FAU Study Reveals Most Important Factors in Selecting Campsites

By paul owers | 6/23/2021

What makes the consummate campsite? Price and availability of electricity are the main factors, with proximity to a body of water and canyon views less important, say researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Montana.

Soyoung Park, Ph.D., an assistant professor in FAU’s College of Business, and Will Rice, Ph.D., an assistant professor at UM, completed a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

They analyzed roughly 23,000 reservations in 179 campsites at Watchman Campground in Zion National Park in Utah but say the results provide a guidepost for campsite managers in other states, including Florida, home to 11 national parks.

Yellowstone National Park, Everglades National Park and other iconic venues nationwide have been inundated with record numbers of visitors and are struggling with how to manage them, the researchers said.

“In recent years, we have witnessed a significant increase in demand for outdoor recreation in U.S. national parks,” Park said. “The trend accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic as people turned outdoors to avoid closed spaces.”

The study notes that much of the previous research on this subject used campers’ stated choices to measure demand rather than their actual reservation behaviors. Using reservation data from the Recreation Information Database, Park and Rice found that campers were booking days in advance to secure their spots with electricity, even with a premium of $10.

Interestingly, the study found that direct access to Utah’s Virgin River did not appeal to many campers.

“Typically, we assume that being adjacent to bodies of water would increase the attractiveness of a campsite,” Park said. “However, other underlying factors such as water quality, health concerns and noise could also affect campers’ demand.”

The study identified characteristics of a given campsite that could be used to manage demand, and those characteristics could help establish dynamic pricing to mitigate the recent surge of visitors.

For instance, the park management could charge higher prices for the campsites with electricity, but increasing the price of a campsite can interfere with equity and equality of resource allocation, the professors said. Two potential solutions discussed in their study are a lottery system and staggering reservation availability.

“This study is an attempt to further our understanding of the campers’ decision-making process and demonstrate the usefulness of a big data approach in measuring demand for recreational resources,” the research stated. “Our findings specific to Zion’s Watchman Campground highlight the merit of such pursuits elsewhere.”