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It's Time To Embrace Consumer Campground Ratings

The Ostrich Factor:  You Can Put Your Head In The Sand, But They Can Still See You.

For decades, ratings have been a highly publicized part of marketing the RV park and campground industry to consumers.  The most common method of promoting a campground business has been through printed magazines, publications and directories.  There were only a few campground rating services, generally provided by directory or travel guide publishers who sent full-time RVers around the country to rate campgrounds for their respective publications.
When the rater/inspector arrived at the park, the conversation sometimes started with something like this …….” Hi, I’m here to rate your campground for XYZ publication, but before I do, I’d like to talk about how much advertising you what to purchase…… I assure you the amount of advertising doesn’t affect your rating in the least, but I just want to discuss advertising first.”  Is it just me, or does that sound a little like Tony Soprano?

Over the years I have heard many campground owners complain about the lack of fairness and consistency in the rating systems.  Such conversations usually included an opinion that the industry needed some sort of objective and independent method or rating all parks.  The fact that directory ratings are usually determined by one person’s or one couple’s interpretation of their publisher’s rating standards, has most likely contributed to the perception of bias and unfairness.  However, directory publishers continue to claim that the process is fair and consistent, and is by no means influenced by advertising purchases.  So, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  

Right now, the market is going through major changes (the trusted information source paradigm is shifting) …. Nearly everyone agrees that the internet is proving to be the most significant communications vehicle since the invention of the telephone.  The rapid growth of consumer communities (such as MySpace.com and Facebook.com) have created a worldwide trend where guests are easily sharing their experiences with other guests.
Because this shared information represents word-of-mouth advertising, consumers are starting to value and rely more on feedback from other guests than on directory ratings or promotional messages from individual business.  In other words, because guests can easily find and review comments from other guests, the trend is to ignore marketing hype like “The Best Campground in the area”.  Guests don’t automatically trust what the business says and they search out what other guests, who have actually stayed in your park, say about their experience.


Newsflash: The guest is now in control of the dialog, and is clearly affecting your reputation in the marketplace.   The old assumption that one dissatisfied guest will tell 20 other guests has changed.  Now, one dissatisfied guest is broadcasting their message to thousands if not millions.


There has also been a recent proliferation of consumer-based rating and review websites in the Campground and RV Park industry.  It seems that every month, another rating or review website pops up.  A year ago, you could find seven campground review sites on the Internet, now there are twenty.  Why are the numbers growing?  One could argue many reasons but it is clear that dissatisfied guests want to tell their story, and prospective guests want information to help make buying decisions.  However, the following are some of the serious problems with the current growth trend in these rating and review websites – from both the guest and a business operator’s standpoints..

  1. There are no consistent methods for collecting and displaying guest feedback that promotes fair comparison.  It’s generally free-form and unstructured.  The current environment seems more like the “Chaos Theory” or the “Wild Wild West” instead of the “Promised Land” of fair comparison.
  2. Since it’s human nature to complain more than to compliment, websites that only offer written text present a generally skewed perspective that overemphasizes negative comments.
  3. These sites are strictly consumer focused and provide little or no feedback mechanism to the owner/operators so that they can make meaningful changes to their operations, and ultimately improve their guests’ satisfaction.
  4. There are few opportunities for owner/operators to reply directly to the guest or attempt to remedy a problem.
  5. Without some sort of rules or guidelines, most consumers don’t know how to write a meaningful review.
  6. Many campground operators feel that these rating sites have turned into campground bashing rather than providing beneficial information for consumers and valid feedback for campgrounds and RV Parks.  

So what do you do?  You can either participate in the dialog, or you can ignore it and hope it goes away.  Unfortunately, too many campground operators are choosing the Ostrich approach……. “If I put my head in the sand and ignore it, they won’t be able to see me and maybe it will all go away.”  

Newsflash:  This issue is not going away, it will continue to grow, and more guests will participate, whether we like it or not.
 
Fortunately, there is another kind of opportunity emerging.  Bob MacKinnon, in cooperation with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), recently launched GuestReviews.com™ and GuestRated.com™ in an effort to merge guest satisfaction surveys with guest ratings and ultimately provide a smoothing effect on websites where guest written reviews are collected.  The concepts and goals are really quite simple:

  1. Provide an online user-friendly outlet for guests who wish to leave feedback and share their camping experiences.
  2. Provide an efficient means to collect guest survey data and deliver feedback to the park operators so that they can make meaningful decisions to improve guest satisfaction.
  3. Provide a real-time survey system which gives park operators instant feedback so they can address issues quickly.
  4. Use standardized rating criteria to consistently measure guest satisfaction over time and generate rating scores that are statistically accurate and reflect opinions of actual guests, not directory inspectors.
  5. Focus ratings on current guest experiences so that park improvements are reflected more quickly and accurately in the resulting scores.
  6. Encourage guests using websites that offer written reviews or commentary to rate parks by completing standardized surveys.  These surveys provides both valuable feedback for the park, and helps the guest organize their thoughts so that the review comments are more accurately balanced.

The real benefit of the GuestRated™ program is that it is designed to collect and summarize guest surveys from a multitude of different web sites.  As the program takes hold, it has the potential to bring order to this otherwise chaotic review environment that currently exists in the industry.   


While not statistically proven, my impression is that parks that are truly committed to engage in the consumer dialog generally receive very high satisfaction marks.  Parks that ignore feedback or want to try to hide their survey results tend to score lower.  This becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Those who believe in the value of guest satisfaction and who promote guest feedback, seem to reap the benefits of higher rating scores.


Whether you choose to register and receive the benefits of the GuestReviews™ program or not, I encourage you not to ignore the consumer reviews and comments that are growing on the various consumer review and rating websites.  I know some parks are monitoring many review and rating websites for negative comments and they respond quickly to resolve satisfaction issues and protect their brand.  By becoming pro-actively involved in the dialog, many have found they can influence guest opinions and often turn a negative into positive and reap long-term benefits.  The more Campgrounds and RV Parks get involved in the review dialog, the more it improves guest satisfaction and ultimately we all benefit from a strong guest perception of our industry

(Friend Communications provides the survey technology infrastructure for GuestRated.com™ and Guest Reviews.com™)

 

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