Some San Diego businesses host overnight campers to survive difficult economy
Escondido’s Belle Marie Winery may draw you in with its castle, rows of citrus trees or lush garden. But you might also see something rather unexpected: overnight campers.
“People come here, they camp, they have a good time — and it's been successful,” manager Jeff Lazenby said.
His winery is one of roughly a dozen San Diego County businesses who are now making extra money by letting self-contained RVs — those that have bathrooms, food and water onboard — stay overnight on their premises.
“We've got any kind of RV under the sun. We've got a big 40-foot 5th wheel down below, but we also have little Mercedes Sprinter vans. Anything people use to camp with, we have them here,” Lazenby said.
Retired couple Penni and Dale Neely stayed overnight at the Escondido property in their RV.
The Bonita residents said this way of travel doesn't offer utility hookups like a campground, but it's a safe, fun and cost-effective alternative compared to a rest stop or parking lot.
“It was pretty scary not to have a place where you could just stop for the night and be safe. So this is a wonderful opportunity to not only be safe, but my goodness, look at this place! It's so gorgeous,” Penni said.
The idea comes from a company called Harvest Hosts. They’ve brought together farms, breweries, vineyards, golf courses, historical landmarks, and even come churches across North America to host RVers overnight.
“It doesn't cost anything to stay there as part of our program, but the expectation is that you're going to support the local business you visit,” CEO Joel Holland said.
He said each stay only lasts for 24 hours and businesses can set a limit to how many RVs are allowed at one time.
Holland said RV members are charged an annual fee of around $100, but businesses can sign up for free and keep all income they make from overnight campers.
He said any licensed business with extra parking space — including restaurants — can become a host.
With inflation biting into the cost of essential business items, Lazenby said the program is helping to offset rising prices.
“(These are) people that would never come here, they would never know about you," he said. "They’re customers walking in the door. How can you lose?”