By Mike Gast
I know we’ve just arrived in December 2021, but with the weirdness of the past 12 months, it’s not too early to roll out the crystal ball and try to start making educated guesses as to what may be in store for RVers in 2022.
What got me thinking along those lines was the grand opening of a new RV park in Avila, California. It looks like a beautiful place, especially its spectacular ocean views. But we heard from at least one RVTravel.com reader who wasn’t too happy with the rates the new park was charging. There are, of course, a lot of factors in their rates, but they appear to be in the $98- to $135-a-night range. That doesn’t seem out of line with the rest of the parks in that region, but it sure seemed high to at least one reader.
The new 115-site Flying Flags Avila Beach RV Resort is just one of the first of what will likely soon be a flood of new and expanded RV parks in coming years. New campgrounds and new park owners will likely bring new rate structures along for the ride.
But rates are only part of the picture as we approach 2022. Here’s a look at a few things to consider for the future. It’s likely not a totally comprehensive list, and my predictions could be way off base. I’d like to hear what you have to say, so be sure to give us your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the story.
The RV Industry Association is doing cartwheels over its new RV shipment predictions for 2021 and 2022. RV manufacturers are now expecting to cross the 600,000-units-shipped mark before the end of this year and then create another 630,000 new rigs in 2022. The RV industry has seemingly overcome every obstacle put in its path the past two years, including supply chain woes, staffing issues, and even questionable quality. They just keep cranking out the RVs, and new buyers are waiting in a long line for the privilege of buying them.
My guess is that they will easily make at least 625,000 new rigs and demand won’t begin to dip until the last quarter of 2022. High demand, of course, brings higher prices. Don’t look for any deals on new or slightly used rigs until spring 2023.
RV dealer inventories
The dealer lot numbers have been a mixed bag all year. Most dealers are claiming that lot inventories are still 40 percent or so below normal. Keep in mind that the “Big Three” manufacturers all have billions of dollars in backorders waiting to be built.
My slightly educated guess here is that you may see more of the “common” brands and models hitting the lots, but your model and floorplan options may be limited through most of 2022 if you don’t have a unit already on order and are planning to buy from what you see on the lots.
With more than a million new RV units produced in just the past two years and 600,000-plus more on the way in 2022, you can count on a continuation of crowding at your favorite campgrounds. My friend Nanci Dixon is the real expert in this area, and I highly recommend that you keep an eye on her column on Campground Crowding that appears in RVTravel.com every Sunday. (Here’s last week’s installment.)
We have already seen campground owners extend their booking calendars out a year or more. I’m hearing from several owners who say they are likely to extend their reservation calendars up to a year-and-a-half to two years out. Imagine planning your camping trips 24 months in advance. It’s a sad fact now that sites on most campgrounds – especially popular public parks – are booked online within seconds of becoming available. That problem can only get worse as more campers pulling more new RVs enter the lifestyle.
Campground site rates
The campground business – just like other hospitality-based industries – has always been a perfect example of free enterprise at work. Rates are set by supply and demand. If demand is low, rates typically go down. If demand is high, rates follow. Of course, there are many other factors at play including worker salaries, insurance and materials costs, land purchases, taxes, and fees. It’s a long list. But at their core, rates are driven by demand.
In my two decades in the franchised camping business, I was always amazed when owners told stories of campers willing to make a scene at a front desk when quoted a rate they didn’t like. I can’t imagine that same camper losing their cool when presented their tab at a Holiday Inn or trying to negotiate the price of their steak at Texas Roadhouse. In America’s economy, prices are set by what the market demands and consumers will tolerate. That’s just business. If you think a campground’s rates are out of line, you’re always free to seek out more affordable options.
In 2022, I’d expect to see demand drive camping prices even higher. If you take a pass on an open site, there are likely several dozen folks waiting online to snap it up. Dynamic online pricing will exacerbate things, giving owners the ability to use complex algorithms to set rates according to time of week, time of day, type of site, your personal buying history, and a host of other factors. Playing the best-rate game is going to get more difficult as owners try to maximize what they can get for the products and services they provide. Way down the road (certainly not in 2022) that demand dynamic may turn back in the RVer’s favor. But I don’t see that on the horizon yet.
New RV parks
As I mentioned at the top of this essay, the new park in Avila, California, is just one of many new RV parks and campgrounds on the way. Camping is hot, and investor funding always follows a hot trend.
There are dozens of new parks in the works, but the process is agonizingly slow and cumbersome, so don’t expect a plethora of new locations in 2022. Campground developers need to negotiate a maze of local and state permits, zoning boards and anxious neighbors before they can ever turn a shovelful of dirt.
The physics of the camping industry dictates that it takes a lot longer to build a new campsite than it does the RV that’s waiting to fill it, so don’t expect rapid growth in available campground inventory in 2022. Also keep in mind that, in general, a new RV site excluding land costs with limited amenities can cost anywhere from $48,000 to $58,000 per site to construct.
Many of these new parks won’t be of the “mom-and-pop” variety that has been the standard for decades. Big-money investors want big, fancy parks that can show a rapid rate of return on their money. You can also expect to see a lot fewer mom-and-pop, family-run parks as the years go on since it’s easier for big investors to purchase an existing park that has extra land available for additional development than it is to start from scratch. We’re going to see a lot of smaller park owners taking this opportunity to cash out and sell.
As an example of what’s happening on the construction side of the equation, Kampgrounds of America recently announced they’ve added nearly 4,000 campsites to KOA parks in 2021, and currently have 20 new parks under construction.
This one is anybody’s guess. The pandemic seems to have negated all the regular seasonal ebbs and flows of the fuel price markets. If COVID-19 variants again cause stay-at-home orders next year and travel is curtailed, prices will likely drop. If all is well and travel demand climbs next spring and summer while OPEC restricts production, prices will follow suit.
The bottom line
I wish my admittedly flawed crystal ball had more good news for longtime RVers. If you’re someone who got into RVing because you could “go where you want, when you want,” you likely aren’t going to like many of the changes you see next year.
Yet, there’s always hope. Things should settle into a more familiar pattern on the RV manufacturing side and maybe potential buyers will get wise and demand builders pay more attention to cost and quality. And as more and more new RV parks come online and existing campgrounds expand, site demand and crowding will eventually ease.
Maybe 2023 will have to be our year. What do you think?