We all know that since the pandemic struck things have been tough for holiday and touring parks. Both have seen a change in demographic of their customers as well as their behaviours.

What might have worked for park operators in pre-COVID days perhaps now needs a little rethink.

Technology advancements are impacting on the guest journey. A shift in marketing strategy is likely to be essential in order to focus on the channels that deliver true connections with guests and owners.

Your guests are evolving… are you?

Since the start of the first lockdown we have seen the digital landscape change in so many ways. Although it may not seem so apparent – over the last 12 months your guests have evolved. Lockdown restrictions have meant more people are working from home and home schooling. Your customers have spent more time online than at other times in their lives.

They have surfed more web pages, booked more online shopping slots, downloaded more apps than ever before – Facetime, Zoom and Teams has become the new meeting norm and last season we all got used to using those funny QR codes.

That has meant people have grown more accustomed to things happening much faster online than ever before – they expect responses quickly, which means park owners will need to keep a finger on the pulse to deliver at the pace customers now expect.

Beautiful young mother with kids making a distant call on internet.

Key Challenges for Parks

The latest 2021 RMS Cloud Report provides a useful set of insights into the challenges other park owners around the world think they will be focusing on this year. Not surprisingly guest safety is highest on the agenda – but boosting revenue, reducing operational costs and focusing on guest loyalty are all key areas of concern. One in three parks that RMS surveyed also said that they would be improving the contactless guest experience.

RMS Cloud – Trends & Challenges for Holiday Park Operators – January 2021

How do you own the guest experience?

A signpost on the Jurassic Coast, Dorset, UK. Golden cap in the background.

So, with all of those challenges in mind – how do park owners ensure they are front and centre when it comes to the guest online experience?

Depending on how the lockdown does get lifted, parks could still be operating at lower than full capacity – and that means that every single booking has to count!

How do you make sure you secure that initial booking? How do you provide a safe holiday for your guest and staff?

You have paid a lot to acquire that initial booking – how do you ensure that you improve guest loyalty and maximise spend from each one of them.

Every one of those bookings is critical right now – which has meant that more businesses are exploring smarter ways to market themselves and using technology to make their parks stand out!

Connection & Communication Counts

Connecting and communicating with your customers are two of the fundamentals of a good marketing strategy.

It is no surprise that during lockdown people have been hankering for more connection. And this is why the connection you have with your guests and the way that you communicate with them is so important.

Some guests might be desensitised to more generic promotions so here is your opportunity to try new ways of connecting with your guests – and also across different channels.

Your guests are seeking transparency and confidence from you. So, create highly visible content that responds to the latest developments in your region or on your park to show how you are prioritising the safety and cleanliness of your park.

Your Park Management System (PMS), CRM and social media are crucial tools for connecting and communicating.

Social Media for Holiday Parks

Social Media

Over lockdown consumers have increasingly turned to social media as an outlet to escape, explore and dream. Social media channels are more significant than ever and are therefore a key place to build relationships.

But your content has to stand out. A typical social media user scrolls the equivalent of 300 feet per day with the average attention span lasting only eight seconds.

So it is worth experimenting with new types of posts – The fastest and most engaging way to do that is through short videos to satisfy people’s short attention spans. It makes sense to run some paid advertising alongside your organic social to increase visibility and engagement.

You can nurture those relationships on social media by engaging with guests and showcasing the faces behind your park.

Skelwith Fold – Today with Ray

Here’s some examples of parks that are using different social media approaches –

They are great at this point in time to keep guests and owners in touch and showcases the faces behind your park.

Today with Ray – is a regular video that takes guests behind the scenes at Skelwith Fold Caravan Park in the Lake District – usually a couple of minutes long, these weekly videos keep the holiday home owners up to speed with what is going on and shows all the work and investment that is going on at the park

This is ideal for this point in time where guest and home owners are frustrated and just wanting to get back on your parks.

Ladram Bay – Instagram & Facebook Stories

If you don’t have the full-on skills or resources to create those videos like Skelwith then Instagram and Facebook Stories are perfect for showing what is going on behind the scenes.

Here a few stories from Ladram Bay that just gives their guest a little light relief but also confidence that actually there is light at the end of the tunnel – and the park is going to be ready for them when they are allowed to return.

Social trends & memes

It is also good to keep an eye on the latest social trends and things like memes that suddenly pop up and become topical. Berne Sanders sat in a folding chair at the Joe Biden Presidential inauguration, IKEA took this and ran with it – suggesting you could buy one of their folding chairs and an add oven glove to complete the look.

Weetabix and Heinz Beans

A tweet from Weetabix went viral recently after they suggested their cereal could be served with baked beans.

This fun Twitter episode ran for a good 48 hours with big brands, and even the NHS getting involved and showing their distaste.  I saw one holiday park get in on the act – so hat’s off to Away Resorts for being on the ball and joining in!

