In an era where we’re constantly flooded with ads and options, it pays to be a savvy shopper. Especially when you’re exploring new software options, you need to prepare the right questions and be ready to contextualize the service you’re considering before the demonstration stage.
Shopping for the right tool to support your campground management strategy is no different. Given the many reservation system providers out there, we have compiled the top questions and topics to consider as you conduct your new campground software search.
1. Is the software cloud-based?
While some providers claim to allow for online reservations, there’s no mistaking a true cloud-based platform. This means that real-time reservation data is digitally tracked and securely stored within the cloud. AWS is an example of a popular cloud-based computing platform.
That’s right—the cloud and all the power of your chosen management platform are accessible simply through an internet connection. This core functionality is especially important for the outdoor hospitality industry.
First, it eliminates the risk of double-booking due to offline record-keeping. We’ve seen some pretty impressive booking spreadsheets and binders in our day, but they can easily become a major liability and time drain. Instead, guests are able to independently reserve a campsite at your property online without having to call directly or worry about confirmation, which saves everyone time and energy.
Second, cloud providers—with their greater resources and speed to catch and patch any issues—often keep data more secure compared to individual businesses’ on-premise resources. Make sure that the software in question prioritizes data security. Campspot obtained its SOC 2 Compliance, for instance, to demonstrate its rigorous controls and commitment to protect the information of its customers (and their customers).
Third, cloud access allows for multiple staff members to use a tool simultaneously without error. In Campspot, for example, there’s no concern of overriding work because administrative changes are permission-based, as well as date- and time-stamped.
Fourth, fingertip access enables you to manage or supervise operations on the go—while making the morning rounds with a tablet or mobile device, or checking in on daily reservations and snapshot reports from a remote location.
Last but definitely not least, a major benefit of cloud-based software is the ability to present real-time daily rates. This is especially important to allow for dynamic pricing.
2. What is the user experience like for both campground operators AND campers?
UX/UI, or user experience and user interface, are bedrock considerations for designing anything digital—from apps and websites to games and reservation software. As Forbes aptly describes, “UX and UI are like a living space: Building the walls is the UX designer’s job, while furnishing belongs to the UI designer.” Both objectives need to exist in harmony and consider all potential users’ perspectives, including campground operators and their guests.
Booking a campsite is the first experience a guest will have of your property before they even step foot onsite. First impressions matter, and they are often made in just 50 milliseconds! To ensure your brand is positively perceived from the gate, it’s important that your chosen software reflects the values of your business: inviting, reliable, and customer-focused. The platform should cleanly display your logo, campground photos, amenities, and site-types. The step-by-step booking process should be intuitive and leave no room for confusion or frustration. After all, poor design and navigation are common reasons why website visitors leave.
Similarly, your reservationists deserve to experience the same ease of software use as your guests. The administrative side of your campground management software should not have a cluttered and cumbersome interface. It should clearly display your reservation grid, key metrics, interactive booking map, and options to toggle to other common actions.
3. Can the system understand my park’s unique rules and act in my business’ best interest?
Campground software should possess its own level of intelligence to make your job easier, not harder. This includes built-in business rules that mimic the logic and discretionary decision-making of an actual reservationist, such as knowledge of minimum night-stays and site-type restrictions.
For example, assume your campground has a three-night minimum stay requirement. Six months in advance of their desired arrival, a guest attempts to book a two-night reservation. With six months until arrival, the reservationist is confident that by saying “no” to the two-night reservation, they are ultimately saving space for a future guest who will be willing to book three nights—ergo, more revenue for your business.
Most online systems would say “no” to the booking in this two-night scenario, too. But what if the guest was attempting to book a two-night reservation only one week before arrival? Your reservationist will most likely say “yes” because they understand that the probability of filling the desired three nights decreases dramatically as the arrival date nears. In this case, two nights booked is better than zero. Some property management systems, governed by smart automation, understand this scenario as well. Just like your reservationist, such systems can relax the rules as the arrival date draws nearer because they understand that some revenue is better than none.
Similarly, just as a reservationist would be able to explain the limitations of certain booking criteria to an inquiring guest, Campspot automatically explains this logic, too. Campspot displays a park’s rules on its online booking map to ensure a guest knows why they might not be able to reserve a certain site. For instance, if the guest searches for two nights but their desired dates have a three-night minimum rule in place, an error message will appear to explain that the site is available but requires an extra night to proceed with booking.
Reservation systems that do not understand the above scenarios and do not incorporate human logic into their workflows will cost you money. When coupled with smart processing, rule adaptability and customizability to fit your park is the ideal match.
4. Should I allow my guests to choose their specific sites, and is this possible through online booking software?
One hallmark feature of Campspot’s software is grid optimization. If a customer doesn’t care which specific site they book (only which site type), then Campspot’s grid optimization engine will shuffle that reservation around to the site where it fits best to eliminate nightly gaps and maximize revenue. Undoubtedly, witty operators and/or Tetris fanatics have attempted to do this manually, but without automation and cloud-based assurance, it’s a major headache.
