Snow in 49 of the 50 states is good news for the Sunbelt. According to a press release, campgrounds in southern California, Texas, Florida and Arizona are seeing a boom in occupancy for December–March with travelers seeking a respite from this winter’s ravaging snow and plummeting temperatures.
The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports that more than 1 million RVers will use their RV this winter to head to warmer climates, spending on average 12 weeks at campgrounds throughout the Sunbelt.
“RVing has always been popular in the winter months but this year has been exceptionally successful for campgrounds. Every segment of traveler is discovering that RVing is affordable, easy and most importantly, flexible,” says Richard Coon, RVIA president. “RVers can stay at a campground for as long as they would like or travel throughout the season without worrying about any long-term commitments, an option not afforded traditional seasonal rentals. If you want a new view, just pick up and go.”
The most popular Sunbelt state for snowbirds is Florida with campgrounds seeing an ever-expanding demographic of travelers who will spend the winter months working while escaping the cold weather.
“We are at 100% occupancy for February and March and up 20% for April over last year. This winter has been great for us,” Tim Deputy, general manager of Sun N Fun RV Resort in Sarasota. “We’re seeing the retirees that you would expect to be snowbirds, but also a growing number of younger folks who are telecommuting. With technology, you can really work anywhere, so why not spend the winter on the beach if you can?”
However, campgrounds are doing more than just relying on good weather and warm beaches to attract the competitive snowbird market. They’re adding amenities that rival traditional hotel resorts. Two years ago, Sun N Fun RV Resort opened an 18,000-square-foot spa and wellness center with an indoor swimming pool, infrared sauna and steam room. They also offer an onsite masseuse and sports therapist. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this campground is the Neurogym, equipped with computer programs and equipment that helps people learn how to reduce their stress and improve their mental wellbeing.
“One of our programs is called Peak Brain Happiness,” said Deputy. “It’s designed for golfers and tennis players. We also have programs that help people quit smoking and reduce weight, too.”
While such extensive health and wellness facilities may seem like extreme investments, Deputy said the resort is trying to be responsive to the needs of its guests, who range from single working professionals and families to empty nesters and retirees. “Many of our younger guests are interested in physical fitness, while many of our older guests are looking for tools to help rejuvenate themselves, both physically and mentally,” Deputy said.
Services and amenities are increasingly more important for a campground to compete with other snowbird accommodations. The Golden Village Palms RV Resort in Hemet, Calif., has garnered a reputation for outstanding entertainment seven days a week with tribute bands, jazz performances and dinner shows. They also cater to the pet-friendly traveler with a dog park and weekly Bark & Wine parties.
A significant portion of the snowbird community has always been RV travelers but a new trend is growing. Park models are cabin-like homes built on RV chassis and are perfect for people who don’t want to or can’t own an RV, but still want the luxury of a home-away-from-home for much less than a seasonal condo or apartment rental. Park models now outnumber RVs at the Sun N Fun RV Resort, with 600 RV sites, 810 privately owned park models and 105 park model rentals.
Kathi and John Volger have traded in their fifth-wheel RV and bought a park model that they keep at the Sun N Fun RV Resort. “We had snow in New Jersey before Halloween this year and it was dark by 4 p.m.,” Kathi Volger said. “We did a lot of sitting around complaining about the cold and couldn’t wait to get to Florida for the winter.” Because the Volgers own their park model, they can leave everything they want behind when they return home at the end of the season.
Arizona-based Carefree RV Resorts, which offers more than 10,000 RV and park model sites throughout the Sunbelt, expects to see a 6% increase in revenue over last winter. “The snowbird business is stronger than ever. The convergence of a steadily recovering economy, the demographic bulge of Baby Boomers who embrace travel and leisure, the ease of connectivity for travelers, and the growing appeal of RVing as a vibrant lifestyle will likely fuel growth for decades,” says Colleen Edwards, president of Carefree RV Resorts. “What’s particularly encouraging is that the snowbird season is extending every year with many of our guests, who have traditionally checked out in March, staying through April.”
