate wage and tax calculations.
Hire an Accountant
Working with an accredited accountant or bookkeeping firm should complement DIY software. Experts handle reconciling accounts, preparing tax returns, pursuing deductions and credits, and providing ongoing advisory services to rein in expenses and taxes legally. Expect to invest around $200 per month for basic support or up to $500 monthly for dedicated controllership.
Open a Business Bank Account
Campground owners should implement strict policies separating business and personal finances from day one. Maintaining dedicated business checking/savings accounts, credit cards, and software login credentials limits legal exposure. Never intermingle holdings lest personal assets fall prey to commercial debts or lawsuits.
7. Obtain Licenses and Permits
Beyond formal business registration, campground founders must navigate various regulatory approvals to legally and safely host guests. Find federal license information through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA also offers a local search tool for state and city requirements.
Zoning classifications and land-use variances determine suitable activities for the campground property itself. Owners must confirm designated zoning alignment with planned offerings like RV sites, cabins, or glamping tents before investing in development. Changes often prove extremely difficult once opposed by residents. Use variances also dictate any future expansion options.
Environmental permits govern campground impact on surrounding watersheds, forestry, noise, traffic, and local wildlife. State departments weighing such conservation concerns will require mitigation efforts like trails, vegetation barriers, and erosion controls in sensitive habitats. Annual site audits may persist so staying compliant with wildlife protection terms is essential.
Health inspections apply particularly to centralized amenities like restrooms, showers, laundries, pools, and food service establishments on site. Maintaining current food handling certifications and commercial kitchen equipment enables providing such guest conveniences legally and safely. Routine third-party audits confirm that continued cleanliness and safety standards are met.
At the operational level, all staffers interacting with machinery, electricity, fuels, heavy equipment, or vehicles on premises require certified training. Documented OSHA safety procedures must cover duties like landscape maintenance, waste disposal, water management, and emergency protocols. Such evidence ensures any workplace incidents fall under insurance policies.
8. Get Business Insurance
Operating an outdoor hospitality venue like a campground carries an array of risks worth mitigating through adequate insurance coverage. Various policies work together to minimize financial disasters should unfortunate events impact paying guests or valuable assets.
Scenarios like food poisoning from camp store provisions, visitor injuries from falling trees/branches, or vehicle accidents with company maintenance trucks could all trigger devastating lawsuits without insurance backing.
Even mundane trips/falls or snake bites may still yield legal actions alleging negligence. These may easily bankrupt unprotected businesses through massive settlements or court fees alone. Campgrounds are also rated as highly vulnerable to storm, flooding, fire, and theft damages which commonly run into the millions.
Thankfully obtaining sufficient protection is straightforward starting with requests. These online tools help assemble tailored coverage blending general liability, commercial property protections, worker injury packages, business interruption cushions for disasters, and specialized policies like flood insurance as needed in at-risk zones.
9. Create an Office Space
While campgrounds center around sprawling outdoor sites and amenities, dedicated office spaces still empower essential administrative work. Owners juggle endless paperwork from registrations to taxes behind the scenes. Customer service, marketing planning, payroll, and accounting similarly demand quiet indoor work areas.
A basic home office suffices initially for solitary entrepreneurs. Dedicating space for a desk, computer, filing cabinets, and supplies rings up minimally. However, noise, distractions from family members, and unreliable Internet often hamper focus. Meetings with partners or professional service providers also suffer from appearing unprofessional in makeshift residential settings.
Shared coworking spaces like WeWork provide stylish, flexible solutions as teams expand. Their open layouts promote collaboration while private phone booths enable quiet concentration or calls. Campground owners can reserve conference rooms to impress bankers. On-site office management handles mail, packages, printing, and admin support through monthly memberships averaging $300/month.
For campgrounds occupying strategic commercial sites, converting an on-site rental cabin or available retail space into a full-time office may suit some owners best. While build-out and furnishings carry costs, the convenience of seamlessly overseeing grounds in person proves invaluable during high seasons. Guests also appreciate having reliable staff access.
10. Source Your Equipment
Launching a fully-appointed campground requires extensive infrastructure from water lines and electricity to central buildings plus all guest site gear. While buying everything brand new inflates startup costs substantially, alternatives like sourcing used fixtures or short-term rentals can save tens of thousands.
Purchasing new campground materials allows customizing facilities and amenities to exact owner preferences without prior wear or surprises. Top recreational vehicle dealers like Campers Inn or Camping World offer comprehensive gear catalogs allowing convenient one-stop new procurement. Just expect premium pricing on coveted items during peak seasons.
Secondhand shoppers should monitor eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace routinely for discounted fixtures listed locally. Independent liquidators like Second Wind Water also deal in refurbished components. Just allow extra restoration, certifications, or hidden repair costs on older purchases.
Those not wanting to buy equipment outright may rent instead. National companies like Parties Plus offer short-term tent and furnishing rentals for events that could nicely furnish initial campground-soft openings before more permanent installations. Local contractors also lease workhorse earthmovers, trenchers, builders lifts and generators costing thousands to acquire upfront unnecessarily.
Lease-to-own approaches help to distribute campground infrastructure costs over time while enabling upgrades as revenue allows. Top options range from renewable energy systems to storage containers, smart amenities, and maintenance gear. Just compare interest charges and early termination penalties before committing.
