Cinematographer John Holod always has a room with a view.
As reported by The Oklahoman, Holod, behind the wheel of his Winnebago, is on the mother road to produce a video about Old Route 66. He is basing his drive on author Jerry McClanahan’s spiral-bound EZ66 Guide for Travelers.
The award-winning videographer plans to traverse eight states wandering west from Illinois to California. He anticipates spending three weeks traveling an estimated 2,400-mile route.
During his journey, he recently took a day in Oklahoma City to discuss insights on the best ways to see America’s roads up-close with family and friends. The trip began on Sept. 20 in Chicago and concludes Oct. 13 in Los Angeles.
Holod said he initially found it difficult to locate the real start of the Route. He was only successful when he located the little-known Adams Street in Chicago’s downtown area where a small plaque denotes the historic highway.
Driving away from the business district to the corn fields, Holod’s only goal was to remain off the beaten track and find a bit of the historic past.
“I saw the drive-ins, all the billboards, the best places for hot dogs along the road,” he said. “These were here long before the interstate. This was their character before everything got homogenized and not a McDonalds at every exit.”
He considers Route 66 to be one of America’s most popular scenic routes. And, in his mind the RV provides the perfect vehicle to see it.
The reasons are numerous.
“I do back roads,” he said. “It is eye opening. You have your house with you. Anytime, you can stop, have a sandwich by a lake or a river.”
Holod feels there is no better way experience the countryside than to get out and be among the people.
“With a hotel room, you lock the door and kind of hide,” he said. “When you come to a RV park, you open up the doors and immerse yourself in the population.”
Grand Canyon National Park authorities said there were fatalities after an RV caught fire Monday (Oct. 3) morning.
At approximately 7:20 a.m., firefighters responded to a report of a motor home with smoke in the cab just south of the entrance to the park and found an RV fully engulfed in flames, according to Shannan Marcak, spokeswoman for Grand Canyon National Park.
After the fire was extinguished, investigators determined that the RV had been occupied at the time of the fire. Authorities found the remains of three people inside.
The cause of the fire has not been determined. The Flagstaff Fire Department and the Coconino County medical examiner are assisting with the investigation.
About 1,100 motorhomes rolled into Forest City, Iowa, last weekend and will stay through Friday for the Winnebago Itasca Travelers (WIT) Grand National Rally (GNR). According to the Mason City Globe Gazette, the annual WIT event is a big one on the rally circuit because it’s in the hometown of motorhome manufacturer Winnebago Industries Inc.
And it feels like home, GNR volunteers Bob Dunn of Waterford, Mich., and Nancy Miller of Cape Coral, Fla., said. Dunn said the first-time GNR attendees wear a green button signifying them as such. “A lot of them are intimidated by that, but when they walk in town, people will come up to them and ask how they are doing and say, ‘I’m so glad you are here.’ Everybody here makes you feel so welcome,” Dunn said.
Doug Formanek, WIT general manager, said the rally is a “homecoming for all.” While the rally grounds, located adjacent to Winnebago’s manufacturing complex, is the heart of that homecoming as WIT members from all states gather, Forest City and the Northern Iowa region are part of that reunion, Formanek said.
“They love it here,” Formanek said. “Just this year I had a couple of different people say to me that, ‘We live in Florida and Texas, but you guys have a little bit of heaven here.’ They love the town, they love the area.”
WIT GNR attendees shop in local stores and eat in local restaurants, making a significant impact on the local economy. Miller and other volunteers are preparing for the rally and she encourages those volunteers to go downtown to visit the stores.
As of last Friday, a total of 1,050 motorhomes were registered for the event, said Kelli Harms, Winnebago public relations specialist.
A full week of activities is planned for attendees including music and kids events. Events at the rally are only open to registered attendees. This year’s theme is Hillbilly Jamboree.
About 6,000 RVers in 2,000 motorhomes are expected Aug. 11-14 in Redmond, Ore., for the annual Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) international convention, the RV News Service reported.
Major motorhome manufacturers and dealers will display their RVs. Other companies will display accessories, components, supplies and campground information. The daily fee for viewing motorhomes and booth displays is $7 per person; children 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Active members of the military will also be admitted free.
Those who own a motorhome are invited to stay in their RVs at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds Exposition Center and take part in all of the activities. The price for non-FMCA members is $224 which includes a one-year FMCA membership. The FMCA member price is $174.
Convention attendees can view the latest features and innovations in motorhomes. Some displays will feature production-line units, and others will demo custom-built coaches for uses ranging from family camping to transporting high-tech business equipment, or for use as conference coaches. A variety of motorhome styles in broad price ranges will be represented.
The convention will include seminars on topics relative to RVing as well as topflight entertainment and many social events.
Taxpayers who missed out on the “Cash for Clunkers” program can still get some money back from the federal government for buying a new car, light truck, motorcycle or motorhome before the end of this year.
IRS spokesman Christopher Miller told Radio Iowa the break allows taxpayers to deduct state, local sales or excise taxes on the new vehicle purchases costing up to $49,500. The tax break went into effect early in the year.
