At Campspot, we firmly believe in the power of connecting with our peers and partners to help the entire campground industry grow and succeed. Luckily, many of the campground owners we work with are also passionate about sharing their perspective and learning from other business owners. We recently sat down with Dustin Trotter, owner of Campspot-Award-Winning Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins and Campground, to learn more about what led him to the success his campground has experienced over the last year.
On Getting Started in the Campground Industry and Choosing Campspot
Trotter: I purchased my first campground on June 1, 2022 in southeast Georgia, Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins and Campground. I choose Campspot from day one after researching several reservation softwares. In a short 9 and a half months we have expanded, improved, and grown the campground to its current operations. We are currently doing four times the revenue monthly that the previous ownership was doing. We also won a Campspot Award in 2023 for Best Campground in America Category; ninth place. I strongly believe there are several factors to our success in our first year but Campspot has been an undeniable part of that success. We are looking to expand to more locations in future and will only exclusively be using Campspot for all our ventures.
As far as switching from the software the previous ownership was using, it was just a gut feeling I had. It wasn’t anything that drove me to scrap the other one because I didn’t know any different with being new to the industry other than looking at Campspot’s features and getting recommendations. I initially got turned on to Campspot through a friend of mine. She also owns a campground and that’s what they use. Knowing that from day one we needed to make changes and not necessarily just roll with what the previous ownership was doing, we made that decision to switch.
When I was looking for online software, it was important to me that it was working 24 hours a day. When we’re sleeping—we’re getting reservations. It becomes a huge extension of our bookings and reservations and it’s not cumbersome on our staff.
On Shaking Things Up From the Get-Go
Trotter: We have a five year plan—we have a vision for what we’re doing and for us to implement those things, I needed to make changes from day one.
It all has to do with our financials. It has to do with how are we going to reach our goals and do what we want to achieve. For this campground, part of that five year plan is expansion. For each of the five years, we have an expansion plan that is predicated on revenue and growth.
In the first year, we focused on the branding, the marketing, the amenities, and additional revenue streams. We expanded the camp store immediately. Firewood today is still our largest individual seller. Like a lot of campgrounds, we sell a lot of ice, a lot of drinks. We added beer and wine sales to our campground, we added a propane tank and filling station.
We did all of these things for two reasons—one for our campground, but also for the larger community. We’re seven miles out of town and there’s a lot of people that live in the area that we capture some of the local convenience store type of revenue from. We also added a food service seven days of the week. We do a lunch service for the locals. We’re selling more beer there than all the other restaurants in the city. Obviously it’s there for the campers first and foremost, but in the evening our lounge is very vibrant and active and I wanted to create an active environment because the previous ownership had more of the opposite philosophy.
We also added additional campsites and we brought in rental trailers and in-park RV trailers for additional accommodations. We’re adding 14 more RV sites right now, which is the second state of the expansion that’s going on.
On Looking Beyond the Initial Growth Phases
Trotter: Part of our continued business model is looking at additional locations and trying to expand from there. It’s all opportunities, some driven by our efforts and some driven by what’s available. The last couple years it has been getting more competitive in this niche and at the end of the day it’s driven by finances and what makes sense. But we need to get our systems and procedures in place first so that we can grow within our means.
We have three more expansion plans to go—including more RV sites, glamping accommodations, and cabins. We’re 12.5 acres of facilities. We’re just under 50 sites now and we hope to get up to 100 overall. Our focus right now is to get those sites added and also continue adding more amenities.
On Attracting Campers to Okefenokee
Trotter: When I was searching for a campground to invest in I had a 10-point list of criteria I was looking for. One of the things that is very unique for our destination is what’s across the street from us. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is 440,000 acres. It’s the largest Blackwater swamp in the United States. It’s the largest national wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River. I can go on and on about some of the features and in that, you know why people go there. It brings roughly about 600,000 visitors there every single year. And that’s from all over the world—from over 46 different countries.
It’s a great place to come to visit. And that’s a lot of the philosophy that I instill into what we do and to my employees—we get one chance to make a first impression. All my employees know that there are two main things that we cannot compromise ever. Number one—our guest services and number two—our cleanliness. We are going to give the best guest experience we can and have the cleanest facility. Everything else, I can deal with.
I think some of that is why we’ve grown so fast is our reviews, our feedback is through the roof.
