As full–time RVers, we spend a fair amount of time doing trip planning.
Visualizing destinations, routing and camping choices is part of the fun of being on the road. Just like most RVers we know, the Internet has become the tool of choice for discovering new places to go, what to see when we get there, and navigating along the way.
Once we’ve chosen a city or area to visit, the next decision usually involves our choice of an RV park or campground.
Since we like to know as much as possible about the places where we’re considering staying, we are far more likely to choose a park that has an informative Web site. Without good photos and details, we never know what we’ll find when we arrive. Of course, without good directions, we might not find the park at all!
Frankly, the majority of RV park websites we see have driving directions and/or maps that do a less–than–optimal job of making sure that customers can easily find the park. They range from simple text directions to static images of maps that fail to show enough detail or a large–enough area.
When choosing a campground, we have actually eliminated RV parks from consideration simply as a result of not being able to figure out exactly where they’re located, or what the access is like.
A large 5th wheel, or an RV towing a car, can easily top 50 to 60 feet in length… and can’t back up without considerable difficulty, or disconnecting the toad.
After handling such a large vehicle all these years, we know that non–RVers might not recognize the limitations and restrictions involved when selecting a route. Having to call a campground to ask directions, then depending on the guidance of whoever answers the phone, is not our preferred method of navigation. We know that, ultimately, we are responsible for our own driving safety.
Many parks have the right idea on their websites — integrating an online map, such as those offered by MapQuest, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google. Despite this wise choice, there is more to it than simply activating a map with your park’s address as the destination point.
First, not all maps are created equal. Without disparaging any particular map provider, suffice it to say that some maps are inaccurate, difficult to read, have non–intuitive controls, or simply don’t work as well as others.
As avid users of this technology, both as RVers and Web site designers, we saw early on that one company has figured things out better than their competition — Google. We’re not saying that the others don’t work… just that, as with so many things Google does, they have created a system and interface that works so well, it is simply, in our opinion, the best out there.
Besides providing search information about your business on Google Local Maps (a topic worthy of its own article), Google’s mapping will ensure that your customers can easily find you. They’ll show up at your door relaxed and happy about the stress–free experience they had navigating to your park.
There are several terrific elements to a Google Map, starting with the map itself. Not only can your Webmaster embed a customized map neatly within your website, but the exact default zoom level can be pre–set. This allows your park to be shown in a recognizable area and context by including nearby cities, national parks, or bodies of water in the view.
Another wonderful feature is Google Interactive Driving Directions. Simply entering any address into the search box will provide detailed driving directions to your park from any location. This includes exact mileage (or kilometers if desired), estimated driving time, turn–by–turn directions, and a graphical depiction of the route right on the map.
If an RVer would rather avoid certain roads (maybe they prefer exploring back roads vs. interstate highways, for example), they can utilize a feature commonly known as “Snap Routing,” which allows them to simply drag any portion of the route from one road onto another. The turn–by–turn directions, mileage and estimated time will immediately update to reflect the change. It’s a truly fantastic trip–planning tool.
Is there a specific route that campers should follow when approaching your park? For example, do you want to be sure your map doesn’t route them under a low overpass, or down a small local street with a low weight limit? No problem with Google Maps. Your webmaster can add one or more waypoints, or “pushpins,” along the route that force the Interactive Driving feature to provide your guests with correct and exact routing, utilizing your personal knowledge of the local area.
The intuitive Google Map controls allow users to easily zoom in and out to any desired level, and click and drag to pan to the desired viewing area. Choosing the “Satellite” view allows your customers to view your park and surrounding area on a detailed, zoom–able satellite photo. What better way for them to confidently scope out their route (and your park) in advance?
Actually, there is a better way — Street View
Street view is a feature within Google Maps. After entering a starting point in the Driving Directions box, the resulting map will include this remarkable feature, where available. The turn–by–turn directions actually include 360–degree photographs of every intersection along the route.
Simply by clicking the little camera icons next to the driving instructions, your customers can actually see every detail of their trip. They’ll know, for example, that the correct turn onto your street is a shallow left at a traffic light with a Shell station on the right. They can even click along the route to see a complete street–level 360–degree view of every available street photo.
Not every street in the country has been photographed yet, so Street View is not available everywhere. But Google has been rolling out this amazing feature at a rapid rate, and even some of the most remote parts of the country have already had at least the main roads added to the database.
If your park is on a road that’s been photographed for Street View, your customers will already know exactly what your entrance sign looks like too, so they’ll really be all ready for your driveway as they approach. Check it out yourself to see yet another detail your customers can learn about your park when deciding where to stay.
The amount of detail these resources provide will assure the most relaxed, well–prepared trip for even the most cautious RVer. What a great service for Google (and you) to provide for your customers.
One problem with using online mapping to locate an RV park lies in the very nature of the campground business — they are often located in remote, poorly mapped areas. Even the finest online mapping system cannot accurately identify every single address.
This can be a major problem, unless the map allows you to manually set your location, thereby guaranteeing its accuracy. Being off by even a short distance can be very frustrating to RVers, who want to make the turn into your entrance drive on the first shot, without risking a trip around the block, or having to make a U–turn, or disconnecting their tow car.
Regardless of the accuracy of your street address, Google has once again provided tools to solve the problem. Your Webmaster can utilize GPS coordinates to precisely place your map location with 100% accuracy, right at your front entrance. Even the best portable GPS units can’t find an incorrectly plotted street address, without your guests knowing the correct GPS coordinates to input.
Of course your customers won’t know that your street address is plotted wrong… until you get that agitated call after they’ve driven ten miles out of the way, and still can’t find you. That’s probably not the best way to ensure they arrive relaxed and happy at your park.
As we said, we aren’t disparaging competing mapping companies. We have simply found that both as RVers, and as website designers, Google has simply built one terrific mousetrap. We believe in their maps so much, that we’ve integrated Google Maps and Interactive Driving Directions exclusively into every RV park website we’ve ever designed.
Our customers (and more importantly their customers) have been thrilled with the results.