The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Go RVing were outside of Atlanta from June 30–July 2 to promote RV travel and camping to “influential mommy and family bloggers” during the 3rd Annual Reviewers Retreat, according to a press release.
Held at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, Reviewers Retreat is a conference for review bloggers that provided the opportunity for these online influencers to attend workshops and sessions on influence marketing, network with peers, and build relationships with company and agency personnel representing different brands.
As an event sponsor, Go RVing set up an outdoor camping display featuring a Fleetwood Excursion Class A motorhome, Evergreen Everlite travel trailer, and Forest River Vibe travel trailer. Event attendees were able to tour the RVs, pick up Go RVing materials and learn about the freedom, fun, flexibility and affordability offered by RV travel and camping.
“This was another step in our effort to promote RV travel to the blogging community,” said Karen Redfern, RVIA’s senior director of marketing communications, who attended the event. “More and more consumers are getting news and ideas from bloggers. Given their high level of credibility with readers, they are a great medium to promote the benefits of RV travel with families.”
When the open road started calling Henry and Gloria Jannenga, they answered.
“We started in January of last year,” said Gloria Jannenga. “We bought the RV in December 2011. We went to the beach and literally stayed at the beach for about a month. It’s just a fun way to live.”
According to a report by the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, the Jannengas have put their 2009 Georgia Boy Pursuit, a 36-foot Class A motorhome, to good use since. The trip to Hunting Island, S.C., was a test to see how much they’d like it. They’ve made trips to several parts of the country since then, including putting 12,000 miles on it about 12 months ago when they visited Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
The Jannengas are among a growing number of Americans who are taking to the open road and purchasing RVs to get the most out of the experience, according to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
“The RV market continued to gain ground in the first quarter of 2013, with total RV wholesale shipments reaching 79,422 units through March, an increase of 11.2 percent over the 71,444 units shipped during the same time frame in 2012,” according to RVIA’s March 2013 survey of manufacturers.
“RVing is becoming more and more popular because it’s a convenient, comfortable and affordable way for families to spend quality time together and build memories that will last a lifetime,” said RVIA president Richard Coon in a news release from the RVIA. “RVs provide families with the ability to take whatever kind of vacation they want, and it won’t break the bank.”
To read the entire article click here.
Time away from work and time spent relaxing is so sacred that not even a spike at the pumps can detour Iowans from their summer travel plans.
As reported by the Quad City Times, Davenport, experts in the travel and recreation businesses said while rising gasoline prices will not cause travelers to call off their vacations or getaways, the additional costs will prompt them to find savings in other areas.
“Most people when they set travel plans don’t plan last minute, especially if they have plans at the national parks or have purchased airline tickets. So that they rarely cancel their plans,” said Gail Weinholzer, spokeswoman for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.
“They will make up for it in other ways,” she said. “They may eat at cheaper restaurants or cut back on the other spending.”
Likewise, fuel prices seem to be having little impact on those in the market for a recreational vehicle, two Quad-City RV dealers said.
“It may affect how far people travel for the weekend, but it doesn’t affect if they are going to make a decision to purchase an RV or not,” said John Dresselhaus, the owner of US Adventure RV, Davenport. In fact, he said the industry finally has rebounded from the recession.
To read the entire article click here.
During the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, 5.8 million recreation vehicles will be on the road and in the nation’s more than 16,000 campgrounds, according to a new survey by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and Cvent. According to a press release, an estimated 14 million Americans will enjoy the holiday weekend in an RV.
Recreation vehicle owners will be on the road in a big way throughout the summer to enjoy time outdoors with family and friends. According to the new survey, 71% of RV owners intend to use their RVs more this summer than they did last year, and 21% will use theirs the same amount. Just five percent said they’ll use their RVs less.
“RVing is becoming more and more popular because it’s a convenient, comfortable and affordable way for families to spend quality time together and build memories that will last a lifetime,” said RVIA president Richard Coon. “RVs provide families with the ability to take whatever kind of vacation they want — and it won’t break the bank.”
One reason so many RVers will be on the road is the built-in cost savings of RV travel. A 2011 study by travel industry experts PKF Consulting found that a family of four can save 23% to 59% when they travel in their RV, even when factoring in purchase price, maintenance costs, and rising gas prices.
“More than nine million Americans own RVs because of the unmatched freedom and flexibility they provide when traveling,” said Coon. “RVers can adjust their plans to take a long road trip or a quick weekend getaway. What’s most important for RVers is the opportunity to spend quality time outdoors with loved ones.”
