Gilbert Brown grew up in inner-city Detroit and went on to a successful football career — 10 years as a defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers and one season as a Super Bowl champion.
Wealth, fame and “The Gravedigger” nickname he earned opened many doors, but Brown could never have predicted they would open one to … the joys of RVing, according to USA Today.
Brown, his wife and four kids, ages 1 to 16, love to load up their recreational vehicle, hit the road and camp. “I’m 39 years old, and I never knew what a S’mores was,” Brown says. “Growing up in Detroit, there is nothing really in that area as far as camping.”
He was introduced to recreational vehicles when his Gilbert Brown Foundation, which contributes to 144 children’s charities, partnered with the Wisconsin Association of Campground Owners (WACO) to raise money. Every time a campground hosted a fundraiser, he would go.
Brown now owns an RV and has inspired friends to do the same. He encourages people — especially those in urban areas — to at least try it once. “Get the kids outdoors instead of sitting in the house playing PlayStation,” he says. “Nobody’s got money to get four or five kids on a plane and go to California.”
Newcomers to fun
A new generation of Americans searching for ways to have fun in a wobbly economy is giving a boost to the 100-year-old RV industry.
Wholesale deliveries of RVs to retailers totaled 84,500 in the first four months of 2010, nearly double the total from the same period last year, the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports.
Some RV camps and resorts are seeing double-digit percentage jumps in occupancy and in new faces, according to Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds (ARVCs. “It had been mainly the 55-plus,” she says. “The fastest-growing segment is the younger market — 35 to 47 … younger people entering the market with families.”
Reasons: affordability, a return to simple pleasures and a desire to get kids outdoors and away from electronic screens.
Don’t own an RV? They can be rented and delivered to a campsite at any of the 14,000 RV camps and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. About 8,000 camps are privately run. The rest are in public parks.
Campgrounds and resorts are adding amenities to offer more than simply a site to pitch a tent or park a pop-up camper. Their goal is to keep city slickers entertained and comfortable.
“We have a class of individuals looking to enjoy all the comforts of home without necessarily having to pay the price of a resort,” says Rob Schutter, chief operating officer of Leisure Systems Inc., franchiser of 75 Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts.
The industry targets niche segments — from hardcore outdoor enthusiasts and snowbirds to urban families who may no longer be able to afford plane tickets and hotels but still expect amenities.
“I call it ‘glamping,’ ” says Kenny Johnson, recreation director at Campland on the Bay, a San Diego RV resort that has a sandy beach, skateboard park, cafe and game room. “It’s like a city inside a city.”
“It’s unbelievable,” says Aaron Justice, 35, who joined RVing friends at the camp. “It has an arcade, market, laundromat. You really never have to leave here.”
Justice, who works in construction and lives in Temecula, Calif., usually flies to visit family in Tennessee. “Times are tough, so it makes sense to come here,” he says.
A range of activities
What camps offer:
- Fun. Giant water slides, skateboard parks, wine tastings, zip lines, restaurants, carousels, swimming pools and playgrounds are among an expanding list of amenities. Geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunting game that uses GPS devices to locate hidden treasures, is popular. Some want to get away from it all and seek camps out of range of cellphone towers. Others want wireless access. “We’re in the entertainment business, the experience business,” Schutter says. “We can still cater to people who desire a rugged experience or a true family experience, sitting around the campfire and cooking S’mores.”
- Comfort. “Park models” that look like cabins but can be moved like an RV have become popular rentals. Higher-end models offer bathrooms, kitchenettes, separate bedrooms and real beds. Cheaper units are more primitive.
- Proximity and cost-savings. Parks within 150 miles of a metro area are in demand because they can be reached in a couple of hours, says industry consultant David Gorin, who owns the Holiday Cove RV Resort in Cortez, Fla.
Robert Franz likes to vacation near his home in Berryville, Va., in case he is needed at work. His family goes to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort in Luray, about an hour away.
His five children love the swimming pool and slide, he says. “If my kids went to Disney World, they’d be bored,” he says. “Here, the boys will go from the paddleboat to the basketball court. … I can turn them loose.”
Brown, the former football star, recalls his introduction to RVs. “It was eye-opening,” he says. “Once you experience something like that, it’s contagious.”