Americans are defying high gas prices and jumping into recreational vehicles for their summer vacations.
USA Today reported that two of the largest owners and managers of RV campgrounds in the USA said their lots were booked for the July 4th vacation week and much of the summer.
Last week was one of the busiest if not the busiest for the entire Kampgrounds of America (KOA) system, according to Shane Ott, president and chief operating officer of Billings, Mont.-based KOA, the USA’s largest campground chain with 450 campgrounds and 72,000 campsites.
RV parks say changes in how the vehicles are used along with a rise in ownership among affluent people is driving higher sales. The average cost of a new motorhome is $260,000, said Richard Coon, president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
“When you’re talking about motorhomes, those people don’t care about gas prices,” he said.
Jerry Gelinas, vice president of marketing for Thousand Trails, which manages 81 campgrounds across the country, said customers tend to be Baby Boomers, retirees and young families with a healthy amount of discretionary income.
Gelinas said RVers increasingly want to use parks as destinations rather than mere stopovers. Parks are responding by offering more attractions such as pools, tennis courts and live entertainment. Rather than cooking nightly over propane stoves, families can often buy prepared foods and takeout.
Coon said that compared to all the other expenses of a vacation, such as motels and restaurants, RVs are “still an economic way to go.” If gas went up a $1, a family traveling 1,000 miles in a motor home that gets about 10 mpg would spend $100 more on gas, he says.
That’s not to say RV owners are ignoring the cost of fuel.
Families are saving money by “going shorter distances and staying longer,” said David Woodworth of Fish Camp, Calif., an RV historian.
Industry surveys show that owners have also slowed down to 55 mph or 60 mph, to conserve fuel, Coon said. Fuel mileage is “not great,” but it’s better than it was 10 years ago, Woodworth says.
According to USA Today, the industry has introduced more efficient engines, and new materials that make motorhomes and trailers lighter. Felix Kramer, founder of the California Cars Initiative, which promotes energy efficient vehicles, isn’t surprised gas prices aren’t scaring off RV owners.
“In terms of the percentage of people’s annual income, expensive gasoline is not all that much,” Kramer said.
But the 18 million RV owners plugging in every night “would be ideal plug-in hybrid candidates,” he says. They would no longer need expensive on-board generators to operate appliances and they’d have silent, emissions free vacations.