Miller said taxpayers have to have purchased the new vehicle after Feb. 16 of this year or by Dec. 31.
There are some income limits. He said the deduction for a married couple phases out with incomes of $250,000 or more and for a single person the deduction phases out at $125,000.
Miller said taxpayers don’t even have to itemize your deductions to get the tax break. For more information, go to www.irs.gov.
Camping World has launched a “Cash for Campers” incentive, giving up to $7,500 cash allowance for motorized RVs when current RV owners purchase a new vehicle.
It is designed to mirror the the government program “Cash for Clunkers” currently supported by the automotive industry and Department of Transportation.
Camping World’s self-funded recycle and save initiative is focused on improving the quality of vehicles currently in circulation as well as stimulating the economy in heavy-hit manufacturing states such as Iowa and Indiana, according to a news release from the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based retailer. The “Cash for Campers“ program incentivizes RV consumers to transition into new and more fuel-efficient motorized RVs when they trade in an older, less fuel-efficient model.
Camping World has aligned itself with the three top selling motorhome manufacturers who are leading the charge toward improving environmental issues with efforts in such areas as chassis selection, fuel savings through design and long-term durability. These changes are evident in their current motorhome line-up such as the Winnebago View and Navion, Damon Avanti and Four Winds Serrano.
Marcus Lemonis, Camping World chairman & CEO, said, “As the market leader, Camping World currently retails over 18% of all new motorhomes sold in the U.S. We believe that an accelerated transition of the current installed base ultimately accomplishes several important goals: to remove less fuel efficient models from the roads, increase the demand for new and more efficient motorhomes which will ideally result in assisting the RV manufacturers in putting people back to work.”
Camping World also plans to permanently retire less fuel-efficient models ages 1984 and older through a salvage process. Lemonis further detailed, “If a consumer owns a less fuel-efficient and less technologically advanced motorhome and is interested in trading it in through the”Cash for Campers“ program, their unit is eligible for a cash allowance toward select new models at Camping World.”
The company expects to launch similar programs in the near future on recycling towable models as well as select RV accessories with more details to be released as plans get underway.
More details about the program can be found at CampingWorld.com/cashforcampers.
For about 15 days a month, Alaska Airlines pilot Jim Lancaster lives in a motorhome in Parking Lot B near the southernmost runway at Los Angeles International Airport.
Every four minutes, a jetliner or turboprop roars in — 500 feet above his front door — for a landing. The noise is so loud it forces Lancaster to pause during conversations. But he doesn’t mind. Lancaster puts up with the smell of jet fuel and screaming engines to save time and money, according to Los Angeles Times.
The 60-year-old aviator’s primary residence is a cottage he shares with his wife overlooking a quiet bay off Puget Sound in Washington state. Living in Lot B while he’s on duty means he doesn’t have to rent a Los Angeles apartment with other pilots or spend 12 hours a day commuting to and from the Seattle area.
“As kids. we used to ask our parents to take us to the airport to see the planes,” Lancaster quipped. “Now I get to live at the airport.”
He isn’t the only one. Lancaster’s 2001 Tradewinds sits among 100 trailers and motorhomes that form a colony of pilots, mechanics and other airline workers at LAX, the third-busiest airport in the nation. They are citizens of one of the most unusual communities in the United States.
Their turf, just east of the Proud Bird restaurant off Aviation Boulevard, is less than 3,500 feet from the south runway. It is a drab expanse of crumbling gray asphalt, approach lights, chain-link fencing and rows of beige and white RVs — some battered, others grand. A splash of color comes from the red and white blooms of about a dozen rose bushes along the colony’s northern edge.
Many of the residents are separated from spouses, children and significant others for days — even weeks — at a time in order to keep their jobs or move up the pyramid of the airline industry.
“This is the cost of being a pilot today,” said Todd Swenson, 40, a first officer with Alaska Airlines. His wife, Amanda, and 2-year-old son, Noah, live in Fresno, a six-hour commute by car. “I’ve wanted to be a pilot all my life. It can be awful here. But I have to provide for my family, and I love flying airplanes.”
Swenson, who earns about $70,000 a year, lives across from Lancaster in a 1973 Coachmen trailer that belonged to his father. If Lancaster’s 38-foot rig with leather furniture is Park Place, Swenson’s is Mediterranean Avenue. The 23-foot metal box is as cramped as economy class, with just enough space for a double bed, a television and a La-Z-Boy recliner. There is a galley kitchen and a bathroom about the size of an airliner lavatory.
The trailer’s windows are blacked out with foil and brown paper bags so Swenson can sleep during the day. To muffle the constant din of aircraft, he bought a white-noise machine — a small tape player with a recording that sounds like a washing machine. Swenson works out at a nearby 24-Hour Fitness, where he showers to conserve his trailer’s limited water supply.
Inside the Coachmen, the wood paneling and storage cabinets are covered with photos of Amanda and Noah, whom Swenson returns to about 11 days a month. He keeps in touch via a computer webcam.
