BILLINGS — Kampgrounds of America (KOA) finds itself on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.
Not only has the coronavirus forced the company's Billings headquarters into a "work-from-home operation", but KOA's network of campgrounds nationwide are front and center as the country fights back against the virus.
President and CEO Toby O'Rourke took to the company's website over the past couple of days to explain how the company is dealing with the crisis.
As far as business goes, KOA's system of nearly 500 campgrounds nationwide saw 44,000 cancellations for the months of March and April.
O'Rourke said while those cancellations are a fact of life in the new COVID-19 world, once this difficult time passes, she expects camping will play an important role in the nation's recovery.
"Once we get through this, camping is going to be essential for the recovery of the nation," said O'Rourke. "At KOA, our mission is connecting people to the outdoors and to each other, two things people are craving the most right now."
To better deal with the flood of cancellations, KOA has adopted a new flexible cancellation policy and has also implemented new remote check-in services that allow campers access to their campsite and check-in, without the need to deal with anyone in person.
Across the nation, O'Rourke said KOA is dealing with 21 states that have issued "Stay at Home" or "Shelter in Place" orders, which includes Montana. Fifteen other states have a variety of county and local closures that are impacting campground operations.
O'Rourke said 11 of its campgrounds have been forced to close due to state or local ordinances, but for the most part, campgrounds remain open. She noted that many KOA campgrounds have been closed for the winter and just now are getting set to open for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.
Not all states have included campgrounds as essential businesses, which has O'Rourke and her staff working with officials in each state to accomodate both customers and state officials.
"Campgrounds are an essential business in that we serve not only short and long term RV'ers, but we also host traveling medical workers, nurses and utility workers," explained O'Rourke. "We want to make sure nobody is displaced, so we're working to ensure that campgrounds remain open and accessible at this time."
A number of KOA campgrounds have chosen to close some large gathering areas, and are also adhering to new CDC cleaning protocols.
O'Rourke said KOA is committed to ensuring the safety of both its employees and customers and is highly optimistic about the future.
"For 58 years, KOA has shown a lot of resiliency, surviving gas shortages, and recessions," said O'Rourke. "I believe we're going to do the same right now. We are going to get through this together and we'll thrive once we can get back to normal operations - and get back to doing what we do best, bringing family and friends together in the outdoors."