Emerging Trends in RV Usage
Approximately 19% of RV owners are engaging in “seasonal” or “destination” camping, according to the survey. Destination campers leave their RV parked at one location for the entire spring/summer (or longer) and travel back and forth to it using a family car.
Many families are taking shorter, more frequent getaways in their RVs to accommodate busy schedules. According to the survey, 72% of RVers plan to take more 1-4 day mini-vacations this spring/summer.
RV owners appreciate the control RVs offer in today’s travel climate. Unlike air travelers, RVers can bring anything they want on vacation — including pets. According to the survey, 64% of RV owners bring pets along on trips. Most RVers traveling with pets bring dogs (94 percent) and cats (10 percent). Others bring along pets such as birds, ferrets, snakes and horses. Three-fourths (76 percent) of survey respondents cited flexibility as a favorite benefit of RV ownership.
RV Market Continues to Grow
America’s wholesale recreation vehicle (RV) shipments shot up 11% in the first quarter of 2013, fueled by strong consumer response to the versatility, affordability and innovative designs of new models, according to market data collected by RVIA. Shipments for 2013 are expected to rise 7.5% from 2012.
According to the survey, 73% of current RV owners believe now is a good time to buy an RV because RVs are the best way to travel comfortably and conveniently (64 percent), and great deals now available (58%).
The online survey of 378 RV owners was conducted by RVIA and Cvent and has a margin of error of 4.7%.
Consumers can learn more about today’s RVs by visiting www.GoRVing.com.
Editor’s Note: The following article was published by CNN Money offering a rundown of the various types of RVs available. To view the entire story click here.
It isn’t as well-known as his investments in Heinz or American Express, but Warren Buffett has a stake in the recreational vehicle industry. In 2005, Buffett made an offer to purchase Forest River Inc., an RV manufacturer in Elkhart, Ind. over the telephone just one day after he first learned about the company. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway has since been doubling down, purchasing Coachman RV in 2008 and Dynamax Corp. in 2011 and has singled out Forest River for praise. In his 2011 letter to shareholders, he wrote: “Forest River has 82 plants, and I have yet to visit one (or the home office, for that matter). There’s no need; Pete Liegl, the company’s CEO, runs a terrific operation.”
Buffett’s endorsement came as the RV industry was recovering from a once-in-a-generation slump. RV shipments climbed back up to 273,600 units in 2012, their highest level since 2007, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Survey Research Center. The market continued to gain ground in the first quarter of 2013 with total RV wholesale shipments rising 11.2% year over year.
That isn’t peanuts. RV’s are a $10 billion industry, with 80 manufacturers and 3,000 dealers. Thor industries, maker of the Airstream, and Buffett’s Forest River control 65% of the business, which is getting a big demographic boost: More baby boomers are moving into retirement, and buying an RV is one of the ways they reward themselves when they do.
RVs fall into two general categories: towables, where the entry-level RV has no motor and must be pulled behind a car or truck; and motor homes, self-contained units where everything is within arm’s reach of the driver’s seat.
To view the entire article click here.
RV owners will be hitting the road this spring and summer to enjoy time outdoors with family and friends, according to a press release.
The latest Campfire Canvass survey of RV owners, conducted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), reveals that 71% of RV owners intend to use their RVs more this spring/summer than they did last year, and 21% say they’ll use RVs the same amount. Just 5% said they’ll use their RV less.
The survey of 378 RV owners was conducted by RVIA and Cvent from March 29 through April 22 and has a margin of error of 4.7%.
The top reasons for using their RVs more include enjoying outdoor activities (78%), taking more mini-vacations (72%), spending quality time with family (62%) and escaping the stress and pressure of daily life (51%).
In a significant change from last year’s survey, just 34% (down from 58%) said fuel prices will affect their RV travel plans. Those who say their plans will be impacted still plan to travel in their RVs, but will adjust their plans by traveling to destinations closer to home (80%), driving fewer miles in their RV (63%) and staying longer at one location (59%).
According to the survey, 73% think now is a good time to buy an RV because the liefstyle is the best way to travel comfortably and conveniently (64%), and great deals are now available (58%).
Top benefits of RV travel include spending more time enjoying outdoor activities (80%), flexibility (76%), seeing natural sites and attractions (75%), the ability to bring pets (60%), and being on the open road (56%).