How technology advancements are impacting on the holiday park guest journey

We have seen a massive acceleration in the use of technology during lockdown which means we have all been exposed to new types of technology and online experiences. As a result, technology advancements are impacting on the holiday park guest journey.

Rethinking the customer journey

Put yourself in to the shoes of your guests and think about the typical journey your customers go through – right from the start of deciding to go on holiday and that research phase – all the way through to arriving back at home after having a lovely holiday with you.

The journey can be spilt into five key stages …

Search

The experience a guest has with your parks begins way before check-in – it starts the moment they find any reference to your park in a Google result –

It might be a paid advert, it might be your website in the search results, Google My Business, a TripAdvisor review listing or on an OTA. It might be an image, a video clip or even a social media post. And that is why it’s vital that you consider what impressions you will be making on your guest during this research phase – you need to win them over here.

Your investment in SEO, the imagery and videos that you use of your park, your GMB listing and reviews are all things that will help a potential guest create that first impression. So check your listings in Google on a regular basis to see what come up and how you can improve them.

Key technologies:

  • Search results – SEO
  • Paid advertising
  • Google My Business
  • Images, Videos
  • Reviews
  • Social Media – paid social

Booking

Although OTAs have been dominant in the parks market in the past – we have noticed a significant drop in OTA advertising spend and therefore visibility over the last 12 months.

Both Booking.com and Expedia stopped a large proportion of their digital advertising spend and Airbnb have also been pretty quiet over the last six months as they have fallen in line with travel restrictions – but it will be interesting what they do now following the announcement last Monday.

Parks that have their own online booking presence have clearly taken advantage and claimed some of this market share back. And given that apprehensive guests are also likely to prefer booking directly with an accommodation provider during times of unpredictability – direct booking are set to rise even further this year.

So with direct bookings on the rise, it is increasingly important for consumers to easily find the information that matters to them and have a seamless booking experience. The process needs to be fast and simple with payment systems that are accessible via a smartphone.

Key technologies:

  • Making sure that your website and booking engine is up to date to make the most of those potential bookings.
  • If your bookings have dropped or you think there might be improvements to be had – then maybe consider running a Conversion Rate Optimisation exercise where you dissect the booking journey and tweak it to make improvements – or consider trying dynamic pricing to react to changes in demand.
  • Your park booking system and the online booking process are absolute crucial here – so my key message is how can leverage the power of your PMS and the data that you already hold on your previous guests.
  • There are some very clever booking systems out there now – and If you are not up to speed with all of the functions available of yours – then now is the time.
  • Challenge your booking system providers – for instance what are they able to offer when it comes to contact less check-ins?
  • Your PMS should be at the heart of your guest communication once that booking is made – and that is also why that initial email that confirms a booking is so important!

Pre Stay

The pre-stay phase of the guest journey is the perfect time to continue building a relationship with your customers. Your confirmed guests are going to be wanting information from you that makes them feel confident about their next holiday and the safety measures you have in place.

You can use the pre-stay stage to give your guests useful information like welcome packs and safety updates as well as help them build their own local itineraries. A reminder to download your park app – and pre-book activities.

Your PMS or CRM are again key technologies in this part of the process – and if you are not able to send out an automated series of pre-stay emails then you’re missing a huge opportunity to build their trust, set the tone for a memorable stay and create upsell opportunities.

Pre-stay emails have been standard practice for airlines – for many years. They use them to reach out regularly to travellers after the booking is made and, in the weeks, and days leading up to a flight. You get the up-sell for airport parking and travel insurance or upgrade your seat – people are used to receiving these.

It is worth spending time and effort in getting these right.

Key technologies:

  • Park booking systems
  • CRM
  • Email marketing
  • SMS
  • Park app – invite pre-stay downloads
  • Social media – instagram stories

In Stay

We know that this year there will be a keener focus on guest safety – and fundamentally providing a touch-free holiday as much as possible.

Things like contact-less check-ins and more self-service by guests whilst they are on your park are going to be widely adopted because of the pandemic.

And these two challenges are ideally addressed with technology solutions:-

SMART devices and the Internet of Things are creeping into our daily lives more and more and there are increased opportunities for using them on parks.

Some parks are already using number plate recognition with their entrance barriers – and these are integrated with their park management systems.

Key technologies:

  • NPR barriers
  • Booking system
  • Park apps
  • SMART devices
  • Internet of Things
  • Voice & Digital assistants
  • Key-less door entry
  • QR Codes

A contact-less strategy is going to be highly desirable by your guests this year and on into the future – so now is the time to think how you could introduce some of those things.

QR Codes

A shout out for the QR code…

Last year we saw a number of businesses using this technology – restaurants using them for customers to view menus a menu, order and pay just by pointing their smartphone at a QR code.