Texas has seen a particularly robust season this year as well, with parks from the central part of the state, known as the Texas Hill Country, to the southern border of the Rio Grande Valley reporting a year-to-year increase ranging from 5% to 37%, that is credited to the severe winter weather in the north. But it’s not just the campgrounds that are benefiting from this winter’s frigid temperatures and record-breaking snow.
“According to a University of Texas Pan Am study of snowbirds, they spend nearly $100 a day when visiting Texas; so the economic impact to the whole community is significant,” says Brian Schaeffer, executive director and CEO of the Texas Association of Campground Owners (TACO).
Helping fuel this boom is the strong performance of the RV industry that is surging back from the great recession. Shipments in 2013 hit a four-year high of 321,127 units – up 12.4% over 2012 totals and nearly double the amount of RVs shipped in 2009 at the depth of the recession for the industry.
For Kirk Wong of southwest Washington, there’s only one way to travel: He loads up his 37-foot motor home with two kids, four bikes, two dogs and a tortoise, and he and his wife Andrea take off for some much-needed, uninterrupted family time.
“In our house we’re always scattered and our schedules have us running,” Wong said in an article for MSNBC. “But in the RV, this time is invaluable. The boys take turns sitting next to me when I drive, we talk. For me, it’s never about the destination; it really is about the journey.”
Suzi and Jason Jewett of Forest Grove, Ore., hail the benefits of traveling with their 29-foot pull-behind trailer this way: “It drives family time,” she said. “We actually sit down together and we can play board games for hours.”
More than 30 million Americans travel by RV. Despite high fuel prices, this number seems to be on the rise, with more families realizing a surefire way to spend time together and enjoy nature in a comfy home on wheels.
Brent Peterson, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to RVing” (the third edition was just published), cites another reason for the rise.
“Air travel is becoming uncomfortable and expensive enough that it’s pushing more people into RVing,” he said. “RVing has grown through hard economic times, and if done right, it can be economical.”
MSNBC reported that many young families, he said, start by pulling a pop-up trailer and then move up to bigger RVs as their needs grow. By seeking out $30 campgrounds, fixing your own meals, and traveling at times of lower fuel prices, families can enjoy cheaper trips than had they flown, stayed in hotels and eaten out every meal.
“I don’t have the ability to save money when I’m traveling without my RV because I have to stay in a hotel, buy meals and pay for every little thing,” Peterson said. “Traveling by RV gives you choices.”
And it is the choice that appeals to the Wong and Jewett families, too. The Wongs, who this summer plan to take weekend trips to the Oregon coast and a bigger trek to Yosemite National Park in August, like that they don’t need a travel agenda.
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Fans of RV travel are a hardy group. They endure traffic jams, mosquitoes and the occasional bear, so fluctuating gas prices won’t keep them and their RVs parked at home this summer.
According to an Associated Press report, average U.S. gas prices rose above $3.90 this spring, though they had dropped in most places by the start of June to $3.61 a gallon. But whether they’re up or down doesn’t make a huge difference for those driving motorhomes, like Bill Battle’s Winnebago Itasca Suncruiser that averages about 7 mpg.
Battle and his wife plan to drive their 38-foot motorhome (towing their Jeep) about 1,400 miles round-trip from their home in southeastern Michigan to Forest City, Iowa, for the Winnebago Grand National Rally this summer. It will likely cost them between $700 and $800 in gas, depending on pump prices, plus another $750 for food, campground fees and other expenses. The rest of the year they expect to stay closer to home, driving less than 600 miles per trip.
Even if gas were to go as high as $5 or $6 — though that seems unlikely given the direction prices are headed at this point in the season — Battle, a 68-year-old retiree, said they wouldn’t stay home. “We’ll still go, but we’ll do shorter trips,” he said. On the other hand, a steep drop might inspire more travel: “If fuel prices were $2.50 a gallon we probably would have made a second big trip to the Western U.S.”