“When my tires leave the driveway of my house in Fresno,” Swenson said, “the only thing I can think about is getting back to my family.”
For several years, clusters of RVs were scattered around the airport’s parking lots until LAX officials decided to consolidate them in Lot B. Now operating as an organized camp overseen by the airport, it has an unofficial mayor, a code of conduct and residency requirements, including background checks, regular vehicle inspections and proof of employment at an air carrier.
“There might be a few other places like this nationally, but I think this is rather unique,” said Michael Biagi, who heads the land-use division at Los Angeles World Airports.
Today, the colony has more than 100 residents — mostly men — from around the country, including captains, first officers, mechanics, flight attendants, support staff and employees of air cargo companies. There are at least two married couples, who work as flight attendants. About 10 people are on a waiting list.
Lot B’s attractiveness is partly the result of the decade-long decline in air travel brought about by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the outbreak of SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — in 2003 and the deepest recession since World War II.
Salaries for pilots, mechanics and other airline workers have plummeted. Captains like Lancaster have been demoted to first officer, losing hard-earned seniority and forcing them out of plum assignments at airports close to home. Lancaster, who came to LAX from Seattle about 18 months ago, estimates that his reduction in rank cost him about $30,000 a year, roughly 20% of his pay.
Rather than quit their jobs or uproot their families for what could be a temporary stint in Los Angeles, workers have settled in Lot B, where the rent is only $60 a month.
“They’d probably be out of a job otherwise,” said Doug Rogers, a 62-year-old United Airlines mechanic from Utah, who is the colony’s acting mayor. “You can’t maintain a household elsewhere and afford a home here in this economic climate. The airline industry is fragile right now. You just don’t know what is going to happen.”
Rogers has lived at LAX for about seven years in a 26-foot camper built on a Ford truck chassis. He and his wife own a house in Stansbury Park, a semi-rural community of 2,500 just north of Salt Lake City.
Uniquely situated between a sagging economy and dropping gas prices, Dave Zentgraf’s RV rental business in Wichita Falls, Texas, is at the right place and the right time.
D&D Enterprises is in the midst of its fourth summer vacation season. Having started out with only three recreational vehicles, Zentgraf now has a stable of 12 travel trailers and one motorhome, few of which remained on the lot Friday morning (July 17), according to the Wichita Falls Times-Record.
“Three left yesterday and two went out early this morning,” said Zentgraf, who also owns Moonlight Limousine Service. “Bookings are up about 70% from last year and our customers are very satisfied.”
Zentgraf points to lower gas prices as one reason for increased interest in RV use.
“Most people only have a couple of times a year when they can get away, so maintaining, insuring and storing an RV for the rest of the year doesn’t make sense to them,” he said. “This way they have all the fun without the upkeep and other responsibilities. It also lets people who are thinking about buying a chance to see how they like different styles.”
The Internet has also made a big difference for D&D. Customers shopping prices quickly discover Zentgraf’s biggest trailers rent for $395 as opposed to $795 from similar Metroplex businesses. Trips planned for points north or west make it easy to stop and hitch one up, he said.
“We’ve had people headed to Quartz Mountain and Waurika Lake in Oklahoma. One fellow was on his way to a powwow in Walters. Using them for family reunions and out-of-town guests is also getting popular,” Zentgraf said. “We’ve even had a family rent an RV to do medical transport. They were moving their 82-year-old mother and this was more practical and comfortable than paying $6,000 for an ambulance.”
Most of the D&D lineup has been booked for Hotter’N Hell cycling race held each August since last year. Zentgraf sets up the trailers, which sleep from four to eight people, at the campsite, turns on the air-conditioning and makes sure the refrigerators are stocked with plenty of cold water.
“It’s just been amazing this year, but what it tells me is that people still like the idea of family camping,” said Zentgraf. “If you can do it this comfortably, why not?”
Businesses in Decatur, Ind., are receiving a much-needed economic boost thanks to hundreds of RV enthusiasts.
Hundreds of RV owners have returned to the birthplace of their home on wheels, Fleetwood RV in Decatur, according to the Indiana News Center, Fort Wayne.
Watch Featured Video at right.
Rally organizers say the annual gathering is more important this year, because of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc.’s economic troubles.
Hundreds of Fleetwood employees have recently had their hours cut, or lost their job when Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in March.
The gathering is a good opportunity for Fleetwood officials to show the latest RV accessories, in hopes of making additional sales.
Coach owners say they want to give back to the struggling town that made their rolling home.
“This is our third trip down here and so we got to spend a lot of time getting to know the community and just showing them that we are actually coming back home,” rally organizer Marcia Bratsburg said.
Fleetwood officials say despite a 50% loss in sales, inventory is coming into line and the desire to buy an RV is still there, the trick is finding a bank that will lend the money.
“Customers are still using RVs,” said Fleetwood Director of Sales Justin Humphreys. “They still want to see the country. And at times we kinda get upset because there’s not a lot of business out there but I think it’s a great sign for business. The customers are out there using them. They want to go out and use their motor home and eventually they’re going to want a new one and that’s what we’re really excited about, is to build some new ones for them.”