Word of mouth is still the number one thing. If you can get a recommendation from a friend, a family member about an experience. I tell my staff—it’s similar to if we were located near a national park. Most people are only going to travel to that place one time in their life. It’s a vacation, it’s a bucket list item. We have one shot to make that first impression. That’s it. If we’re lucky, they’ll come back another time in two years, three years, four years. Maybe they’ll come and bring their kids back from a different generation.
On Maximizing Revenue and the Guest Experience
Trotter: The refuge is why people will come here, but ultimately, when they come to stay with us we’re capturing revenue from them wanting to stay near the refuge. But on the business side, I worked to identify our opportunities, like why people weren’t staying longer. How do we get guests to stay for more than one night? To be able to do that, you have to have amenities on property, kind of like a resort. Think about a hotel resort and the hospitality industry. If you don’t have things for, not only adults to do, but for kids to do—there’s no reason for the parents to keep them there to keep them entertained.
The previous owners didn’t have a lounge with beer or wine and cocktail sales. We have football games on the weekends and a screened patio that has games and dartboards and shuffleboard. We have a pond with catch and release fishing, fish feeders, a playground, and a horseshoe pit. We’re working on adding a large gazebo for planned activities. We’re adding a sports court with pickleball and basketball. We have a dog park and laundry room. I have a call today with a company that has an outside dog washing station. It’s another feature that we can add to our campground. We’re continually trying to be innovative and add unique features.
As long as you have amenities, people are willing to spend their hard earned money with you. And again, if it’s good and if it’s good service. We’re continually trying to focus on not only the amenities but also the activity-based things to allow people to recreate. We actually just bought electric bikes. So now we have hammocks and electric bikes in our rental fleet. Someone can take a bike from us now and ride across the street in the refuge.
It’s just another thing we’re offering now to allow people to stay longer. Our average stay now is four days. That’s across all of our sites. Most people when they’re making a short-term trip it’s a weekend, a 2 to 3 day trip. But if we’re averaging four days—and I pulled these out of Campspot Analytics. We’re averaging a four-day length of stay now which I’m extremely happy about. People are staying longer, and spending more money in our store and with our other features.
On Winning a Campspot Award
Trotter: I told my wife, I said—if we get top 10 I would be over the moon. The nomination was a complete surprise. I was actually out there at the campground when I received the email announcement. And I called the staff and the work campers that we have working there into the lounge that day. I handed my manager my phone, and said, read this to everybody. She didn’t even know at that time, I kept it all secret until we told them all at the same time. We all celebrated together because it’s a team win. It was rewarding, and I was over the moon, I never expected we would be in the top ten.
On Okefenokee Pastime’s Recipe for Success
Trotter: It’s a combination of a lot of the things I’ve mentioned. It’s the marketing, it’s the way we’re going about trying to drive higher occupancy. We did change the rates, also, from what they were originally. We wanted to consider market rates. We’ve added different revenue streams. Just the store alone, which encompasses the lounge and food services—we’re doing the same amount of revenue out of that store in a month than the previous ownership was doing for an entire month of reservations. Our occupancy is over 80% which is more than double what they were averaging.
On Leveraging Campspot to Drive Revenue
With respect to Campspot—a couple of things that I like about it are its unique features like dynamic pricing and add-ons which are helping us drive additional revenue.
With dynamic pricing, we’re averaging just over $17.00 per reservation for additional revenue because of our occupancy. We also leverage lock sites and some of the other fee structures. We have a pet fee. All of these things hit the bottom line ultimately. We also have the reservation fee which offsets the Campspot fee to us. That’s the only one we add on, everything else is the choice of the guest.
On Connecting With Campgrounds and Local Organizations
Trotter: I enjoy helping other business owners and talking to others—I think there’s so much more that we can do as a team in the market that we’re in. There’s an economic benefit to the region and to tourism from helping each other locally. If we can get more people to the area, it’s only going to help everyone. We partnered with the chamber of commerce from day one. We identified partners in the area that we wanted to work with because if we can get more people to the area, it’s going to benefit everyone, really.
Thanks to Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins and Campground
We’d like to thank Dustin for sharing his time and experience. We greatly admire his forward-thinking approach and the vision he’s crafted for Okefenokee Pastimes Cabins and Campground. For Okefenokee, success goes beyond the campground’s business goals and extends to the local community—a testament to what campgrounds can signify for not only the guests who visit, but the local people and businesses in the surrounding area as well.
Do you have a story you’d like to share with other campground owners? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.