Caleb Hartung, founder of Campspot and principal at Northgate Resorts, realized how inefficient the traditional reservation system was while performing due diligence for a proposed deal. Courtesy Campspot
Northgate Resorts in Grand Rapids launched Campspot in 2016 as a streamlined reservation software to optimize returns on campgrounds it owns, but the company has since offered the platform to other camping resorts around the country.
Caleb Hartung, founder of Campspot and principal at Northgate Resorts, said Northgate originally stepped into the software space after acquiring parks and noticing a need for a better booking system.
Early in 2012, Northgate was about to close on a campground in Pennsylvania. The group did do all the due diligence regarding the property but ended up passing it onto another partner.
During the due diligence phase, Hartung realized how outdated and inefficient the camp’s analog reservation system was.
“We’re brand new to this industry. We’re used to modern technology, booking hotels online and everything like that, but when we got to do our due diligence for this campground, they weren’t taking any reservations online,” Hartung said.
Instead, the resort staff had boxes full of paper reservations, making it very difficult for Hartung to analyze how successful the campground was.
Northgate started buying campgrounds around the end of 2012 and had acquired four campgrounds in the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park resort family within the first few months of 2013.
In the latest round of acquisitions, Northgate found some resorts had an e-log of reservations; however, none of them were online. The camps would take phone reservations and then immediately put campers in the system, but there was no way to book reservations online.
Hartung and Northgate asked the campgrounds why they don’t take direct bookings online. Among the list of reasons was campgrounds were very heterogeneous in terms of the amenities each lot offers, compared to hotel rooms, which are more standardized.
The campground administration also needs to know what type of equipment, tents, trailers, RVs, etc. the guest has.
“When someone is booking an RV site, they have to say, ‘I’ve got a travel trailer, or a fifth wheel or a toy hauler,’ whatever category of RV they have, they need to tell (the campground) … how much space is it going to take,” Hartung said.
In order for campers to book online, the web platform has to allow users to list all the specific parameters they’re looking for, allow them to pick a specific site from a map and do so in a user-friendly format.
Hartung added some campers have an emotional connection to a specific spot. Perhaps they’ve been camping in that spot for years or some life-changing event like a family reunion or wedding proposal took place on the site.
On the campground owner’s end, once the campground’s lots are open for the people to book online, it can expose inefficiencies in the booking grid, like one- or two-night gaps in the system, which cause the campground to lose revenue on those spots.
Particularly with cabins, which could go for $300 per night, campgrounds are missing out on several thousands of dollars in yearly revenue if they can’t fill those gaps. Most campers aren’t going to pay to stay just one night at a high-quality resort, Hartung said. Phone bookings don’t have this problem because usually camp workers are instructed to avoid booking conflicts by simply denying spots that would result in a gap.
“When you got 200 sites on your campground and thousands of reservations, imagine trying to find a spot for one guy,” Hartung said. “They (campgrounds) were training their staff to say, ‘When (a customer) calls in, show him this site instead. Don’t even tell him about Site 1,’ so you don’t even create that problem.”
To avoid this issue, Campspot is programmed with automatic grid optimization. If someone were to do a search for a specific site, the software would instantly reconfigure reservation slots to avoid reservation gaps that could cause the park to lose revenue.
Grid optimization only moves reservations that are not locked down. The platform also gives customers the option to guarantee a specific site. Customers can pay a small additional fee to lock down a reservation for a specific site. Although it could be $20 or more on the customer’s end, the campground could pull in $80,000 to $100,000 per year, just on the site lock feature, Hartung said.
“There’s probably a chance somewhere in there that if everyone locked, you wouldn’t be able to optimize, but we encourage our customers to keep that lock rate at a point where about 50% of their people are locking and 50% aren’t,” Hartung said.
Campspot currently is in use by hundreds of campgrounds nationwide, not only those in the Northgate portfolio. Yogi Bear’s Jellystone, Adventure Bound Camping and Sun RV resorts use the platform, as well.
“There wasn’t a platform out there that could accommodate a park owner’s needs,” said Casey Cochran, director of business development for Campspot. “(Northgate) built a platform that could support their needs and quickly realized it was a better software than anything that was out there and then decided, ‘We can allow other parks to use it as well as opposed to keeping it to ourselves.’”
Through all its revenue-enhancing features, Campspot includes a guarantee for park owners. If they don’t more than make up for the cost of using the platform, Campspot will pay it forward with forgiven fees in the future, which Cochran said is unheard of in a reservation software platform.
Since it’s founding in 2016, Campspot has expanded to open offices in Denver and Chicago.