But they will have to make RVs under a new owner. A U.S. bankruptcy court gave Fleetwood officials the green light to sell their motorhome assets.
American Industrial Partners will pay $53 million for assets including several facilities and service centers.
Winnebago Industries Inc., Forest City, Iowa, has announced its 20/20 Vision Winners for 2009.
To be honored as a 20/20 Vision winner, dealerships provide exceptional customer service to Winnebago motorhome owners traveling outside of their home area, according to a news release. In earning this award, a dealer must perform warranty repairs on at least 20 different traveling customer motorhomes, or perform 20% or more of the total warranty claims for customers to whom they did not sell.
“The recipients of the 20/20 Vision Award truly put the RV traveler first,” said Steve Evenson, Winnebago Industries’ director of parts and service. “These 137 dealerships not only provide excellent customer service to their own customers, but also those traveling the country in their Winnebago Industries motorhome. I applaud these dealerships for providing timely service to any customer who turns to them for assistance.”
Those dealers achieving 20/20 Vision status for 2009 are:
Madison RV Center Inc., Madison
New Hope RV’s Lowell
La Mesa RV Center Inc. (Yuma), Mesa
La Mesa RV Center Inc. (Yuma), Tucson
La Mesa RV Center Inc. (Yuma), Yuma
Alpine Recreation Sales and Rental Inc., Morgan Hill
Altman’s Winnebago, Carson
Altman’s Winnebago, Colton
Giant RV, Corona
Giant RV, Murrietta
Hansel RV Center, Petaluma
La Mesa RV Center Inc., San Diego
Pan Pacific RV Centers Inc., Roseville
Paul Evert’s RV Country Inc., Fresno
R. E. Barber Recreation Vehicles Inc., Ventura
Sky River RV, Paso Robles
Stier’s RV Center LLC, Bakersfield
Stier’s RV Center of Valencia, Valencia
Village RV, Roseville
Camping World RV SuperCenter, Fountain
K & C RV Centers LLC, Longmont
Nolan’s R.V. Center Inc., Denver
Steve Casey’s Recreational Sales, Wheat Ridge
Crowley RV Center, Bristol
Parkview Auto & Trailer Sales Inc., Smyrna
Camping World RV Sales, Ft. Myers
Carpenter’s Campers Inc., Pensacola
Harberson RV – Pasco LLC, Holiday
Lazy Days R.V. Center Inc., Seffner
R.V. World of NokomisInc., Nokomis
Suncoast RV Inc., Cocoa
Suncoast RV Inc., Jacksonville
Suncoast RV Inc., Ocala
Suncoast RV, Inc., Winter Garden
Camping World RV Sales, Pooler
Johnny Ketelsen Reccreational Vehicles Inc., Hiawatha
Bodily RV Inc., Meridian
Dennis Dillon RV Center, Boise
Smith RV Adventure Center, Idaho Falls
Camping World RV Sales, Island Lake
Ben Davis Chev. Olds. Buick & Pontoac Inc., Auburn
Camping World RV Sales, Greenwood
Hawleywood RV Ranch, Dodge City
Olathe Ford R.V. Center, Gardner
Skaggs RV Country, Elizabethtown
Youngblood’s RV of Paducah Inc., Paducah
Dixie RV Superstores, Hammond
Miller’s RV Center, Baton Rouge
Diamond R.V. Centre Inc., Hatfield
Beckley’s Camping Center, Thurmont
Queenstown Motor Co. Inc., College Park
McKay’s R.V. Center, Holden
Motorhome & RV Super Center, Auburn
General RV Center Inc., White Lake
Hilltop Campers Inc., Escanaba
Brambilla’s Inc., Shakopee
Bullyan Trailer Sales Inc., Duluth
Pleasureland RV Center – North Metro, Ramsey
M.B. Thomas Winnebago, St. Louis
Trailside Campers RV Sales Inc., Grain Valley
American RV Centers Inc., Olive Branch
Country Creek RV Center Inc., Hattiesburg
Bretz RV & Marine, Missoula
Pierce RVs, Billings
Pierce RV, Kalispell
Rangitsch Brothers LLC, Missoula
Bill Plemmons RV World, Raleigh
Bill Plemmons RV World, Rural Hall
Tom Johnson Camping Center Inc., Marion
Tom Johnson Camping Center Charlotte Inc., Concord
Swenson Inc., Minot
Campers Inn Inc., Merrimack
Camping World RV Sales, Epsom
Hill’s RVs, Center Conway
Cedar Ridge RV Center, Branchville
Meyer’s RV Centers LLC, Lakewood
White Horse RV Center, Williamstown
Rocky Mountain RV World Inc., Albuquerque
Sunland RV, Las Cruces
Findlay RV, Las Vegas
Michael Hohl RV Center, Carson City
Wheeler’s Las Vegas RV, Las Vegas
Colton RV, North Tonawanda
Continental Recreational Vehicles Inc., Farmingdale
Ruff’s RV Center, Euclid
Town and Country RV Center Inc., Clyde
All Seasons RV & Marine, Bend
Olinger Travel Homes, Hillsboro
Olinger Travel Homes, Portland
Roberson RV Center Inc., Salem
Triple A RV Center Inc., Medford
All Seasons Recreational Vehicles Inc., Easton
Car Care & RV Center, North East
Media Camping Center Inc., Fairless Hills
Spitler Inc., Montoursville
Tom Schaeffer’s Camping & Travel Center Inc., Shoemakersville
Camping World RV Sales of Charleston, North Charleston
Camping World RV Sales, Spartanburg