11. Establish Your Brand Assets
Crafting a compelling brand identity fuels recognition spreads positive word-of-mouth, and nurtures customer loyalty over time. While the priority rests in delivering exceptional camping experiences, the branding must match expectations.
Get a Business Phone Number
Securing an official business phone line via providers like RingCentral offers far more polish and flexibility than personal cell numbers. Call routing, voicemail transcriptions, toll-free customer support options, and unlimited mobile connectivity keep teams coordinated across the grounds.
Design a Logo
A polished campground logo acts as an iconic anchor for all brand imagery moving forward. Services like Looka offer quick DIY graphic design including various logo types from letter marks to badges, crests, and beyond. Expect to pay $50+ for custom creation but this drives visual consistency across platforms.
Print Business Cards
Printed marketing materials like brochures, rack cards, and website graphics maintain continuity using new logo files. Business cards also enable professional first impressions during regional tourism meetings and vendor negotiations. Campground owners hand these out freely. Providers like VistaPrint ship affordable, high-quality print marketing collateral packaged together.
Buy a Domain Name
Owning the campground’s name as a domain prevents copycat sites or fakes from hijacking web traffic and bookings. Top registrars like NameCheap make purchasing domains simple with just a few clicks for under $20 annually. Redirecting variants and old domains to the primary URL ensures visitors reach the legitimate site.
Design a Website
Building a tailored website delivers the best returns on branding investment through comprehensive exposure of grounds, amenities, and area activities and impressing the booking process upon visitors directly. Campground owners can construct professional sites themselves via Wix website builder or hire web developers on Fiverr if they lack technical skills, with quality sites running $1000.
12. Join Associations and Groups
While launching a new campground keeps entrepreneurs plenty busy on-site, networking with industry peers generates invaluable insights and camaraderie. Local associations, conferences, meetups, and online forums offer numerous growth opportunities if engaged consistently.
For starters, region-specific associations like the Virginia Campground Association(VCA) provide marketing exposure, vendor discounts, safety certification guidance, and hospitality mentorship. Scheduling facility tours with veteran owners or attending annual expos unlocks current trends and best practices not found elsewhere.
Attending hospitality-focused meetups facilitates more informal knowledge-sharing and networking for new players. Sites like Meetup index regular local gatherings of campground owners, glamping proprietors, eco-lodge visionaries, and outdoor experience creators eager to trade growth tactics.
Online forums remove geographical limitations for community building and troubleshooting in real time. For instance, the Campground Owners & RV Resort Owners (CORE) and Campground Owners & Managers share extensive peer perspectives on nationwide guest acquisition, emerging amenities like glamping, staffing approaches, and more via crowdsourced Q&A. Local subgroups provide hyper-targeted advice as well.
13. How to Market a Campground Business
Consistent, creative promotion proves essential for campgrounds to thrive in an increasingly competitive market. While delivering amazing guest experiences builds organic word-of-mouth over time, going the extra mile to share your unique story and value proposition more widely maximizes bookings today.
Start by incentivizing delighted visitors to endorse your grounds online or offline. For example, offer a future 10% discount code if someone posts a positive review spread across platforms like Google, Facebook, or RV Park Reviews. Similarly, provide a $20 camp store credit if existing patrons refer new bookings through their social networks.
- Run Google/Facebook paid ads promoting ideal seasonal activities or limited-time openings to nearby metro areas
- Start a vlog on YouTube documenting property renovations, local events, and visitor testimonials
- Write stories about interesting regional history/nature and share them across social media
- List special events like concerts on community calendars and niche camping sites
- Send periodic email newsletters with insider destination tips and new amenity teasers
- Partner with relevant Instagram influencers to produce sponsored content from the campground
- Distribute simple flyers at feeder locations like local parks/trailheads, tourism centers, or regional hotels
- Take out small radio spot ads on stations popular with area outdoor enthusiasts
- See if tourism billboards along nearby highways allow affordable copromotion spots
- Mail postcard campaigns to households within a few hours’ drive showcasing seasonal highlights
- Check regional paper crowdsourcing for guest submissions on favorite hidden gems
The most effective campground marketing strategies blend online and offline channels with clear calls-to-action across touchpoints to convert interest into bookings and stand out from national mega-chains.
14. Focus on the Customer
In the hospitality sector, customer service makes or breaks long-term viability. For campground owners specifically, going the extra mile for each guest strengthens loyalty over time as happy visitors talk up experiences to friends or post positive online reviews. Some ways to improve customer focus as a campground business owner include:
- Consider a camper family whose reservation overlaps with an area festival you know will cause traffic delays.
- Alerting them to the potential gridlock and providing customized travel tips tailored to their route demonstrates sincere care for their vacation enjoyment.
- Checking in post-stay for any other issues wins goodwill.
- Imagine those guests received no heads-up about regional congestion.
- Arriving frustrated from delays could have soured their entire short trip.
- Any on-site troubles from entertainment systems to faulty tent pads would stack on top of existing aggravation.
Competition in the camping industry is fierce. A successful campground business needs to build lasting relationships with customers who frequent RV parks and tent sites.