The research found that traveling with pets remains popular with RV owners. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said they travel with pets. Of those, 94% bring a dog and 10% bring a cat.
Mark and Kimberly Clemens recently super-sized their cross-country trip to a July 4th family festival in Owensboro, Ky.
The Daily News, Los Angeles, reported that the couple traveled in their new 33-foot, tricked-out motorhome, which cost as much as a house in some of the towns they will pass through.
“The rig is performing really well,” said Mark Clemens, a 59-year-old Woodland Hills, Calif., insurance broker, in a phone interview during the trip at the Cracker Barrel in Kingman, Ariz. “I like it a lot. I like the freedom to kind of come and go. If you see a point of interest you can stop and check it out. You get to see a lot more than you do at 35,000 feet.”
The Clemenses had plenty of company at the campgrounds they visited along the way.
The RV sector is on the road to recovery, after being decimated by the recession, losing 260 dealers and three big manufacturers nationwide.
“We’re probably having the best year we’ve had in several years and we’re trying very hard,” said Bo Beaubrixey, general manager at the Camping World dealership in Valencia. “People want to use their RVs and go camping. All the campgrounds are full (this season). Even high gas prices are not stopping people from using their RVs.”
The store’s sales have increased between 25% and 30% from the recession low, Beaubrixey said. He declined to provide specific numbers.
After the economy tanked, people were still coming into the store looking to buy but could not get financing, he said.
Buying an RV is similar to buying a car, but banks want a 20% down payment and the payments are stretched over 10, 12, 15 or 20 years, Beaubrixey said.
This sector measures its strength in shipments of travel trailers and motor coaches from manufacturers to dealers. It has been on the upswing since 2009, said Phil Ingrassia, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
Through the end of May, RV shipments increased 8.6% to 127,454, compared with 117,352 in the first five months of 2011, he said.
“It’s definitely on the rebound,” Ingrassia said. “RVs are a discretionary purchase. One of the things we look at is consumer sentiment. When consumer sentiment takes a dive, usually RV shipments drop as well.”
To read the entire article in the Daily News click here.
Kidd RV Resort Consulting, an integrated marketing firm specializing in the RV industry, has interpreted the results of its five-question survey to analyze the relationship between gas prices and RVers’ travel behaviors from the summer of 2011 to the winter of 2012.
According to a press release, respondents of the 2011 survey indicated that if fuel prices continued to increase, more than 70% of RVers would change their travel plans or behaviors. The percentage of respondents who would change their travel behaviors dropped to 27% in 2012, an indication that more RVers are adhering to their travel plans despite fuel prices. This fluctuation is potentially due to the 16% fuel price decrease that occurred from the summer through December, combined with an improving economy.
Based on survey results, RVers are more committed to paying higher fuel prices and traveling in 2012 as compared to 2011. In 2012, the majority of RVers responded that they would travel until fuel prices reached $8/gallon, while only 7.4% of RVers would pay $8/gallon in 2011. In addition, 55% of participants are planning on traveling more than they did in 2011, 36% planning to travel the same as in 2011 and only 9% traveling less than they did last year.
“Understanding how RVers are affected by industry trends, obstacles and new technologies aids Kidd RV for the purpose of creating more focused marketing objectives and maximizing positive results for our clients,” says Jerry Kidd, president of Kidd RV Resort Consulting.
For detailed charts of RVers’ responses to fuel prices and traveling, visit http://kiddrv.com/news/2012021501.php.
Consumers looking to save on vacation travel should go RVing, according to preliminary data from updated vacation cost comparison research by PKF Consulting, according to a press release.
Commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the study shows that even during a time of economic turmoil and fluctuating fuel prices, RV trips remain the least costly.
PKF, an international travel and tourism consulting company, found that RVing is 28% to 59% less expensive than other types of vacations for a family of four. For an “empty-nester” couple traveling by RV, savings were 15% to 45%.
Even after accounting for factors such as RV ownership costs and fuel prices, the study confirms that RV vacations offer greater savings than those taken using a personal car or airline, and staying in a hotel or rental house or condominium.
PKF analyzed vacation costs for two sets of traveling parties — a family of four, including two adults and two children; and a party of two adults. PKF calculated the costs for these hypothetical travelers taking seven types of vacations to popular destinations, including: Branson, Mo.; Cape Cod, Mass.; the Grand Canyon; Corpus Christi, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Lancaster, Pa.; Napa, Calif.; and Traverse City, Mich.
