Park Spy — Summer 2021


The question: My partner and I are planning to do some traveling in our van this summer. Would we be able to camp in your parking lot after going on the tour?

Van life is a growing movement. With RV sales through the roof, we expect more people will be out and about this summer looking for stuff to do and, of course, places to park for the night. So, we decided to test a few operations by calling to ask about van camping. Not all parks are equipped for—or allow—camping, which is OK. As always, some handled the question well, and others did not.

Send us a question for the Spy to ask! Seriously, do it. We won’t tell anyone it came from you. Reach out to [email protected] with your Spy-worthy question, and your adventure park will be immune for that issue if we use it.


First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: You want to park here while you do the tour? I mean, yeah, it’s not like you can bring your car zipping! (laughs)
API: (laughs) No, I mean, we’d want to camp overnight in the parking lot. We have a van that we are traveling and camping in.
Staff: Oooooohhhh! Van life, very nice. Ummm, I’m not sure.
API: OK. Is there someone I can ask?
Staff: Oh, yeah! Let me grab a manager.
API: Thanks! (on hold…)
Second contact: Female.
API: Re-stated question.
Staff: Unfortunately, no. We close our parking lot at night since we can’t have people on-site with no staff members present. It’s a liability issue.
API: Totally understand.
Staff: There are some campgrounds locally if you prefer.
API: Thanks! I’ll check it out.
Staff: Sorry!
API: No worries, thanks so much.

Score: 8
Comment: She said no. She said it politely and gave a very good reason why. Nice work! 

PARK #2, OH 

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Ummmm, I don’t know, let me check.
(on hold for about two minutes)
Staff: Sorry for the wait. I had to ask my manager. Unfortunately, we can’t have you park in the lot overnight, but there’s a few campgrounds nearby and I think Walmart will let you park overnight in their lots. (Lists campgrounds and nearby town with a Walmart.)
API: Great, thanks so much.
Staff: Did you want to make a reservation for a tour? Or did you already have one?
API: We don’t have one yet. We’re still trying to figure out dates based on where we have places to stay.
Staff: Sounds good!

Score: 9
Comment: Don’t have the answer? Ask a co-worker! Nice work on this one, but minus a point because she missed an opportunity to encourage me to book online. This operation has an impressive online booking tool!


PARK #3, TX 

First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: Sure! I mean, you can definitely park in the lot and stay, but obviously we wouldn’t have any hookups for you.
API: Not a problem. We’re pretty self-sufficient.
Staff: Cool, do you know when you think you’d like to come? Have you made reservations for the zip line tour yet?
API: Not yet. We’re still planning our route, and it’s kinda dependent on finding places to stay.
Staff: Sounds good. When you’re ready to book, you can give us a call back. You do need a reservation, just FYI.
API: Sounds great. Thanks!

Score: 7
Comment: Short, sweet, and to the point. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.



First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: You wanna what?
API: I want to see about van camping in your parking lot.
Staff: I’m not sure we could let anyone but customers park.
API: Well, I am planning on zip lining and participating in all the activities during the day. We just want to have a safe place to park and relax afterwards overnight.
Staff: Well, ummmm, hang on. (Click! She hung up on me trying to put me on hold.)

Score: 2
Comment: I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt that she meant to put me on hold and accidentally hung up on me. It’s good to check if you don’t know the answer, but please know how your phone works. 



First contact: Male.
API: Stated question.
Staff: (annoyed) What?
API: Repeated question.
Staff: I thought that’s what you said, but I wasn’t sure. Ummm, probably not.
API: Oh, OK. Any particular reason why?
Staff: Umm, I’m not sure. I just don’t think it would be allowed.
API: OK, are there any campsites nearby where we could stay?
Staff: I’m not sure. I don’t know the area very well. Could you call back later?
API: Sure.

Score: 0.5
Comment: Three big “don’ts” here:
1) Don’t make it difficult for potential guests to get information when they call.
2) Don’t give what amounts to an opinion when asked a yes or no question.
3) Don’t let this guy answer the phone ever again. He should have either put me on hold and found someone who could answer the question OR taken my number and offered to find the information and call me back. Also, could this guy sound any less thrilled to be on the phone with me? Doubtful. 


PARK #6, WV 

First contact: Female.
API: Stated question.
Staff: That’s so cool! What an adventure! Are you planning to see a lot of the country?
API: We’re going to start on the Eastern Seaboard and see how far we can get. Eventually we’d like to do the lower 48.
Staff: That’s awesome! Well, we’d love it if you stopped to see us, and you and your van are welcome.
API: Thanks! Would we be able to camp in the parking lot?
Staff: We actually have a campground you can stay at!
API: Excellent!
Staff: Exactly. So, you can spend the whole day enjoying adventures with us, and then you can relax at the campground. Do you need hookups? We do offer 20- and 30-amp electric hookups, but we don’t have water hookups or a dumping station.
API: That’s fine. We don’t have facilities in the van. Is there a public bathroom at the campground?
Staff: Yes, there is! Plus, each campsite has a picnic table, fire pit, ummm, a grill—so it’s the perfect spot to hang at the end of the day. Do you know when you’ll be coming through our area?
API: We’re still figuring out the schedule. We were trying to figure out where we could park at each destination.
Staff: Well, we’d love to have you, and if you book your campsite online, it’s 10 percent off. (Gives website address.)
API: Great! I’ll check that out. Can I book activities at the same time?
Staff: Yes, you can book all your activities online at the same time. Do you have any questions about the campground or any of the activities?
API: Nope, you’ve been super helpful. Thank you.
Staff: Great! Hope to see you soon.

Score: 10
Comment: Absolutely delightful! This is how it’s done. She seemed genuinely excited to hear from me and about my interest in coming. Points for the website mention and discount, too.
Identity revealed: Adventures on the Gorge



When you’re hiring staff at the beginning of the season, do you hire for personality or do you hire for skill? For customer service positions, you can teach the skill, but it’s much harder (nearly impossible) to teach personality.

There’s a lot to teach, too. Guest-facing staff need to know all about the park’s programs and services so staff can answer all the usual questions. When a staff member gets an odd question, putting someone on hold to find an answer is a completely legitimate way to assist a guest. And it’s a much better customer experience when that staffer sounds happy to go find that answer. It’s poor guest service for a staff member to sound like he or she just doesn’t care about a customer’s inquiry or, even worse, is annoyed by it.

In staff training, talk through what to do when the answer to a question isn’t right at your fingertips. Do you put the guest on hold? Take a number down to call the guest back? Either way, make it easy for the guest. Remember, the customer experience doesn’t start when they arrive on property—the customer experience starts the instant they call, visit your website, or connect with your team in any way. 


About Author

Sarah Borodaeff is the former research editor for Adventure Park Insider magazine and current freelance contributor. A professional ski bum and former zip guide, Sarah enjoys any excuse to talk about outdoor adventures.

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