By Russ and Tiña De Maris
While sales of RVs have blasted off as people look for vacation travel alternatives, that doesn’t mean that the industry is ignoring the coronavirus pandemic. Camping World CEO Marcus Lemonis brought concerns about the virus straight to the fore on Tuesday when he announced his company is pulling out of “America’s Largest RV Show” in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The annual show is an industry giant, covering more than a million square feet at Hershey’s Giant Center, scheduled for September 14 through 20. Lemonis made the announcement via Facebook, and word of the pullout hadn’t even reached show organizers – they only learned of it when a manufacturer who’d heard about the absence passed it along. Here’s a quote of Lemonis’ concerns about doing the show:
“As you might imagine, RV shows tend to draw large crowds, with long lines and packed aisles – all very exciting,” Lemonis said. “But in light of COVID-19, it feels irresponsible to subject our associates and our customers to this type of environment. I’m concerned not only about the density of crowds, but the travel required to get there. I’ve been attending the Hershey RV Show in Harrisburg, Pa., for years and I always look forward to it. But because of the lack of clarity around guidelines, our company – Camping World, Gander RV and Good Sam – will not be attending.”
Camping World is billed by some as arguably the country’s highest volume RV dealer. True or not, the absence of the company at the Hershey show makes for big waves. Still, there’s a bigger question: What about the show itself? Countless big conventions and trade shows around the country have canceled, including many with dates stretching out into fall. We reached out to Heather Leach, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania RV & Camping Association (PRVCA), the show’s organizing association. We asked, in light of coronavirus concerns and Camping World’s pullout, if there were any inkling that the show might NOT go on.
Leach responded by e-mail. “While I understand that there’s obvious concern, we’re continuing to do everything that we can to try and make the event a success, and I’m sure we will be updating everybody as the summer proceeds to let them know what the future may hold,” Leach wrote. “Right now, we’re still trying to overcome some hurdles obviously to make the show happen.”
Her response to RVtravel.com was a shorter version of a comment she made to industry trade publication RVBusiness. According to it, Leach spoke of the Camping World impact in greater detail, “When we heard about Camping World not attending the show, I immediately got emails from other dealers saying they fully support the show and will work hard to fill any void that leaves and that they’re completely 100% dedicated to PRVCA, which, you know, says a lot about the dealers in the state.”
But nary a word concerning matters of public health. And while coronavirus may be down statistically, it’s far from “out” in the health care boxing ring. Until an effective treatment or vaccine for this vicious little bug is found, it presents a serious risk to folks, particularly those crammed into a crowded venue, coming from all parts of the country – and from foreign shores as well. Time will tell whether PRVCA will come away from its Admiral Farragut-esque stance of “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”