What is the future of RVing?

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By Tony Barthel
CONTRIBUTING WRITER
What is the future of RVing? A year ago the RV industry was predicting a significant slowdown and was gearing up to gear down and build fewer units. Then a pandemic hit. Then everybody realized that the safest way to go on vacation was to do it in an RV.


I do believe that, about mid-2021, there will be a glut of used RVs on the market and that those who can wait may be rewarded with some pretty respectable deals.”

The RV industry is bending over backwards to do everything it can to fulfill the incredible number of orders they have for anything that moves. In virtually every category the manufacturers are burning the midnight oil to get anything out the door of the factory and into the hands of consumers. 

At the same time, the pandemic has created disruptions in supply chains and manufacturing issues across the globe. Sure, your American RV manufacturer is cranking away but there is a sea of nearly completed models in a lot somewhere awaiting a few parts to make those units whole. This, combined with just finding enough shippers, and your local dealership might look more like an empty parking lot. 

Lastly, dealers are often selling units which were ordered sight-unseen, so the moment a unit shows up at a dealership it’s back out into the hands of a customer. 

So what’s the future of the RV industry? 

I think the first half of 2021 is going to remain strong for the RV industry. This is still the best way to see the USA. I do believe parts shortages will start to work themselves out as production ramps up overseas and here as well. 

But, at some point, you’re going to see a dramatic shift.

Right now people are buying RVs simply because their choices in vacation options are limited. I personally can’t imagine being cooped up with thousands of my fellow passengers in a cruise ship, nor sailing through the air breathing recycled coughs and sneezes as I go to a hotel after watching all those exposé shows demonstrating what you see when the black lights are on. Eww. 

But what about all those people who are buying an RV today who just won’t like the experience? I truly feel that RVing is the best way to see this country – but that’s my opinion and not all Americans share that. There will be a good number of people who buy an RV now to take their family places and just hate the whole experience. Towing a trailer or driving a big motorhome or even dumping tanks and dealing with bugs and forest creatures makes me happy – but that’s not true for all people. Okay, maybe not the tank-dumping part.

Once things get back to whatever normal is, many of those RVs are going to hit the market so that the owners can go on a vacation that better suits their own style. 

Unfortunately, with so many people adopting this form of seeing this beautiful country, a lot of them haven’t learned the etiquette and some have been truly misbehaving in campgrounds and shared lands. This leaves a strong distaste with a lot of people for the RV lifestyle who have witnessed this bad behavior and would rather vacation where it doesn’t exist. 

Others will have to sell their RVs just because of economic realities. Let’s face it: We’re still waiting to see how this all shakes out, and I am not as optimistic as some that all small businesses in particular will ride this thing out. I have a lot of friends in the entertainment, food and event industries and they are not optimistic about the outcome for small business in the U.S. 

Huge numbers of inexpensive RVs are being sold these days. We’ll these buyers stick with RVing in the long run?

Also, with so many people having bought RVs sight-unseen, a third wave of folks likely bought the wrong RV and will want to trade in/up/down. 

I do believe that, about mid-2021, there will be a glut of used RVs on the market and that those who can wait may be rewarded with some pretty respectable deals. For those who have learned how great this lifestyle is, they may be able to trade up/down and find plenty of choices in barely used RVs, along with a nice number of choices in new rigs as manufacturers catch up on inventory and parts. 

However, I also am of the opinion that manufacturers will have caught up with demand and changes in the economy, and that will then combine with significantly reduced demand for new rigs. I’m not so sure now is the time to invest in RV manufacturer stock. Are you reading this, Warren Buffett?

Will places to camp get too crowded?

What about availability of sites?

Anybody who has tried to reserve a campground knows that campgrounds are full. Campground owners are not only reporting record numbers of reservations, but are also saying that reservations aren’t slowing down as much as they typically would at this time of year. 

The kids may not be returning to the school itself, so Mom and Dad and some form of Internet connection are hitting the road. It’s better to see Mount Rushmore in person than to read about it in a book, after all.

But mobile Internet is still relatively spotty and campgrounds are packed. This is particularly true west of the Mississippi, where things are more built out. Anyone who’s tried to reserve a camp spot has probably figured out that everybody else is doing the same thing. 

The relief that may help here are alternatives to traditional campgrounds. For example, residents or businesses that want to capitalize on a bit of land “out back” may start to see RVers as a solution to a number of problems. Recently I spoke with a railroad museum that just created several RV spots and asked me how to advertise those. 