Chilhowee Trailer Sales Inc., Louisville
Cullum & Maxey Camping Center Inc., Nashville
Shipp’s RV Centers LLC, Chattanooga
Billy Sims Trailer Town – Lubbock, Lubbock
Crestview RV Center, Buda
Crestview RV Georgetown, Georgetown
McClain’s Longhorn RV Inc., McKinney
McClain’s RV Rockwall Inc., Rockwall
McClain’s RV Superstore Fort Worth Inc., Fort Worth
McClain’s RV Superstore N. Dallas Inc., Lake Dallas
Ardell Brown RV, Draper
Motor Sportsland Inc., Salt Lake City
Wasatch Front Winnebago, Ogden
Dodd RV, Yorktown
Reines R.V. Center Inc., Manassas
Snyder’s RV, Virginia Beach
T/A Safford Motors Dodge, Fredericksburg
Ehler’s RV, Essex Junction
I-5 Uhlmann RV, Chehalis
Poulsbo RV Inc., Kent
R ‘N’ R RV Center, Liberty Lake
Roy Robinson Chevrolet-Subaru & Motorhomes, Marysville
Russ Dean Family RV, Pasco
South Side Motors Inc., Tacoma
AOK RV Sales, Menomonie
Coulee Region RV Center Inc., West Salem
King’s Campers, Wausau
Van Boxtel RV Supermart LLC, Green Bay
Wisconsin RV World, Madison
Rendezvous RV Inc., Casper
Fraserway RV Limited Partnership, Abbotsford
Triangle RV Centre Ltd., Sidney
Fraserway RV Limited Partnership, Bedford
VR Earlton, Earlton
Leisure Mart and RV Canada Corporation, Ottawa
Sicard Holiday Campers Ltd., Smithville
Toronto Camping Centre Inc., Concord
V.R. Daniel Emond, St-Nicolas
VR St-Cyr Ltee, St-Mathieu de Beloeil
RV travel and camping are receiving a timely boost with the debut of NBC’s Great American Road Trip, the reality TV show showcasing the adventures of seven families traveling in motorhomes on a cross-country road trip.
“This is tremendous exposure for the RV industry coming at a time when American families are focused on summer travel,” said Gary LaBella, RVIA vice president and chief marketing officer, in a news release following the show’s debut Tuesday night (July 7). “The message of the show reflects the appeal of RVing…that families reconnect and recharge as they spend time together traveling.”
Airing on NBC on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m. EDT, the Great American Road Trip is a new series where seven families from divergent backgrounds take the vacation of a lifetime. Over eight episodes the families will travel iconic Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles in their own motorhome through cities large and small, all while competing in a medley of humorous challenges that will ultimately lead one family to victory.
El Monte RV, a national RV rental company, provided the motorhomes used in the Great American Road Trip. The units are Bounder type A motorhomes built by Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. RVIA’s Public Relations Department worked with the program’s producers on content and messaging.
“The premier really had some nice moments, including the beautiful sights seen from the RV and family and friends bonding at the campground,” said LaBella. “We’re hopeful this continues throughout the remainder of the show and grateful to El Monte for making this wonderful exposure possible. The series has the potential to make millions more American families aware of the benefits of RV travel and camping this summer and beyond.”
Robert Neal will take to the road this Independence Day holiday the same as millions of other Americans. But there’s a difference in their road-trip ritual this Fourth of July.
The price of gasoline, while down sharply from last year’s peak, means the 74-year-old owner of a motorhome may not venture as far as he has in the past, according to Reuters.
Standing in shorts and sneakers outside his RV at a campground in Grapevine, a lakeside town near Dallas, Neal said he and his wife remained unsure where to go next. “The gas price as it is now, it’s a maybe, maybe,” he said.
RVs like Neal’s double as a vehicle and place to stay, complete with kitchen and bedroom. They are convenient but demand quite a bit of fuel.
The travel and auto group AAA projected last week that U.S. travel over the holiday weekend would drop 1.9% this year compared to 2008, a casualty of higher fuel prices and economic worries.
Approximately 37.1 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more away from home during the holiday weekend, typically the busiest time for auto travel in the United States, the world’s largest energy consumer, down from 37.8 million last year.
Gasoline prices are about a third lower than they were a year ago, but increases at the pump will steer Americans away from road trips, AAA said. Retail prices for regular gasoline averaged nearly $2.63 a gallon today (July 2), about 11% higher than they were around a month ago.
