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Credit Card Guidelines for Campgrounds

The payment process at your campground should be straightforward, streamlined, and easy for any of your visitors.

Likewise, they should also have an easy, secure way to process their credit card payments with confidence that their payment information is safe. 

Without the proper protections in place, you and your customers are at risk of fraud and information theft which could have costly consequences. 

Is your campground just now integrating credit card processing? Has your campground processed credit cards the same way for years? Well then, heed this advice. These are the credit card guidelines every campground should know to keep you and your guests safe. 

How campgrounds process credit cards

Credit cards are a convenient, reliable form of payment at the campground, online, or over the phone, keeping the process simple, paperless, and quick. And most campgrounds can easily transition to accepting credit cards if they don’t do so already.

Small businesses process credit cards in two main ways: through a merchant account or a payment service provider (PSP). 

Merchant Account – You create a merchant account with a bank or financial institution to complete credit card transactions. The benefit is that you have control over fees. The downside is that you source your hardware and software. 

Payment Service Provider – PayPal, Apple Pay, Square–each is a payment service provider (PSP). Businesses pay to have them handle their transactions. The downside is that you don’t control your fees, and their fees are often slightly higher than usual. 

When using a merchant account or a PSP, you will process credit cards in three ways: in-person, online, and by phone. 

  • In-person, you use a point-of-sale (POS) system or a card reader/mobile card reader. 
  • For transactions online, you use software that allows your customers to input their credit card information safely. 
  • By phone, you use a POS you can manually enter information onto, called a card-not-present (CNP) transaction.

Once you have a system in place, PSP, or merchant account, you need to be aware of the risks involved for you and your customers. Credit card fraud, disputes, and data theft can affect everyone. So let’s identify the primary areas of concern. 

Preventing fraud

Credit card fraud occurs most frequently when a card number or actual credit card is stolen from the rightful owner and used online, over the phone, or physically at your campground.

When you process reservations over the phone or online, you complete “Card-not-present” transactions, which are especially prone to fraud. But it can also happen at your campsite if a credit card has been physically stolen.

The best prevention method is to ensure the card user’s identity matches the cardholder, and you can do this in a couple of easy ways:

  • Always request the CVV from the back of the card. 
  • Ensure the billing address on file for the card matches the given address.
  • Ask for and inspect the identification of the cardholder during a physical transaction. 

By doing so, you protect the rightful cardholder from being charged incorrectly. But you also protect your campground from fraudulent chargebacks. 


A chargeback occurs when customers dispute a credit card charge from your campground and the charge is revoked. Chargebacks exist so the cardholder can deny a claim that might have happened fraudulently, likely when their number has been stolen. 

But your business can suffer when a customer files a chargeback without merit.

An unhappy customer might file a false chargeback after a lousy stay at your campground. Or they might dispute a cancellation fee. Or a charge was made by their spouse without their intention. A customer might even file a chargeback on something they don’t recognize, often because the name of the transaction isn’t familiar. 

Regardless, disputing a chargeback can be costly for your campground, and your service provider can terminate service after too many chargebacks. To prevent chargebacks, follow these recommendations:

  • Ensure the best customer service possible to help prevent angry customers from filing wrongful chargebacks. Offer refunds to unhappy customers rather than risk a chargeback.
  • Work with your service provider to label your transactions clearly so customers aren’t suspicious of charges they don’t recognize. 
  • Follow card safety protocols like requesting identification from cardholders, checking CVVs, and matching billing addresses. 
  • Email confirmations to your customers so they know when a charge goes to their account.
  • Make sure you are PCI Compliant–a must if you are going to process credit cards at your campground. 

PCI compliance

If your campground accepts credit cards, you are legally required to maintain the security and protection of the credit card information. In short, that’s what PCI compliance means–ensuring you fulfill your legal requirements to protect your customers’ data. 

PCI compliance applies “to any organization, regardless of size or number of transactions, that accepts, transmits or stores any cardholder data,” according to the PCI Compliance Guide

There are 12 main steps that small businesses should take to remain PCI compliant:

  1. Use firewalls to protect data
  2. Encrypt cardholder data when transmitted
  3. Utilize antivirus software
  4. Update software and security systems on a regular basis
  5. Protect access to cardholder data
  6. Create password protections
  7. Protect cardholder data
  8. Unique IDs assigned to those with access to data
  9. Restrict physical access to data storage
  10. Create and monitor access logs
  11. Test security systems regularly
  12. Create a policy to share with employees and customers

There are four levels of PCI compliance requirements based on how many transactions you conduct within a year. Unfortunately, levels can differ depending on the credit card type. For example, Mastercard will define a “level 4” differently than VISA. Part of the frustration for business owners is having to wade through the fine print to determine compliance. 

