By Mike Gast
Kampgrounds of America Inc. just released its 2021 North American Camping Report, and it confirms what most recreational vehicle owners already knew – there are a lot more new RVers out there.
The North American Camping Report is a scientific survey of the trends and habits of campers in the U.S. and Canada. Kampgrounds of America Inc. has been commissioning the survey report every year since 2014. (Full disclosure: This writer was one of the authors of the report between 2014 and 2020 while the Vice President of Communications for KOA). Nearly 4,000 surveys were completed in January 2021 for the Report.
The 2021 edition of the North American Camping Report found that the proportion of first-time campers grew five-fold since 2019, and the number of households that now own an RV grew by 2.6 million. More than 86 million U.S. households now consider themselves campers, and 48 million of those households took at least one camping trip in 2020 – up more than 6 million over 2019.
COVID-19 a major driver behind influx of new campers
The COVID-19 pandemic turned out to be a major driver behind much of the influx of new campers, including the 10.1 million households who camped for the first time in 2020. Nearly a third of those new camping households said they believed camping was a safe way to travel and avoid crowds.
“More than 80% of campers changed their camping habits last year – including working and schooling from the campground, turning to RVs for travel safety and security, and adding more weekdays to their trips – which, coupled with the influx of first-time campers, solidifies that many Americans turned to camping and the outdoors to make it through a challenging year,” said Toby O’Rourke, President and CEO of Kampgrounds of America (KOA). “One of the most encouraging trends of this year’s data is the continued growth of diverse communities engaging in camping for the first time and becoming even more engaged, like Black campers having the highest intent of all camper sub-groups to purchase an RV this year.”
An increase in camper diversity was also noted in this year’s report. Nearly 6-in-10 first-time campers in 2020 represent diverse ethnic groups, while 61% of same-sex households camp with children, an increase of 12 percentage points over 2019.
If you’d like to read (or even download) the entire 2021 North American Camping Report and even earlier yearly editions, you can access them all at KOA.com/north-american-camping-report/.
Here’s a few more highlights of the 2020 North American Camping Report:
How COVID-19 changed the camping experience
- More than 80% of campers changed their camping habits in 2020 with one of the most encouraging changes being an increase in the number of weekday trips.
- Forty-one percent of all campers, and 51% of new campers, say they sometimes or always work while camping. Millennial campers are the most likely to work while camping (54%), up 11 percentage points since 2019.
- Families are the most likely to say that being able to work or school remotely allowed them to camp more often.
- Up slightly from 2019, more than half of all campers say that access to cell or Wi-Fi service impacts the amount they are able to camp. On average across all campers, access to technology generates six additional camper nights, a rate that has doubled since 2018.
Attributes of 2020’s first-time campers according to the Camping Report
- Twenty-one percent of the 48 million households who camped at least once in 2020 classified themselves as first-time campers. This equates to 10.1 million households in 2020 and is a significant increase compared to 4% of new campers in 2019.
- These first-time campers are under the age of 40, parents, and ethnically diverse. More than half stayed at campgrounds with at least some amenities and services, but also purchased some type of camping gear for their first trip. Nearly half tried glamping, and 28% identified as RV campers.
- First-time campers said that having access to technology allowed them to camp an additional nine days in 2020.
- Of the first-time campers who indicated having a “great” first experience in 2020, nearly three-fourths are likely to continue camping. The factors that contributed to campers having an enjoyable experience, and could contribute to other first-timers having a positive camping trip in 2021, include:
- Having an existing love of the outdoors and always wanted to try camping.
- A pleasant, low-maintenance experience at a campground that included many services and amenities (such as bathrooms and showers, on-site activities, a campground store, Wi-Fi and more).
- Sharing the experience with friends or as part of a bigger group.
The impact of COVID-19 on RVing
- In 2020, the number of U.S. households who camp in an RV is 13 million, which reflects a 1.6 million increase of households over 2019. The number of households who own an RV is approximately 9.6 million, which reflects an increase of 2.6 million households over 2019.
- From a generational perspective, RV ownership increased the most among GenXers and millennials; ownership growth can also be seen in families.
- Among all RV owners, about one-fourth said they plan to upgrade their RV in the coming year; half of new RV owners plan to upgrade in 2021, showcasing that these new RV owners are continuing to find their groove as they gain more experience.
- Up substantially from 2019, about one-third of non-RV owners indicate that they would like to purchase an RV in the coming year.
- Nearly half of first-time campers who don’t currently use an RV to camp say they plan to purchase an RV in the next 12 months.
The 2021 camping outlook
- As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 into 2021, campers intend to continue camping and intend to increase their trips in the coming year.
- Across all campers, families (couples with children) are the group most likely to continue camping in 2021, as they noted plans to spend more nights camping (70%) and taking more camping trips (64%).
- Sixty-two percent of all first-time campers in 2020 plan to camp the same or more camping nights in the coming year.
- Almost half of campers say that the COVID vaccine will allow them to camp more often in 2021. The vaccine is most likely to increase camping among millennial and GenX campers.
- There is high interest among all campers to try a new experience in 2021, and half want to try RVing or glamping.
What this report doesn’t tackle is where all of these new campers will camp, and what the camping industry has planned to increase camping options for new and existing RVers. We’ll be writing more on those topics in coming weeks, so stay tuned to RVTravel.com.