Camping and glamping makes ex-money manager a billionaire
“This isn’t a blip,” KOA Chief Executive Officer Toby O’Rourke said in an interview about camping’s rise in popularity. “There’s a big movement towards younger diverse audiences. It’s a hot market out there.”
Tang said the camping industry was transformed by the internet, which allowed for better management of the group’s national network. Before then, the price of long-distance phone calls made it too costly to have a central reservation system. Today, KOA.com takes in more than $US344 million in online registration revenue annually.
“It’s ridiculous,” Tang said. “Marketing used to be a catalogue. Now its all over the internet.”
Tang and his sister fled to the US in 1949 as Communist soldiers advanced on Shanghai, according to a recent video on the website of Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, which he attended and where he’s also a donor.
He went on to Yale University and later earned an MBA from Harvard University before becoming a researcher at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette. In 1970, he co-founded New York-based Reich & Tang, an investment-management firm, and went on to purchase KOA after the 1970s energy crisis.
The company’s valuation is based on its revenue from a 10 per cent fee on franchisees, plus the 47 campgrounds it owns outright. Those properties are managed under a brand known as OAK, for Owned and Operated Assets of KOA. Tang’s holding company also owns a business that sells printing, marketing services and technology solutions franchises.
In 2017, Tang announced at the company’s annual convention that his daughter, Tracy, would become vice chair of the holding company. She’s also involved in the family’s tourism properties through the Enchantment Group, as well as its push into glamping — short for “glamorous camping.”
The group recently introduced its proprietary reservations software, known as K2, and this year started a luxury brand, Terramor Outdoor Resort, with its first property in Bar Harbor, Maine. O’Rourke says it taps into a different customer base, who pay $US400 a night on average to stay in Terramor’s canvas tents.
“The industry is extremely robust,” said Scott King, who with his wife is a former KOA franchisee and is now a broker of campground sites. “We’ve made so much money selling campgrounds that it’s incredible.”
Tang occasionally appears at annual company conventions, though he now spends much of his time in New York, where he works at his family office in midtown. He also has focused on charitable giving with his second wife, Agnes Hsu-Tang, an archaeologist who chairs the board of trustees at the New York Historical Society.
He burst onto the philanthropic scene last year with a record $US125 million gift to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, joining a group of billionaires including Stephen Schwarzman and David Geffen in writing nine-figure checks for cultural projects in the city. Tang was the first Asian-American to join the Met’s board about three decades ago.
“Oscar has felt the country took him in and he made his fortune here,” Hsu-Tang said in an interview in February at the Lunar New Year gala of the New York Philharmonic, where Tang is a co-chair.