Business is down 30% from last year, according to Frank Havies, manager of Happy Trails RV dealership in Grand Prairie, Alberta.
Yet, given how over-heated the market was in 2006, Havies said the current numbers, while down, are actually what might be considered normal for a city of this size, according to the Alberta Daily Herald Tribune.
Grand Prairie is a city of 40,000 located 260 miles northwest of Edmonton.
“It’s noticeable … but business is still good,” he said. “You get away from the peak as far as the huge increase that we had over the last five years, and it’s kind of back to what it was in 2005-06.”
Havies said he expects the season to remain steady, and the biggest problem facing retailers in the future will not be demand, but supply.
“We’re watching our expenses like everything else,” he said. “But the thing is, though, inventory is a problem because not knowing what we were coming into this year, I don’t think too many of the dealers ordered enough inventory. And as business is still fairly brisk, it takes 12 to 15 weeks to order a unit and we can’t get it in time.”
Nevertheless, while it’s still early in the summer camping season, fewer people are taking advantage of the region’s innumerable RV parks and campgrounds, local operators say.
“We’re definitely down substantially from where we were in previous years, of course,” said Rick Campbell, owner of Camp Tamarack RV Park.
He estimates that he’s down at least 20% from the corresponding period last year.
The high water mark for local campgrounds was – as for most things in Grande Prairie – the boom years of 2005-2006. Campbell estimates that in 2006 from middle of April to end of May 1,400 sites were used and now this year in the same time period, it’s down to less than 1,000.
From mid-May to mid-September 2006, Camp Tamarack had all of its 89 sites in the park filled, Campbell said.
“We’ve got an excellent facility and it’s well utilized, but the utilization now is probably down significantly from previous years,” he said.
As the economic slump continues, people are staying closer to home, and not traveling farther afield, which translates into less out-of-town tourists at local campgrounds, said Duane Stevenson of Nitehawk RV Park.
“We have some out-of-towners, but I can’t really say that it’s not as much (as in the past), but more local, there’s no question. We’re getting lots of local support here,” he said.
While business is generally down from the past, Stevenson said the numbers are holding steady. And he expects things to improve once Nitehawk’s new group area, which can accommodate private functions, officially opens on June 13.
“We’ve got some long-termers that have been in all winter and they’re remaining, and we do have people that have been here on weekends,” Stevenson said.
“So we’re very happy with the way the weekend is going because people are becoming more aware of what we have out here for activities.”
In its second season of operation, Happy Trails Campgrounds and Cabins has seen an increase in tourists – defined as people staying for two weeks or less – but a decrease in long-term visits.
Some of these tourists have come from as far away as California, Florida, New Zealand and Germany, said owner Elvira Wiebe.
“We’re in our second year of actually having the campground open and we have seen a real increase and a lot of Americans. We have, on any given day, one or two Americans pull in,” she said.
Wiebe estimates that long-term visitation is down 25% from last year, which may affect the bottom line because they’re open year-round.
“Because we’re all-winter … we kind of depend a little bit on the oilpatch,” she said, adding that she remains optimistic for a good season.