If all this seems daunting, the good news is that there are resources to help guide you through this process. Your acquiring bank (if you are a merchant account) will help verify your level for each credit card. And if you work with a PSP like Square or Stripe, who are considered merchant accounts already, they cover many of the PCI compliance issues you may face.

This is an excellent option for small businesses that don’t want to worry about the risk they face trying to maintain compliance independently. 

Manual reservations and credit cards

If you process online or phone reservations manually, you likely require visitors to provide a credit card number during the booking process. Having their card on file has many practical benefits, like charging a cancellation fee if you have specified this in your booking policy. 

But how you accept, store, and protect those credit card numbers is especially important to protect your customers’ information. 

Suppose you were to write down the credit card information from a customer to process when they arrive or in the event they cancel. That information–when not stored according to PCI compliance in your POS or through your PSP provider–is now at risk. If that information is misplaced, it puts your customer in financial danger. 

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: when you use a business credit card, you trust that the merchant is protecting your information. Likewise, you need to guarantee that same level of security for your own customers. 

Automated reservation systems

When it comes to your customers’ information security, cutting corners can lead to serious problems later down the road. And the busier you become, the harder it is to maintain haphazard compliance without policies and technology. 

Implementing an automated reservation system is one way to streamline your credit card processes. Here, all transactions occur online between the system and your customers. Not only will this keep customer credit card information safe, but it will also reduce the time you spend operating the phones to book reservations manually. 

Good Sam Campground Solutions Reservation System helps automate the process for your customers, both booking and storing credit card information securely. In addition, it improves the level of service at the c

By updating your process with an automated reservation system from Good Sam, you reduce the risk of manual data processing, which protects your customers.

Hidden Costs of Owning a Campground

The Costs of Owning a Campground

If you’re in the market to buy a campground, the timing has never been better.

A recent study from Condor discovered that, in the States alone, over 40 million Americans go RVing regularly. Additionally, there are about 16,000 campgrounds in the US.

If we evenly distributed every RVer in America, and they only stayed at one campground for one night at an average price of $30, the average campground would make at least $75,000 a year.

But it still raises an important question:

How much does it cost to start a campground?

To answer that, we’ve interviewed several park owners and operators using our Campground Booking software and put together a comprehensive list of financial considerations before starting a campground.

The reality is whether you’ve been running a campground for years like Joy Guyot (Golden Municipal in Golden, BC), or you’re a new owner like Scott and Kate-lynn Boesveld (Ray’s Place in Minden, ON), operating a campground includes many hidden costs. 

cost to start a campground

We’ll cover financial considerations for both buying an existing RV park and building a campground of your own.

Buying an RV Park

Initial Costs

How much would it cost to start a campground that already exists?

An existing campground with infrastructure already built out will run you between $100,000 to $2 million+ (TRUiC), and generally speaking, you can assume a fair amount of additional renovation will be necessary.

If you’re buying an established campground, “the upfront costs might be higher, but your revenue might be higher as well.” Generally speaking, a “campground business can cost around $10,000 to $50,000 to start, and that doesn’t include the cost of the [property].”

Various factors impact the cost of the land, including location, infrastructure, and acres available.

However, TRUiC says the cost of land will “range from $1,000 an acre if it has a lot of ‘unusable’ land to upwards of $10,000 an acre if most of the land is flat, it’s on a lake or river, or it has outstanding views.”

Cap Rates

A cap rate formula tells you how long it will take to break even and recoup your money on real estate investment. It’s found by calculating the net operating income (NOI) and dividing it by the property value.

For example, let’s say you have a property worth $2 million and an NOI of $150k, you would divide $150,000 by $2,000,000, and your cap rate would be 7.5%.

This number is significant to note because it can inform you before purchasing a campground if you can expect a decent return on investment. (If the cap rate is publicly viewable on a listing, you can calculate this number yourself with a copy of the RV park’s P&L.)

RVParkStore says that “The range of cap rates on the market today fall in the 5% to 15% range with most parks falling into the 8% to 11% range.”

According to outdoor hospitality expert Heath Padgett, the good news for aspiring owners is that many campground owners “aren’t valuing their property based on capitalization rates.” This means that “if you come in and slightly improve processes, you can ultimately have a decent return on investment.”

Now, keep in mind that cap rates vary depending on location. An 8% cap rate for a campground right outside of Seattle will be substantially different than 8% in Seguin, Texas. When comparing cap rates, consider campgrounds in your area or similar regions.