The study analyzed popular RV types, including folding camping trailers, lightweight travel trailers, and compact motorhomes. Also studied were costs associated with an RV rental vacation, and a comparison of travel in a Class A motorhome against an upscale/luxury vacation. Vacation durations were three, seven and 14 days, and were directly related to the round-trip distances in highway miles between city-pairs.
PKF also analyzed how theoretical increases in fuel prices could affect vacation travel costs, and found that fuel prices would have to more than double for RV vacations to lose its economic advantage over other forms of travel.
The report will be finalized in the coming weeks, and will be published by RVIA this fall.
As a result of outreach by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) and its agency Barton Gilanelli, RVs were a hot topic in local Fourth of July holiday coverage around the country. Media reported that five million RVers would be on the road during the July 4 weekend despite fuel prices.
RV-related stories were broadcasted more than 50 times in 39 media markets around the country. Reports reflected RVIA messaging that RVers planned to use their RVs more this summer because they save on hotel rooms, airfares and eating out.
“For a family of five it was still cheaper to travel by RV than it was to rent hotel rooms,” RVer Christine Torres told a Las Vegas TV news team. “By the time you add two hotel rooms, per night, and pay for three meals out, it gets really expensive.”
Stories appeared in major markets, including Sacramento; Pittsburgh; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Las Vegas; Harrisburg, Pa.; Birmingham, Ala.; Cleveland; St. Louis; Indianapolis; Norfolk, Va.; Los Angeles; and Oklahoma City.
Capping off the holiday weekend, RVIA President Richard Coon appeared on the Fox Business cable network on July 5 to show off a luxury fifth-wheel toy hauler provided by Dutchmen Manufacturing Inc., and discuss the industry’s recovery and enduring popularity.
“The RV industry is up 57% from 2009 and eight percent from last year,” Coon told Fox Business. “People love RVing for the convenience and the savings. A family of four can save two-thirds by not spending on hotels, eating out and airline tickets.”
The four-and-a-half minute live interview took place inside the Dutchmen trailer and effectively showcased the industry and one of its more popular product types before an affluent business audience.
RVers on the Go RVing Facebook page enjoyed the segment, posting overwhelmingly positive comments about their own RVing experiences, including:
• “I love our RV,” wrote Leslie Harris on Facebook. “I like to sleep in my own bed and not worry about bedbugs in hotels and motels. We relax and have all the wonderful things our home has. If we don’t like a particular place, we are up and driving down the road.”
• “We love our 27-foot travel trailer!” wrote Becky Brown Hecker. “Knowing your kids are sleeping and playing in clean beds. Having the ocean in your backyard, or beautiful views right outside your door. Having a yard for the kids to play in. When we are in our camper, we are as comfortable as being home — just having a lot more fun. We are able to go on more vacations, and can afford to do more when we are on vacation.”
The thought of gassing up for a cross-country – or even crosstown – vacation is enough to unleash an expletive-filled rant worthy of Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold.
According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, with fuel costs hovering around $4 a gallon, many motorists and recreation enthusiasts are rethinking and reworking spring and summer travel plans.
Count the Jones family of Citrus Heights among those cutting back. Gone are the days when this family of seven would pile into their Honda Odyssey van and go for a drive.
Julie Jones, 36, said the family will wrap their summer vacation in with a roughly 300-mile trip to San Luis Obispo to celebrate her grandparents’ anniversary.
“When we’re going down there, we’ll include vacation time in that instead of traveling somewhere else or at another time,” she said.
Consolidating trips and staying longer will be a common theme among summer travelers, judging from interviews with consumers and travel experts.
Forty percent of adults expect to take fewer trips in the next four months because of the cost of gasoline, and 74% of those surveyed expect to reduce the number of trips by at least two, according to a recent study by the global market research firm TNS Omnibus.
If gas prices stay high, people stay home, or close to it. Consequently, cities such as Sacramento will see a drop in tourism dollars, said Mike Testa, senior vice president of convention sales and business developments for the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“Sacramento is a drive-in destination,” he said. “Anytime you have higher fuel prices, it impacts the amount of distance travelers will come from.”
When gas prices shot up a few years ago over Labor Day weekend – right in time for Sacramento Gold Rush Days – the event was attended more heavily by locals than out-of-towners.
“If history is the model, I think where we’ll feel it most are on those three-day holidays –
Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day,” Testa said.