They did this for the same reason other businesses I have talked to have done this. It’s additional revenue at a time when traditional travel is down and lots and lots of RVers are looking for interesting places to stay. I’ve also spoken with a few homeowners who are considering allowing mid-term RV stays, and services such as Boondockers Welcome have expanded their technology to allow for some payment for infrastructure such as electricity and water. 

Furthermore, additional resources for alternative campgrounds such as Harvest Hosts, Boondockers Welcome, BLM lands and other choices will open up some doors left closed by campgrounds that have seen capacity-level guest counts even outside the normal RVing season. 

RVers will need to be creative in their space-hunting skills, but I also see these alternative campsites being more receptive to modern reservation technologies than traditional campgrounds, many of whom frustratingly still rely on their answering machines instead of a digital reservations system. And, if vacationing is all about the experience, these may be different but exceptional alternatives and still offer a positive experience. 

Lastly, I also see a number of people who have been forced into alternative work and educational lifestyles who are probably going to remain in that space. I think that traveling while working and also educating one’s children on the road opens up doors that might not have been available in the past. 

With companies and schools realizing the potential of distance learning and working, I am predicting that RV companies will start to incorporate this more and more into designs. The biggest challenge for these people will remain the spotty Internet coverage, but with Starlink and the other pending technologies this challenge could go the way of cruise ships and group tours. 

The bottom line

If I’ve polished up my crystal ball properly, I see that used RVs are going to be plentiful within the next year. New RVs will be, too, but demand for those will be way down. Campgrounds will remain very full, but I see alternatives to the rescue and more people will be calling in via those Zoom meetings from wherever they park their RV and find that some form of mobile Internet is just enough for them to get in on the call. 

More on this subject:

Sales of RVs are booming. Why? What does it mean?
Will campgrounds be even more crowded in the months ahead?

Tony Barthel is a former RV industry insider having handled sales and warranties at an RV dealership. He now publishes the StressLess Camping podcast and website with his wife, Peggy. He also works directly with campgrounds on their digital presence.

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Steve
3 days ago

I think we will see many use campers for sale and the owners will be upside down on price. Trying to sell a poorly built unit that was bought without thought on credit.

Sherry
6 days ago

What the comments do not reflect is the near impossibility of two parents working from home. Work at home people are probably utilizing a couple of screens each and multiple cell phones. Parents still have deadlines, zoom meeting, and coworkers and bosses who think twice as much should be accomplished by “lucky” work at home employees. Now add one or two school age children and a toddler. There are a couple of internet hooks up needed there too. If you are fortunate, a grandparent or nanny may be managing the household. A 3000 square foot house cannot contain all that activity. Now the prediction is all these people have discovered the outdoors and togetherness. They will be thrilled to downsize all that business into perhaps 400 Sq feet, park a yard from their neighbor’s rig and juggle RV park internet service. I have three daughters who with their spouses and kids are at home. Nobody has asked to borrow the RV.

Brian Burry
6 days ago

Due to the Mass Media scare of the message “If you get Clovid-19 it is the same as DYING!” air travel, hotel stays and related travel issues, there may be a permanent trend continuing not to take a chance and RV Travels remain significantly higher. Some may sell, more families are saying they appreciate being together, traveling to locations never thought of before and the overall experience is enlightening and enjoyable. So it may be long term that the RV boom has more staying power due to publication of second and third wave possibilities of Covid-19 and future to come virus pandemics.

Abe Loughin
6 days ago

While I agree with Tony about most of what he has said, I am not sure there’s going to be as much of a glut of used rvs as he is predicting. My reasoning? As a workcamper I have seen many of these first time rvers this year. The vast majority of whom fell in love with the lifestyle. We’ve had about a dozen come back to our campground multiple times after their first visit. And, yes , many of these first timers don’t know campground ethics, none of us “veterans ” did either when we first started out, and the newbies are learning from those of us who are willing to welcome them and teach them.

Sally
7 days ago

I would speculate that most new rvs sold since march were financed. The worst cost vs benefit way to buy an rv. financing requires regular payments + Ins. regular payments require regular income. when regular income drys up, payments dont get made, the lender calls in the note and resells the rv. Its going to be an avalanche. We recently bought some land. We are going to build a little homestead. I have serious doubts that rv life will return after this. too many people , going to fast, jumping into something rv veterns take years to learn, no campground eticate, in short people are rving now that really have no buisness rving, because they are absent of personal responsability. they are those who are thrust into rving as what they see as a last option, not as a lifestyle choice. This changes the game for people who put the time in and know the ins and outs of the lifestyle.

