PROFITABILITY THROUGH ACCESSIBILITY

What RV park, campground, or outdoor recreation facility would not enjoy a 10% to 30% growth in revenues year over year?  We are a 501c3 charitable nonprofit showing the outdoor recreation and hospitality industry how to do just that.  And we do it through personal experience, example, education and training.

It’s not complicated. Depending on the investment, using tax incentives, the improvement can often times pay for itself in just the first year, or less.  If you could invest $5,000 in your business and could get a 100% return on your investment in just 12 months, would you make the investment?

motorcoachIt all started with a vision of publishing resource information for the disabled community who had the desire to experience the great outdoors, but not the environment to do so.  Having been a person with permanent disabilities trying to enjoy the RV/camping experience, and blessed with a loving and care-giving wife, I sought out to put together a Board of Directors with care-giving and/or disabling experience and use my personal experience and professional accessibility training to help others who are where I have been, and educate the outdoor recreation industry on how accommodating this segment of the market can be extremely rewarding, both financially and spiritually.

A few months ago I was asked by the ARVC Virginia Campground Association to speak at their annual meeting, and speak to the members about accessibility and how to reach a mostly untapped market.  Their Executive Director, David Gorin, who is also an RV Park developer, contacted me and we set a plan in motion.

Due to Superstorm Sandy last fall, many fall campground annual meetings were delayed until this spring.  The turnout was excellent, with many leaving the seminar wanting to know more than could be shared in a 90-minute presentation.  The membership was very accommodating and eager to learn more about the ADA and the impact on their parks, both pros and cons.  The end in mind was to help them understand how they can grow their businesses in ways they may never have considered.  With 1 in 5 Americans having at least 1 disability, and nearly half of those with a physical or developmental disability, wheelchair use is very common.  So is access if they plan to enjoy the great outdoor experience, spending their discretionary income with merchants that provide freedom and independence that comes with full access.

As a wheelchair user during my childhood, I refused to ask for help as long as I could crawl or scoot.  Later in life, I refused to ask for help as long as I had a wheelchair or scooter and an environment conducive of using mobility devices.  As Americans, our freedom and independence are vital to our existence.  It is no different for one with a disability.   Persons with a disability are not handicapped.  The handicap is the environment not conducive to independence for the person with a disability.

Small-Country-pool-access-route-2Bill Small, owner of Small Country Campground in Louisa, VA commissioned RVAG to perform an accessibility assessment to help determine how to transition into an ADA compliant campground.  Mr. Small, who engaged in creating a more accessible environment for his customers, received accolades from a few wheelchair users who were camping for the Memorial Day weekend.  Comments included “fantastic”, “great awareness”, “ease of access”, and most importantly, “we will be back with family and friends on future camping trips”.

                                                       

Added firm/stable path to access pool with wheelchair

Phil Upton, owner of Trav-L-Park in Virginia Beach, VA requested an assessment so he can better accommodate ALL of his customers, and provide a universal environment, useful to ALL persons who frequent his campground.

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While many campground owners have purchased pool lifts, many have overlooked providing an outdoor recreation access route “to the pool”.  One has to “get to the pool” before getting “in the pool”.  Having a pool lift for the sake of having a pool lift is of no benefit to the public who needs such assistance when there is no firm and stable access route to get to the pool gate.  Nor is the lift or access route of any benefit if the gate latch cannot be accessed properly or the gate wide enough to allow a chair user proper access.

It is necessary to understand the needs of your customers with disabilities and just as important, the standards in place to accommodate those customers and do so effectively.  The ADA of 1990 has been around for 23 years, and if you are a Title II entity, the ABA (Architectural Barriers Act) of 1968 has been around for 45 years.  So, it is not a matter of time, but moreso a matter of education, planning and budgeting.  There are tax incentives to help businesses overcome the hurdle of budget issues.  We discuss this on our website, www.rvingaccessibility.org.

The outdoor recreation and hospitality industry is once again experiencing significant growth.  Along with growth, comes increased risk/reward factors.   The disabled population is growing, as well as is the aging population.  There are many RVers who are getting up in age, and although they may not have a disability, they just are not as mobile as in years past.  Then there are the baby boomers, retiring and choosing to see the U.S. by RV.  And then there are our military men and women who have returned, and continue to return, from fighting for our freedom, with visible and invisible disabilities, who would gladly spend a weekend camping with family and friends.  The Great Outdoors provides a therapeutic environment that cannot be duplicated indoors.  While our military has fought for OUR freedom, there is nothing greater that we, as a nation, can do for them than to provide the freedom and independence they deserve, just as any American.  And it starts with the outdoor recreation environment.