Spending by locals who decide against travel might soften the loss, but won’t completely cover it.
“Visitors typically spend more than a local would,” Testa explained.
When gas prices inch up, recreational vehicle owners also tend to seek destinations closer to home. In addition, they stay in one place longer and trim costs in other areas, said Debbie Sipe, executive director of the Auburn-based California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC).
“They still end up going camping, but they buy the hot dogs instead of going out for a steak dinner,” she said. “They’re still going, but are spending money in different ways.”
Despite the recession and rising gas prices over the past few years, occupancy rates have held steady at about 55% to 60% at privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in California, she said.
Unlike other segments of the travel industry, which have seen double-digit downturns, camping has had almost no downturn in occupancy, she said.
“Americans feel that a vacation is a birthright, and they’re going to go. They’re just going to go with what they can afford,” Sipe said. “RVing and camping is an affordable alternative. … Plus, it offers good quality family time that you don’t necessarily get on other kinds of trips.”
Watch today’s Featured Video to lern more about this story.
AAA says holiday weekend travel will increase this year. You can expect to see more RVs on the road, which industry leaders say is because more banks are lending money and gas prices are lower, according to WSBT-TV, South Bend, Ind.
Ron and Judy Ruff travel about six months each year. Their RV is their home away from home. The Ruff’s have been all over the United States and Canada.
“We were traveling when the gas prices were $4 a gallon and it didn’t stop us,” Ron said.
What they have seen recently on the roadways is the biggest surprise of all.
“It’s amazing how many people still RV,” Ron said.
This isn’t something they’re just seeing locally. Frank and Marty Leland’s RV stopped at the KOA campground in Granger, Ind. They’ve traveled the country since April. In that time, they found they were in good company.
“Fifth wheels, motor homes are very, very common,” Leland said.
AAA projects an increase in Memorial Day weekend travel — despite gas prices being 80 cents higher this year compared to last year. It appears the local RV industry is on the road to recovery, following its share of bumps in the road.
“Employment is up, numbers are up and we’re increasing more as we go,” said Bill Fenech, president and CEO of Damon Motor Coach.
Fenech said production of vehicles on the assembly line has increased 85% to 135%.
“Last year was awful,” Fenech said. “We’re up significantly.”
While sales are up, Fenech is careful to sketch a pretty picture.
“Retail is doing good, not great. We need to make sure retail supports the number of units we’re shipping. We need retail to kick in and continue to be strong,” Fenech said.
The economic downturn was long thought to be the industry’s “nail” in the coffin. Now, it appears those fears may be easing as more and more camp and ride on the road in style, in their RV.
As the RV industry celebrates its centennial this year, a new survey shows that interest in RV travel remains strong, with nearly half of RV owners planning to spend more time on the road this spring and summer than a year ago, according to the current issue of RVIA Today Express.
According to the latest Campfire Canvass, a biannual survey of RV owners by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 45.4% of RV owners expect to travel more this summer than they did last year; 41.9% say they’ll travel the same amount. More than 8.2 million U.S. households own an RV.
RV travel is as popular today as it was in 1910 when the first mass-produced RVs were built. “For a century, Americans have enjoyed exploring what’s over the next hill and around the bend,” says Richard Coon, RVIA president. “That pioneering spirit is still alive and well today.”
Survey respondent Bob Jaffe, 65, of Palm Beach, Fla., exemplifies that pioneering spirit. He and his wife, Sheila, bought their RV in August 2009 and spent five months traveling throughout the U.S.
“Our No. 1 goal was to visit our daughter in wine country in Northern California,” says Jaffe, who retired from his printing business in 2008. “During our trip, we visited 13 national parks, five national monuments and many historic sites, and we didn’t even get wet.”
The Jaffes, who used to get soaked putting up and taking down their tent in the rain before they bought their first RV, are planning another five-month summer trip that will take them from Florida to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada.
Among the survey respondents, 75% cited the flexibility of RVing as a major benefit of owning an RV.
Dennis Kiegel, 59, of Tampa, Fla., enjoys the freedom and control that RVing offers. “Whenever my wife and I feel like it, we can just get up and go,” says Kiegel, a former Anheuser Busch employee. “What we like best is the freedom to come and go as we please. With our RV, we can travel at our own leisure. We don’t have any set plans for the summer. For us, it’s more interesting to wake up in the morning and make a spur-of-the-moment decision.”