A recent survey shows others have arrived at the same conclusion. Of nearly 425 RV owners interviewed in March by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 60% said fuel prices were affecting their plans, and that they would adjust by driving less and traveling to destinations closer to home.
KOA, which represents about 500 campgrounds, has been marketing to the “camping closer to home” crowd, and reservations for this summer are up about 4% over 2011, said spokesman Mike Gast, in Billings, Mont.
There are about 9 million RV owners in the United States, and sales of new campers are expected to increase 5% this year, said RVIA spokesman Kevin Broom, in Reston, Va.
About 90% of the units sold are towable trailers, as opposed to motorhomes. Broom said that has less to do with high gas prices, and more to do with the purchase price. The average price of Class A motorhome is about $176,000, while a small travel trailer averages $20,900 and a folding tent trailer $9,400, Broom said.
In fact, manufactures have been conscious of rising gas prices for the past few years, making campers smaller, more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient. A new 32-foot Class A motorhome, for instance, might get up to 15 mpg, Broom said.
The industry commissioned a study on the cost of RV travel last summer, and PKF Consulting found that the average weeklong two-person vacation using a Type A motorhome, staying in campgrounds and cooking all meals, would cost about $4,285, when factoring in the RV purchase price, maintenance and gas.
The cost for two people flying economy to their destination, renting an intermediate car, staying at a standard motel or a hotel like Days Inn, and eating in restaurants for the week would cost $2,735. Only with first-class plane tickets, premium SUV rentals, dining out and the most expensive hotels — like the Ritz Carton or Four Seasons — did it become more costly than Type A motorhome camping, averaging $5,360 per week, the study found.
On the other hand, pulling a travel trailer with a light truck and staying and eating at campgrounds would cost about $1,845 for the week, it found. Savings or not, Battle likes his 5-year-old Winnebago Class A motorhome and has no interest in flying. He reels off a list of reasons why camping is better: no airports to deal with, no security lines, room for more luggage and golf clubs, a fridge and freezer he can stock, no bedbug worries and the company of Buddy, his chocolate lab.
“One day we can be in a quaint village touring wineries and the next we can be in a RV park on the shore of one of the Great Lakes,” Battle explained.
In order to watch the pennies, Battle said he uses an interactive AAA site to map his route and check the prices at gas stations along the way. He and his wife will often barbecue instead of eating out, and they’ve been known to overnight in a casino parking lot.
“You know what you have to spend and you make your plans ahead of time,” he said. “We love the convenience of the motorhome.”
Recreation vehicle owners expect to hit the road in big numbers this spring and summer, and plan to adjust to higher fuel prices by enjoying frequent weekend getaways and staying closer to home, according to a new survey.
Despite rising fuel prices, the latest Campfire Canvass survey of RV owners, conducted by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), reveals that 64% of RV owners intend to use their RVs more this spring/summer than they did last year, 24% say they’ll use their RVs the same amount and 7% indicated they’ll use their RV less.
The survey of 424 RV owners was conducted by RVIA and Cvent from March 14-27 and has a margin of error of 4.5%.
The top reasons for using their RVs more include enjoying outdoor activity, taking mini-vacations, spending quality time with family and escaping from the stress and pressure of everyday life.
More than half (58%) said that fuel prices will affect their RV travel plans. Respondents indicated they will still travel by RV, but will adjust plans by traveling to destinations closer to home (74%) and driving fewer miles in their RVs (68%).
Other survey results showed:
• Approximately 18% of RV owners are engaging in “seasonal” or “destination” camping.
• 70% of RVers plan to take more 1-4 day mini-vacations this spring/summer.
• 54% of RV owners bring pets along on trips. Most RVers traveling with pets bring dogs (92%) and cats (14%).
RVing is a great way to stay active while on vacation, according to RV owners.
• More than 71% of the respondents said they’re more physically active on an RV trip — 76% said their children are more active.
• 72% of the participants plan to visit a national park this year; 74% say they’ll visit a state park; and two-thirds plan to visit historic site this spring/summer.