Tom Horn
8 days ago

Veteran RV’ers are smart about the process. My opinion is that The art of RVing should be approached
as a Serious Hobby, otherwise some Newbies could be crying out ” I JUST CAN’T HANDLE IT ALL”. Of course that will happen to all RV’ers some where down the line, Newbie or Veteran.
Stay Strong

ScottA
8 days ago

Thanks for your thoughts, Tony. We’re looking to upgrade this year but are in no rush, I hope the timing works out for us.
As an active buyer, I’m already seeing fairly new RVs coming up for sale. Looked at one from a private party today, it was a 2019 (pre-covid), used only a few times… but they wanted a lot!
I presume that’s because the market supports that cost right now, I hope that changes as more units come up for sale.

dnCook
8 days ago

We all saw a similar event unfold on the first gas crunch in 1973. No gas and long lines if the station was open. Everybody and their brother went out and bought a motorcycle for the 50 mpg performance. People that had never ridden motorcycles were in rush hour Houston traffic. That didn’t last long. There were used bikes on the market the following year with less than 500 miles on them . That storage payment, bank payment, insurance payment is going to get old real quick once the novelty of “camping out” is over. If they itemize the cost of each night camping, it will probably be over a $1500 a night by the time they dump the RV and count their losses. So $100 a night for a camping spot is insignificant. They should have bought a cheap tent for the experience; the same ants, mosquitoes, sweat, poison oak, flies on your food, etc and then next year only a tent is collecting dust in the garage.

Geof
8 days ago

Well I hope several of the speculative comments here aren’t accurate. We are not going to camp at all the first half of ’21 to see how the Campground occupancy rates shakes out. Been doing this for 45 years and I’m not going to put up with a bunch of crammed in screaming entitled brats running around like field mice like I’ve seen this year. As far as used units, I think the used market will go through the roof once these junk RV’s that were dumped on the market due to covid demand start falling apart and these newbies have no idea how to fix them or want to pay for all the repairs let alone rising fuel prices will be back soon. The new market will go in the tank I think due to the influx of used. If campgrounds hit a $100 a night consistently my pre-covid 5er and Diesel Truck are history, I’ll go back to hotels, airplanes, rental cars and restaurants too.

Wayne
8 days ago

Not disagreeing with Tony, but there will be a percentage of the newbies that enjoy all the benefits of RVing as much as the majority of us RVTravel readers and be hooked for life.

Bob a.
8 days ago

We could see the cost of overnight stay increase dramatically. I have 42 acres suitable for a rv park. I got estimates on building concrete pads, streets, club house and all the other infrastructure. Projected occupancy rate and the break even daily rate was from $86 to $100.

wanderer
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob a.

Wow, no wonder Bob is pushing for more ‘bare-bones’ places. New full-service places are going to have to go for premium prices.

Over what period of time do those numbers pertain; paying off the capital investments over 5, 10, 20 years?

Firefly
8 days ago

Good well-reasoned assessment. Except maybe for the comment about Starlink.

wanderer
8 days ago

There is another market for RVs that isn’t touched on much here. There are a lot of people displaced from their jobs, who will either be bunking with family, or hitting the road to do contract work away from home, or who will leave a house or apartment that’s become unaffordable. Many do not want to lock into a tied-down mobile home in a trailer park, they prefer to have a fifth-wheel towed to a site and use that as home, so they can move again if necessary. They may be taking some of the used units that didn’t work out as a weekend toy, and will lend a lot of support to the used RV market.

Rosalie Magistro
8 days ago
Reply to  wanderer

Wanderer, that sort of thing had been going on for the last 3 or 4 yrs ,already.
Being a camphost for over 4 yrs now I have seen and hear about the amount of 30 somethings that have sold everything, packed up kids and belongings and hit the road,that being said I’ve read about the people that don’t survive because it takes money to be able to live this lifestyle. Thank goodness for my husband’s pension.

sally
7 days ago

Exactly. We were late 30’s when we bought our first rig. We tore it down to the ground and rebuilt the entire camper ourselves. all new electric, LP, floors, ect.. It took us a year to save for our truck. PIF Then it was 6 months later we bought our first truck camper. then it was a year later before we were done building it. Then it was 2 more years before we upgraded to a small 5vr and went full time. So time from newbi to hitting the road was about 2 years. and time from hitting the road to fulltiming was 2 more years. You have people who were formally apt dwellers(where the landlord did everything or them) read something online, that they have a 10 second attention span that said “Go Rving”. and they jumped out the door. add on to that now there are people who are panic buying who have 0 knowledge base for the task at hand out on the road. absolutely clueless and know only as much as a 10 second attention span affords

Tom b
8 days ago

I think the RV manufacturers are going to overshoot production, and alot of people will be dumping them next year. I’m telling friends who want to try it to rent one and see if they like it, and wait until next fall to buy.

