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New data reveals who RVers are and why they do it

When I first got into the camping business 21 years ago at Kampgrounds of America Inc., campgrounds were “seat of the pants” operations. Owners made most decisions based on gut instinct, and outdoor research was pretty much left to the university academics.

That dearth of data started to change in 2014, when KOA released its first North American Camping Report. Now, it seems fresh, scientifically driven camping information is being released monthly by Kampgrounds of America as well as just about any other organization that owns or operates parks.

A photo of KOA's 2022 North American Camping ReportFull disclosure: I was involved as one of the authors of the first six of those annual KOA reports. Early each spring, we’d work for weeks to make sense of a mountain of data gleaned from interviews with thousands of campers. We interviewed campers of every stripe, not just those who favored KOAs.

Surveys and studies are increasingly important

These surveys and studies from all sources are growing increasingly important because campground owners—including big systems like KOA and Jellystone—use the data to make decisions on what services and amenities to add, as well as where and when to build new parks and campsites. The studies are also used by RV manufacturers and dealers when they make their big decisions.

Campers would also be wise to have at least a passing familiarity with what these studies and reports have to say. They are a good forecast of where the RVing lifestyle is heading.

Last week, former campground owner and talented writer Andy Zipser gave his take at RVTravel.com regarding a report released by The Dyrt.

KOA’s 2022 North American Camping Report findings

Today, let’s dive a little deeper into what KOA’s 2022 North American Camping Report has to say about the state of camping, and what comes next. A total of 4,145 campers were surveyed for the report.

A graph on KOA’s 2022 North American Camping Report

Camping’s popularity continues to climb

The 2022 North American Camping Report found that there were more than 9.1 million new campers trying out the lifestyle in 2021. That explains the trouble you probably had reserving your favorite site last year. One surprising finding is that about three million of those first-time campers said their decision to try camping was driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of that new business for campgrounds understandably pushed forward the annual window for making reservations. About 75 percent of campers now say they had booked at least a few of their summer 2022 camping trips by the start of April.

Another factor that has changed the face of camping in 2022 is the large number of campers who now work remotely while on the road. KOA’s North American Camping Report found that 46 percent of campers say they work remotely while they camp. That’s up from 41 percent claiming to be remote workers in 2020.

As I said earlier, I was around for that first North American Camping Report in 2014. Back then, we were just seeing the beginnings of what became of a flood of new families trying camping.

Camping is now a mainstream family leisure activity

This year’s study says camping is now a mainstream family leisure activity, with 40 percent of all leisure trips (including air travel and cruises) resulting in a camping stay. In fact, the 2022 North American Camping Report says at least 80 percent of all leisure travelers chose camping or glamping for at least some of their trips. That puts camping near the top of the travel industry food chain.

“Our research shows that camping is one of the primary ways households prefer to travel and spend their leisure time because 75 percent of campers say it reduces stress and contributes to their emotional well-being,” said Whitney Scott, chief marketing officer of KOA. “Camping is driving leisure travel’s recovery and its benefits will fuel future market share.”

Since KOA did its original research in 2014 (the first report was issued in 2015), the number of camping households in the U.S. had increased 77 percent. Much of that increase occurred in the pandemic-affected past two years, when those numbers jumped 36 percent.

Here’s a number that should grab the attention of every RVer. In 2021, a total of 57 million households say they went on at least one camping trip. That was an increase of 18 percent over 2020 and was the largest one-year jump since the North American Camping Report began.

Some of that increase is being driven by glamping, that relatively new, high-end version of getting outdoors. Nearly half of the new campers in 2021 said they went glamping at least once last year.

More RVing families now own their rigs than before (77 percent). Interest in purchasing a rig is also high among non-RV owners, with 32 percent saying they’d like to purchase an RV this year. Good news for manufacturers, dealers, and campgrounds. Not so good if you’re out there competing for that elusive campsite.

Other key findings in KOA’s North American Camping Report

The rise of the urban camper

  • In 2021, camping saw the rise of the urban resident as one of the most avid camping segments in terms of both trips and the number of nights spent camping.
  • The urban camper prefers to camp in tents (66 percent), but if they RV, they are highly likely to be RV owners (82 percent).
  • They are seeking a variety of new experiences in 2022, from RVing (58 percent), backcountry camping (54 percent), taking a road trip (54 percent), overlanding (51 percent) and glamping (50 percent).
  • Music festivals continue to be one of the most popular reasons for the urban camper to get outside, with 44 percent camping for these types of events in 2021.
  • Looking ahead to 2022, 44 percent of this group plan to replace a traditional leisure trip with a camping trip, citing current economic conditions and avoiding crowds as key drivers for their decision-making.

