RV rentals boom as more Americans turn to road trips and camping for summer vacations
Many families are canceling or changing vacation plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The RV rental business is seeing a big boost in demand.
After a long spring stuck at home, Americans are looking to get out of the house as summer approaches, and RVs are becoming a popular alternative for going on vacations. The coronavirus forced airlines to drastically cut flights and hotels to close, leaving tourist hotspots empty. As many families cancel or change vacation plans to more socially-distant options, the RV rental business has been undergoing a huge boost.
Although the summer camping season has barely started, one RV rental company, RVshare, says it has seen demand surge 650%. The website, much like Airbnb, connects RV owners with travelers looking to rent a vehicle for vacations or longer-term stays.
In a press release, Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare said, "We expect RVs to continue to gain traction as a preferred method of travel while consumers are seeking flexible options and a unique way to experience the outdoors."
RVs allow for a more intimate way to travel. Because they are self-contained, groups can travel, eat and sleep in the same place with limited contact with other people.
Based on findings from a recent survey of RVshare users, 93% of those polled said they plan to avoid crowds this summer. The idea of choosing a destination closer to home resonated with 82% of RVshare travelers. Another 78% of those surveyed indicated they plan to visit a destination that they can drive to. After months of being confined indoors, 65% of travelers report nature will be a top focus and say they will be heading somewhere like a national park.
None of this comes as a suprise to Randy Newbury of Love Field Auto in Dallas, Texas. He said the phones haven't stopped ringing, and he's already booked through June.
“Nobody wants to fly. Nobody wants to get in a hotel room," Newbury told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell. "So, they’re renting motor homes. And it's actually cheaper than it is to fly and stay in a motel room.”
Randy Newbury talks about the booming interest in RVs, as well as how Love Field Auto is carefully sanitizing the campers. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
Newbury said the team at Love Field Auto carefully sanitizes each RV before a road trip. "Oh yeah. We've got to sanitize everything, you know, as far as Clorox bleach wipe downs," he said, checking off the list of cleaning task, sanitation and everything. "We go front to rear without missing a spot."
Newbury says RV road trips are the perfect family vacation. “If you got kids, small kids, you can put them in the back, let them play games, and take off to the Grand Canyon. Whatever. If you’ve got the time and ambition, do it.”
Plus, gasoline prices, even though they've been rising in recent weeks, are far lower than usual. According to Gas Buddy, the national average price of a gallon of gas sat at $1.97 as of June 1. Around the same time last year, the national average was about $2.83 a gallon, according to Gas Buddy.
Chelsie Dunlap and her husband have taken it a step further than renting. They sold their home and live wherever they shift into park. This week, it's Cedar Hills State Park in Texas. Dunlap told Wadell the two are "just going from one park to the other," adding that they're "trying to see what park we like, you know, the weather is different, the terrain and the different sights and everything."
Chelsie Dunlap shares her story of living in an RV with Bill Wadell. (AccuWeather / Bill Wadell)
Dunlap said even though she never saw herself living in an RV full-time, she loves it.
"If we don't like the area, we can just up and go ... You get to do what you want, when you want, how you want." She especially enjoys all the time they spend so close to nature. "We eat outside. We grill outside. We take walks outside. You spend the majority of your time outside. When the elements are bad, you're going to go inside. But you find yourself more outside than you do inside ... You're spending quality time instead of watching the TV.”
The boom in RV rentals and sales is viewed by many as a hopeful economic indicator. In the past, economists have used RV sales to predict the state of the economy. As The Atlantic noted a few years ago, RV sales are an unofficial economic index of sorts. "When RV sales are doing well, the economy follows; when RV sales tank, the economy is soon to tank too."
It makes sense. People make large recreational purchases like an RV when they have extra money and feel financially secure enough to go on long trips. So when purchases increase, it's a sign the economy is going up.
This gives Bob Zagami, executive director of the New England RV Dealers Association, hope for the economic future. As he recently told the Boston Globe, "If there was an underlying tremor of long-term economic damage, we would not be seeing the results that we’re seeing right now. Yes, we’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime. But buyers are saying, ‘I’ve got confidence that this country can do it again, back to seeing my 401(k) go up and living in good times again.'"
Reporting by Bill Wadell.
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