Your local campground association will have more information, but according to TRUiC, “the average campground in America spends between $450-$1,500 per year for $1 million in general liability coverage.”


While the cost of renovations can vary widely depending on the park, budget for updating infrastructure as well as branding around your new park. Outdoor Command recommends $10,000-$50,000, but this number can easily be higher if you need to bring electric up to code or fix major systems in the park.

To estimate this number before purchasing a park, hire an inspector or a contractor to examine the existing infrastructure.

If you’re ready to check out RV parks for sale in your area, here are a few good places to start.

cost to start a campgroundRiverview Campground in Rocky Mountain House, AB

Costs to Build a Campground (from scratch)


Before you build a campground, you need land. Land costs vary widely across the country, but the national average in the States is around $3,000 per acre.

Licensing and Permits

With any new construction, you will incur permit and licensing costs. These vary by state and may require regular renewal.

With building a campground, consider zoning. You may need to pay to change your land to the proper zoning for opening a campground. Local campground associations will be helpful resources, especially when navigating state and provincial requirements.

Cost per Site

One campground owner informed us that the average construction cost per site ran them around $15,000 for full-hookups, gravel roads, and pads.

Home is Where You Make It suggested that site costs “range anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 per site depending upon the amenities you plan to install.”

cost to start a campground

But $15,000-$50,000 is a guesstimate based on including a few different features.


Many of our campgrounds offer 15-amp, 30-amp, and 50-amp outlets, and some for 110/120 volts. This will cost between $1,500 and $2,500 per site.


According to HomeAdvisor, on average, drilling a 150-foot well costs around $5,500, but it can cost as much as $12,000. Also, anticipate up to $25 per foot of piping.

To build our own campground, said Heath Padgett, “we were quoted around $1,200 per site for city water hookups.”

Septic system

A site-by-site septic system requiring a tank and leach field plus piping to campsites can cost upwards of $40,000 altogether.

Home is Where You Make It advises that, instead, you should install a dump station for guests because it will cut your costs down by as much as 75%. However, you can charge more per night if you offer full hookups.

Other costs for site development

Gravel, asphalt, or concrete to pave designated campsites are another big-ticket item to consider when estimating pricing. You will also likely need to pay for ground leveling, paving roads, and landscaping as well.

Number of Sites

Camper Smarts says that “a general rule of thumb is to have ten sites per acre” and to make sure you give plenty of thought towards the number of fifth wheels and larger motorhomes you’d like to include.

To get a rough estimate of how much it costs to build a campground, multiply the number of acres you own by ten and then multiply by $15,000.

(If you’re looking to expand an existing park, $15,000 per site is an effective way to calculate those costs, too.)

Buildings and Additional Infrastructure on Site

Most campgrounds offer more than just a campsite with hookups. If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to build a few buildings as well.


According to our survey results, guests indicated that a quality public restroom (with good water pressure) was a must. Generally speaking, this will cost around $20,000.

Outdoor industry expert Gary Forster has a helpful PDF on designs and materials for camp bathrooms.

cost to start a campgroundThe front office of Golden Municipal Campground in Golden, BC


There are a lot of variables here, but HomeAdvisor says office costs can range “between $15,000 and $80,000 or $100 to $550 per square foot.”

Along with your office, you’ll want a solid connection to the internet to handle reservations and communicate with guests.

Industry trends show that 42% of professionals currently work remotely (Upwork), meaning that doubling your office as a co-working space with a strong internet connection will attract more people to your campground year-round.

cost to start a campgroundCampground Booking can save campgrounds 300+ hours a year in office administrative work by managing online reservations for your park.

High-speed internet

On average, you can find a high-speed provider with decent download speeds at around $250 a month. Depending on your campground’s proximity to towers in the area, you shouldn’t pay more than $500 a month at the most. 

Estimate around $3,000 for the initial internet set up (ethernet, Wi-Fi repeaters, routers) at your park. 

It’s a worthwhile investment, though.

Our data found that 71% of RVers consider Wi-Fi to be “essential.” A few participants even said that a lack of Wi-Fi meant they wouldn’t even stay at a campground.

This article shares best practices for setting up Wi-Fi at your campground.

Calculating Total Costs

To get a better idea of how much it might cost to start a campground, add together your land costs, costs per site (factoring how many sites you want to build), costs for any buildings you’re adding, and the cost to install internet in your park.

ray's placeNew campground owner, Scott Boesveld, put work into restoring Ray’s Place in Minden, Ontario.