Remote work camping is here to stay

  • As the pandemic has created permanent ripple effects in the way Americans work, this shift is also having an impact on the camping industry. A total of 46 percent of campers work during at least some of their trips, up from 41 percent in 2020, including 57 percent of millennials.
  • Close to half of campers rate having Wi-Fi as important (48 percent), impacting their ability to camp so they can extend their trips and stay connected to work as needed.

The RV boom

  • RVing is at an all-time high, with 11 million RV owners camping last year, and two million new RV renters in 2021.
  • There is a marked increase in peer-to-peer RV services, with 7-in-10 non-RVers saying they are likely to rent from a peer-to-peer service, including 79 percent of millennial respondents.

Diversity, equality, and inclusion in the outdoors

  • New campers continue to be more diverse when compared to campers overall, with 54 percent of new campers self-identifying as non-white. Currently, about one out of every three camper households includes people who identify as Hispanic, Black, Asian, or other non-white ethnicities.
  • A quarter of Black campers plan to embark on their first solo camping trip in 2022.
  • The age demographic makeup of campers continues to trend younger, with millennials and Gen-Z making up 53 percent of all campers. 7-in-10 new campers are 40 or younger.

The future of camping

  • In 2021, it is estimated that campers spent about $44 billion in local communities during their trips.
  • About seven million leisure traveler households will try camping in 2022.
  • It is predicted that overlanding will become a more popular camping vertical. Overlanding is a self-reliant form of travel with off-roading transport vehicles where the primary form of lodging is camping, and trips are usually for extended periods. In 2021, 27 percent of campers took an overlanding trip for the first time, and 46 percent of all campers want to try overlanding in 2022.
  • Glamping continues to grow, with 36 percent of campers going on a glamping trip for the first time in 2021. In 2022, 50 percent of campers are seeking a glamping experience.
  • Given camping’s increased popularity and early booking trends, it will be beneficial for interested campers to plan earlier than ever before to secure their desired dates and locations. In fact, by April 2022, about three-fourths of campers had already booked at least some of their campsites for 2022.

Whew. That’s a lot to take in. Again, it’s important to be familiar with these results, as well as those flowing from other sources. They all speak to the growing popularity of camping and RVing and indicate it will be a while before things start to slow.

This data will be used by the movers and shakers in RV manufacturing and dealerships, as well as campground owners. They’ll study it to help decide what new models to build, how many to make, what dealerships and brands to consolidate, and where to put those elusive new campgrounds and sites.

KOA, for its part, is aggressively out there adding new locations. The company, which is celebrating 60 years in business in 2022, confirmed that it added 26 new franchised locations in 2021. They’ve also announced construction plans for a new corporate headquarters in Billings, Montana. They wouldn’t be making those moves unless they thought their future looked bright.

To read the entire summary of the 2022 North American Camping Report, click here.

##RVT1050

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Jiani Zhang
3 months ago

hi, what’s the difference between “active camper households” (93.8 million) and “households who camped at least once” (56.9 million)? Thanks!!

Jon W.
4 months ago

Maybe a new category should be added–those of us who like to travel (on roads as opposed to overlanding) staying from one to three nights depending on what activities we are pursuing in a particular area. All we need is a place to park (picnic table, bath w/ or w/o shower are nice amenities) for a reasonable price. We have found a few (too few) of these in our travels around the country. Examples have in motel parking lots, county fairgrounds, welcome centers, casinos. What an opportunity for some of our chain businesses around the country. There is a need for the basics without the frills.

Susan J Lundquist
4 months ago

So this report is only based on surveys of people who stayed at KOAs?

Mike Gast
4 months ago

No Susan. It’s based on a survey of more than 4,200 people who identify themselves as campers in general, not just KOA campers.

Steven Peterson
4 months ago
Reply to  Mike Gast

How was the data collected? And no offense but 4200 replies against 57 million campers is a VERY low sample size – makes the numbers questionable!

And help me out I see one place for campers it says 57MM households and another place it says 92MM households- ???? – either way – 4200 replies is a very small sample

Last edited 4 months ago by Steven Peterson
K.Alan Mohlman
4 months ago

Interesting, KOA sites tend to pack’em in, was fearful to start a campfire due to neighbor’s slideout being so close!. Would be nice if amenities were al la carte rather than all-inclusive.

Robert LeBlanc
4 months ago

I understand the attraction and increases here in this activity, I have always had interest in it as well as taking part. But I work and own my own business and it prevents me from doing it more, not to mention the out of control cost that I won’t subject myself to even though I can easily afford it, it’s just price gouging at every level.
But I too also see a redaction/correction coming from the “this is not for me” crowd, after all I want to get away from people, not regroup.

