The 2021 TACO Show TACO’s Annual Meeting & Trade Show Lar
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TACO Show Gives Owners Chance to Learn, Connect
A record number of attendees turned out for TACO’s conference in early September.
First impressions are important. So why do so many campgrounds staff their front desks with inexperienced people who lack critical telephone and communication skills? “Often, we find owners put the lowest-paid employee at the front desk. Why are we doing that?” asked Nichole Poisson, franchise development manager for Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA). It’s a good question and one that a growing number of private park operators are trying to address. But this was just one of many questions raised during the seminar portions of the annual Meeting and Tradeshow of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO) last month. The Sept. 14-15 meeting, the first of the pandemic, drew an all-time record crowd of more than 300 attendees, including 192 park operators and 115 vendors who gathered at the Lone Star Convention & Expo Center in Conroe. They came despite Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall on the Matagorda Peninsula, about 140 miles southwest of Houston, just hours before the TACO meeting was set to commence. “This was our biggest show ever in the 49-year history of our association,” said Brian Schaeffer, executive vice president and CEO of TACO. “Only a handful of people couldn’t make it because of flight cancellations related to the storm.” He said the high attendance figures reflect “an incredible amount of pent-up energy that really mirrors what’s been happening in our industry overall during the pandemic.” Park operators didn’t want to miss an opportunity to meet with industry friends, attend the tradeshow and hear roundtable discussions and educational presentations, like the one Poisson put together, which focused primarily on the importance of first impressions and visual imagery in campgrounds. While Poisson highlighted the need for park operators to ensure that they staff their front desk with experienced people who can represent their park well, she also noted the equally critical need to pay attention to the visual aspects of the front desk. “Your front desk should be clean, organized and free of clutter because that’s the first impression you want to make,” she said. Poisson also encouraged park operators to pay attention to every aspect of their park because guests can take pictures of anything they see and share it on social media. “Good or bad, people are going to take pictures at your park and they’re going to be shared,” she said. “You can’t control everything, but you can control the bathroom they take a picture of. You can control the roads that are crumbling and need repair.” Poisson added that campgrounds that are well maintained create a positive impression in guests’ minds. “Ninety percent of what we process is visual,” she said.
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TACO Officers & Directors
TACO Show Gives Owners Chance to Learn, Connect
Regional Directors REGION 1 OPEN
Ken Hinz Traders Village Grand Prairie, TX
REGION 3, PRESIDENT Randall Dally Rayburn RV Hideout Brookeland, TX
Charlie Bates Parkview Riverside RV Park Rio Frio, TX
REGION 5, TREASURER Gwen Craig Timber Ridge RV Village Magnolia, TX
REGION 6, PAST PRESIDENT Cheryl McLaughlin Hatch RV Park Corpus Christi, TX
Directors At Large DIRECTOR AT LARGE & SECRETARY Susie Prater Forest Retreat New Caney, TX
DIRECTOR AT LARGE OPEN
DIRECTOR AT LARGE
Austin Faught Bolivar Peninsula RV Park Crystal Beach, TX
TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Diana LeBlanc-Link PPL Houston, TX
LEGISLATIVE CONSULTANT Ron Hinkle Austin, TX
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR/CEO Brian & Debra Schaeffer TACO Office Crowley, TX
TACO Members, TACO Trade Members, TACO Prospective Members, Exhibitors
910 S. Crowley Rd, Ste. 9-504 Crowley, TX 76036 877-518-1989 tacomembers.com
An auction helped raise money for TACO’s legislative affairs efforts.
The same holds true for the photos campgrounds use to promote themselves, Poisson said, as she showed park operators the difference between a photo of a mostly empty campground with leafless trees with a photo of a big family enjoying their camping experience in a beautiful setting with tidy campsites. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” she said, referencing the cliche. “It’s actually worth a thousand nights for campgrounds.” Poisson’s messages were loud and clear. So, too, were the warnings of Kelly Jones, vice president of operations for The Jenkins Group, the Houston-based company that markets parks using the Great Escapes brand name. Jones told park operators they need to pay attention to the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). “You do have an obligation to make (your park and its amenities) accessible,” she said. “Nothing is grandfathered in.” Jones suggested park operators walk through their park, starting in their parking lot, and pay attention to the extent to which the park and its amenities are accessible to people with physical or other types of impairments. “The place you start is the parking lot,” she said. “If the parking lot is not accessible, they can’t get in. The next thing is the place you provide services: the store, the front desk. Next, are the restrooms. Jones also noted that parks and their amenities and rental accommodations need to be physically accessible to everyone. “If you only have one rental unit, it must be accessible,” she said, adding that parks are required to provide a percentage of rental accommodations that are not only physically accessible to anyone but communication accessible as well, just like park websites. Some park operators questioned Kelly about the challenges inherent in making covered wagons wheelchair accessible since modifying them sufficiently to provide wheelchair access would alter the covered wagon camping experience to the point where the “fundamental experience” was lost. In this case, she said, park operators should ensure they offer plenty of other ADA-compliant units at their campground. Another topic of particular interest to park operators involved distinctions between “service animals,” which are recognized as such by the ADA, and “emotional support” animals, which do not qualify as service animals under the ADA because they have not been trained to perform a specific job or task.