Furthermore, allowing guests to choose which specific site they want generates multiple benefits. Previous surveys showed that 95% of campers said they preferred to be able to choose their site if given the option.
To that end, Campspot invented the Lock Site feature. Now, more than 36% of guests booking online pay to lock their site (whether for a specific view, coveted location in the park, or simply nostalgia). Beyond pleasing guests with this option, you can generate effortless revenue and set the terms for how much site locking costs.
Not all reservations systems are built with true grid optimization or site locking capabilities. It’s important to know that true grid optimization, specifically, happens in real time when the date search occurs—not at the end of the day or overnight. Each time a date is searched, Campspot’s real-time grid optimization takes place, ensuring the greatest availability for your guests for both online and admin reservations.
Be sure to ask about these two features during your next campground software demo, and how they operate in tandem to generate passive income without sacrificing overall revenue.
5. What revenue streams does the software create for my park?
Beyond the bread and butter revenue generated from nightly stays, the right campground management software will also unlock multiple revenue streams to grow your campground. Broadly, these can be categorized as revenue from ancillary purchases, revenue from exposure driven by online travel agencies (OTAs), and revenue from features such as dynamic pricing and site locking.
Mike Harrison, COO of Contemporary Resorts and Residences, is quoted in Campspot’s Growth Strategies Guide as saying ancillary income can comprise as much as 20% of a park’s revenue. Popular add-ons that Campspot users have offered for their guests through Campspot’s online reservation workflow include camp store purchases, canoe rentals, hammock rentals, and more. Investigate during your next demo whether a particular platform encourages ancillary purchases within the reservation workflow, as this is the best time to advertise these options to a captive audience.
OTAs are an excellent way to increase brand exposure and bookings. On Campspot’s camping-centric OTA, 92% of customers booked at a property they had never stayed at before. See which software providers integrate with leading hospitality OTAs—Airbnb, VRBO, and Booking.com—for a seamless booking experience. Finally, integrated features such as dynamic pricing and site locking (discussed above) can passively generate income while being easy to test out and turn on/off at will.
6. Does the platform handle customer billing for me?
Imagine being able to automate all of your long-term stays with recurring billing in one online platform. Thanks to intelligent campground software, gone are the days of manually sending and collecting invoices each month.
Within Campspot, for example, a guest will automatically receive a notification prior to their bill being due. It’s easy for campground staff to add applicable point-of-sale items and utility meter charges to this bill as well before it’s sent out. Campspot will then automatically process the guest’s payment when due. Alternatively, guests have the ability to make the payment online themselves, streamlining the process and eliminating the park having to collect funds.
7. What software training and customer support materials are provided?
Any campground reservation system is only as good as the people behind the platform. Therefore, it’s important to be sold both on the tool itself and the team backing it. Most importantly, support shouldn’t start and end with the sales pitch. From importing your existing data to branding your online booking page and training initial users, the set-up phase when acquiring new park software is critical. Understand who will be helping you get set up, how you will smoothly transition away from your old system, and when you will be able to take online reservations.
After confirming logistics and support for the onboarding phase, ask how a software company will remain available to you for ongoing needs throughout your working relationship. Does the provider have an online database of support articles, videos, and FAQs available 24/7? Does the provider regularly hold informational webinars to help you stay abreast of industry trends and tips? Does the provider have a helpline to its dedicated team of human beings ready to assist you? The common theme here is that top-tier software providers will prioritize the longevity of your relationship and your business, beyond the initial transaction.
8. There may be some features that I won’t ever need or use. How does that factor into cost and value?
From Campspot’s perspective, we partner with all sorts of outdoor hospitality businesses, including RV parks, family-owned campgrounds, municipal properties, fairgrounds, event centers, glamping resorts, and more. Naturally, each of these operations is going to use our software a little differently to fit their business model. If we charged customers extra fees for every integrated feature and capability of our software, we would be doing everyone a disservice. Why pay for housekeeping management functionality if you only offer rustic tent sites? Why be forced to pay for text messaging as a feature if you have no desire to use this communication tactic?
Oftentimes, software can be more cumbersome than helpful. In a world where hundreds upon thousands of integrations are possible, don’t get stuck paying for those that aren’t relevant to your unique brand of camping. While a provider may offer up many bells and whistles during the demo phase, ask yourself if those aspects of the software come at the expense of usability, trainability, or your bottom line.
Whether you’re transitioning from pencil-and-paper or from another system, keep this list of questions in mind as you head into your next campground software demo. You won’t regret being extra prepared as you gear up to make the best decision for your unique business!
Haley Dalian is a lifelong Michigander who takes advantage of recreation throughout the state’s changing seasons—from snow skiing to scuba diving in the Great Lakes. A former Campspot marketing manager, Haley holds a B.A. degree in public policy from Michigan State University and an M.S. degree in sustainability from the University of Michigan. She is passionate about environmental stewardship, exploring the outdoors, and has never met a potato she didn’t like.