How Choosing the Right Online Reservations System Can Impact Your Operations and Revenue
When Leo Skrbec retired after spending 40 years in the taconite mining industry, he decided he was ready to launch his second career. So in 2004, he and his wife Yvonne opened ARVC member-park West Forty RV Park in Gilbert, Minn.
At the time, they handled all reservations by using pen and paper, a simple system that worked well for them. But then fast forward to 2020 when their youngest son, Paul Skrbec, took over as managing owner of the campground. Paul brought with him more than 20 years of travel industry experience to guide him in making improvements that would help them drive growth, including finding an online reservations system as their generational transition began.
“One of the first things I knew was that I could not manage a campground with pen and paper. It was very chaotic,” he says. “So our primary reason for going to an online system was the operational planning it afforded us.”
ARVC member-park West Forty RV Park currently has 49 sites and plans are underway to add an additional 11 sites. Skrbec says the size of the campground was a factor in his decision to choose Astra Campground Manager as his reservations system software.
“I think we looked at five or six different platforms,” he says, “and the functionality was relatively similar across them. But the thing that was particularly appealing to us as a small campground was that Astra Campground Manager had a pay-as-you-go type of model. We weren’t interested in any of the systems that required a monthly or annual fee, because we didn't really know what that would mean to us financially.
“The way it works is our customers pay a $3.50 fee when they make their reservation. We also chose to use Astra’s in-house credit card processing and we pay a fee per transaction for that service. That’s really attractive for us because we know that we’re only paying for what we’re using. It helped us plan for what the costs would be.”
Another reason the pay-as-you-go option appealed to Skrbec is that his park is seasonal and is open only six months of the year. He didn’t want to pay an annual fee for a system he would only be using half of the time.
Having the ability to manage reservations remotely was another important factor in Skrbec’s decision to implement an online reservations system since he lives three hours from the campground.
“We obviously needed be able to manage the operation while we're physically at the campground, but also we needed a solution that would allow us to do it remotely as well,” he says.
Skrbec also stated he received the support he needed as he made the transition from a pen-and-paper-based system to one that’s completely online.
“The implementation team at Astra was wonderful to work with,” he says. “They had a lot of good advice and easy-to-follow forms that helped me organize the information from our campground so they could build the things we needed for our park. Our implementation only took three to four weeks and the training for the system was extremely helpful. The best part is that the training didn't stop when we went live. They're set up so that if you need more information about new topics, we have a comprehensive manual to refer to as well as several online training resources to answer questions along the way.
“We've only had a few times we have needed to work with customer support, which is a testament to how well the system is set up, but when we needed them, they were there quickly to resolve our issues. Their team is always eager to help and extremely professional to work with regardless of the situation.”
Now that he’s been using the Astra Campground Manager system for a full year, he noted a few more ways it has benefited his operations.
“One of them is a very simple feature that is a life-saver. It’s the ability for us to very quickly and very easily close a site for maintenance or repairs. That’s been a huge operational help for us. The way that we were managing it before, it was hard to do any pre-planned maintenance, and as we're going into a pretty major construction project right now, being able to close off different sites for construction purposes is extremely helpful.”
Skrbec says Astra Campground Manager also makes it much easier for him to serve the needs of his park’s seasonal campers.
“We get a significant amount of our revenue from our seasonal customers, and we're able to block out certain sites for them very easily,” he says. “We use the recurring charge feature to help us manage collecting rent. We have some customers that choose to pay on a monthly basis and we have other customers that prefer to pay on a weekly basis. That the system automates that process is pretty helpful for us.”
Skrbec says his seasonal guests have had a very positive reaction to the new online system.
“The response has been great, because one of the things we weren’t able to do previously is accept credit cards. We were a cash-only campground. So giving all of our customers the option to pay with credit card was a huge, huge bonus. Now, all of our customers have a credit card on file. It's one of the things we needed as an operational requirement. Our seasonal folks particularly like it because we don't have to go around and knock on their door and ask for rent and they don't have to write a check. It has just been a lot easier for them.”
“More than two-thirds of our daily and weekend customers welcomed an online reservation platform. It made their life easy to go in and book the site that they wanted, when they wanted, because they know which areas their groups like.
“We also use the utility metering function in the system, as well,” Skrbec says. “After we read our meters, we can process the charges automatically and not have to chase people around and worry about connecting with them for payments. They know they’re going to get an email receipt, so it’s very helpful for everyone.”
Even though the reservation system at West Forty RV Park is now fully operational online, Skrbec is still easily able to accommodate his older generation of customers who prefer to make their reservations the way they’ve always made them in the past.
“We’re a campground with a 17-year history of having customers call for a reservation and that was the only way you could reserve. So some of our most loyal customers that come back year after year have been used to just picking up the phone and making a reservation. We still have some people who don't use the internet and don't necessarily do a lot of technical types of things like make online reservations. We accommodate them through our main phone number. I usually get back to them relatively quickly and enter their reservation right into the system. It's good because we have both options. But by and large, I would say most of our customers very much prefer to do their reservations themselves online.”
Skrbec described another significant way his online reservations system has positively impacted his park.
“Our year-over-year growth has been tremendous. From September 2020 to September 2021, our revenue has increased by 40 percent, an amazing growth,” he says. “I attribute that largely to being available when people want to make their reservation. This year, we've had far more people coming to stay with us midweek than we've ever had before. Previously, we were a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday type of operation, so everything was set up around that. Our schedules were set around that. Our staffing was scheduled around that. But this year, we were available to take people’s requests and we had people stay with us midweek. The increase in volume of customers that we've seen this year has been huge. Online reservations really helped us eliminate our midweek slow periods.”
That increase in bookings led Skrbec to have to make another important decision.
“We've turned down so much business that we've had to cut back on some of our advertising,” he says.
To learn more about Astra Campground Manager, visit Astra.campgroundmanager.com or call 1-800-547-9147.