RV Travel Is Set To Grow Post-Coronavirus: Is Your Business Ready?

Traditionally, the RV industry has been dominated by retirees and the older generation after their careers are done and they finally have the time and means to travel all over the country in their home on wheels.  This trend has continued, but just in the last decade, a new burgeoning group has joined the Boomers in their travels: Millennials.  As the coronavirus changes the landscape of life as we know it, many forces are creating a perfect storm of factors that will help foster massive growth in the RV industry with not just Millennials, but all generations.  Those business owners who are able to prepare and change their businesses to welcome these nomadic travelers will benefit from this rising tide.  

Pent up wanderlust will burst into the travel industry

As the country emerges from the current crisis, an entire nation will rise out of their collective cabin-fever inducing home-stays and burst onto the travel industry like a wave of Black Friday shoppers.  With lingering fears about social distancing and a possible return of the virus during flu season, travelers will most likely opt for outdoor destinations with more space to explore. More camping and outdoor activities has already been documented in areas where the current coronavirus hit earlier than the US, namely in Japan, where families pitched tents rather than stay in hotels.  With a penchant for the great outdoors, the US population that grew up with Boy Scouts, s’mores, and 85 million acres of National Parks will undoubtedly move towards the great outdoors even more. 

Vacations will become re-imagined as normal means of travel are shunned and a cautious public warily reemerges from the coronavirus limits. 

As air travel grounds to a halt and public transportation systems around the world are operating on drastically limited schedules, people are re-imagining the ways they travel in a post-pandemic world.  Most national health services are recommending either avoiding public transportation entirely and avoiding close contact with an infected person, which is defined as being within 6 feet of the person for more than 15 mins.  This pretty much encompasses all mass transit options available and people are following those recommendations, with many US transit systems teetering on the edge of insolvency.  It is estimated that this pandemic will hit the airline industry even harder than the post-9-11 emergency and statistics are already showing huge impacts on flight capacity with some airlines cancelling all long haul flights

With these problems in mind, travelers will still be wary once things start to be “normal” again. Road trips are poised to make a resurgence as travelers shun international destinations requiring long flights and transits through crowded airports.  Those who are looking to travel and enjoy all the wonders of this great country will be looking for the safest and most comfortable way to travel.  A self-enclosed RV with your own bed, bathroom, kitchen, food, dishes, sheets and clothes seems like a really good option. As for cost, many rental markets such as Outdoorsy, are offering RVs for as little as $100/day.  Even with fuel and insurance, that’s still on par with or cheaper than plane tickets and hotel rooms for a family of four.  Any way you slice it, the RV industry is going to look like a very attractive option for many pandemic-weary travelers.  

Housing will stay unaffordable for many, making mobile living much more attractive. 

As already discussed by numerous articles in the RV and Travel industry, the millennial generation has been saddled with the largest debt burden of any generation and can ill afford housing at the same age as their preceding generations.  As they push off home ownership and continue to pay ever increasing rents, #vanlife has become an increasingly attractive alternative.  Young couples are plastered all over YouTube and Instagram showing off their nomadic lifestyles with very low costs and great adventures – sometimes with little children in tow – all while still working remotely.  As the coronavirus causes a slowdown in almost every industry, this generation will continue to feel the pinch and purchasing a mobile $30,000- $40,000 Class B van will seem like a much wiser choice than piling their entire life savings into a $300,000 house that may lose value over the next few years. Housing prices might fall, but for many, the down payment and mortgage will be beyond reach.  Worse yet, as we saw with the last housing crisis, as less people can afford homes or are forced out of their homes, the rental market grows and rents start to increase steadily, making it a double whammy for those squeezed in the middle.  An RV really starts looking good.  

 

The open concept floor plan favored by businesses will be forced to change with social distancing a new norm, making telework increasingly possible for much of the workforce. 

Open concept floor plans have been a major boon to businesses looking to show their start up credentials and cram as many people into an expensive business office as possible.  The past two decades have seen an explosion in open concept, bench style offices where people basically sit shoulder to shoulder, back and back in large open offices.  The entire concept was designed to encourage in person collaboration, to allow for ad-hoc stand-up meetings across departments and function areas, and to foster better culture with everyone literally rubbing shoulders.  Now, all of these perceived benefits run counter to an environment more aware of virus transmission, adding another proverbial nail to the coffin of this concept, which has already been proven to be ineffective.  Things have changed a lot in the recent past and we now understand the new normal.  As worries about coronavirus linger in our collective social consciousness, this will be a great opportunity for companies to adapt by either rebuilding and expanding their currently open concept offices, or by choosing a much cheaper option to allow for more remote work, even in positions that used to be seen as “in person only.”  

 

Businesses resisting telework and remote employees were stress tested and once the floodgates are opened, it will be hard to put the genie back into the bottle. 