• Favorite activities include sightseeing (77%), cooking out (75%), visiting friends and family (58%), hiking (57%), fishing (50%) and visiting festivals or fairs (49%).
Since he was a little boy, Kevin Johnson has fond memories of camping in an RV. According to a report in the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal, he has camped in everything from a small pop-up to his current 34-foot Coachman Mirada that he inherited from his parents and now camps in with his wife and children.
“It’s our home on wheels,” the 55-year-old Rhinebeck resident said. “I find it relaxing to set it up, because I know I’m going to be away soon.”
When it comes to RV purchases, there’s been growth across every age group, especially the Baby Boomers.
“The Baby Boomers are entering prime RV age, which is now 48 years old,” said Kevin Broom, director of media relations at the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA). “People want an inexpensive and fun way to retire, and RVs are the answer. You’re on your own schedule. No flights, no reservations. You do things at your own pace and your own pleasure.”
The Johnson family uses the RV about four times a year, visiting Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other areas.
“It’s my house,” said Liz Johnson, Kevin Johnson’s wife. “I love it because it gives us a chance to find the quiet side of life. We shut off all the electric stuff except television, and we play games and cards, build a campfire and go touring. We reconnect with the kids without all the electrical stuff.”
Broom says the RV market is filled with options, from folding camping trailers that can be purchased new for about $6,000 to luxury motorhomes that could cost a half million and more.
“(Baby Boomers are) a little more affluent, so they lean leaning toward the average purchase price being higher,” he said.
According to Kevin Nelson, general Maanager of Campers Barn in Kingston, N.Y., most consumers start out with a pop-up camper, then move up to a travel trailer and finally to the larger motorhomes that he says offers a bit more versatility.
“For a family, an RV is limitless,” Nelson said. “You can get a travel trailer or any other size and take this wherever you want to go. It holds your food and sleeps up to about eight people for a small monthly payment and there are all kinds of places to go.”
The Poughkeepsie Journal reported that campers can choose to dry camp, which means parking in a campground with little or no amenities, or can pull into a full-comfort RV park that has all amenities, but includes a deposit up to a few hundred dollars a week.
“You’ve got to get out and try each one,” Nelson said. “What you like will depend on your lifestyle.”
“We’ve done both, but the full-comfort resorts have movie houses, game rooms, athletic rooms and more,” Liz Johnson said.
When it comes to RVing, ignore the misinformation.
“You’ll hear people saying it’s too expensive because of the fuel prices, but the travel savings offset the fuel prices,” Broom said.
A study commissioned by RVIA shows that even during a time of economic turmoil and fluctuating fuel prices, RV trips remain the least costly, 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.
“When you’re talking about financing a $30,000 RV over 10 years and writing the interest off as a separate mortgage, the cost of ownership comes down quite a bit and the travel savings is big,” Broom said.
Richard Ferolito, 67, and his wife, Carol Ferolito, 66, have been RVing since the 1960s. Today he belongs to a New York Good Sam chapter, which is part of The Good Sam Club, an international organization of recreational vehicle owners that makes RVing safer and more enjoyable. There are 1,700 RV parks and campgrounds affiliated with the Good Sam organization that offer club members discounts for staying in their parks, which have to meet a minimum standard of services and appearance to be considered for association.
“We travel everywhere and see the natural beauty of the towns and the scenery,” said Richard Ferolito, a Pleasant Valley resident who owns a 35-foot motorhome. “We take the children and the grandchildren, and we have parties to meet the other members,” he says.
A Sherman, Ill., family whose two youngest children were killed when a tree fell on their tent while camping near the Quad Cities three years ago has settled its lawsuit against the campground for $1.25 million, the family’s lawyers said Thursday (Oct. 20).
Four-year-old Dustin Stuebs and 9-month-old Savannah Stuebs were killed as they slept with their family in tents at Indian Trails Resort at Colona just east of the Quad Cities. The tree fell during a severe thunderstorm in July 2008, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.
