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Has RVing slowdown begun?

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By Andy Zipser
The fall equinox arrived last week, marking the transition from summer to fall. Now the days get progressively shorter than the nights, sweaters and jackets make an appearance, leaves turn color and drop. The great wheel turns, and with it we cycle into another phase, another set of rhythms and relationships with each other and with the environment.

So, too, it would seem, with the camping industry. After a couple of hothouse years in which RVs and anything to do with them seemingly exploded across the landscape, the first hints of an impending cooldown have become visible, even as broader underlying trends suggest a deeper downturn than many industry participants might be prepared to weather.

In that regard, two sets of recently announced numbers specific to RVs and RVers are especially telling. One has to do with RV wholesale shipments, which now are projected by ITR Economics, which prepares quarterly forecasts for the RV Industry Association, to end 2022 at less than 500,000 units. That would represent a stunning near-17% decline from the 600,240 RVs shipped to dealers last year—and that’s not the end of it. ITR’s mid-range forecast for 2023 predicts another 16% drop, to 419,000 units.

Projected RV shipments

Putting aside the pandemic-blasted sales figures for 2019, that means projected RV shipments for next year will be at their lowest level since 2016. Coming on the heels of last year’s unprecedented construction boom, with RV builders hiring boatloads of new employees and adding assembly plants at a frantic pace, the implications are for a massive disruption of RV-dependent economies everywhere, but especially in Elkhart, Indiana.

THE OTHER NOTABLE NUMBERS are from KOA, which recently reported a 5.6% increase in short-term registration revenue—even as it reported a 3.4% year-over-year decline in second-quarter occupancy. Moreover, long-term registration revenue for the same quarter was up 6.9%, while occupancy was down 3.3%. There’s only one way to reconcile fewer bodies with higher revenues, and that’s with higher prices, which at the very least should raise questions about the sustainability of such a business model.

Higher prices of all sorts, meanwhile, suggest that the slowdown KOA and RVIA are seeing will only accelerate in the months ahead. The Fed’s continuing interest rate increases, most recently projected to exceed 4.5% by year-end, will further dampen consumer spending, whether it’s for discretionary big-ticket items like RVs or for discretionary leisure activities like increasingly pricey RV sites. And gas prices, to which the RV sector is especially sensitive, may be rebounding after falling from their $5-a-gallon peak, interrupting and possibly reversing a 98-day streak of declines.



A signal of what’s to come

One signal of what’s to come may be getting offered by the investment groups that have been piling pell-mell into campground acquisitions—not that they’re slowing down, by any means. They are, however, lowering their sights, taking more of a long-term view that puts a greater emphasis on getting a foot in the door. As Randy Hendrickson, CEO of United Park Brokers, told Woodall’s Campground Magazine in its current issue, “a few years ago the criteria may have been 200-plus sites in the Sunbelt. [But] investors now recognize that 70-site parks with additional acreage” may be a better option, paving the way for “extracting internal value later through expansion or repositioning.”

The purchase of smaller campgrounds, it should go without saying, also is more easily financed, yet another consequence of higher interest rates. But it also means an unexpected down-market consolidation of the industry, further squeezing out would-be owner-operators.

Yes, winter is coming.

 PREVIOUSLY FROM ANDY… 

RV industry unhappy about Fed’s idea to combat high-pressure RV sales

By Andy Zipser
“RV” is shorthand for “recreational vehicle,” a point strongly emphasized by trade groups like the RV Industry Association—which represents RV manufacturers—any time someone begins confusing RVs with housing. Sure, a travel trailer or park model may look an awful lot like a single-wide house trailer, but they’re built to different standards and no one, for example, should expect to live year-round in an RV. “RV housing?” No such thing, claims the RVIA, regardless of what it might look like. Continue reading.

*****

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through some bookstores or at Amazon.com.

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RELATED: Are RV parks changing?

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Tina
1 month ago

The prices of RVs have increased to more than I made in a lifetime!

Jim Johnson
2 months ago

I am concerned about a couple trends I see coming for those who enjoy RV life.

Crowded campgrounds? It isn’t going to get better in the short term. There is a trend for RV park owners to allocate more space to long term ‘renters’ or ‘condos with a park owner being the HOA’.Can’t blame owners for wanting a more steady revenue stream. The downside is folks trying to GET to their long term site (and eventually go the other direction) need short term spots to make the trip across the land between.

Remember the burst housing bubble? People who bought high and couldn’t sell or refinance because the property was worth less than the debt? Sure there are going to be a lot of folks who jumped into an RV and discover it’s a lot of maintenance work between (and sometimes during) trips and want to return to flying to the all inclusive resort vacations. Will their acquired RVs appear on lots? Or sit in driveways because they owe more than it’s worth?