The Virginia Campground Owners Association has taken measures to educate their members on how becoming ADA compliant and being more accessible can stimulate revenue growth and reputation, as well as just doing the right thing.  RVers and campers like to share their experiences with one another, be it on forums or around a campfire.  As such, when camping with disabilities comes up in a conversation, how would you like your campground reviewed?

  • “Mark (RVing Accessibility Group) attended the recent VA Campground Association Spring Convention and spent considerable time talking with park owners and then presented a seminar on how an accessible park can benefit from reaching an untapped market.   As an RVer and former campground manager, Mark is able to be exceptionally helpful to park owners in assuring legal compliance in a difficult and complex area.  Mark’s messages are simple – compliance avoids potential legal problems and compliance provides the ability to serve a new, large and mostly untapped market.   Mark and his RV Accessibility Resource Group are valuable resources for the park industry.”   David Gorin, Executive Director, VA Campground Association; President, Best Parks in America; and principal in the park consulting firm of David Gorin Associates LLC.
  • “Mark appears to be very professional and very efficient in his study. Haven’t seen the final yet, but an ounce of prevention is worth a lot.  And there already are suits and more on the horizon, so we will be ready. Yes, I highly suggest that my colleagues avail themselves of his service and collectively cut the cost associated therewith. We at Small Country are already way ahead of the curve just because I am personally so aware of the needs of the disabled having worked with them in my youth at a special camp…and having disabled in the extended family.”  Bill Small, Owner of Small Country Campground, Louisa, VA.
  • “The initial process with Mark (RVing Accessibility Group) has been great – I look forward to receiving his assessment report and working with it to make our campground better. I would like to encourage everyone to start the process by having an assessment done and begin to move in the direction of compliance.  From my experience, anything which I have made accessible has been more desirable by the general camping public. On the flip side, being ignorant of our failings cannot be used as a defense in avoiding making things accessible. I cannot see how every campground doesn’t want to know where they are failing and to start with a plan to move in the right direction, one little bit at a time, makes it more manageable to achieve. I know that most campgrounds, ourselves included, are far from complying     but I think that the more we do in Virginia to move in that direction the better we can market ourselves. We may think of it as a niche but if 20% of the general population is mobility challenged, I want to be able to accommodate and sell to that market.”  Phil Upton, Owner of Holiday Trav-L-Park campground in Virginia Beach, VA and Treasurer of the VA Campground Association.
  • “Your report is a wonderful resource for me to use as I move forward and I know that every privately owned campground that hasn’t had a thorough inspection of their campground to assess where they meet and where they fail accessible standards, would greatly benefit from it.  I wish I had met you years ago and had the benefit of your knowledge and report before I began my renovations.  The good part about the campground is that we are always making changes and improvements – I now have an excellent guideline on how to improve accessibility one facility at a time as we make changes. It is useful to know how my existing structures need to be improved to make the facilities accessible – your outline of the specifics with photos and descriptions on what is wrong and what they should be is clear and exceedingly helpful.  The report also outlines what an accessible feature should be so that I can get it right the first time. I hope that you realize that we are developing a long term relationship here and I hope that you are OK with that – I am sure that I will have questions as I move forward with my improvements.  I also hope that we and the VCA members, actually the whole campground industry in general, all move in the   direction of making our facilities more accessible not simply because it is required but really because it is good for everybody and every family.”  Phil Upton, Owner Trav-L-Park, Virginia Beach, VA.

If you are looking for a campground in Virginia, please click on the following link for a Virginia campground directory:
http://issuu.com/online_guest_guides/docs/virginia_campground_directory

 

ScooterIf you believe in our mission of raising awareness for outdoor recreational accessibility by education, example and experience, to both the outdoor recreation industry and the disabled community, you can help by making a tax deductible donation by going to www.rvingaccessibility.org and helping us continue to raise awareness.  RVing Accessibility Group evolved from personal experience by an avid RVer who was permanently disabled and became frustrated with the lack of accurate information on campgrounds where a permanently disabled person, or someone with a temporary disability, could enjoy the experience that comes from being in the great outdoors.  The founder spent his childhood and half his adult life in and out of wheelchairs and has made it his passion to help others who are where he has been in life, providing accurate resourceful information on parks and campgrounds that provide accessibility and only locations that he has personally experienced.  To learn more about RVing Accessibility Group, Inc., please go to www.rvingaccessibility.org .