As far as places to stay, it would be nice if hotels would let you park and hook up for a few, and I see a lot of mini malls that are almost falling down. They could easily be converted into overnight RV lots, where you pay with a card for access, power and water. Use your credit card to open the gate and drive to your assigned spot.

I just hope Cracker Barrel and Walmarts stay as RV friendly as possible. And as retired military, I’m glad for fam-camps and COE sites…

if more city and county parks realized the value, those would be nice too… many of them have water and power at a pavilion, so building a parking spot next to it might help out…

wanderer
8 days ago
Reply to  Tom b

That’s a great idea about the strip malls fallen on hard times. I also like the city parks I’ve seen. Wonder if small towns should take their abandoned Shopkos, Bealls, etc. and turn them into recreation centers with RVs in part of the lot. Yesterday I saw a small town which has repurposed a nice retail building into an ‘online college center and study hall’.

Roger
8 days ago

Spot on Tony! I look for this late 2021-2022 as we hopefully return to some sense of travel normalcy. I think the pathetic and worsening state of RV Dealer maintenance availability and quality will also be a driving force in the coming exodus. As COVID was the perfect storm for RV Sales by dealers, the post-COVID could well be the perfect storm for disillusioned owners.

John
8 days ago

It will be more than just the RV market going south. The U.S.government is spending more then the annual GNP, plus the increasing impact of the virus on small businesses around the country. Hang onto your hats the ride is going to get wild in 2021

Bob M
8 days ago

When people start dumping their RV’s because the fascination is gone or difficulty getting repairs. Than what is going to happen to the banks and credit unions who have to repo the RV and can’t get their money back. Or those RV owners who can’t sell and get from under the loan. Their were instances of home owners in this predicament who trashed their homes and stuck the banks.

Bill T
8 days ago

I agree with the comments below, especially the financial ones. There are going to be a lot of RV’s sitting in storage yards and driveways being paid for and unused because of those who quickly buy into an industry driven idea/fad and don’t like it when the spotlight goes away and the reality of RV ownership (monthly payments, maintenance, operation, etc) show up and overtake their already limited weekend time off and disposable income.

Tommy Molnar
8 days ago

The Going RV TV show depicts an entirely unrealistic view of RV’ing. I think this is also helping to fuel the RV buying flames. I truly believe most people, while liking the idea of traveling in an RV, will NOT like the ‘hassle’ of hooking up hoses and electrical cords, dumping black and grey tanks, and dealing with the day to day ‘stuff’ that RV’ing requires. Finding it difficult to make reservations won’t help either.

Long time RV’ers are a sturdy bunch. Just sayin’.

Sally
7 days ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

“Going RV TV show” – This show is why so many people run out to get an rv. I have watched it so many times just balking at people buying an rv based on things like having a doggy bowl place on the floor for your pet.. and notice they buy these rvs after seriously one or two days of looking. The fulltime unit we are in now. We looked for for over 3 years. You dont buy an rv after looking at 2 units in 3 days. and you dont buy rv based on if there is a doggy door or doggy bowl compartment.

I came from a very DIY lifestyle as a kid. So rving fit me. Naturally. But there are many people who cant open a can with a canopener. And these are the people screaming entitlement at the park owners and staff now.
It would be like buying an offgrid property, and then screaming at the seller because there is no utilities hooked up upon arrival.

Jim B
8 days ago

I also agree with Tony along with a number of similar articles on this subject. There is one element that I have not seen discussed and that is the long term financing plans
RV dealerships have pushed for several years and leave owners under water very quickly. With 70% of households living paycheck to paycheck it will be difficult for many to unload that rig when it’s worth less than they owe on it.
There is also that group of seasoned RVers that plunked down a deposit and ordered a new RV and have been waiting all summer for it’s delivery. They are not in that group of what I will call flash in the pan newbies.
We are fortunate in that as snowbirds we have a private site for the winter with no reservation required so we will do our normal routine and watch what unfolds.

Dan
8 days ago
Reply to  Jim B

I agree completely. I’m betting many people got into RVing by financing their new toy for as long as twenty years. Yikes! Now they owe twice what it is worth because it it used, and cannot afford to sell it and take the thousands of dollars loss. In a way I feel bad for anyone in that spot but they did it to themselves. We have several friends and family that did a similar thing by financing new cars and trucks only looking at the monthly payment.