And then we saw certain sectors (including parks) having a legal requirement to display NHS QR code posters so that customers with the NHS Covid-19 app can “check in” and provide their contact details to the venue.

The QR technology is well proven and is now also widely adopted by the general public – so I think there are going to be lots of opportunities to use them even more this year on your parks.

  • Test and trace could be one of the key drivers again this year.
  • You can even use QR codes as part of a key-less door entry system.
  • Welcome packs and key park information are some of the obvious resources to link to – but why not show prominent QR codes in your reception to direct your guests to your FAQ section of your website or download your park app.
  • If you have caravans or holiday homes for sale – why not display individual QR codes on a caravan that take you off to your caravan sales pages for more information or show them an online virtual tour.

I think there are going to be many more uses for QR codes this year – so coming up with useful and creative content to direct your customers to them using a QR code is going to be the most difficult.

Park App

Here’s a real opportunity to take advantage of the tech that the customer has in their hand and make their stay even better!

A growing number of parks are now are opting for app-based technology, which guests can easily download to their mobile phone – and is becoming a key customer engagement tool whilst guests are on the park.

A good app at the very least will provide key park information, a park map and details of local things to do.

But some apps are taking the guest offering to the next level and providing new ways for park owners to connect.

By integrating your booking system with your holiday park app, you can now personalise the app experience. You know when they are on the park and what accommodation they are in – so you can show them their pitch, push personalised offerings to them and offer appropriate extras.

You can give guests access to timely information to on-park events as well as local tourist information and major attractions.

Push notifications offer one of the biggest opportunities – and are a powerful way to get your guest’s attention – they enable you to send messages directly to an app user’s phone – in a similar way to sending a text message

Don’t just think of an app as a tool for holiday parks with hire fleet – there is a clear opportunity for holiday parks with homeowners – think of the app as a loyalty / VIP tool that hosts exclusive owner’s benefits and offers and you have something truly convenient that they want to be a part of.

Beverley Holidays app

Food & Beverage / Activities

I have spoken to several parks over the last few months about implementing a food & beverage app or online activities – so it would have been wrong not to include this slide.

There are a number of these solutions out there now – and here are just a few that we have seen implemented across the park sector.

Your park guests are used to using Deliveroo and Just Eat so whatever you decide to go with they need to be simple and easy to use.

All of them have slightly different offerings and price points – but I think one of the key questions to ask is whether it integrates with your own EPOS or kitchen system or activities link with your PMS.

Post Stay

Post-stay is the part of the Guest Journey where your guests have checked out and returned home. The engagement with your park really doesn’t have to stop here…

It is fairly standard for parks to collect feedback and reviews and also react to any guest satisfaction issues. But there are also many ways to continue engaging with past guests to drive loyalty and ensure your park is top of mind when they’re planning the next trip.

How to turn them in to a Next Stay? – and more importantly how do you ensure they make a direct booking.

Most park booking systems offer the functionality of the “Post-Stay” email. This is the email that goes out to the guest after they have checked out thanking them for their business.

I think the power of this email is underestimated. It can be a powerful tool in so many ways. And the best part is that it takes very little effort to harness its benefits.

Again ,your PMS and CRM are key tools in how you communicate with your guests –

If your guests have had a positive experience, they are likely to book with you again. A promotional code may be all the enticement that they need to choose a weekend in the future for their next stay.

The relationship with the guest does not end when the customer leaves your park. Here’s your opportunity to extend that relationship and develop a loyal customer and advocate for the future.

Key technologies:

  • Booking system
  • Reviews
  • CRM
  • Email marketing
  • Loyalty scheme
  • Social media

Adorable little kid boy sitting in car trunk just before leaving for summer vacation with his parents. Happy child with suitcases and toys going on journey. happy family traveling. Summer travel.

Park Sales

Buying a holiday home or a residential park home is a big decision – so here’s your opportunity to share testimonials, local information and educate your buyers and help them make their own decisions.

There are lots of amazing technologies that parks can use these days.

Key technologies:

  • CGI mock-ups of parks that are being built – so people can visualise and buy off plan.
  • Virtual tours – either live with a salesperson or recorded.
  • A good CRM to manage communication through the sales funnel is imperative here
  • Home owner portals
  • Email marketing
  • Social media

There are lots of different ways technology can be used – It is about showing potential owners that this really is a “happy place” they can invest and be a part of.

Summary

Digital adoption will continue to accelerate and could be a key differentiator for parks that invest in it now. And in particular this is about leveraging the power and capabilities of the smartphone that most people have in their pockets

Self-service and e-commerce (which have seen years of progress in a matter of months) will also be core to park businesses of the future.  Consumers will prefer touchless check-in / check-out as well as digital support through the device of their choice.

Focus on those channels that deliver true connections with your guests and owners.