We don’t have to tell you twice that repeat business equals success in the outdoor hospitality industry—and in most industries for that matter. Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.” As a campground operator, you are in the business of selling an unforgettable experience and attracting lifelong friends: your campers! This adds to the fun and challenge of leaving a memorable impression on your guests, which should begin far before they step foot on your property through strategic marketing efforts. Because it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start, we outline the most important campground marketing strategies that are simple yet essential to building an iconic camping brand even while time-strapped.
1. Use Consistent Branding and Messaging
At Campspot, you’ll often hear us refer to each of our customers’ “unique brand of camping.” This simply means that amongst thousands of North American campgrounds and vacation options, you must differentiate your park and begin your campground marketing strategy by defining what makes your business unique.
Perhaps you’ve built your park as a no frills, rustic haven for locals and nomads alike. Maybe you exclusively welcome families with young children because you love providing their first camping experience. It’s possible your campground is the closest lodging to a nearby national park, which makes location a key part of the property’s identity and appeal. No matter who you cater to or how you do things differently at your campground, make sure you craft a creative tagline and visual logo around your key differentiators. Use this special branding and messaging continuously wherever you choose to advertise your campground. That’s the essence of marketing: a core message repeated over time to the same target audience. Because if you don’t recognize, define, and share with the world what makes your park special, campers will never know what they’re missing.
2. Create a Website, Even a Simple One
Having a website is important as both a strategic campground marketing tool and a general validator of your park’s existence. If a camper heard of you through a friend or a local ad but then can’t find your business online, they may question the legitimacy of your operation. That’s why it’s important to at least have a simple homepage, ideally hosted through a domain (a.k.a. URL) that contains your property’s name or location. You don’t have to be an expert web developer either. There are many free to low-cost web templates and tools—Squarespace, WordPress, Wix—that make it easy to set up a webpage in one day. While it’s common for a Facebook account to serve in place of a website, we recommend having a separate webpage because the capabilities, appearance, and goals differ significantly from social media.
Additionally, a website will allow your campground to appear in search engine results when campers search keywords related to your campground, such as your name, “campgrounds near me,” or other key terms on your website. A Google Business profile also helps with local search engine optimization.
3. Don’t Spread Your Social Media Presence Too Thin or Thick
These days, there are seemingly endless social media platforms where businesses can advertise and engage with their customers: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, Clubhouse, Snapchat, the list goes on. Yet, the prevalence of social media in our personal and professional lives is undeniable.
The good news is that your campground marketing doesn’t actually have to take place on all platforms—really. In fact, trying to be everywhere online often means you’re risking the quality or consistency of your content, which can be worse for your online presence. It’s not a good look if your campground’s last social post was from 2018 or if a camper tries to message you on a social platform and doesn’t receive a reply for months.
The best course is committing to a business profile for at least one social media platform that your staff is very comfortable using and has the bandwidth to actively manage. If time management goes well, consider expanding to more platforms and crossposting the same content for efficiency and amplification of your message.
4. Start Text Messaging Campers, With Their Permission
Email is a tried and true outlet for communicating with your target audience of new, returning, and aspiring campers. However, email has a rising competitor that’s worth being included in your campground marketing strategy: text messaging. You may be surprised to learn that SMS (short message service) campaigns have an average message open rate of up to 98%, compared to email at just 20%. With eyes on your message as the main goal, this open rate difference is substantial.
What does a marketing text message look like in practice? Well, beyond the common cases of updating current guests staying at your property about inclement weather or last minute changes, you can also entice those guests with an “extend your stay” discount rate at their fingertips. Alternatively, keep former guests in the loop about upcoming events and other promotions even after they’ve left. The shorter nature of texting also makes it a beneficial way to share your message quickly and succinctly versus a wordy email. Similar to email compliance, though, you must have a camper’s explicit permission before you text message them—meaning they must opt in as the default rather than opting out. As long as they stayed opted in, the options for text message marketing are vast.
Some reservation software providers, including Campspot, provide text messaging as an integrated service, making it even easier to manage SMS messaging to your guests. If this wasn’t already on your campground marketing ideas list, it certainly should be now!
5. Invest in Quality Photography of Your Park
If a picture of your property is worth a thousand words, you want to make sure those are all positive words! That’s why we highly recommend investing in quality photography of your campground. Browsing campers are eager to see what your property looks like and to get their bearings before officially booking. With zero photos of your property online, you leave many of these answers up to assumptions and guessing, which is not ideal. If you have low resolution, low light, or poor quality photos of your property online, a guest will be much less likely to be persuaded to choose your park.
At a minimum, we recommend photographing your various site types (inside and out if you have cabins), bathrooms, scenic views from the property, amenities, and camp store. Controlling your public image while making sure the initial impression of your park matches reality is vital to ensuring guest satisfaction and trust. For this reason, we also discourage the use of stock photos on your website or social media.
If you’re unable to hire a professional photographer, the quality and accessibility of smartphones today mean you can still take stellar photos on your own.
6. Take the High Road When Managing Online Reviews
Online reviews are an inevitable help and hindrance to operating a park. Building an online archive of happy customer experiences can do wonders for validating your brand and attracting newcomers—whether that be from simple 5-star Google reviews or long heartfelt stories left on your Facebook page. On the other hand, some marketers say it takes 40 positive customer interactions to undo the impact of one negative review. Sometimes, no matter what you do in person or how you treat someone, bad online reviews will appear that are truly out of your control. What you can control, however, is how you manage and react to these reviews.
We recommend always replying to all reviews. For positive reviews, responding with a simple “Thank you!” is a nice affirmation of the customer’s view and it shows you pay attention. In the case of a negative review, avoid arguing. You can try to clarify the story in question depending on the circumstances, but redirection and effusive positivity are equally good strategies.
Through a confirmation email, post-stay automated survey, or text message, try to solicit as many online reviews as possible to even out the bad and to have the widest representation possible. You could even incentivize reviews with a random monthly drawing for a prize for those who leave reviews that month.
While the campground marketing ideas certainly don’t stop here, we hope this list is a helpful jumpstart to either starting from scratch or revisiting your foundational marketing efforts. If you liked this post, check out our other marketing related content, such as The Best Camp Store Merchandise to Sell and How to Create a Rural Retreat Campground.
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons, such as skiing up north in the winter and scuba diving the Great Lakes in the summer. A former Campspot marketing employee, Haley is pursuing a Master of Science degree at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. She is passionate about solving the world’s sustainability challenges, enjoys performing improvisational comedy, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.