Skift Take

While many turned to recreational vehicles and outdoor experiences for social distancing and mental wellness during the pandemic, rising vacation prices are forcing Americans to carefully allocate their finances, adding yet another reason to the list of why RVs are the move this summer.

Americans are trying their best to keep their summer vacation plans intact through budgeting efforts and trying new forms of accommodations, according to a new survey by RV rental marketplace Outdoorsy.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans have been saving more money to keep their vacation hopes afloat while 72 percent said they are having to pull from vacation savings to make ends meet. Some are negotiating in the form of “nearcations”, as 58 percent of survey respondents said they plan to vacation closer to home this summer to adjust to the rising gas prices. 

Amidst efforts to reduce weekly spending and search for affordable vacation options that won’t compromise on the quality of the stay, vacationers are finding that RV trips could be a solution to their woes. The survey showed that 52 percent of travelers said they turn to rental vehicles while on vacation in order to save money, while nine in 10 respondents said they would prefer to rent something they can easily sleep or stay in, rather than book a hotel. First-time RV renters accounted for 79 percent of rentals on the Outdoorsy platform for this upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

“We compared the cost of an RV vacation to the cost of a typical hotel stay or airfare expense, which have both increased by 40 percent and 25 percent respectively,” said Jennifer Young, co-founder & CMO of Outdoorsy. “In the RV world, those prices don’t have to go up because we don’t carry all the fixed costs associated with renting a hotel or airline, so as a budget option for a vacation plan, those other types of vacations are proving to be almost too expensive.”

Half of the surveyed participants have a summer vacation budget, averaging about 1,237 dollars. It’s an estimate, however, since one in three respondents said that they would rather scale back on vacation plans to fit a smaller budget than not to vacation this summer at all, and a further 56 percent said they’ve been successful in planning a vacation around a smaller-than-usual budget. 

A common misconception of the RV experience is that the responsibility of paying gas prices, which usually lands on the renter, will not be worth the stay itself. However, in reality, the most RV users typically drive is on day one and day six, and some even have the option to not drive at all if they so desired. 

“It’s a myth-busting situation. Most RV trips are not gas-powered. People look at the image of the recreational vehicle and they go ‘that must be so expensive with gas everyday, and the fuel costs are so high’ but it’s a massive misconception,” said Young. “Gas spend is actually way cheaper than you think, and you don’t use a lot of it on these trips.”

Many RVs on the marketplace also come with a feature to help renters cope with what feels like astronomical gas prices: sixty percent of Outdoorsy’s inventory allows for people to choose the option of having the owners deliver and set up the RV, so that they never have to deal with gas.

The classic outdoor experience has many inherent cost-saving benefits: saving money by cooking one’s own meals, access to more free activities, and minimal lodging expenses. That being said, RV companies and vehicle manufacturers are not oblivious to the needs of the new traveler, either. To accommodate the rise of the digital nomad and the increasingly popular work-from-vacation trend, manufacturers of these vehicles are reconfiguring floor plans to include desk environments or expand wifi and connectivity capabilities as well as high-definition screen environments.

“The vehicle floor plans are changing. Conversion vans, or conversion trailers are really big on our platform” said Young. “Whether it’s a trailer that you tow behind a truck or a teardrop trailer or a campervan, you can make changes to how you set up the vehicle. There are stand up desks that hide behind walls so you don’t have to see your desk space when you’re done. There’s a lot of flexibility on how you could use the vehicle for just a regular vacation stay, or use the vehicle as a comfortable work environment.”

The key differentiator here, says Young, is that it can happen “when the traveler wants”. While travelers get the stress relief of getting away and having an excuse to be offline if and when they need it, they still have the option and accessibility to stream a movie at the end of the night, or turn on your phone for an hour to do a bit of work.

And the phenomenon is likely here to say. Seventy percent of Outdoorsy’s customers are Millennial and Gen Zers, with Gen Z being their fastest growing age segment for people interested in road trip travel.

“Covid shined a lot of awareness and attention for people who were not naturally inclined to be an outdoor recreation type of person. People discovered the outdoors during Covid, liked just how easy and accessible it is, and are sticking with it,” said Young. “Couples are choosing outdoor adventures as weekend getaways and families are choosing outdoor adventures as the most affordable trip option.”

Last April, Outdoorsy reported a 13 percent year over year growth in bookings for summer departures, indicating that market conditions are having minimal impact on prices in the RV industry as well as peoples’ decisions to try RV rentals. While other travel industries have seen dramatic spikes in cost over the past year, the average trip price on Outdoorsy has only gone up $5 since 2021. Not only was 2021 Outdoorsy’s best year on record, but booing and revenue growth is continuing into this summer.

While the company recognizes there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of environmental impact within the travel vehicle industry, Outdoorsy is hoping to reduce emissions through a potential partnership pushing electric vehicle expansion in the U.S.

“That’s where a lot of the industry is going to move in the future,” said Claire Walsh, Outdoorsy’s director of brand marketing. “We already have several electric vehicles and RVs on our platform. They’re more prevalent in Europe because we don’t have the infrastructure in the U.S., but it’s getting there.”

Education, especially when it comes to conscious travel in the wilderness, is also a significant part of Outdoorsy’s mission to expand the RV community. They work with their owners to educate renters about making sure that when they are going somewhere, especially in a national park environment, they are leaving it better than they found it.

“Ninety percent of our renters in the past couple of years are new to the space,” added Walsh. “These people aren’t hardcore outdoorsmen, and it’s their first time as an RV renter, so we’re looking at educational practices around ‘leave-no-trace’ and how you can to protect these environments that you are going to visit.”

June 29, 2022
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Tags: budget, camping grounds, environment, fuel costs, fuel prices, gas, national parks, outdoor travel, outdoors, outdoorsy, recreational vehicles, road trips, RVs, summer, summer travel, sustainability, sustainable tourism