Expenses you can skip for now

There are a lot of great features your campground may want to offer, but you don’t need to offer them right away (i.e., fire pits, dog parks, benches, playground, pool, hot tub, etc.).

Our top 10 amenities list (according to RVers) offers plenty of suggestions and tips for saving money. When you’re ready to add additional value to your new campground, these are great places to start.

Is it worth it to buy a campground?

The cost to run an RV park depends on whether you’re buying an established park or building one from scratch. But no matter which way you go, there’s a demand.

So, is it profitable to run a campground?

Our campground owners say it is.


If you’re in the market for a campground, Good Sam provides several campground services to give owners the tools they need to get their business off the ground. Whether it’s marketing and advertising, online reservations, or access to a network of over 2 million RVers, Good Sam makes managing a park as easy as possible. If you’re ready to get started, we can help! Request a demo today.

How Much Does a Campground Cost

How Much Does a Campground Cost to Purchase? (And How To Buy One)

It’s a good time to buy a campground.

Well, there are about 16,000 campgrounds in the US and 40 million Americans RVing regularly. This means that even if every RVer camped for one night at a rate of $30, and we were to distribute them evenly amongst every park, campgrounds would still make $75,000 a year.

So, it’s definitely a favorable market for park operators.

But how much does a campground cost? Should you buy an existing park or build one from scratch? Where can you find parks for sale?

To get an accurate idea of what an RV park will cost, we put together a list of considerations and resources for prospective operators looking to make a purchase.

Buying an existing RV park.

In terms of upfront expenses and labor, buying an established campground will likely be an easier option, especially for first-time park owners. If you’re green to the market, here are a few things that will be helpful to understand.

Initial costs.

An established park, with infrastructure already built, costs between $100,000 to $2 million. It’s also safe to assume that some level of repairs and TLC will be required.

If you’re buying an RV park that’s already built, “the upfront costs might be higher, but your revenue might be higher as well.” Not including the cost of the property, a “campground business can cost around $10,000 to $50,000.”

Additionally, the cost of land ranges from $1,000 an acre to upwards of $10,000 for more desirable lots.

Cap rates.

A cap rate is a formula that shows you how long it will take for your campground to break even from your initial investment.

To find the cap rate, calculate the net operating income (NOI) and divide it by the property value. So, if your property is worth $2 million, and you have an NOI of $150,000, your cap rate would be 7.5 percent.

Cap rates in the campground market can range from 5 percent to 15 percent – with most parks falling between 8 percent to 11 percent.

Hospitality expert and campground owner, Heath Padgett, says that many campground owners “aren’t valuing their property based on capitalization rates,” meaning that you’ll have a decent return on investment if you can even slightly improve the process.

It’s worth noting that cap rates depend on location. For example, an 8 cap rate for a park outside of Seattle will mean something very different than an 8 percent cap rate in North Dakota. When comparing cap rates, look at parks in your area or similar regions.


“The average campground in America spends between $450-$1,500 per year for $1 million in general liability coverage.”

You can also find plenty of insurance resources through your local campground association.


Depending on the current state of the park renovation costs will certainly vary; however, it’s safe to estimate $10,000 to $50,000. That number can certainly escalate depending on whether you need to bring electricity up to code or fix any major systems within the park.

To cover your bases, make a point of hiring an inspector or contractor to examine your campground before purchasing.

Building an RV park from scratch.

While inheriting or fixing up an existing campground will likely be a less expensive way to go, you might find that existing parks don’t match your vision, and it’s still worth your while to build something from scratch.

If you’re breaking ground on a new build, make it a point to think through each of the following.


Obviously, the cost of land depends on what part of the country you’re in, however, the national average is about $3,000 an acre.

Licensing and permits.

While renewals and specific requirements vary from state to state, you’ll quickly find that with any new build comes the need for permits and licensing.

Whether it’s zoning, or support from others who have been in the weeds of constructing a park, joining a local campground association can save you from a number of headaches.

Cost per site.

We surveyed a few of our campgrounds, and on average it costs around $15,000 per site for full-hookups, gravel roads, and pads.

Slips can “range anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000 per site depending upon the amenities you plan to install.”


Most of our campgrounds provide 15-amp, 30-amp, and 50-amp options along with outlets for 110/120 volts (which costs around $1,500 and $2,500 per site).


Drilling a 150-foot well can cost between $5,000 and $12,000 (not including the cost of piping), while city water hookups can cost around $1,200 per site.

Septic system.

You can generally expect that a site-by-site septic system requiring a tank and leach field plus piping to campsites will cost upwards of $40,000 altogether.