RV parks and road trips are as American as apple pie and are ingrained in a culture where the car remains king.
The country is still recovering from last summer’s shock when pump prices soared past $4 a gallon, crippling the already wounded auto industry and worsening a recession which the economy has yet to escape.
With that shock came opportunities for some.
Retired New York City police officer David Linkletter bought his big RV, parked near Neal’s rig, last year “brand new” from someone who hardly used it and wanted to get rid of it because he couldn’t afford to drive it.
“I got this because of the economy but it was speculative. I wouldn’t drive it last year. I thought we would just drive it nearby,” he said as he prepared to fire up an outside gas grill to cook bacon and eggs on a hot plate for his family.
The subsequent fall in gas prices he said made a trip to Texas affordable, even though he only gets 8 miles to the gallon with his RV. During the trip from New York to north Texas he said he filled up twice each day at $120 a pop.
Fees for a campground remain much cheaper than for a motel which adds to camping’s appeal when times are tough.
“At $20 a night you can’t beat it,” said 20-year-old student David Baker as he sat a picnic table by his tent. He had driven to north Texas from Wichita, Kan.
In Arizona, Dan Karwoski and his partner, Denise Robinson, were planning to drive to Redondo Beach in southern California, to spend the holiday weekend with family.
“We probably would have made this trip anyway, but when the gas prices were elevated, we didn’t drive nearly as much as we do now,” said Karwoski, a senior media specialist for a Tucson software company.
Ken LaRovere, a 52-year-old sales manager for an employee benefits company from the Reno, Nev., area was planning a trip to Donner Lake in California.
“The lower gas prices allowed us to take more trips and do more,” he said.
Green shoots can be seen elsewhere. The number of visitors surged in May at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, a popular wildlife and tourist spot.
After four months of declining or flat visitation, Yellowstone saw a huge uptick in May — an increase of 20.1% to 261,763 visitors compared to May 2008, according to the National Park Service.
“An analysis of past visitation trends also indicates park visitation typically rebounds as the country begins to pull out of an economic downturn,” it said.
There are other signs of Americans sticking close to home.
The Vineyards Campground & Cabins, where Neal and Linkletter were staying, said that in 2007 and 2008 about 10% of its guests were from Grapevine and 71% in both years hailed from Texas.
A dozen white motorhomes clogged Alaska’s Kenai Holiday gas station parking lot Monday morning (June 22), giving locals a rare glimpse at the kind of caravan that has been conspicuously missing from the summertime scene so far this year.
“Our visitation is down about 20% for June,” said Natasha Ala, executive director of the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Monday.
Ala said the center doesn’t keep track of recreational vehicle traffic specifically, but that she doesn’t doubt that vehicle traffic is way down this season, according to Kenai Peninsula Online.
“We’re definitely seeing less people,” she said.
A couple blocks away from the center, Beluga Lookout RV Park owner Jerry Dunn said business isn’t booming.
“It’s been off to a slow start,” he said.
The caravan pulling out of Holiday earlier in the morning had stayed at his park the night before, giving business a much-needed boost. The caravan participants hailed from Germany, and Dunn said many of his guests this summer are foreign nationals.
“We get them from all over the world,” he said.
Dunn said his business is also heavily reliant on retirees, many of whom have seen their stock portfolios and retirement accounts depleted by the economic downturn.
“This year it seems like business if off because a lot of people lost money in their retirement accounts,” he said.
The downward trend in vehicle traffic is nothing new. According to the state’s Office of Economic Development, highway visitors to Alaska have declined in each of the past three years, including a 6.8% drop from 2007 to 2008.
From the Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Tok, the first town of any size for visitors entering Alaska via the Alaska Highway, manager Lisa Conrad said she can’t yet say whether 2009 will be another down year for border crossings. She said things seem slow, but because of a bureaucratic snafu the state has yet to see any numbers for this summer.
“We have not been able to get the border statistics,” she said.
Conrad said the Department of Homeland Security is in charge of the data, and the state has been unable to get the feds to pass the numbers on.
“All we can do is sit and wait,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s office of public affairs in Washington, D.C., said she was unaware of any delay in getting border crossing numbers out, but was unable to provide any figures by the close of business Monday.
Even without hard numbers, Conrad said things in Tok seem to be slow.
“Just talking to the local businesses, it seems like it’s been down,” she said.
With out-of-state visitors electing not to travel as much, local tourism marketers have had to get creative in trying to attract folks to the Kenai Peninsula, which juts southerly from Anchorage into the Gulf of Alaska. Natasha Ala said one way Kenai has been trying to get more visitors is by trying to entice Alaska residents to take what she called “stay-cations.”
“In tough times, the strategy is to beef up the marketing efforts that we do,” she said.
That includes marketing the Kenai Peninsula to places like the interior of the state.
“We’re kind of an exotic destination for people from Fairbanks,” she said.