Many businesses ingrained with an antiquated bias against telework/remote work have been forced to adapt to the new situation, sometimes painfully.  In industries where possible, companies and agencies that resisted or even reversed the benefits of allowing even partial remote work have suffered the consequences of their intransigence with technical and cultural chaos once it was clear that everyone has to work remotely for some period of time.  However, the silver lining to their long-suffering employees has been a newfound ability to conduct business without being in person all the time. 

As organizations adapt to the current crisis, many are upgrading their systems, purchasing new equipment, and changing their operations to allow for largely distributed teams.  Start ups are used to this, but the larger organizations are learning quickly. As more companies adapt, this increases the opportunities for employees to work (and travel) remotely full time.  Prior to this crisis, the option for RVing while teleworking was reserved for the lucky few who worked in occupations and organizations that afforded such benefits. Afterwards, more organizations will have both the wherewithal and the desire to allow this lifestyle.  

 

RV friendly trend has already boosted revenues for many businesses and this trend will only grow. 


Traditional RV parks, campgrounds, and outdoor attractions have known that being RV friendly is a great way to improve their bottom line, but other businesses, such as wineries and breweries, have now realized this.  Boothbay Craft Brewery & Tavern in Maine added five parking spots to accommodate RVs from Harvest Hosts a few years ago and recently added an electric plug in.  This has greatly boosted their visitors to their brewery and with a captive audience, sales at their pizza restaurant and tavern have improved.

Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, VA, has only three slots in their busy parking lot for RVs but averages two RVs per night each year.  They’ve now added both power and water hookups for a small fee on two of their spots and purchases from RV travelers have become a significant part of their revenue.

Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi, started welcoming RVers a few years ago to spend the night in their parking lot and in exchange most will take one of their river tours to catch a glimpse of their alligators.  They’ve seen RV visitors double every year since then.

 

Here are some steps your business should take to benefit from the coming RV travel boom.

Add parking capacity. Many RVs are about the size of a Amazon truck and can maneuver in just about any parking lot or driveway.  However, larger RVs require lots of room to move and level ground to park.  Gravel and grass are perfectly fine for most RVers as they have leveling jacks and are well experienced with softer ground.  RVers also appreciate shade as it saves them from running their A/Cs. If at all possible, keep the parking spots separated by a little distance – RV walls are thin and it’s nice to have a little privacy.  When in doubt, nothing brings a smile to an RVer’s face like a wide open paved parking lot with a great view of the landscape.  

Help larger rigs gain access. If at all possible, allow larger rigs to pull straight through without u-turns or 3-point turns.  Remove any low hanging branches or signage as these would become hazards for some of the taller Class A rigs (under 13’6”). Make sure the roads leading to your location are also accessible to the RVs, avoiding sharp turns and bridges.  See the section below about RV facts to get an idea of what sizes you’ll need to accommodate.

Connect with RV camping organizations. Businesses have always worried about making investments that might not pan out, especially with a new group of customers they don’t know well.   There are lots of options now to find RVers and campers. Hipcamp is a marketplace that allows users to book campsites at over 300,000 locations, including RV campgrounds, private farms, and more.  Boondockers Welcome is a community of hosts that allows RVers to stay the night on their property. Many are just driveways and parking lots to help RVers rest between legs of their journey, but many are businesses, which have capitalized on this as a way of increasing traffic to their stores.  Harvest Hosts is a unique program that exclusively caters to RVers who love to visit and patronize wineries, breweries, distilleries, farms, and museums.  They have over 50,000 members, all with self-contained vehicles, that follow a strict code of conduct when visiting Host locations.  

Basic information about RVs to see if your business fits. 

For comparison, here’s what different types of RVs would stack up against common vehicles you might see around your business.  

  • Class B = Amazon Prime or Fed Ex van
  • Class C = UPS delivery truck
  • Class A = Tour buses or school buses
  • 5th wheel = Semi trucks

 

Length

As for length, a good rule of thumb is that the lot (assuming that you have to turn around and go out the same way) should be at least twice the length of the largest RV you are willing to have on property. In other words, for a big class A (max legal length is 45 ft) you need to have a lot that is 100 x 100 ft or larger. This is less of an issue if there is an exit at the other end of the lot and they don’t have to turn around in the lot. Many organizations, like Harvest Hosts, allow you to limit the size and number of RVs that can visit your establishment. 

Height

In terms of height, most RV’s are under 13’6” unless they forget to lower their antenna, which happens from time to time, so low gates and overhanging branches should be removed wherever possible. 

Width

The biggest RV’s are 102 inches (8.5’) wide, making turning and backing up extremely difficult.  You might want to move your mailbox and decorations at least a few feet away from the driveway just in case it’s too tight a turn.  Just imagine a semi pulling in the delivery of several pallets – these are just as big. 

Weight

Be mindful of weight as well.  RV’s can weigh as much as 30 tons (60,000 lbs) fully loaded since they have to be fully self-sustaining with water/sewage tanks, propane, batteries, food, and fuel.  Be aware of this if your business has bridges, culverts, or gravel roads that get soft during excess rain.

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