That being said, installing a dump station for guests will cut down your costs by 75 percent. However, you’ll be able to charge more per night if you provide full hookups.

Site development.

In addition to building out your sites, you’ll want to invest in asphalt, concrete, or gravel for leveling and paving out your roads as another big-ticket item for your park.

Number of sites.

Ten sites per acre is a general rule of thumb – not counting 5th wheels and other larger motorhomes. With that, it will cost about $15,000 per site to develop; so to get an idea of how much it will cost to build out your park, multiply your total acres by 10, and then by $15,000.

Buildings and infrastructure.

The reality is that if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to factor in more than just a few campsites with hookups. As you design and build out your park, think through office space, restrooms, cabins, and other permanent fixtures your guests will benefit from.


Our survey results have found that a clean restroom with good water pressure is among the 10 most sought-after amenities a park could offer (according to guests), and will run you about $20,000.

If you’re looking to improve your restrooms, check out this helpful PDF with designs and materials for camp bathrooms.


Offices can range between $15,000 and $80,000, or $100 to $550 per square foot and will require a strong internet connection to manage reservations.

Also worth note, about 42 percent of professionals currently work remotely, meaning there could be an opportunity to double your office as a co-working space to attract more long-term guests.

High-speed internet.

Quality WiFi is easily one of the most worthwhile investments you could make, considering that 71 percent of RVers consider it to be an “essential” amenity.

If you’re looking at setting up WiFi at your campground, you can usually find a high-speed provider with a decent download speed for around $250 a month. Even if your campground is more rural, you shouldn’t have to pay more than $500 at the most, with an initial setup (routers, ethernet, wifi repeaters) around $3,000.

Websites for buying campgrounds.

Once you have an idea of what type of park you’re looking to invest in, make sure you go through the right channels with companies that understand the industry.

Here are four sites that can help find a park that’s right for you.

1. The Campground Connection

Based out of Grandville, Michigan, Campground Connection is a full-service, voice-to-voice consulting and marketing company based in Grandville, Michigan. 

They exclusively work with campgrounds and RV parks, providing coaching and resources, along with the largest online marketplace for prospective owners.


A resource for investors, owners, and travelers alike, RVParkStore also has a large list of RV parks and marinas, as well as plenty of industry insight to assist in your search.


With over 50 years of experience, the team at Parks and Places has been able to sell over 100 parks for owners and is another great option for those looking to buy.


Campgrounds for Sale has sold over 300 parks while providing workshops, blogs, and connections within the industry.

Procuring funding.

While campgrounds are a big investment, once you’ve found the right spot, there are plenty of ways to reasonably finance your park.

Seller financing.

This is where the seller of the RV park directly issues a loan to the buyer. The new owner will then make regular payments to the previous owner until the campground is paid off. The repayment terms and interest rates tend to be agreed-upon terms, and are recognized as a deed or mortgage.

Mortgage-backed securities and collateralized mortgage obligations.

Similar to bonds, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) allow a lender to issue a loan to multiple parties and bundle the loans together to sell to a larger bank. That bank will then sell the MBS to investors, who will then receive payments periodically.

Along the same lines, a collateralized mortgage obligation (CMO) is a variation of an MBS, where mortgages are assessed and bundled by risk and maturity dates. Investors will then fund those specific mortgages based on their level of risk-aversion.

Investors gravitate towards MBS and CMOs because it allows them to benefit financially without buying or selling a loan. Usually, MBS and CMOs are financed by banks, issuers, and hedge funds.

Conventional loan.

One of the more straightforward options, a conventional loan (or uninsured loan) can be obtained through a private lender and paid back by the new park owner. That being said, it also comes with fewer guarantees.

Credit union.

Albeit a more limited offering, credit unions offer lower interest mortgages with more personable service. Not to mention, it’s generally easier to get approved through a credit union.

Local banks.

While community banks provide a wider variety of loans, they’ll come at a steeper interest rate. Local banks, however, tend to offer more assistance and better customer service for prospective owners in the area.

Nonbank lenders.

If you’re uncomfortable going through a bank, you can also find a list of non-bank lenders with plenty of experience working with campgrounds.

Additionally, RVParkStore also provides its own mixed list of lenders.

SBA loans.

In general, SBA loans are flexible options.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) was designed to provide assistance for small businesses (including campgrounds), and offers loans with generous term lengths and capped interest rates.

You can also receive financing up to 90 percent of the park’s cost, as well as smaller options for down payments.

Helpful steps along the way.

Any park owner will tell you that no matter how simple of a process it is to buy a campground, things still come out of the woodwork. To ensure the smoothest possible process, take a few extra precautions along the way.

