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Study shows millions more Americans will soon own RVs

By Mike Gast
If you own an RV — or are just thinking about it — the recreational vehicle industry already knows a lot about you. The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) recently released its 2020 RV Owner Demographic Profile study. It takes an extremely deep dive into the desires and habits of RV-owning families in the U.S.

The study was conducted by a firm called Ipsos and looks at everything from what motivates you to get out there with your rig, to what you really want in the way of features inside that shiny new box on wheels.

The dream of ownership just keeps increasing.

The study even groups RV owners and potential owners into cleverly named group clusters. Those include Happy Campers, Casual Campers, Adventure Seekers, Escapists, Avid RVers, Full Timers and Family Campers. You land in one of those clusters due to shared habits and beliefs. The science behind the study says folks within these group clusters have a higher propensity to believe the same things and have the same habits, needs and desires. The detailed information in the study is being shared with the RV manufacturers and the dealer industry to help better target and market to future customers.

Too much information, as in “Big Brother”?

Now, before you say this all smacks of Big Brother and too much information, studies such as these are common in almost every industry — at least the more successful ones — and have been around in various forms for decades. This study found that there are 11.2 million RV-owning households in the U.S., an increase of 62% over the past 20 years.

That’s a lot of folks to call one at a time and inquire as to how they like their rig. That’s why studies such as this are important in order to track interest and growth as well as react to emerging trends.


“For those of you 55 years old or older … welcome to minority status. Of the 11.2 million RV-owning U.S. households, 5.5 million are 55 years or older, while 5.7 million are under 54.”


Kampgrounds of America Inc. has produced its comprehensive annual North American Camper Report research since 2014. That study has become a much-anticipated and on-target annual guidepost for the outdoor industry. RVIA had done similar studies with the University of Michigan in the past, but this is the first effort in 10 years. The last time they checked the numbers in 2011, there were 8.9 million RV households in America. That’s 2.3 million new RVing families in just the past decade. But, if you’ve tried to find a weekend spot at your favorite campground in recent years without a reservation, you already knew they were out there. For some perspective, RVIA reported that there were only 5 million RVing families in 1980.

Studied revealed there is no “typical” RV owner

“The data revealed by this study provides fascinating insight, not only into the RV industry, but into the ways in which Americans have changed how they work, play, and enjoy the great outdoors,” said RV Industry Association President and CEO Craig Kirby in a recent news release. “The great news for the industry is that more and more people are traveling in the products we build. This study shows that it is no longer accurate to describe a typical RVer, rather that enjoyment and interest in RVing is expanding across every type of traveler, person, and age group.”

Nearly one-third of those participating in the study said they were first-time RV owners. The demographics on that group show members in all age groups, genders, and income levels. It shows the growing appeal of RVing, and the desire to get outside and enjoy life.

KEEP IN MIND THAT THE STUDY was conducted during the wickedly unpredictable year of 2020 when new RV buyers drove off with anything and everything that dealers had to offer on their lots. If you camped at all in 2020, you probably felt like you ran into every one of those 11.2 million families. In fact, it’s likely that the new study’s numbers for active RVers might be a tad low due to that tsunami of frantic buyers that flooded dealer lots last summer and fall.

Another interesting finding is that while the average annual nights camped by those surveyed held steady at 20 nights, those who said they intend to purchase an RV said they planned to camp at least 25 nights a year.

Number of RVers versus total households in America

The number of RV-owning families is even more impressive when you consider that the U.S. Census says there are 128 million total households in America. So, nearly 9 percent of the total households in the U.S. are RV owners. Not only that, but more than 20.5 million more households say they intend to own an RV at some point. Another 15.7 million households did own an RV but sold it and left the lifestyle sometime in the past 5 years. That makes a total of 47.6 million U.S. households that either own an RV, have owned one in the past, or are actively thinking about owning one.

Young families are buying new RVs like never before.

The firms that conduct these studies put a lot of science behind their findings, and they are most often eerily accurate. For this one, Ipsos used two phases. In the first, 2,500 RV owners were surveyed online to arrive at the clusters and subgroups I mentioned above. In Phase Two, they went after usage habits, interests and “other pertinent industry information” by surveying 3,000 more current RV owners, as well as 1,000 former owners, and 1,000 “intenders” who just might be interested in a future RV purchase. It’s likely more than a few of you reading this participated in the study.

Senior RV owners are in minority

For those of you 55 years old or older … welcome to minority status. Of the 11.2 million RV-owning U.S. households, 5.5 million are 55 years or older, while 5.7 million are under 54. In fact, those in the 18-34 years old age range now make up 22% of the market. These Millennial and Gen Z RVers aren’t going anywhere. The research shows 84% are planning to purchase another RV at some point, with 78% preferring to buy a brand-new RV.

The total report is 200 jam-packed pages. But it’s significant because it’s intended to help steer the RV industry by providing manufacturers and dealers with better information regarding the wants and desires of their customers. It certainly shows the number of those adopting the RV lifestyle is growing. That growth is also spurring the construction of new RV parks and expansions at existing campgrounds. The campground industry is seeing unprecedented growth, too, with more construction projects underway than any time since the 1970s. It’s a fact of the free market that supply will always grow to meet growing demand, eventually.