According to the survey, a primary reason so many RVers will be traveling this spring/summer is that they appreciate the value they get compared to flying, driving and staying in hotels. Almost 82 percent percent of owners say they save anywhere from 15% to 75% by traveling in their RVs. This is consistent with a study by international travel and tourism experts PKF Consulting, which found that family RV trips are, on average, 27% to 61% less expensive than other types of vacations.
“RV travel continues to appeal to people looking to save money and cut costs,” says Coon. “RVers get a bigger bang for their buck than they get from other types of vacations.”
State and national parks are among the most popular destinations for RV trips this spring/summer. Seventy-seven percent of the survey respondents said they’ll visit state parks, while 71% will visit national parks.
Rob Long, a 33-year-old architectural designer from Newark, Ohio, frequently visits state parks with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in their RV. “Staying at state parks is my way of giving something back and helping to sustain them,” says Long.
Long, whose parents and two brothers also own RVs, appreciates the family togetherness that RVing creates. “RVing is a great way to work and play together as a family,” he says.
According to the survey, RVers plan to be on the move during major holidays, with 60% planning to travel over Memorial Day weekend and 64% over the July 4th holiday.
RV owners appreciate the recreational and health benefits associated with RV travel:
- 78% say RV travel provides them the opportunity to spend more time enjoying outdoor activities.
- 73% of RV owners say they are more physically active on RV trips compared to other types of vacations.
- 72% say RVs allow them to escape everyday stress and pressure.
- 80% say their children are more physically active on RV vacations than other types.
Jumping in the RV and driving off into the sunset is a dream for a lot of people.
Harriet and John Halkyard actually did it – and so did Mike and Terri Church.
This weekend, the two couples will be spinning tales about their travels at the Snowbird RV Show and Sale at Tradex in Abbotsford, British Columbia. And there are some very interesting tales, because they have been to some very exotic places, according to The Vancouver Sun.
The Halkyards, for example, claim to be the first people to drive an RV up the historic Tea-Horse Road between China and Tibet, where they camped at the base of Mt. Everest.
“The Chinese travel authority and the Lonely Planet [travel guide] both describe that road as the most beautiful and the most dangerous in the world, which I’ll second,” relates Harriet Halkyard over the phone from her home in Houston.
“It was amazing, and fascinating. The road was good and passable for a couple of horses, but that was about it. We were knocking boulders off 2,000- or 3,000-foot cliffs, like into the Grand Canyon. It was not a good road, to put it mildly.”
Were you scared?
She pauses and sighs.
“Aw, heck, if I’m going to go, that’s the way to go,” she said. “I don’t want to die in bed, you’ve got to take a risk now and then.”
The Halkyards achieved some renown in RV circles for a book they co-wrote, “99 Days to Panama.” It details how one day they quit their day jobs, hopped in a rig they had just purchased and drove all the way from Houston to Panama.
That sounds kind of dodgy, as well, but Halkyard says it was relatively easy.
“We didn’t know what we were doing, hardly even knew how to empty the tanks, but we decided to go,” said Halkyard, 63.
“I think my husband thought when I said Panama I meant Panama City, Fla. I didn’t know if we were going to make it back, I didn’t know if the vehicle was going to make it back, I didn’t know if the dog was going to make it back, but it was very easy. That’s the message I’m trying to get over to people.
“The roads (in central America), for the most part, are like country byroads — the Pan-American highway is two lanes. Yes, there are potholes, and yes, there are cows and donkeys and people all over the place, so you stick to about 30 miles an hour. Once you got into that frame of mind, of just going slowly and gently, it’s a piece of cake. There were no horrendous challenges at all.”
The Halkyards are part-time RVers — they still have a home in Houston, and John (an ocean engineer) still takes contracts designing offshore platforms.
The Churches, on the other hand, left their accountant jobs in Seattle in 1992 and haven’t looked back. Today home is a Fraserway RV hoisted on the back of a 2004 Chevy 3/4 ton truck.
“Truthfully we intended to take a year off, it was a sabbatical for us,” says Mike Church.
“But we liked the lifestyle a lot. We found it was much less expensive than we thought, so we decided we could continue to do it the rest of our lives if we wanted.”
The Churches are classic snowbirds — they mosey around up North in the summer, then split for Mexico or the U.S. Southwest for the fall and winter. They’ve written seven travel books aimed at RVers, and this weekend will be giving hour-long spiels on snowbird destinations.
