How to Keep Your Guests Coming Back

AN39-3-MGT-Goodall-MainGive them what they want and then some things they didn't expect.

I have just returned from a three-week tour of outdoor campgrounds in Europe. The properties I visited were from the Leading Campgrounds of Europe and Les Castels groups each of which has high levels of member entry requirements. The parks I visited ticked all the boxes of great first impression, unique and positive holiday experience, value for money and showing leadership in being prepared to invest to remain relevant to existing and potential guests.

These operations all understand the need to keep their guests coming back and go out of their way to provide a product that is appealing, fresh and up to date with all the amenities, service and facilities that guests have requested. They also work under enormous pressure given that many of them are only open for less than half the year due to weather restrictions!

The largest of the properties I visited was Union Lido Park & Resort in Venice, Italy. This 60ha property can accommodate over 10,000 guests at any given time in its 101 bungalows, 78 hotel apartments, 127 camping homes, 24 luxury safari tents and 2500 touring sites during the season from May through to September. The guests are able to avail themselves of a range of services and activities on offer including nine cafés and restaurants offering a selection of local and international dishes; 11 bars; a mini theme park comprising roller coaster, mini golf, dodgem cars and other interactive entertainment; a comprehensive spa and wellness centre; a "high street" style shopping precinct including pharmacy, full range supermarket and numerous specialty fashion and gift shops; three pool complexes including one complete with sand beach, water slide and trained life guards; two water parks; a wide range of sporting activities including golf, tennis, archery and horseback riding and all this with the park enjoying over a kilometre of absolute beach frontage on the Adriatic sea.

AN39-3-MGT-Goodall- theme parkUnion Lido

AN39-3-MGT-Goodall- Union Lido 2

Mini Golf - Union Lido Style

Union Lido sets a high benchmark for all other campgrounds in Europe. However, the obvious significant operation costs and investment have only five months of the year to provide an income, with the park being closed for the rest of the year. This period does however provide vital time for maintenance, refurbishment and getting ready for the season to commence again in April/May. With such a short season the parks in Europe must be innovative, up with the latest trends and prepared to invest to build their markets. They must not only understand the markets they have but be prepared to look at the ones they don't.

It is true that in Europe these operations have much bigger population bases to draw from than in Australia and the breaking down of the barriers between countries with the development of the EU has made it easier for these populations to travel between countries. However, it must also be remembered that competition from a wide range of alternative accommodation options including other parks is intense. One park I saw had another quality park positioned right along side and another one across the road! So, while the population base is immense, so too is the competition making the job of building consumer appeal for the product through regular investment, innovation and understanding market movement critical to ongoing success.

One of the most unique trends we observed was at a Leading Campgrounds of Europe park called Les Alicourts situated in the Loire Valley in France. This park also stretches over 60ha with the sites and roofed accommodation positioned around the lake of Alicourts. Again sporting activities abound including playing the nine-hole golf course, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and boating in the lake and an enormous outdoor swimming pool complex with water slides and even a wave pool. A new addition this year is the cable skiing operation where guests can enjoy skiing across the lake via a cable tow.

One of the most innovative features of Les Alicourts are the eight tree houses situated in the property's own forest. The tree houses are of various designs with no two being the same – their design is dictated by the shape of the tree – and can accommodate couples or families. There is no running water or power – lights are supplied on arrival – however each has a "dry" toilet. There is an amenity block available where hot showers can be taken. An obliging staff member attaches breakfast to a rope each morning and the guest simply pulls the rope up to the tree house. While conditions may sound a little Spartan these tree houses are fully booked for the season – such is the unique nature of the experience.

AN39-3-MGT-Goodall- Tree Houses at Les Alicourts
Another trend being capitalised on by many of the parks in these two groups is that of incorporating comprehensive spa and wellness centres to help guests escape the stress of the GFC and city life into a world of pampering and relaxation. Camping Village Le Sylvamar situated in the Landes natural pine forest on the Basque Coast in France incorporates such a centre where guests can experience a relaxing sauna, a rejuvenating massage, refresh in the hammam room or luxuriate in the jacuzzi or indoor pool.

Other unique features to be found at Le Sylvamar include the themed amenities blocks dedicated to different styles of architecture; an outdoor gymnasium; a seven-a-side football field and archery. The large lagoon style pool complex with its water slides and counter currents includes a comprehensive indoor children's complex complete with a roof that slides open.

Again – as with the other properties I visited – there is no real reason other than venturing out to explore local attractions, to leave the park complex. There are two restaurants, supermarket, bars, surf shop, bakery and souvenir shop available right on site. So, guests can come and stay knowing that all of their needs are fully catered for.

All the parks wI visited provide guests live theatre performances designed for the kids. The stage at Les Alicourts for example is designed like an amphitheatre and is equipped with professional style lighting and audio.

I have provided these examples to illustrate the point that in the changing and competitive market we are now experiencing, more than ever, as hospitality operations, we need to be continually evolving to maintain our relevance. Repeat visitation, referrals and being talked about in a positive way are the keys to ongoing success in our sector of tourism – particularly with the explosion of Facebook, Pinterest and other forms of social media. Today feedback is immediate and public.

We need to look at the trends – both here and from around the world – that we can adapt and incorporate into our own businesses to continually freshen our product offering. While there is nothing wrong with replicating ideas that have worked elsewhere – if appropriate for your market or to capture new ones – the best approach is to take the essence of the idea and rework and refine it to suit your situation, your market and your budget.

As mentioned above repeat visitation is all important but you need to be continually adding to your customer base to ensure that the return on your significant investment is maintained at an optimal level. So while you need to understand the needs and wants of your market you also need to understand the markets you don't have to see if what you offer will be or could be attractive to a wider base.

Terry Goodall
Pathfinder Outdoor Destinations P/L

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