More RV park facilities are on the way

The huge growth in RVing hasn’t gone unnoticed, and new or expanded RV park facilities are on the way. Studies like this that project huge market growth spur interest in adding more sites. It just takes a bit longer to build a campground than it does an RV.

“This is the most comprehensive study we have ever done on the RV consumer,” said Karen Redfern, the Vice President of RVIA’s Go RVing program on the RVIA website. “The insight into the motivations and habits of RV consumers will allow us to more effectively target like-minded owner prospects with customized messaging designed to draw them into the purchase decision by mirroring their lifestyle needs and creating a desire for the benefits of RVing.”

Redfern went on to say on the RVIA.org website that “Armed with this data and the advances of digital marketing, Go RVing can effectively reach individuals that have never been on our radar in the past, allowing us to continue expanding the marketplace for our members and the overall industry.”

You can go to the RVIA.org website and take a look at some of the report’s general findings, including info on each of those group clusters. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in a cluster description.

And remember those 20.5 million households that the study reported intend to purchase an RV? Nearly half of that number said they intend to buy within the next 5 years, so expect a lot more company out there.

Related:

RVtravel.com’s weekly Campground Crowding posts

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Carson Axtell
7 months ago

“Lies, {bleeped} lies, and statistics…”

These so-called studies always seem to do a great job of predicting the booms in these market cycles, but never warn of the inevitable busts. According to this article, the number of RV owners has increased by 2.3 million in the last ten years to 11.2 million, while the number who have SOLD their RVs in the last FIVE years was 15.7 million. Those numbers suggest more of a flight FROM RVing than a mass adoption OF it. The pandemic surge in RVing will need to persist into the summer season following the all clear signal for me to believe this increase is anything permanent. Chances are better than average that RVing popularity will prove a circumstantial fad and is likely to subside after the pandemic passes. This is especially likely given the hassles of overcrowding that will persist until RV park numbers catch up in its own lagging cyclicality while experiencing increasing opposition from community governmental organizations.

Jim B
7 months ago

Seems that the reports I’ve read for the last 4 or 5 record years of sales have shown a huge portion was TT’s to millennials. That was before the panic pandemic buyers from the European vacationers and cruise junkies. I think a large portion of newbies will become long term RVers and drive more sales through upgrades.
I believe the most painful part of the surge in RV interest will be the lag of building new RV parks to the increase in sales. And that will be exacerbated by local opposition to new parks that we see so often.
Interesting also is the diversity of RVers that the study shows. Seems that as a group we’re as diverse as homeowners in general.

Sink Jaxon
7 months ago

I’ve been comtemplating for some years now to invest in some cheap land, fence it off and advertise RV Storage. Doing the numbers, store 200 campers on 4 acres, at an average of $75/month is $15,000 a month! $180,000 a year!! Pretty much while you sleep.

Donald N Wright
7 months ago

Let’s hope the young people start over where we did, tents, popups, pickup truck campers and “canned ham” trailers.

Billy B
7 months ago

Do hope the RV Mfrs. respond to this positive surge with Quality being #1. Have read & heard too many Horror Stories about lack of Quality by many, many Name Brand RV Mfrs.
Part of the sad RV Quality stories is about Dealers. Top Dealers in their Markets are not getting Repeat Business because they are a big part of the RV Industry’s “Quality” problem.
The Time is NOW!! for the RV Industry to Step Up “Quality” As “Quality Sell’s” Again & Again!!

Tommy Molnar
7 months ago

Rising fuel prices, lack of places to park your new RV if you can’t do it at home, and spendy places to park if you do find one, lack of available RV camping sites, endless repairs of your new unit, phony ads showing idealistic camp spots next to that babbling brook that I challenge you to find, etc., will slow the industry hoped for bonanza. I still think many of these newbies (no matter how old they are) will find this lifestyle not to their liking – and park that monthly payment somewhere until they can unload it. Yeah, we’ll see an increase in RV’ers out there for a while but I just don’t see it going on for years to come.

Ron T.
7 months ago

So 9.6 million households plan to buy an RV in the next five years yet 15.7 million households sold their RV and left the lifestyle in the last five years. Something else has got to be driving the increase in RVing. Is it rentals? These weren’t mentioned at all in the article. Were they in the study.

Sink Jaxon
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron T.

good point!

Seann Fox
7 months ago

As the pandemic ends and fuel prices start to skyrocket watch the interest in rving fade

Dan
7 months ago
Reply to  Seann Fox

I agree. There are probably many Rv’s that were purchased as somewhat panic reaction to pandemic. Give people a reason to shop for something, or spend, and that’s just what will happen. Most of them will be parked somewhere, depreciating and unused, while the owner cusses about still making payments on his driveway art. In the meantime we still have to deal with crowded campgrounds.

Campingsince74
7 months ago
Reply to  Dan

If they were parked somewhere unused then why are the campgrounds ALL so crowded?