Some folks, well, some folks just like taking matters into their own hands.
And putting them on the steering wheel.
As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the industry, the demand for travel is slowly — slowly — creeping back up again. But many remain wary of getting on a plane, a train or a cruise ship and being packed tightly in with strangers, never knowing if everybody is going to be wearing a mask, never knowing if somebody is unknowingly carrying the virus, never knowing if a flight is going to be empty enough for social distancing — or perhaps not.
Welcome to what could be the year of the recreational vehicle, more commonly known as the beloved RV.
With experts predicting that any return to travel will likely start with short, domestic trips, the RV could, literally, become the go-to vehicle for travel this summer. Though the outlook for RV sales entering the year was grim — 504,000 RVs were sold in 2017 and that number slipped to 364,000 last year — many dealers across the country are reporting an unexpected uptick in sales.
Shannon Nills, owner of Guaranty RV in Eugene, Ore., told KMTR-TV that he sold 52 units the first weekend in May and “that’s almost double what we sell in a given weekend.” Sutton RV in Eugene is also seeing this soar in customers. General manager Lisa Bottorff says traffic on their website has more than tripled.
“Interest has increased tremendously; some people are making appointments, some people are coming in physically,” Bottorff said.
It’s a trend that’s playing out nationwide, says LCI Industries’ CEO Jason Lippert. His company supplies highly engineered components for the leading original equipment manufacturers in the recreation and transportation product markets.
“RVs and boats provide attractive alternatives to vacation more safely as families are eager to get out of the house,” Lippert told Fox Business. “At the same time, RVing and boating offer a great solution to social distancing for families that want to travel the country and experience the great outdoors. Air travel, cruise ships and hotels are likely going to be less popular, at least in the near term. As a result, the outdoor recreational products business is expected to accelerate.”
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo began a phased-in approach to reopening the state to business, and one of his first directives was to allow car and RV dealerships to conduct on-site visits from potential customers, albeit by appointment only and not walk-in. Still, it was welcome news.
“Getting the news that we can open by appointment only and start bringing in some essential people back to assist with that is the news that we are going in the right direction,” said Jason Rattray, general manager of Alpin Haus RV Dealership Group in Amsterdam, N.Y.
Rattray says, when it comes to selling an RV, it is all about the in-person experience.
“It’s hard to really get a feel for what the RV layout is from looking at pictures and videos. I think a lot of it is just the feeling when you get inside and start to take mental ownership of certain spaces,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that “Traveling by RV means you may have to stop less often for food or bathrooms, but RV travelers typically have to stop at RV parks overnight and other public places to get gas and supplies. These stops may put you and those with you in the RV in close contact with others who could be infected.”
Nonetheless, it’s far less of a risk than traveling by plane, train, cruise or automobile.
Craig Kirby, president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, told Forbes magazine that RVing offers a sense of independence not found elsewhere.
“Americans love the space and freedom of the outdoors and the enrichment that comes with living an active outdoor life. RVs not only enable this lifestyle; they also provide a self-contained existence that other forms of travel don’t allow,” Kirby said.
“After an indeterminate period of isolation, we believe families will be more enthusiastic than ever to get outside and see new places, even within their own states,” Kirby said. “RV travel allows people to sleep in their own bed, cook gourmet meals, and control where they go. Once federal and state restrictions are lifted, they’ll be able to experience the endless range of outdoor wonders throughout the country and the freedom of independent travel that RVs offer. This includes the option to forego a campground since RVs have everything a family needs to camp remotely.”
Kirby called RVs the ultimate self-contained units. Some, in fact, are designed to be completely self-contained with generators, solar panels and laundry facilities, allowing RVers to live off-the-grid for weeks at a time.
“RVs provide travelers control: they allow people to travel where they want, when they want, and offer a unique travel experience that allows people to pursue their favorite activities and experience places in the country they may have only seen pictures of in a coffee-table book or on Instagram,” Kirby said. “They can do this all with the ability to stay connected to family and friends. These are all positive features, but particularly attractive during this most unprecedented time. RVs provide a wonderful opportunity for people to continue to enjoy vacations with their families, while still adhering to social distancing, which will likely stay in place in some form for the foreseeable future.”