The worst of the recession may be past for recreational vehicle dealers and campgrounds.
Across Pennsylvania and in city of State College, RV sales and rental companies and RV campgrounds are reporting record numbers, the Centre Daily Times reported.
Barb Saulsbury said RV visits to the Bellefonte KOA campground she runs with her husband are at an all-time high.
“We’ve owned this campground for 27 years, and this is the best season we’ve ever seen,” she said. “Last year was a record, and this year we’re up from that.”
People are also staying longer, with the average stay at the campground creeping up to 2.2 nights.
“People are staying for longer than the weekend,” Saulsbury said. “They’re making a vacation out of it.”
The eye-catching figures are puzzling, as RVs are a luxury one might think would be less affordable in a shaky economy. But Heather Leach, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania RV and Camping Association (PRVCA), said people are getting tired of waiting for the economy to improve to take a vacation. Steady gas prices at under $3 a gallon have made taking a road trip a more attractive option.
“People are realizing that camping is the most affordable way to get away,” Leach said. “When looking closer with their wallets (in mind), they seem to be embracing it a lot more. You can spend $300,000 if you want, or you can spend $5,000, so there’s something out there that fits into everyone’s budget.”
RV vacationers also enjoy the comfort of sleeping in their own bed and the thrift of cooking their own meals, she said.
Leach said the industry is in full recovery mode, with the amount of space rented to manufacturers and campgrounds 40% greater than last year at 42nd Annual Pennsylvania RV and Camping Show in Hershey, scheduled for Sept. 13-19. That’s a sign camping by RV is starting reclaim the popularity it boasted before the recession, when annual RV shipments increased from 256,000 units in 2001 to 390,500 units in 2006.
Then the recession hit, and by 2009, shipments shrank to 167,000 units.
However, industry expert Richard Curtin, of the University of Michigan, is forecasting sales to bounce back to 230,300 this year, and 249,700 units in 2011.
RV dealers who set up at the Grange Fair for the past week were reporting good results. By Tuesday, Bill Miller, owner of Miller Brothers RV and Camper Center, said he sold seven used RVs at the fair. Rival dealer, Susquehanna Valley RV — across the street — had sold 17.
“I don’t think people will ever give up staying in RVs,” said Marsha Sten, a Susquehanna Valley RV saleswoman.
Harold and Ruth Ann Miller, of York, were looking at RVs at the fair, in search of a potential upgrade to their 35-foot motorhome.
“We love to travel and sleep in our own bed,” Ruth Ann Miller said.
Years ago, they bought a 27-foot vehicle from the Grange Fair, an upgrade to the one they drove onto the grounds.
“It’s just such an enjoyment,” Miller said.