“We’ve gotten around quite a bit,” notes Church, 58.
“We’ve been in all the states of Mexico at least six times, we’ve been as far south as Panama, we’ve travelled throughout Europe and into Greece and Turkey.”
Because they live full-time in their rig, they also are great at dispensing advice on the RV lifestyle. This is key, because given the current economic malaise, people are being more cautious about getting into recreational vehicles.
“(An event like) the Snowbird show is a great way to get familiar with RVs before you make a commitment,” he says.
“What looks good in the showroom or on the lot might not be the ideal rig for what you want to do. Do you enjoy the outdoors, do you want to spend time in the woods in government campgrounds? If you do you need a smaller rig, cause big rigs don’t work really well for that. But if you want to take your rig and sit on the beach in one place for three months, maybe you want a fifth wheel or a big trailer.”
There are also spots where you can park your RV for next to nothing, such as the land yacht mecca Quartzsite, Ariz. Located in the middle of the desert between Phoenix and Los Angeles, Quartzsite is almost unbearably hot in the summer – the average daily high is 108 degrees fahrenheit in July. But for the winter the weather is gorgeous, with normal highs of 66 in December and January.
“In the summer there’s nothing [there], but drive through Quartzsite in January and there are RVs as far as the eye can see, scattered around the desert,” says Church.
“All the land around Quartzsite is what we call BLM land, for Bureau of Land Management, which is a federal organization. They charge for camping on the land, but it’s roughly $180 for six months. So you can conceivably spend the entire winter there for almost nothing. You just have to have solar, so you have electricity, and you have to deal with the water issue, which isn’t difficult to do.”
Recession or no, there are still a lot of people on the RV trail — Church notes the Texas-based Escapees RV club that has 75,000 members, and Halkyard says there are an estimated 1 million RVers overall in the states, including weekenders.
“It’s like being in a bubble,” says Halkyard, who was a university lecturer and worked in a travel agency before she took up the RV lifestyle.
“You are cut off from all the annoyances of the outside world, and yet you can stop and pop that bubble any time you like. I just find it so relaxing, and educational as well, because you get to meet people you wouldn’t normally meet, and go into places you wouldn’t normally go. For instance (last year we took a) trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland. If we had flown in, it would have been lovely, we could have stayed in a nice hotel and met all the other visitors. But we didn’t, we drove in and therefore met the people who are really there.”
Harriet and John Halkyard’s website is www.99daystopanama.com; Mike and Terri Church’s website is www.rollinghomes.com.
At the Battlefield KOA Kampground in Gettysburg, Pa., you can catch up on e-mail at your campsite, take in an evening movie on a 9-foot inflatable outdoor screen, lounge by the pool, play a round of mini golf or try your hand at Extreme Hunting, one of the arcade games in the game room. There’s live music on Saturday nights and pancake breakfasts on weekend mornings, and if you don’t feel like cooking, you can have dinner delivered to your RV door, tent flap or what-have-you.
Heck, you don’t even have to really camp at this wooded 25-acre site, thanks to its growing inventory of air-conditioned cabins, cottages and lodges – essentially, tricked-out trailers done up to look like hand-hewn log dwellings, according to USA Today.
“So much for getting away from it all,” owner John Bergeron says with a laugh.
But getting away they are. By many accounts, business is brisk this summer at campgrounds nationwide. The sinking economy may have put the brakes on taking the Grand Tour, but many Americans still want to get away. And with relatively low gas prices, more people are pulling into campgrounds.
All Metrics Point Up
Campground reservations through ReserveAmerica.com, which books campsites in most national parks, are up 8% over last year in the first six months of 2009.
Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), a network of 460 commercial campgrounds, reports a 5% increase in June occupancy. REI, an outdoor-gear chain, says sales of family tents were up 17% in June over last year. The retailer also saw double-digit increases in sales of related products, such as air mattresses and campground stoves.
A recent survey by the Outdoor Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes outdoor activities, indicates camping’s popularity rose 7.4% in 2008 after a decline the year before. Overnight backpacking grew by 18.5%, the group reports.
“People are returning to simpler lifestyles – the ‘less is more’ ethic,” says the foundation’s Christine Fanning. “And everyone is searching for vacations that fit with today’s economy.”
Indeed, ForestCamping.com, a comprehensive guide to U.S. National Forest campgrounds, where campsites go for $10 to $15 a night, has seen a spike in hits. Bookings for reservable Forest Service campsites were up 11% through May.