The distinction, Jones said, has to do with the animal’s training and performance of a function. The ADA does make a distinction between psychiatric service animals and emotional support animals, however. For example, if the dog has been trained to sense that an anxiety attack is about to happen and to take a specific action to avoid the attack or lessen its impact, that would qualify as a service animal. In terms of private parks, guests with “service animals” cannot be denied access to available campsites or rental accommodations, regardless of animal breed. The same rule does not apply to guests with “emotional support” animals, however, unless the animals are trained to perform a specific task, such as helping its owner avoid anxiety attacks. Jones also cautioned park operators that they need to ensure that their workplaces are also ADA compliant to accommodate employees with disabilities. She also encourages park operators to consider hiring a consultant to develop an ADA plan for them that includes specific recommendations of ADA improvements the park can make over time to bring their park into compliance with the law. Simply having a plan that identifies the park’s needed ADA improvements and its timetable to address them can be very helpful if the park ever gets sued for ADA violations. Brian Schaeffer, TACO CEO kicked off TACO’s annual meeting with a legislative update followed by a front desk management software seminar by Patrick Spellman, of Astra, and a workshop highlighting top campground and work camper insurance claims and risks by Chris Hipple, of Levitt Recreation & Hospitality Insurance. Other presentations included a park model and glamping roundtable with Dick Grymonprez, of Athens/ Champion Home Builders; Jason Olson, of Conestoga Wagon Company; Johnny Salazar, of Ulrich Custom Built Log Cabin Design & Sales; Carol Stevens, of Leland Cabins; and Dennis Steinman, of PlainsCraft Covered Wagons.
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W W W. L R H I . N E T
Message from our TACO President: WOW! What an outstanding Confab in Conroe! With Hurricane Nicholas crashing the show and having to make the decision to go forward or cancel, moving ahead turned out to be an outstanding decision.
Rayburn RV Hideout TACO President
On a personal note: Our parks and vendors have very big hearts! I never thought I would personally experience it with the concern about the theft of my truck and the Association’s two trailers. My truck was recovered, with minimal damage. We are still looking for the trailers. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for the words, thoughts, and offers. It makes me so proud to be part of our Association.
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TACO Show Gives Owners Chance to Learn, Connect Meeting attendees enjoyed a late afternoon happy hour with tradeshow vendors before sitting down for a Texas-style barbecue dinner and TACO’s annual auction, which it uses to raise funds to support the association’s government affairs program. This year, however, funds were also needed to help TACO recover from the loss of its tradeshow displays and tradeshow travel trailer, which Schaeffer said were stolen just over two weeks ago. TACO purchased new tradeshow supplies in preparation for this week’s annual meeting and tradeshow, and rented a 12-foot enclosed U-Haul trailer, which TACO President Randall Dally of Rayburn RV Hideout in Brookeland hooked up to his Ford F-350 truck. “We got everything set up for the show on Monday,” Schaeffer explained. “Then on Tuesday we discovered that both Randall’s truck and the U-Haul trailer had been stolen. That’s twice in two-and-a-half weeks!” TACO’s auction raised more than $20,000, portions of which will be used to cover the loss of TACO’s trade show supplies and travel trailer, in addition to TACO’s government affairs program. The second day of TACO’s annual meeting included the association’s annual awards presentation, educational seminars, and its annual tradeshow, which featured many new vendors, including JLM Construction & Development; JTACR Real Estate Group; Wild Things T-Shirts; Spot2Nite, a booking app; Pandion Alliance, a group purchasing organization; and Plaster of Paradise, which makes a variety of decorative products. The tradeshow included an outdoor display featuring wagons by Conestoga Wagon Co., PlainsCraft Covered Wagons, a park model by Athens/Champion, and a cabin by Leland Cabins. Portable bathrooms and shower houses were also on display, as well as a shed. Tradeshow vendors were pleased with record levels of attendance and park operator interest in their products. “It’s been an extremely good show,” said David Baker, of Freeze Miser, whose company sells products that keep water faucets from freezing. TACO’s annual meeting concluded with good news from the police, who located Dally’s Ford F-350 in Houston in good condition. The U-Haul trailer had not been recovered, however.
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