Michael Thomas Lloyd
2 months ago

Terrific article and information. I am a “future purchaser” and have been frustrated the last few years in my attempts to purchase a coach. I shop pre-owned, and in early 2021 there were basically no coaches listed for sale that I had on my target list. Finally when a few showed up, 4 and 5 year old coaches were being listed at what they cost new (sometimes even higher). I had two coaches bought out from under me by dealerships who marked them up 20% or more then tried to explain to me why I was getting a great deal at a price well above what the private seller had the coaches listed at (gotta hand it to the dealers though, snapping up pre-owned units to sell as new ones were not available, great strategy). Anyway, I made an offer yesterday on a 2015 coach which was 10% above the dealer wholesale value but the owners didn’t accept. Even so, I think my frustrations will soon end as I get price-drop notifications daily on flagged coaches listed on RVT and RV Trader.

Donald N Wright
2 months ago

We just had an RV show in Dallas. I chose not to go. Why bother ? Innovation is a “four letter word” to RV manufacturers.

captain gort
2 months ago

Everything eventually reverts to the norm. This RV “craze” will most certainly pass and then…look out below! After a few trips, perhaps a couple of years, watching the now-grossly overpriced rig age, facing repair costs, super-high fuel costs, overpriced RV parks and storage yards,…and all of the WORK that RVing really is…they will begin thinking of selling it. And when this bizarro house of cards economy tanks (and it will), there will be stampede for the exit. Too late! That RV will be worth less. A LOT less! Most will end up in “trailer courts as static ‘live-aboards”….just like what has happened to most larger power boats that require berthing. Am I too gloomy? I see countless new RVs sitting on sales lots NOW!

David
2 months ago
Reply to  captain gort

I agree! I am in the market to purchase my first travel trailer and at the first lot I visited, the salesperson said “we have a LOT of inventory” and are looking to make deals. Why would he indicate that if people were beating down the door to purchase? Since I visited about a week ago, he has texted me about 5 times asking about my desire to purchase. In a market where units are flying out the door, I don’t think I would have this experience. As a purchaser, I guess it is becoming a buyers market now!

Bill
2 months ago

Do you think the inability to get campground reservations, finding the campground crowded when you can get in, the high price of fuel, the high interest rates, reports of poor quality workmanship in new RVs, and the recession might have something to do with it?

Andy Zipser
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Yes.

Kevin C
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Spot on Bill. Especially now with the interest rate hike. Who in their right mind is going to go out and finance anything right now? The Biden economy is a complete train wreck.

Drew
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevin C

Agreed, plus the possibility we face of another 2008 style recession- probably the best killer of rv popularity and everything else.

William
2 months ago
Reply to  Kevin C

It’s the world economy and frankly the US is doing better than everyone else so be thankful

Chris Ludlow
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Yes on rv sales& service needing regulator measures.

Tommy Molnar
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

Probably not to most first-time buyers. They don’t spend any time reading sites like rvtravel. They read RV reviews and look for the ones others like. I don’t think they read about all the issues with finding campgrounds, bad construction issues, or anything negative about RV’ing itself. I’ll bet they think, “Oh, the prices are going to fall. It’s time to buy”.

Spike
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill

In relative historical terms, interest rates are still a bargain! It’s just that many only remember the recent past when the Fed had determined that giving money away and severely punishing savers was a good long term strategy. They clearly missed the boat on when to start tapering their massive stimulus programs. Pile huge Federal government stimulus and the pending economic disaster was set in motion. Because of their mistaken timing they now need to be far more aggressive and, in my opinion, will need to drive a painful recession to get inflation under control. It will take Paul Volker’s courage to see this through.

KellyR
2 months ago
Reply to  Spike

I agree that interest rates are a bargain. I don’t understand the complaining. When we were starting our lives, we bought our first house, our interest rate was 9+%, but there was a time around that time that we were getting 17% on our CD. – and no gas at the pumps – 1970s. Then we started our family, supposedly during the 1980s recession?? I don’t even remember that. All of this with an income of $11,000 or so a year. There was no stimulus money. We just need to stop listening to the news and get on with our lives. I just do not understand the problems that people think they see. I am just baffled with some of the economy comments I read.

Dave
2 months ago
Reply to  KellyR

AMEN

Sue
2 months ago
Reply to  KellyR

We must be the same age. The difference now is the housing market. When we bought our first home it was almost twice our combined income with 10% interest rate. Now starter homes are closer to 10 times the average income. Not many have $100,000+ for a down payment. We dodged the bullet when interest went up to about 16% in the 80s.

KellyR
2 months ago
Reply to  Sue

Well for me, 1945 was a good year. Our first house was just a little over twice our income. We were required to put 20% down. My daughter and husband are renting that house from us now. At supposed market value, they, with 2 incomes, could not afford to buy it. This false housing market just will not let many people get ahead. Oh, and if I charged them market rent, they could not even afford that. I am in hopes that raising interest rates will smooth things out. And MAYBE I can get more than 2 tenths of a percent on my savings account. When I opened my first bank account when in high school, I got a full 6%. And, I do not blame any one President, unless it may a president of a big company or bank.

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