Review profit and loss statements for the campground.

A profit and loss (P&L) statement will show you the revenue and costs to give you an idea of how the park has performed over a fiscal year.

It’s probably in your best interest to go back through the P&Ls of the last few years to get a sense of what to expect. From there you’ll be better armed to think through how you can elevate the financial performance of the campground.

Get a land survey.

While it may not be required, it’s in your best interest to get the land surveyed.

You might find hazardous areas, restrictions, various legal elements, or levels of elevation that have gone unnoticed. Usually, a survey will last 5 to 10 years, so chances are the property could use it anyways.

Make a note to check for previous records (which should be available at the local courthouse or assessor’s office) and hire an experienced surveyor to make sure everything is copacetic.

Shadow the previous operators. 

No matter how savvy you are, it’s just a good idea to understand how your predecessors ran the business. More likely than not, they’d probably be willing to show you around and give you an honest idea of what to expect.

Ask questions and consider how they managed reservations, what their obstacles are, or even just how the campground functions over a weekend. The more insight you have the better you’ll set yourself up for success.

Understand your guests.

Knowing your customers and how to best serve them will go a long way.

Take time to check reviews online and get a feel for what guests appreciate most about the park. Chat with the current owners or send out a survey to identify what demographics your park caters to. Do you have long-term guests? Do you have families? Do your guests want new amenities?

Start your relationships out on the best foot possible.

Negotiate the asking price.

Between closing costs, closings dates, and sales price, you’ll probably find there’s room for negotiation. It helps to have a real estate agent or broker involved with the process, but here are a few things to consider:

  • Sellers are more likely to work with you if you can get a mortgage in principle.
  • Research the actual market value of the campground on your own.
  • Market yourself as the ideal buyer (a real estate agent helps here).
  • Imply that you’re also looking at other campgrounds.
  • Start with a lower offer than what you’re willing to pay.
  • If they’re unwilling to budge on price, add in extra requests and see what they’re willing to match.

A campground is a great investment.

The reality is that buying a campground will serve you well.

How Much Does a Campground Cost

To get an accurate estimate of how much you can expect to invest, add up the cost of the property, each and every additional site, buildings, and setup fees.

From there, evaluate your options financially and go through a website that specializes in campgrounds, while bringing in the right team to give your park a good foundation from the start.

With the right resources and financial backing, your campground is bound to thrive.

Ready to buy a campground?

If you’re in the market for a campground, Good Sam provides a number of campground services to give owners the tools they need to get their business off the ground. Whether it’s marketing and advertising, online reservations, or access to a network of over 2 million RVers, Good Sam makes managing a park as easy as possible. If you’re ready to get started we can help! Request a demo today.

How to start a campground business

How to start a campground business (in 4 steps).

If you’ve ever found yourself toying with the idea of starting a campground, the cards are in your favor.

As of late 2020, the campground industry reached $8.73 billion, making it one of the few industries that grew in spite of the pandemic. For RV park operators, it’s shown to be a sound investment, with campgrounds like Cypress Trail RV Resort quoting returns between 15 percent and 20 percent.

However, even though it’s a lucrative industry, knowing where to start can feel daunting. How do you design a campground? How much does it cost to operate an RV park? What are the best resources for campground owners?

Fortunately, there are a lot of places to turn for aspiring park operators, and setting yourself up for success is easier than not. So to consolidate your search, here’s how to start a campground business in four steps.

1. Research and design your campground.

Whether you’re buying an established park or building one from scratch, a well-designed campground could be an investment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Make sure you start off on the right foot with a clear plan and a reliable team to get your park off the ground.

Visit other parks.

Take it upon yourself to visit other parks and get a sense for what they’re doing well. Jot down a few notes, take pictures, and consider their design. Think through the layout and spacing of their sites, the location of their office, or the ratio of RV slips to tent spots.

Try and build upon what you think they’re doing well, and leave space for improvements. If nothing else, ask questions of other operators and get an idea of what to anticipate.

Find your niche.

At the risk of sounding cliche, every park is unique; and since there’s no “one size fits all” formula, it’s important to identify what type of campground you want to be, and who you want to cater towards.

Are you going to focus on seasonal business, or will you cater to weekenders? Do you want to draw in more families, or would you rather not deal with kids? Should you include glamping and tenting options, or will you only cater to full-hookups?

Knowing your market will only help in knowing your design.

Make the right hires.

From idea to execution, surround yourself with the right team of people to give your park the best chance at success.

