By Rebecca Heslin, USA TODAY
If you think fewer recreational vehicles are on the road this summer, you may be rightand it's not just high fuel costs keeping them from pounding the pavement. RV resorts across the USA are offering an alternative way to camp out.
Campers are ditching their RVs and tents for recreational park trailers, or "park models," and campground owners hope regular vacationers in search of a lodging bargain will follow suit. These 400-square foot movable resort cottages, found at RV resorts and campgrounds, are upscale trailer homes that provide all the amenities of home.
"These units are about the same size as the largest hotel suites and come equipped with kitchens and bathrooms," William Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association, said. "But unlike a hotel room, park models are freestanding units. You don't have anyone above you or below you or right next to you."
According to Garpow, park models are on the rise in tourist destinations across the USA. From Orlando to Chicago to Castle Rock, Colo., there are now more than 100,000 cottages at various camping destinations. Prices range from as little as $38 a night to close to $200 for the best units in the most popular places.
Shane Ott, president and COO of Kampgrounds of America expects "an increased demand in rentals of park models this summer due to the economy, mostly those who are new to camping who view staying at park models as a means of vacationing." Ott added that "a camping vacation is still a very cost-effective means of travel, compared to airline or cruise vacations."
Ott notes that the exteriors of KOA's properties are evocative of their location, just as a hotel or other lodging might be. Think log or cedar-sided cabins in locations including Branson, Mo., and Mystic, Conn., with more of a "beach-front look for coastal properties" such as Naples, Fla., and South Padre Island, Texas. "The most popular rental property sites are destination locations such as the Black Hills in South Dakota, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Washington, D.C., and California wine country," he said.
Garpow also credits design advances with the growth of park models. "Most units have pointed roofs, floor-to-ceiling windows, lofts and hardwood cabinetry," he said. "In fact, we've seen a shift in demand from the trailer-like park models to the newer units that look like small cottages."
Ott and Garpow agreed that it's hard to get a social feel from a hotel stay, whereas park models create the perfect marriage between seclusion and community.
"Camping is all about the experience, memories and bonding you'll do with your family and your fellow campers," Ott said. "Park models are just a way for us to open up this experience to those who may not have the desire or ability to invest in camping equipment or recreational vehicles."
In addition to vacation rentals, campground owners have discovered a market for park models as second homes. "Many times they find that these units are so popular they wind up selling them to consumers who want to have an affordable vacation cottage of their own," Garpow says. Ranging from $18,000 to about $70,000, visitors often decide to purchase the park model once they've found a destination that suits their family's needs.
Travelers, have you stayed at a park model? Tell everyone about it.