It’s that time of year when families who own recreational vehicles (RV’s) and camping equipment begin to book their camping trips for the summer. Holiday camping has to be done well in advance. Before the snow has melted in most parts of the USA, families are dreaming of lakes and fishing, hiking, fairs, camping on the beach and nights by the fire, staring at the stars in the night time sky.
The Internet has made searching for and contacting campgrounds easy, with some campgrounds even experimenting with online booking. The Internet experience for web site users wanting to book a campground is similar to booking hotel rooms. Prospective guests are excited and hoping for a pleasant stay. Any information a web site offers to help them make choices and imagine themselves snuggled in sleeping bags increases the likelihood that they’ll call.
Thoughtful Design Pays Off
Online booking applications should work flawlessly. Poorly functioning site search or booking systems lead to web site abandonment. Photos should accurately portray the size of living space and what comes with it. In the case of a campground, that includes pull-through spots, fire pit and picnic table. Guests want to know what the camp store and swimming pool look like and whether or not they’re well maintained and staffed.
Many camp grounds are family run and privately owned. A budget for their web site may not exist. Some campground web sites are little more than print brochures adapted to the web with little understanding that a web site requires a new approach because it’s used differently. Try to invest in someone with experience in web design and travel oriented web sites.
The network of KOA (Kampgrounds of America) campgrounds use the same yellow and black color scheme and share resources such as maps, directories and booking applications. The similarity between KOA camping sites is helpful for KOA members who only book with these campgrounds because they get a discount.
Sadly, some of the worst web sites in the travel industry come from campgrounds. This includes state parks that have camping facilities. However, there are exceptions. Some campground businesses invest heavily in photos of their grounds and some offer videos of events they hold or on-site attractions.
Usability can’t be underestimated for campground web sites because their demographics are quite wide in scope. For example, there are retirees who travel from campground to campground. Some of them have cognitive (memory) issues with varying degrees of severity. Complicated navigation is aggravating when the navigation moves around from page to page or suddenly disappears altogether. Their hands may not be as steady, making some drop down navigation menus difficult for them to use. Eye sight problems for them include requiring reading glasses. If your web page font sizes can’t be increased in their browser, they will be frustrated. If they can increase the font size and your layout changes as a result, they may not be able to use the site.
Will these retired folks be using the Internet? You bet! Many of them stay in touch with their families and grand kids via email and cell phones and use the latest GPS gadgets, Google maps and the latest gizmos in their big rigs such as automatic levelers.
Families who book campgrounds will have interests that may surprise you. Their kids have iPods and video games. Some family members will want to bring their laptop. Most will have cell phones. If you’ve ever looked inside a family motor home of a tech bunch, it’s a mass of dangling cell phone chargers and cables. Campgrounds that offer wireless access, TV cable hookup and electric may want to promote this information on their homepage as a value proposition right away rather than tucking it inside an “Amenities” page.
Campgrounds that put their tent people away from noisier motor home guests may wish to note this on their web site.
To make your campground web site user friendly, try adding the following:
1. Make sure your site shows the area site map, with all the buildings, roads, camp sites, showers, etc. Offer a choice in how to access it online by letting visitors download it as a PDF or printing an image or sketch.
2. For campers who can not see, can’t download PDF’s or have images turned off because they’re on dialup, an audio description of the grounds would be helpful.
3. Be consistent with your colors, page layout and navigation.
4. Put your phone number at the top and bottom of every page and make it large enough to find quickly.
5. Watch your contrasts. Many camping sites have colored backgrounds with colored text, which make them hard to read. Text that’s all in boldface is difficult to read online.
6. Keep your copyright year up to date. Otherwise it may appear as though you’re no longer in business.
7. Communicate anything and everything that’s customer service oriented. Sometimes what you offer is the difference between someone booking your campground or the one nearby.
8. Make it easy for out of towners to make arrangements by posting links and/or phone numbers to car rental offices, vets, pet boarding facilities, beach tourist information such as beach passes, discount retail shops, camping supply stores, service stations that can handle RV’s (must have lifts for them), organic food and health centers.
9. Put testimonials on your camping site from previous guests.
10. Describe a typical day at your campground. This gives site visitors an idea of the environment, which helps them make educated choices.
11. Place all “call to action” prompts in highly visible spots like above the page fold and make them stand out. For example, a button for “Book Here” or “Reserve Now” and underlined embedded links within text that reads, “Stop by our calendar of events.” Avoid animation and blinking text.
12. Promote extra touches like your dog walk area, handicapped accessible camp store, locally made gifts, bait and tackle shop and dumping station on the premises.
13. Offer a way to stay in touch such as an email list or newsletter for regulars. Include coupons for return visitors to use, such as one free child admission or free pile of wood.
14. Place any sales or limited specials on the homepage. While your rates will likely not change much, there may be incentives to offer such as lower gas prices in the area, biodiesel, merchandise specials from the camp store, and fireworks for sale.
15. Display photos of staff and owners, a welcome message from the owners and office hours for reservations. Make sure emergency contact numbers are easy to find for guests who may run into trouble on their way there and need to alert you of any delays in their arrival time.
A user friendly, descriptive, customer experience oriented, persuasive web site will increase camping reservations. They’re a tool that many potential guests rely on, but they may not answer every possible question someone may have.
Once I booked a trip for my family looking for a peaceful weekend getaway and I chose a new campground based on their web site and its ease of use. However, we later learned that this particular campground has speakers set up all around the camping area and the owners made very loud announcements every few hours, starting at 8am in the morning. One day everyone in the campground was scolded for not putting their trash out properly.
There are some things even a web site can’t help us with.