“When the economy goes down, camping goes up,” says Suzi Dow, who with her husband, Fred, runs the site.
David Berg, owner of the Red Apple Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine, echoes the sentiment. “I believe camping is a recession-proof business,” he says. “When people can’t afford $200 or $300 a night for a waterfront cottage, they dust off the pop-up (camper) or get out the tent and spend $50 a night on a campsite and maybe still go out to good restaurants.”
At Yellowstone National Park, lodging bookings are down this year, but campground stays are up, says Rick Hoeninghausen, marketing director for Xanterra, which runs the park’s concessions.
“This is an interesting summer because, even in April, reservations were trailing last year. Then it kicked in in May. There’s more last-minute decision-making this year than I can ever remember.”
As in other segments of the travel industry, campers are staying closer to home, but they’re also staying away longer. At KOA campgrounds, for instance, average stays are 2.5 nights, up from 1.7 nights three years ago.
RVTravel.com editor Chuck Woodbury has been traveling through Western parks this summer, and says he’s struck by the number of rental RVs on the road. “It’s families, it’s couples, it’s everyone,” he says. “RV’ing has become much more accepted. It’s not just Grandma and Grandpa’s playhouse anymore.”
Campgrounds Expanding Services
Nor are today’s campgrounds necessarily like the ones you might remember as a kid. Food delivery, concierge services and skate parks are among innovative additions at some private facilities. In Columbia, Calif., the Marble Quarry RV Park features on-site gold panning. At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Hill Country in Canyon Lake, Texas, laser tag is all the rage. At Kamp Klamath RV Park and Campground in Klamath, Calif., the alder-smoked salmon served at the park’s restaurant has won prizes in several competitions.
At Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Camp-Resort & Water Playground in Wisconsin Dells, owner Brent Gasser has gradually expanded what began as a campground with basic tent sites to a “camp resort” with a four-level water playground, boat and golf cart rentals, themed weekends (think Christmas in July), and 51 rental units that go from $39 to $299 a night.
“The traditional camper has been requesting more and more accommodations that they’d find in a hotel,” Gasser says. “And since we’re in an area with many hotels, we have to compete.”
And at the Red Apple Campground, the annual $25 Maine lobster fest sells out two years in advance. This summer, bookings are up 9%, and the average stay has stretched from 2.5 to 4.5 days.
“You have to be more creative to get people in your park and get them to come back again,” Berg says. “Today’s customer wants it all. In the majority of campgrounds today, we have Wi-Fi and concierge services. There are (waterfront) campsites in Maine that go for over $100 a night. And they sell first.”
But the constant buzz of organized activity can be a bit much, even for avid campers such as Brian and Michelle Gillespey of Brownstone, Mich.
“They’re on the PA making announcements about putt-putt golf and the ice cream social at 3 p.m.,” she says.
“There are too many activities at some of these places,” he says. “To me, it’s not relaxing.”
America’s ‘Last Small Town’
What many campground denizens say they do like is the camaraderie of the camp. KOA president Jim Rogers calls campgrounds “the last small town in America. They’re a live community, a social beehive. You’re interacting with strangers and allowing your kids to.”
“A woman stepped onto our site to avoid a passing car last night and ended up staying until midnight,” says Lynn Boozel, a camper at the KOA in Gettysburg. Boozel and his wife, Rhonda, of McVeytown, Pa., are wrapping up their seventh annual week-long visit here. “We came for a weekend and got hooked,” Boozel says.
The couple, with their two young daughters and a granddaughter, are sleeping in a six-person tent, which puts them in the minority among the Hitchhikers, Wolf Packs and other RV models that occupy most of the sites.
Across the way, Valerie and Bill Stack of Donora, Pa., have just arrived in their Ford pickup pulling a 12,000 pound, 38-foot trailer. This is one of five trips they’ll make here this summer.
“Once you’re addicted to this, you can’t stay home,” Bill Stack says. “You come back and say, ‘Boy, did I have a great time,’ and they ask, ‘What did you do?’ and you say, ‘Nothing.’ ”
The trailer has a gas fireplace, queen-size bed and flat-screen TV, among other amenities. They’ll spend the weekend swimming in the pool and maybe play some putt-putt golf.
“But we’re here for nature,” Valerie Stack says. “If I lost everything tomorrow, I’d go out and buy a tent.”