Did you miss part one or two of this series? Read them here.
Cars made by American car manufacturers in the mid-20th century would wear out by 80,000 miles. Then along came Germany’s VW Bug and other well-built compacts from Japan. They cost less, lasted longer, fit into tight parking spots, and burned far less fuel than the big gas hogs American car makers produced. It got to the point where consumers chanted “Don’t buy American.” It took a long time for Detroit car manufacturers to understand they needed to change their ways or perish. It was the high-quality foreign competition that did it.
The RV industry has no serious foreign competition. Many of today’s RVs leave their factories without a comprehensive inspection for defects. Dealers are supposed to do a PDI (pre-delivery inspection), but often don’t or don’t do it properly (hey, time is money!). Read the Facebook group RV Horror Stories to see what happens. It is ugly.
Many dealers often prefer to simply send out the RV with the new buyer without doing anything but a superficial inspection. “If there’s something wrong, just bring it back and we’ll fix it,” they say. Right! And then when the buyer does return, he or she is told, “It will take us a few weeks to get to that.” It can be because the RV dealer is too busy, or that a needed part takes weeks or longer to arrive. It’s a problem the RV industry recognizes, but has not addressed seriously, although that could finally be changing. Stay tuned. And, P.S: Those “three-week repairs” can often take two or three times that long — or longer!
Imagine that the big three RV manufacturers (Thor, Forest River and Winnebago) convened a summit where they would discuss how to improve the RVing experience for their customers, not just themselves. I mean SERIOUSLY discuss. Maybe someone important in the industry, a visionary (wouldn’t that be nice), would convince others with influence that something must be done to improve their customers’ experiences, not just address them with a Band-Aid solution or a PR campaign. Will that happen? Maybe, but I suspect it will be when the companies are forced to change, perhaps when foreign competition arrives. There isn’t a visionary in the business that I can see. Alas, visionaries don’t come along too often.
SPEAKING OF VISIONARIES
Back in 1938 a man named William Piper began producing a small airplane that would sell for about $1,000. He is a great example of a visionary, not to mention a smart businessman. His Piper Cub made flying affordable for just about everyone. The media called him “Aviation’s Henry Ford.”
Do you know the first thing Mr. Piper did when he started selling the Cub? He and/or his representatives toured the country doing their best to persuade small towns to build airports. Piper knew that if his prospective customers (pilots) didn’t have a place to take off and land they wouldn’t buy his planes. If only the RV industry were half as wise.
Ditto Henry Ford, who lobbied for more and better roads. How could he sell his Model T’s if buyers had no decent places to drive them?
So, to put this another way . . .
• Airplanes need places to land and take off.
• Cars need good roads where motorists can drive them.
• RVs need places to stay with them (besides Walmart).
Here’s a post this past week from the Facebook group California RV Camping:
“We just bought our first travel trailer and we’re so excited to take it to all the beautiful California campgrounds. However, I’m getting a little discouraged booking sites. All the great ones seem impossible to get a site for no matter how far in advance I try. Any secrets to this? We live in San Diego so doing first come first serve isn’t ideal for the good places that are 6ish hours away.”
The fact is — what the woman who posted this didn’t know — what nobody told her when she bought her RV — is that all “the beautiful California campgrounds” have been booked for a year, often longer. She probably got suckered into believing she could go anywhere she wanted, when she wanted, as promoted by the RV Industry in its advertising and propaganda materials.
IT’S THE SAME in any popular tourist area in America. In an RV Travel reader poll from last year, nearly 90% of more than 2,500 respondents said securing an RV park site without an advance reservation was more difficult (48%) or somewhat more difficult (41%) than five years before: That adds up to almost 90% who said it was more difficult even as of a year ago!
Try to find an available campsite in any popular National Park — Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Acadia — you won’t unless you make your reservation a year or even two ahead. Heck, try to find any available campground on the fly within 20 miles of a popular park!
The National Park Service reported that at the end of 2018 there were 502 front-end campgrounds in the National Park system with 16,648 sites. These are locations you can reach by motor vehicle, not by hiking or boating.
Yosemite National Park has nearly 1,500 sites, Glacier National Park has more than 1,000, Grand Teton National Park has more than 1,100, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon combined have just a bit more than 1,200 sites. “Do the math and you’ll see that those six parks alone hold 40 percent of those 16,648 campsites,” wrote National Park Traveler.
“Many other parks that are highly desirable with campers have considerably fewer sites,” the website wrote. “Canyonlands National Park has fewer than 40, Arches National Park has 50, Rocky Mountain National Park has around 571, Acadia National Park has a few more than 600, and Shenandoah National Park has 472.” Of course, if you’re looking for RV campsites, they are even more scarce.”
It can be nearly impossible in most popular parks to simply drop into a campground and find a vacant space (that was not true even 10 years ago). Take Yosemite. In January 2020, it was announced that campsite reservations from May 15 to June 14 would be made available online on February 15th. Anyone who wanted to camp in the park during that month had to be sitting at their computer at exactly 7 a.m., Pacific time (and then hope to get lucky) and hit “send” before the campsites were all gone. Alas, within only a few minutes, every single one was reserved. Of the more than 11,000 people who wanted a site, fewer than 40% secured one.
And keep this in mind. According to Statista, 59% of Americans who camp do so with a tent. They’re taking up a whole bunch of campsites; it’s not just RVers looking for a place to stay.
It’s not much different with RV parks:
RV park were far less crowded 15 years ago, when there were fewer RVs on the road and far fewer full-timers occupying a campsite 365 days a year. Today, it’s not just full-timers but other long-term tenants — pipeline workers, wind machine repairmen and workers on long-term construction projects. Some RV parks are fully occupied by these people, most of them in fifth wheel trailers. Do you need a spot for a night or two when passing through? Good luck!
A friend of mine owns a campground in Virginia. It’s a family business where familiar faces return each year for family vacations. One day, a businessman showed up in the office with a proposal: “My company will soon be building a pipeline through this area. We need a place for our workers to stay for one year.” He asked my friend how much he would gross during one year if every campsite were filled every night. The businessman said, “We will pay you that amount plus an additional 20% if you rent us the park.”
My friend turned him down. Yes, it was easy money, but it would have destroyed the goodwill he enjoyed with his long-time customers. He is not the only RV park owner who has received such an offer. Some take the money. And when they do, there goes another park off-limits to you and me if we want to spend a night or two while passing through.
There is, however, more to this than simply a shortage of RV parks. The truth is, there are countless campsites available every night.
CONTINUED IN TOMORROW’S NEWSLETTER (March 1, 2020).