Don Brunell

Guest opinion: Coronavirus stimulates RV sales, rentals

Interestingly, while restaurants and airlines continue to be clobbered by the coronavirus, recreational vehicle (RV) sales and rentals are taking off. People have switched their travel preferences to minimize their COVID-19 exposure.

Travel trailers and motorhomes are iconic symbols of campgrounds in our “Great Outdoors.” Meanwhile, outdoor recreation increased once the initial lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 lifted.

Before the pandemic came ashore in the U.S., the number of active camping households was increasing and reached 1.4 million in 2018. In effect, outdoor recreation was before “social distancing” had a name. As travelers try to keep their separation and avoid crowds, recreational vehicles (RV) rentals have increased 650 percent this year, CNET’s Road/Show reports.

Buying an RV is expensive. They cost between $10,000 and $300,000 depending on the style and features. A moderately-equipped camper trailer pulled behind a truck might cost $20,000, while a fifth-wheel may be $40,000. Most motorhome prices usually start around $100,000, CampReport.com reports.

Despite the price tags, RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby reports that RV manufacturers experienced strong consumer growth over the past 10 years, but the recent soar in consumer interest in ‘RVing’ driven by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a marked increase in RV shipments to meet the incredibly strong order activity at the retail level.”

That’s a long way of saying business is good and getting better.

“This new forecast confirms what we have been seeing across the country as people turn to RVs as a way to have the freedom to travel and experience an active outdoor lifestyle while also controlling their environment,” Kirby added. In other words, enjoying the comforts and necessities of home while sleeping in the woods.

RV shipments are expected to surpass 400,000 units by the end of 2020 and grow by 20 percent in 2021 (more than 500,000 units), the RV Industry Association estimates.

The RV industry’s 400 manufacturers and suppliers generate an estimated $114 billion to our economy each year. The good news is 98 percent of all RVs are “Made in America.” The United States produces approximately 60 percent of RVs worldwide.

Business Insider reported RVs are becoming the go-to-vacation for many Americans coming out of coronavirus lockdown. Lower gas prices helped fueled RV growth this year. AAA finds Washington’s statewide average for the cost of a gallon of gas is 50 cents lower than a year ago.

According to a study conducted by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), which runs a series of privately owned campgrounds, 34 percent of prospective U.S. and Canada-based campers say that road trips will be the safest form of travel. This increasing interest in road trips may also lead to 46 million Americans taking an RV trip this year. Analysts see the trend continuing once the coronavirus passes.

RVs also provide the ability for people to work and students to learn remotely especially with high speed internet and rapidly expanding coverage.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom believes new “working-from-home economy,” is likely to continue long past the coronavirus pandemic.

“We see an incredible 42 percent of the U.S. labor force now working from home full-time. About another 33 percent are not working — a testament to the savage impact of the lockdown recession. And the remaining 26 percent – mostly essential service workers — are working on their business premises” Bloom said.

So, by sheer numbers, the U.S. is a working-from-home economy. The good news for the RV manufacturers is home can be an RV parked anywhere from a campsite in Yellowstone National Park to one in the Columbia River Gorge.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver, Wa. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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