Sunday, June 17, 2007

KOA takes camping to a new level

Kampgrounds of America has come a long way since its first campground opened in Billings 45 years ago. The company that started here remains here. And today, it's enjoying a surge of KOA yellow.

It used to be, campers made a beeline to KOA campgrounds for safety, security and convenience, said Shane Ott, president and chief operating officer. Without dropping the tried and true, the system of 450 campgrounds has recently pushed camping to a new level.

"While our bread and butter is camping, we're in the hospitality business, and there are other opportunities out there," Ott said. "It's what convinces campers to say, 'Let's stay one night more."

If campers are starved for interaction, KOA gives them plenty of remedies. With on-site ice cream socials, pancake breakfasts and organized craft activities, KOA has created a sense of community reminiscent of a small-town feel.

Last year the company surveyed thousands of campers to hear what they had to say. The results and their suggestions were taken to heart at corporate headquarters.

Since responses showed 54 percent of KOA campers travel with pets, KOA launched the concept for Kamp K9, dog activity and agility parks found at selected campgrounds. With trends indicating that campers are staying closer to home but staying more nights, KOA introduced activities like outdoor movie nights, spray parks, splash pads and giant jumping pillows. The list goes on, including Kampertainment, an online service that links camper entertainers with campgrounds eager to host them. In trade for accommodations, the talented campers provide free entertainment for fellow guests.

"Campers are just not here to sit anymore," Gast said. "Now people are traveling based on what amenities are offered. Not only their wants but their must-haves are different than they used to be."
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