“This settlement was a great alternative to a jury trial for the Stuebs family,” said Dan Kotin of the Chicago law firm Corboy & Demetrio, who along with James Dowd of St. Louis represented Jason and Christina Stuebs. “The tragedy of this event has scarred this family forever. Reliving it at trial would have been almost unbearable for all of them.”
“The settlement does nothing to ease the pain of our loss, but it will help us find closure and move forward with our lives,” Jason Stuebs said in a statement submitted by the family’s lawyer.
In their suit, filed in St. Louis County, the Stuebses alleged that the campground failed to implement any recognized tree-inspection program, which, according to a plaintiffs’ expert, would have revealed that the tree suffered from trunk rot and needed to be removed. The suit also said there was plenty of notice of the storm and that the campground failed to follow its own rules, which required campers to be evacuated into the safety of a clubhouse basement.
As the holidays near, local and national news media will spotlight the great needs in the nation’s communities. But among the nearly 500 chapters in the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA), an international organization for motorhome owners, giving goes on all year long.
According to a news release, some FMCA chapters were formed by motorhome owners with a similar hobby or interest, such as FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity. This group was organized in 1998 by FMCA members who wanted regular opportunities to “give a hand up, not a hand out.” Chapter members support the mission of Habitat for Humanity International and volunteer their time, talents, labor and enthusiasm to build affordable housing, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity affiliates across North America.
The group most recently built a home this past October in Fort Smith, Ark. In 2012, the chapter’s plans include constructing two homes in Georgia.
Other FMCA chapters focus on ownership of RVs made by the same manufacturer, or form because their members all live in a certain geographical area. Regardless of the type of chapter, many of them become involved in helping others.
Following are more highlights of the generosity shown by FMCA chapters:
• The Cruisin’ Cajuns chapter presented a $4,155 gift to the United Way of Acadiana’s Rayne Tornado Long Term Recovery Coalition after a March 2011 tornado hit the town of Rayne, La.
• The Allegheny Mountain chapter of western Pennsylvania sent $500 to a deserving family in Sipsey, Ala., after tornadoes in April destroyed the family’s home and all of their belongings.
• Ozarks Ridge Runner chapter members, concerned about the plight of schoolchildren after a tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., this past May, donated 83 pairs of new athletic shoes — and 240 pairs of socks — to students at Emerson Elementary School in Joplin.
• Country Coach International, an FMCA chapter whose members own Country Coach brand motorhomes, donated $7,298 to a children’s hospital in San Antonio, Texas.
• The Twentieth Century Wagontrainers chapter held a “working rally” at a New Jersey Elks camp for children with special needs, preparing it for the summer season. They cleaned dorms, power-washed buildings, assembled beds, and replaced electrical fixtures, among other tasks.
• The Wisconsin-based Badger chapter collected canned foods to be distributed to veterans by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.
• Canned-goods collection stations also are set up by members of the Professional RV Vendors Chapter at FMCA conventions and area rallies, for distribution to local food pantries.
• At each Lone Star chapter rally, stuffed animals are collected to donate to service organizations in the community. At the final rally of the year, the entire collection is given away. In December 2009, more than 60 toys went to the Fredericksburg, Texas, Police Department to be distributed to disadvantaged children.
• Since 2008 the WesTex chapter has been helping to support a young man in financial difficulty by helping him achieve a college degree from Texas A&M. They also have helped to pay for his books, provided him with a computer and printer, and more.
Tents for Troops (T4T), www.TentsforTroops.org, the nationwide network of RV parks and campgrounds offering complimentary camping to active military and their families, is seeking assistance with a feasibility study.
According to a press release, T4T is interested in studying the possibility of offering the use of RVs to troops nationwide at no cost. T4T said the scope of this program could prove very large, requiring a great deal of input in determining program viability.
According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), 7.7% of the active military personnel camped in an RV in the past six months. Based on a recent comScore Inc. report, that equates to approximately 115,000 troops.
T4T is interested in establishing how such a program may operate and examining the logistics of such an undertaking in the following areas:
• Demand for such a program and the number/type of RVs most suitable.