Although the peninsula’s roads are far from clogged with recreational vehicles, the poor economy hasn’t stopped everyone from heading north. Visiting Kenai with his wife and another couple from Arkansas, retired Sears mechanic Jerry Russell said the group figured seeing Alaska on wheels would be more fun than flying up.
“We just wanted to see the country,” he said.
Thus far, Russell said the trip has been worth every cent.
“It’s really been an enjoyable trip,” he said.
He’s put more than 5,000 miles on his motorhome, with “at least” another 5,000 left to go. And while many penny-pinching travelers may have elected to stay home this year, Russell said he’s in no hurry to get back.
“When the money runs out we’ll go home,” he said.
With the RV industry starting to pick up a little momentum, some 140 dealers gathered in Middlebury, Ind., this week (June 22-24) for Jayco Inc.’s ”Homecoming” to be followed Thursday and Friday by dealers handling Starcraft towables and Entegra Class A motorhomes.
”Dealer attitudes have been extremely positive,” Jayco President Derald Bontrager told RVBusiness during a break in the action at Jayco’s main complex on Ind. 15. ”The biggest negative we are facing this week is the availability of product. Our lead times have grown with the orders we’ve taken in the last 30 to 45 days, which is a good problem to have.”
Jayco, operating its Jayco, Starcraft and Entegra divisions with a 1,200-person workforce that is about 45% smaller than a year ago, is offering new 2010 Jayco products that include the Precept Class C motorhome, the newly redesigned Baja folding camping trailer and Recon ZX sport utility RV.
New Starcraft products include a redesigned Lexicon fifth-wheel and the redesigned Starcraft 36RT folding camping trailer.
The dealer gathering included factory tours and a ”meet-and-greet” Amish-style awards dinner Monday night at Das Dutchmen Essehnaus restaurant in Middlebury. ”The dealers really enjoy being here in Middlebury,” Jayco Chairman Wilbur Bontrager said.
Jayco’s management, at the same time, is convinced that the RV industry is beginning to slowly emerge from the nation’s deep recession, but still faces wholesale and retail lending challenges.
”Retail lending from national lending sources has eased considerably from where it was,” reported Jim Jacobs, vice president of sales and marketing. ”But I think most dealers have simply found another alternative if that’s what they needed to do. We hear a lot of credit union talk out there, and in fact, some of the credit unions are being very aggressive with their retail lending.”
An uptick in retail traffic is equally evident, Derald Bontrager said. ”Six months ago, they (dealers) couldn’t get anybody to walk though the door hardly,” he said ”Today, some dealers are seeing record days on their lots in terms of the number of customers coming through the door. Pent-up demand is real.”
On the wholesale side of the equation, Jayco continues to take a wait-and-see attitude. ”Our immediate sense is that it’s certainly gotten better, but it’s not back to the atmosphere that it was 18 months ago,” Jacobs said. ”Lenders have eased a little bit and they’ve given us more availability with dealers.
”But I think the flooring companies are going to play a critical role in the fall and winter markets,” he added ”How willing they are to allow dealers to inventory product is going to be a key component of what goes on this fall.”
Despite media reports that have tended to make the RV industry appear ”irrelevant” during the global recession, Wilbur Bontrager contended the RV lifestyle is not going to go away.
”I maintain that as long as people take vacations, our industry will not be irrelevant,” he said. ”The long term outlook is very good. (The industry) may come back at a slower pace than it has in the past. It will gradually recover. I don’t want to put percentages on increases, but we should see increasing strength and recovery over the next two or three years.”
Nonetheless, there may be more industry fallout due to the economy. ”There could be more of a contraction, not only manufacturers, but suppliers also,” Wilbur Bontrager said.
Given the bankruptcy of Fleetwood Enterprises Inc. and the purchase of bankrupt Monaco Coach Corp.’s assets by Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp., Jayco’s luxury Entegra motorhome division is well positioned for a recovery, according to Jacobs.
”Frankly, with the two largest Class A manufacturers out there in complete disarray, we actually feel good about our position with that product,” Jacobs said. ”The next six to nine months probably will be a very slow ramp up for us with (Entegra). But long term, we know we can position ourselves as a very viable, very strong player in that market.”
”On the retail side, (dealers) are very concerned about aligning themselves with manufacturers that they believe are going to be here long term,” Derald Bontrager said. ”We talked about it in our opening remarks. We will be here.”
With regard to the Starcraft brand, Jacobs said Jayco wants to make it ”an all-inclusive” brand.
”We want to create a brand that dealers can look at and say, ‘I do not have any holes in this offering and it is something that I can build my entire dealership around.’ We have made huge strides in that arena in the last several months.”
At Smokey Hollow Campground in Lodi, Wis., according to the New York Times, a typical weekend goes something like this: Families splash around in the man-made “swimming pond” – a lined, sand-bottomed swim zone filled with outsized inflatable toys. Staffers in blue or white T-shirts deliver pizza to tents, RVs and air-conditioned cabins scattered across the grounds. Kids line up for face painting, temporary tattoos, Segway riding clinics and amusement-style rides while parents sip coffee and surf the Web on laptops outside the General Store, where they can also buy firewood for the requisite campfire and hot dog roast.