You’ll need a vetted design group in order to provide a clear path to your vision (as well as prevent costly setbacks), a reliable contractor to serve as a project manager, and a staff that can accommodate your guests and day-to-day operations.

Consider additional variables.

No matter how detailed and thoughtful your plan is, there’s almost always something that pops up along the way. Whether it’s zoning, drainage, or environmental concerns, you’ll need to get as granular as possible and have resources you can count on.

Generally a good contractor will help navigate most hiccups, but it never hurts to have more support. For additional resources, consider joining a local campground association or developing a positive relationship with your zoning board early on in the process.

2. Anticipate costs and procure funding.

Again, owning a campground can be a great investment…so long as you’ve done your homework. Here are a few considerations to ensure the biggest bang for your buck.

Costs to consider.

The cost of running an RV park can vary depending on size, location, construction, or whether or not you’re starting from scratch. That being said, there are usually a few things you can expect.

For example, buying an established park ranges between $100,000 and $2 million, startup costs will run somewhere between $10,000 and $50,000, and cap rates will fall between 8 percent and 11 percent.

To get a ballpark of how much you can anticipate spending, add up your land costs, costs per site (factoring in the number of sites), building costs, and internet installation. From there you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you’ll need, but we also have a more comprehensive list of campground expenses to consider just in case.

Understanding financials.

Michael Elliott, aka the Campground CPA, says that a lot of new owners tend to drop the ball when it comes to properly understanding the financials behind a campground business. To give your park the best shot at success, be sure to study up on the following:

  • Capital expenditure budgets – to give you accurate numbers for future developments and expenses.
  • EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) – to find the industry-standard value of your campground.
  • Owner financing – a loan between the previous owner and the buyer of the campground.
  • Biggest expenditures for campgrounds – repairs/maintenance, and wages/salaries.
  • Profit and loss statements (P&L) – to see a campground’s cost and revenue during a fiscal year.
  • Expense ratios – total percentage of funds used for staff, marketing, and other related expenses.

Check out our conversation with Michael for more financial tips for campground owners.

Reporting and accounting.

Michael also mentioned that a lot of campgrounds fail to adequately record and track how their business is performing, and that “there are a lot of parks with no finances.”

For better forecasting, make sure you invest in a service like Quickbooks as well as a software that can tell you current occupancy, future occupancy, and prepaid deposits.

3. Create a unique campground experience.

The data is out, and 63 percent of consumers seek out experiences that they can’t find anywhere else. That same study listed “inspiration” and “meaning” as two of the most sought-out qualities a business could offer.

With that, here are a few ways your campground could go the extra mile in creating experiences not easily replicable elsewhere.

Invest in WiFi and amenities that guests want.

Before you build that new pool or add a playground, take some time to research what guests want out of their experience. We recently surveyed over 700 RVers asking them to tell us what amenities were most important to them.

Overwhelmingly, WiFi was considered “essential” (with quite a few RVers saying they’ll even pass on campgrounds that don’t provide adequate internet access), while trees, fire pits, and clean showers also made the top of the list.

The good news (based on our data), is that the most desirable amenities are generally pretty cost-effective, so you shouldn’t have to shell out too much to create a memorable experience for guests.

Provide unique accommodations.

Twenty-five percent of guests factor in a campground’s atmosphere in their decision to stay or return. Adding to that, a study found that “30 percent of North American travelers have glamped in the past two years,” and “59 percent of glampers go with their children, likely because glamping gives families the fun of the outdoors without the stress and hassle of traditional camping.”

Adding to that, it’s estimated a US market for glamping worth as much as $4.8 billion by 2025. This means that yurts, tiny homes, treehouses, or restored vintage campers could all be profitable ways to add a little pizazz to your campers’ stay.

For more inspiration and ideas, check out these 16 options for adding glamping to your campground.

Offer more than just camping.

More and more, owners are finding creative ways to utilize their property beyond just offering RV slips and or tent sites.

From breweries and distilleries like Devils Backbone and Shelter Point, wedding venues like The Hitchin’ Post, to even animal rescues like Discovery Wildlife Park (complete with bears, lions, wolves, and much more), there are a lot of ways to reimagine the use of your property.

Partner with local organizations.

In addition to joining a regional campground association, make it a point to identify local organizations and businesses in your community to bring your park more visibility.

Set up a booth at a festival, partner with a local business or non-profit, attend a trade show, facilitate local Scouts groups, or host community events (like outdoor movie nights or sports leagues).

It goes without saying, but the more your campground engages with the community, the more the community will engage with your campground.

Stay in touch.

