With the snow finally gone, summer tourist season is getting underway and village campground operators Bree Buck, 33 and Dan May, 36 are excited to play host for their sophomore year. The married couple is back at the helm of the Nakusp Municipal Campground with a successful season under their belts and armed with fresh ideas.
2018 will see a free lending library for toys and games, a candy corner for kids, and an innovative way to encourage visitors to leave rankings and reviews on social media and tourism rating sites. They want to help families create memories and keep their guests happy and comfortable while improving revenue and building a stronger presence online. “Our first year we drove up sales 23.15% and we put in to the village for a price increase. We are really excited to show what that equates to,” May explained.
May is originally from B.C. and after living in Red Deer with Buck for six years, was ready to come back to his home province. They have been in Nakusp for the past two years and rent a cabin on the waterfront in the village and keep themselves busy with local employment in winter when the campground is closed.
“Bree has always wanted to do something in horticulture and run a campground. I am a people person and have been in the customer service industry, in bars and restaurants my whole life since I was a little kid,” said May when talking about how they became interested in the gig. Buck was born and raised in Alberta but always wanted to relocate to British Columbia. She travelled across Canada with a cousin as a young adult and this sparked her interest in outdoor recreation. “In my 20s it was something I seriously looked at. I could go to school for this. I could figure out a way to do this. Then of course sometimes those dreams get stuffed in the cupboard but it was really nice to be able to pull it out with him [gesturing to May] and then when the opportunity came it was just, hook, line and sinker.”
They are campers themselves and have put in considerable effort to make the facilities clean and inviting. All areas are well signed and information is posted in multiple places for their guests to read. The bathrooms are tidy, self check-in is straightforward and the hosts are omnipresent if needed. They would love to see additional improvements as funds allow, through increased revenue or recreation grants.
Because the campground is owned by the Village of Nakusp May says campers don’t have as many restrictions as they would when camping in BC Parks. As long as campers are respectful of one another he sees the location and more tolerant rules as pluses, “We had the RCMP come through here for the ball tournament last year explaining exactly where they can and can’t go [with open alcohol] but the fact that we are so close to everything here is a huge plus. They can have a couple of wobbly pops and go to the store, go get some fries, do what they have to do. We are campers and [it is challenging] when we are stuck in the middle of nowhere and run out of beer or different things. It’s been great for our demographic but also for the seniors as well.”
Buck added, “The seniors are able to travel to the outskirts, see what this area has to offer and have a home base to come back to that is not in the middle of nowhere. They can still be in touch with family and friends if they choose to be. Being in a cell service area and having wifi.”
The village contracts the campground operations by annual proposal. In early 2018, after Buck and May approached council with their market research on comparison pricing throughout the area, a price increase was approved. When the Arrow Lakes News asked what they believed the overall value to their guests was, they excitedly gave a long list of benefits to their customer. Location is clearly one of the biggest assets; plenty of amenities are available due to the central location, such as the outdoor basketball courts at the high school, the skate park, arena with squash court, tennis courts, beaches, the rail display, and the playground. The couple lives on site during the season. “We didn’t see it until we moved in here, and were like wow this is a great little spot,” says May.
Buck mentioned how many cyclists the campground gets. With the Mt. Abriel trail building project underway, thanks to the Nakusp and Area Bike Society, she said, “Really glad that they are going ahead with that expansion because I think that is going to bring a lot more people to this area. Then they will get to experience everything else, and it’s like this collective awesome thing that brings people together and it’s great for our community.”
This year, they have hatched an epic plan to boost reviews on travel and tourist sites such as Google and Trip Advisor. Buck explains, “The customers have to bring their device to the office to get connected. The password changes every day at 10 a.m.” This is because the wifi password is given either free with a voluntary review on a travel site or $1/day per device. This is May’s idea. In their first season as operators, they learned a lot. He explains, “We need a better [online] presence. We would like to see that build.” The response has been overwhelming.
Reviews on Google and Trip Advisor are glowing. Many mention the location, the cleanliness and the friendliness of the hosts, dated since this couple took over. Alice C. wrote “Brie was so welcoming and informative about her campground. Dan and Brie gave us great places to explore in the area and we were glad we brought our bikes to ride into the town of Nakusp. The showers and toilets are very clean and I like that there is a security code to have access to them. Don’t miss out on the Nakusp hot springs either. We will definitely return and look forward to seeing Dan and Brie again.”
They are taking the job as ‘memory makers’ seriously. May adds, “We are big advocates of ‘no video games.’ Don’t play the baseball game online, take the baseball and glove and you can go out and it’s free. Unplug.” They were pleasantly surprised at how eager kids have been to lend a hand around the campground with jobs like recycling. “We had quite a few kids last summer that borrowed the bats and the ball. We want to get some lawn games and things, ” said Buck. This is where donations will come in. The campground is seeking sporting equipment, board games, books, craft supplies and the like. It is their goal to develop a free lending library of activities that will keep families interacting and off their phones.
Entreprenurial research is in the cards for the upcoming off season. May wants to take some business courses and see if he can find ways to remain self-employed year-round. The two are hoping to purchase a home of their own, finally get a dog and perhaps start a family.