VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – With hotels booking up and Air BnBs hard to come by this weekend, some local churches and businesses are opening up their parking lots to RV travelers ahead of Something in the Water.
And it’s not just a win for the traveler scoring a spot, but it’s also a win for the small businesses too
“I’ve sat at that picnic table and talked with campers about their journeys and it’s just been beautiful,” said Unity Church of Tidewater Pastor Ann Frances.
Frances said it’s been a joy to meet travelers who stop to park in their lot, and some have even left cards too.
“These little love notes make us feel good to provide this service for people,” Frances said.
Unity Church of Tidewater utilizes the app Harvest Hosts to connect with people traveling in RVs looking for a place to stay.
Harvest Hosts is a community of small businesses, like farms, breweries, vineyards, museums and churches, that open up their parking lots or land to overnight visitors.
Harvest Hosts said they’ve got about 20 hosts within a 50-mile range of the Oceanfront, and they’re seeing some bookings for this weekend ahead of the festival. The company requires your RV to be self sufficient, meaning you must have your own kitchen and bathroom, because a lot of the businesses are closed overnight.
Some other Virginia stops include Serendipity Meadworks, Arlington Farm, Hubbard Peanut Company and so many more.
“It’s about community, and we feel like we are serving people as they’re driving across the Chesapeake Bay (Bridge-Tunnel),” Frances said. “Either way they stop in here. We have repeaters that go to Florida every year and up north in the summer, and we see them on both ends.”
Traveling in RVs really picked up during the pandemic and that’s when they really saw their numbers grow.
“The membership growth has been really drastic,” said Harvest Host CMO Bill Zhang. “We’re at about a quarter-million members right now, requesting tens of thousands of stays across our host network every month.”
The members pay a one-time fee to be part of the app, and there’s no additional camping fee.
The company just asks that you support the business you’re staying at.
“If you’re at a farm, buy some fresh eggs or (if you’re) at a brewery or winery, buy a drink and other places like a museum or church, just make a donation,” Zhang said.
Zhang said not only does it help the local business or organization, it also helps the surrounding area too.
“They have to buy gas and groceries,” Zhang said. “They spend time in the area and 50% of our members travel with pets.”
And sometimes it can be difficult to get a space at local campgrounds too, so this gives travelers like those headed to Something in the Water a place to go.
“It’s really hard to find camp sites,” Zhang said. “State parks, national parks, private campgrounds are all full.”
And Pastor Ann says they’re always prepared for last minute bookings too.
“We’ve had people say we’ll be there in 30 minutes,” Frances said, “and we’re like, ‘Come on.'”