Editor’s Note: The following story comes from Clark Norton, a writer focusing on Baby Boomer travel. When he isn’t on the road, Clark resides with his wife, Catharine, in the town of Narrowsburg on the Delaware River in upstate New York. You can follow his thoughts at www.clarknorton.com.
The recent news that the Winnebago company — which makes motorhomes — nearly doubled its profits in the 2013 spring quarter is just the latest indication that the Baby Boomer recreational vehicle boom is in full gear.
Winnebago motorhome sales jumped more than 50% in the same quarter, while trailer sales jumped 10%.
Some 9 million U.S. households — 8.5% — now own RVs, and the number is growing rapidly. One out of every six U.S. households say they have future plans to buy an RV.
Baby Boomers — the youngest of whom are now nearly 50 years old — are Winnebago’s and other RV manufacturers’ biggest customers. And with many of the oldest Boomers (now 67) retiring or nearing retirement, they’re devoting more and more time to travel.
RV owners average more than a month of travel annually, racking up nearly 5,000 miles a year on the road.
Motorhomes — which many Baby Boomers make their primary residences after selling their family homes — are becoming increasingly luxurious, offering everything from spacious kitchens and bathrooms to fireplaces and flat-screen TVs. Sleeping areas may fit king-sized beds and dining areas a comfortably sized table.
Price tags can range up to hundreds of thousands of dollars — but then again, so do prices for regular houses (and many sell in the $100,000 range, with trailers and truck campers selling for much less) . Fuel costs can be substantial, but the money saved from hotels, motels and restaurants while traveling more than makes up for high gasoline prices.
As you might imagine, catering to RV owners is big business, beyond the RV manufacturers themselves. Some 16,000 U.S. campgrounds, both private and public, welcome RVs. Campgrounds can be found in or near cities, park lands, historic sites and other attractions — just as convenient as hotels and motels.
Many of the private campgrounds, especially, defy the old stereotypes of rustic living. These days, facilities may include swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, spas, grocery stores, and evening entertainments. Some operate like time shares, but are not limited to just a few weeks a year as long as you keep moving periodically.
I don’t own an RV myself, though my wife and I have rented a couple of them in Australia and found them to be great for touring the rural and beach areas there — but less convenient in the urban areas, where I’d just as soon settle into a hotel.
But I also understand the allure of taking your home with you on the open road — with the flexibility to stay in a place you like or pick up and move on a whim as well — and more and more Boomers are doing just that.
Travel products that help make life easier and more affordable for the booming Baby Boomer RV market are going to do very well indeed as more and more Boomers reach retirement.