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 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.
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.