Pink Bianchi
4 months ago

You mentioned 77% of RVing families owning an RV. But I’m curious about what percentage of those are, in fact, owned by a mortgage lender and not yet owned by the RVing family. Any info on that…? Thx!

Mary
4 months ago

I’m a little more than miffed about this new fee that campgrounds charge for locking in your site. When you go to the place for years and have always requested the same site and got it with no problems and now someone has the bright idea to make money off of your request. One place where we used to go was bought out by a big corporation and I don’t see any improvements at all but the price has almost doubled. We are now searching out places other than improved campgrounds, looking at more Boondocking, BLM, and COE’s. I am also getting tired of the rudeness of some of these newer campers, no etiquette at all!

I also foresee a decline in interest for new campers when they realize all of the work and expense involved – storage fees, maintenance, packing, unpacking, towing, etc. in addition to the crap that the RV industry is churning out. So many of them spend months in the shop before they are even useable.

Covid made them rich, we’ll see where we go from here.

Robin
4 months ago
Reply to  Mary

I too am very unhappy with that extra fee to save a site. I just got bumped from a site 2 weeks ago. We pay enough already. I don’t want to be charged an extra $25. I did my part on making my reservation, campgrounds need to do their part in honoring them!

Carl J
4 months ago

If people are earning a livelihood FT’ing in an RV and are stationary, they aren’t RV’ing. They are living in a trailer and the rv parks catering to that lifestyle have determined that transitioning to a trailer park makes them more$$. Just be honest and stop calling yourselves an RV park.

Mary
4 months ago
Reply to  Carl J

I also wonder what kind of a background check they do on people who are living there. We were camping with our granddaughters at a KOA once and the police came in and arrested a guy 2 sites away from us. There were a lot of shady characters there and we decided that we would not use the pool, kids were upset but stayed safe with us and we left the next day. All of the full timers had tons of junk stored under and around their filthy leaking trailers. Even a blue tarp over one of them.

Tony S.
4 months ago

This article does a good job of summarizing the data collected. The full report is worth a click and read too. The terminology of “overlanding, glamping,” etc are defined at the end of the report for those wondering what the term means. It will be interesting to watch and see what percentage of new campers stick with the pastime over the years.

I find it encouraging to read that camping/RVing is being taken up by more diverse groups of people. Provides an opportunity to realize we all have more in common than not. Camp on!

Drew
4 months ago

For the first time- colored sewer hoses are available now.- A byproduct of the rv boom.

Andy
4 months ago

What’s the difference (if any) between “overlanding” and boondocking?

Winger
4 months ago
Reply to  Andy

Overlanding is typically more off-road oriented (4wd) and usually are small off-road trailers or roof tents, my truck is set up for camping (truck topper), but I also boondock in my Airstream if I’m not going off-road.

Hope that helped! Happy camping!

Andy
4 months ago
Reply to  Winger

Thanks!

Kurt Shoemaker Sr
4 months ago

I for one, have been considering selling my rig and getting out of camping after over forty years because the cost for everything is stretching my fixed income budget. For example: I have been camping at the same campground in Virginia since the early 1980’s. The campground was a family owned campground. Within the last few years the family sold to KOA. Yes big improvements to the infrastructure were made so I expected the cost per night to go up. I was still able to get a site, using whatever discount worked best for me. Then I noticed an increase in cabins, glamping tents, and RV rental units and at the same time a decrease in the number of sites available to transients. The site I was getting at a discount now contains a cabin and the only transient site available is way over my budget. So basically this campground is catering to a clientele that does not own an RV or any camping equipment for that matter. It was fun while it lasted.

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago

I wonder if there is a difference in what people call “glamping”, depending on how you look at it. We have a 30′ travel trailer and consider a 40′ Prevost “glamping”. Someone in a tent might consider a Burro or a Scamp “glamping”. Just sayin’.

David
4 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Tommy that is a good assessment
We have a 01 Bounder DP
Know what you mean
👍🏼

Tony S.
4 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

I was wondering the same thing. If you click on the full KOA camping report, the research terms are defined on the second to last page.

Duane R
4 months ago
Reply to  Tony S.

Yeah, they define it differently than I do. They use “a unique accommodation… with enhanced services an amenities.” I consider my Lance 1995 travel trailer to be glamping, as it is such an upgrade from tent camping. It is unique, due to my modifications. It has enhanced services and amenities, as it has a toilet, shower, stove, heating and AC, unlike any tent I have camped in. So, there is a range of interpretation when people are asked if they “glamp” on vacation. I certainly glamp.

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