“Never a dull moment,” said Kathy Kranz, an office manager from Chicago, who spent Memorial Day weekend at the campground with nine other family members, including her 15-year-old son, Jimmy, and her 17-year-old daughter, Krystal.
At some campgrounds, said Kranz, who owns a 34-foot motorhome with another family, there is “absolutely nothing to do, except if you want to go fishing.” But with all the amenities at Smokey Hollow, her family “just had a ball,” she said. “There were so many things to do.”
Getting close to nature and telling ghost stories around a fire are no longer the main attraction at many campgrounds.
Campgrounds Reinvent Themselves
In an effort to attract families – and charge more – private campgrounds across the country have been reinventing themselves from sleepy, rustic campsites to bustling “camp resorts.” You can still pitch your own tent, but with food delivery, you don’t have to slave over an open flame for dinner.
“It’s Disneyland for campers,” said Jim Rogers, the CEO of Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), one of the country’s oldest operators of private campgrounds, which has been adding free Wi-Fi, espresso bars and air-conditioned cabins to some of its 450 parks.
Rogers likens the evolution of campgrounds in recent years to the amenity creep in the hotel business. Just as hotels have added free cocktail hours, fluffy beds and spas to attract clients and get them to stay longer, he said, campgrounds too have been “ratcheting up the value” with new features and services.
The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA in La Selva Beach, Calif., is the home of an espresso bar, but also has miniature-train rides, outdoor movies, a mechanical bull and a giant outdoor Jumping Pillow (sort of a cross between a trampoline and a bouncy castle).
In Kimball, Mich., the Port Huron KOA features an in-line skating rink, batting cages, bumper boats, an ice cream parlor and seven playgrounds.
And Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in North Java, N.Y., just added a 16,000-square-foot water playground with water slides, water cannons and other spray features to its long list of kid-oriented attractions.
Not unlike hotels, which offer different room types at different prices, private campgrounds have been expanding their lodging options. The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA, where tent sites cost about $60 a night, has RV sites (from $75), 50 air-conditioned cabins (from $115) and 13 lodges that can sleep six and have a small kitchen, dining area, bathroom and central air and heat (from $225). In April, the campground added six Airstream trailers that sleep a family of four for $150 a night.
Also like hotels, KOA introduced its Value Kard Rewards program, last year, allowing repeat campers to earn points redeemable for savings on their next visit.
“We’re campers in name only at this point,” said Bob Mills, a retired firefighter from Stockton, Calif., who parks his 30-foot trailer stocked with, as he puts it, “every luxury known to man” at the Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA for a few weeks each summer to spend time with his daughters, Lisa, 15, and Julie, 12.
After rolling out of their bunks each morning, Lisa and Julie may take a ride on the motorized Fun Train, race around on three-wheeled recumbent bikes or hit the heated swimming pool with friends. In the evening, they’ll meet up with Dad for dinner – pizza delivered straight to their campsite – and the requisite campfire with s’mores, before turning into their comfy bunk beds inside the trailer.
Camping with Golf Cart
All of this may elicit a swift roll of the eyes from hard-core campers, used to pitching a tent deep in the woods and relying purely on nature for entertainment. But the “camping lite” travelers offer no apologies.
“I like to camp two hours a day,” said Scott Crompton, owner of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone in North Java. “Then I retreat into my motorhome with every amenity there is.”
His staff caters to campers like him with a roster of activities, food delivery, people who will park your RV for you and a fleet of golf carts campers can rent for $50 a day to cruise around the 100-acre park. “Certainly nobody is rubbing two sticks together to make their own fire,” he said.
The recent surge in amenities at private campgrounds partly grew out of the rise of the RV business, as ownership grew by 15% from 2001 to 2005, with more than 8 million households owning a recreational vehicle. As droves of Baby Boomers snapped up increasingly fancy motorhomes over the previous decade, they sought out campsites that could not only handle the increasing need for electricity and water these vehicles required but that also matched the plush interiors of their RVs.
Campgrounds soon found out that the more amenities and services they provided, the more they could charge.
“The objective is to maximize dollars,” said Bud Styer, a camping consultant who owns and manages several RV parks and campsites in Wisconsin, including Smokey Hollow. “If I have 100 sites and I’m charging $10 a night, that’s $1,000. If I add an amenity, I can charge $15 more a night. The return on investment is staggering.”
The campsites at Smokey Hollow cost about $45 a night on average and include access to the swimming pond and other water features. Campers can pay an extra $25 a person for a V.I.P. wristband for unlimited weekend use of the miniature golf course, pedal carts, the Jumping Pillow and other amenities.
But even at these rates, a weekend of camping can still be more affordable than staying at a hotel or motel – especially if you cook your own food – a point the industry expects to bank on during the recession. So far this year, Styer said, business is up about 12% across his four campgrounds.
“When the economy gets a little rough, camping usually gets better,” he said.