• Optimum location to work from – near major military bases, major population areas, etc.
• Administration and housing of RVs – possibilities may include national or regional RV retailers and/or service centers, national or regional RV rental firms, retail big box chains, auto or truck rental firms, military bases.
• Fleet maintenance – modeled on the Cruise America/Jiffy Lube program.
• Designing and locating a pilot program if deemed appropriate.
• Examining long- and short-term funding requirements, funding sources, self-sustainability.
T4T welcomes assistance from every corner of the RV and outdoor hospitality industry whether it’s simply a comment or observation or staff time to commit to the feasibility study. As noted, this project is in an exploratory phase. With help from those in the industry, T4T can determine whether or not to move forward with this RV availability project. Interested parties are encouraged to contact Tents for Troops founder Charlie Curry at 360-274-7915 or TentsforTroops@aol.com.
They are usually known as a welcoming sight for RV campers in need of a place to stop for the night or a few days before continuing on with their journey. Besides being a big-box retail store, Walmart parking lots across North America have generally been hospitable to the traveling camper.
But, according to a report by bclocalnews.com, anyone hoping to stay in the Kamloops, British Columbia, Walmart parking lot for an extended period of time can expect to be turned away.
This past summer the company SmartCentres, which owns the shopping center, installed large new signs on the lot reminding customers there is no overnight parking for RVs or trucks.
Sandra Kaiser, vice president of corporate affairs for SmartCentres, said the no-overnight rules were always in place, but not enforced stringently until recently.
She said the measure is not meant to crack down on someone staying a few hours or even a night, but is intended to address RV owners staying for days and weeks.
“More and more campers were coming and staying for longer periods of time, to the point where we were losing parking spaces that we have to provide to our tenants,” Kaiser said, adding the company had received complaints from tenants in the shopping centre.
She noted overnight stays made it difficult for maintenance crews to clean up the lot. Kaiser said maintenance crews are politely reminding campers they can’t park in the lot long-term.
Walmart manager Tim Labermeyer said he’s heard from some customers who expected to park at the store overnight. However, he pointed out many of the Walmart lots that allow overnight parking are owned by the retail giant. The Kamloops Walmart leases the property so, in this case, it is not a decision made by the store.
“We have to abide by their [SmartCentres] rules,” Labermeyer said.
The Kamloops location wouldn’t be alone in banning overnight stays, as a growing number of Walmarts in the U.S. are starting to turn away RVs and campers. Kaiser said the signs and rules are permanent.
Cooling winds did give Texans a mini-break from the scorching temperatures. But, according to a report from KFDX News 3, people in RVs are working extra hard to stay cool. One reason, the air conditioners aren’t built for this kind of heat.
As they put it, they are surviving, but they wish their AC’s were blowing cooler air. All they can do now is just look ahead to fall’s cooler weather.
RVs are sturdy and reliable while traveling, but their air conditioning systems aren’t designed for triple digit heat day in and day out. And it’s something Michelle Smith and her husband are temporarily dealing with.
“My husband got a job here and we had to move out here rapidly and we didn’t have a place to live or stay so we bought an RV and just came out,” said Smith.
Smith said coming from California they were prepared for the heat, but their AC unit wasn’t.
“We’re doing pretty good except for our air conditioning unit. We only have one air conditioning unit and it only cools down about 20 degrees from what’s outside,” she said.
The average temperature in their home is about 80 degrees. And when she needs to feel some frost, Smith gets in her car and turns the AC on full blast.
But it’s not only the soaring temperatures getting to these campers, it’s also their soaring electricity bill.
“The AC’s are working overtime,” said Dean Carner, an RV camper.
Not only is it toasty inside, but Carner’s refrigerator isn’t able to keep up and is only able to chill down to 56 degrees. So he’s had to figure out other ways to keep cool at home.
“I closed up the windows and bought some auto shades, but because the windows are tinted, it intensifies the heat,” said Carner.
Both Smith and Carner say water and fans are the only way they are making it through this summer.