Something as simple as collecting emails and reaching out could be one of the most profitable parts of your business.

A recent study that found email marketing is worth an average return of 4,300 percent, and that every $1 spent generates a little more than $44.

Make it a habit of creating mailing lists and collecting guest contacts whenever they book. Send them a thank you for staying, announcements for upcoming events, future discounts, and notes that let you know you’re thinking about them. Just make sure you don’t overdo it and spam them.

Give them the option to stay another day.

If you have extra spots, or the flexibility to move things around, consider giving your guests the option to stay an extra day. According to ​​, there are a lot of folks “who want to spend a week or two in a city and would prefer not to hop from Airbnb to Airbnb” or campground to campground. Maybe you could even make it a game and comp an extra night if they leave you a review or book in advance for next year.

Set a launch date.

Make the start of your campground a celebration! Just having a launch date can create a boost of revenue right out of the gate.

This past year, Athabasca County was able to take 150 reservations within the first hour, and more than 300 by day’s end. Their manager, Warren Vowel told us that “last year, it would have taken [them] more than 2 weeks and 3 staff members to call back and confirm all of the reservations that came in today.”

It’s not just them, as campgrounds like Lakeview Park are able to book most of their reservations for the year within the first 24 hours of making sites available.

4. Advertise your campground.

While there are a number of ways to market your park well, there are a few easy steps you can take to see results almost immediately.

Invest in quality photos.

We live in a digital age and we live in a visual age.

Websites and articles with quality and relevant photos bring in 94 percent more traffic than those without, yet somehow only 39 percent of online businesses have photos that don’t “disappoint customers.”.

The reason? Well, there’s a few. Quality photos create trust, they make your park standout, and they tell a story.

Fifty-one percent of customers respond better to images of actual people “because they’re more authentic and trustworthy than brand-owned creative.” Guests want to be able to imagine what it’s like to stay at your campground before they actually do, so adding a few eye-catching images could go a long way.

Consider hiring professional photographers, as well as sourcing photos from guests to showcase your parks’ best qualities, and then take time to share them on your website and social channels.

Take online bookings.

If you want to grow your business and audience quickly, taking reservations online is the easiest and most effective strategy.

Phone calls and emails add up but, thanks to online reservations, our campgrounds save an average of 300 hours a year in administrative tasks, while bringing in an added 25 percent in yearly bookings.

Plus, membership programs like Good Sam grant access to features like trip planners, targeted searches, and can even account for more than half of some parks annual reservations.

Run paid ads on Google and Facebook.

The reality is that most of your (potential) guests are searching for RV parks online. Forbes says that “97 percent of consumers use the internet to find local businesses.” This means that campgrounds investing in pay-per-click advertising (PPC ads) will likely have better success than campgrounds who don’t.

Specifically, our campgrounds have gotten the most bang for their buck running ads through Google and Facebook. For context, Moz’s Brian Carter, says that, on average, it costs between $20 and $32 to reach 1,000 people in print ads, Google AdWords and Facebook can do the same for about $3.

Furthermore, there are currently at least 246 million unique Google users in the States alone, and targeted ads allow you to tailor to specific audiences to ensure the highest return possible.

Respond to reviews.

For better or worse, reviews matter.

Currently, about 92 percent of consumers read online reviews and make their decisions to stay accordingly. To give this some more teeth, a study found that campgrounds with 1 to 1.5 stars bring in 19 percent less revenue than other parks.

Now, it’s certainly worth stating that even great campgrounds receive unfavorable reviews, and to some extent that’s unavoidable. However, you can still mitigate damage and turn negative comments into positive interactions by making it a point to respond and (thoughtfully) engage with disgruntled guests.

By promptly connecting, empathizing, and doing what you can to make things right, 95 percent of unhappy guests will return to your campground. Even responding to happy guests has a direct impact on the bottom line, considering parks benefit from 4.6 percent more reservations for every 50 positive reviews your campground receives.

As you grow your campground be sure to keep an eye on these review sites, and make a genuine effort to kindly connect with guests regardless of their experience.

It’s a good time to start a campground.

There’s never been a better time to operate an RV park. The outdoor industry is growing faster than ever, and people are ready to create memorable experiences.

To ensure your campground’s success, be sure to take time to:

  1. Research and design your campground.
  2. Anticipate expenses and understand your park’s finances.
  3. Create unique experiences for guests.
  4. Advertise your campground.

Looking to get started?

Taking online reservations is an easy way to offload administrative work and allow you to focus on the things that make your park unique. If you’re ready to make the jump, Good Sam Campground Solutions can help. Request a demo today!