Kampgrounds of America (KOA), the country’s largest camping franchise business, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this summer. This giant in the industry has expanded from a few campsites north of Yellowstone River to the current nationwide 458 franchises. What a success story!

It all started in 1962, when Billings’ businessmen set up a campground in an attempt to make money by giving tourists driving to the World’s Fair a place to stay. And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, half a century later, KOA is a thriving multimillion-dollar company.

The secret to its survival is adapting and catering to cultural trends. Dave Linde, of the Billings KOA, says that the type of camp amenities available 30 or 40 years ago won’t do for today’s campers. He notes that tent campers comprise only a small percentage of their business because these days people want a real bed to sleep on.

Mike Gast, KOA Vice President of Communications, opines that the main draw of camping is the people factor. Campsites are a place where children can play unsupervised and strangers can become friends around a campfire.

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