China is diving head first into the development of campgrounds and its fledgling RV industry, according to industry representatives who recently participated in the 3rd Annual Hangzhou China Outdoor Lifestyle Show March 4-7.
Participating were Joe Laing of El Monte RV, a leading RV rental company with 70 locations throughout the U.S.; Bob MacKinnon of MacKinnon Campground Consulting, a designer and developer of campgrounds throughout North America and Australia; and Al Hesselbart, historian for the RV/MH Hall of Fame in Elkhart, Ind. Wolfgang Bock of Deutsche Reissemobil, the largest RV rental firm in Germany, also participated.
The foursome was invited to be part of a 10-person forum addressing Chinese media and government officials on concerns related to the establishment of a viable recreational vehicle industry and its related lifestyle in China. The international group was coordinated and hosted by N-Tours International, a tour promotion firm based in Beijing.
“What we got from the show is that there are a lot of Chinese people interested in RVing,” Laing told RVBUSINESS.com. “The question remains how that interest will work itself out. Everyone is unsure how the Chinese RV industry is going to further evolve. The thought I most expressed to them is they should use the American RV industry as a framework or guideline. We have the most successful RV market and the best RV market in the world.”
China has an existing camping population, but it is nearly all tent camping and the existing campgrounds are organized for tenters only, according to Hesselbart, who spoke on the evolution of RVing in America.
“They have a great selection of national parks and other camping attractions,” he said. “While they have the technology to build very fine recreational vehicles, there are at this time less than 50 RV campgrounds in all of China and no network of retailers or RV support businesses or publications.”
This year is the first that the Chinese RV manufacturers were given space in the show, which is the largest outdoor lifestyle show in Asia. The event showcased several small motorhomes all built on Sprinter chassis made by Mercedes Benz in China.
“A couple of outstanding 35-foot Class A motorhomes including slideouts were also shown, built by Chinese highway bus manufacturer King Long Coach,” Hesselbart said.
Chinese government has plans to develop 800 RV campgrounds within the next five years related to its many national parks and other attractions. Hesselbart said the Chinese officials feel that, at least for the present, the local RV lifestyle will be based on rental and not ownership of private rigs.
“They did discuss the establishment of a market for small towable units, but they are targeting the first development toward small, motorized units,” Hesselbart said. “It was somewhat surprising to the Americans that the Chinese use almost no automatic transmissions and all of the RVs were built with manual transmissions as were nearly 100 percent of the autos on the highway.”
In addition to the large forum at the show, the group met with several other camping-related groups and resort developers to discuss the types of conditions and services provided for RV camping in the U.S. and Europe.
“The group saw a dramatic enthusiasm to develop an RV lifestyle where their population is largely uninformed of the possibilities of self-contained travel for recreation or for business,” Hesselbart said.
There are 208 national parks in China, according to Laing, who shared information about the RV rental business.
MacKinnon spoke on site selection for campgrounds and the basic design strategy, and shared how to understand the market and market needs.
“I met with a lot of government officials and various industries and I got a strong impression that they are actively looking for ways to expand their tourism industry,” MacKinnon told Woodall’s Campground Management. “As I understand it the government has laid out a five-year plan and they have very specific goals for both national and international tourism.
“This show was a big deal. They showcased everything from patio furniture and umbrellas to RVs, and also outdoor recreation like kayaking and bicycling. Once the Chinese get the sequencing as to what needs to happen first, and they grasp the key ingredients, I think there will be some interesting growth in the country’s tourism.”