BOISE — Flying might be taking a nosedive in popularity due to COVID-19, but RVs are on the upswing.
Since the pandemic hit and many Americans are unable to take international vacations or fly across the country due to fears of contracting or spreading the disease in close quarters on airplanes, they are turning to the traditional “Great American Road Trip” instead. Nationwide demand to purchase RVs has sharply increased, leaving many dealers struggling to meet demand, and sales closing on vehicles almost as soon as they are manufactured.
Recreational vehicles are booming due to a combination of historically low gas prices and the need for safe places to prepare food, sleep and use the bathroom without coming into close contact with those outside of your household. After months of lockdown and with summer soon to be in full swing, Americans are turning to these vehicles to get outside.
Danny Engle, general manager of RV dealership Camping World in Meridian, said he cannot make sales fast enough.
“It’s been really awesome to watch the evidence of people wanting to have that experience with their family and feel it’s safe and feel it’s the best decision for them,” he said. “In this pandemic, it really gave me a sense, and all of our employees, a sense of strength and a sense of just happiness to be in the middle of helping finding families a way to stay together.”
He said during the month of May his store saw an unprecedented number of sales, both in person or online. Camping World has responded to the pandemic by delivering RVs to customers’ homes and coming out to where people are located to do maintenance instead of relying on people to come in person.
Camping World in Meridian is far from alone. According to data from the RV Industry Association, many dealerships are reporting that 35 percent of their customers are first-time buyers, and some are reporting sales up 175 percent this spring from the same time last year. Surveys conducted by the association also show a double-digit uptick in interest toward buying an RV or renting one for a trip.
“I really see this as having that freedom to go where you want, get back outdoors and experience that active outdoor lifestyle that Americans love,” RVIA spokeswoman Monika Geraci said. “You also have the freedom and control over our environment to control when or how you interact with crowds.”
Some campgrounds, like in national and state parks, closed down during the pandemic and are slowly reopening, but many private RV parks stayed open through the pandemic because they were deemed essential businesses. KOA Meridian and Riverside RV Park in Boise have stayed open throughout the pandemic and saw steady business, and now that the economy is reopening a flood of reservations are coming in.
Ron Lundquist, manager of the campgrounds, said the increase in business now is coming from recreational travel, but also people who have moved into RVs because it is a more affordable and portable way to live than renting apartments.
“We were a little bit apprehensive to see if people would want to venture out of their states, how they are going to handle it, and we weren’t sure how the local attractions that always attract people into the area would affect (the number of visitors), but overall our reservations numbers continue to spike,” Lundquist said. “My view of the future that we have for all of June, July and August and into September have really strong numbers.”
Editor’s note: Camping World is an enterprise of the Adams family, which owns the Idaho Press and the Idaho State Journal through Adams Publishing Group.