Thanks to soaring fuel prices, outdoor campers aren't the only ones watching out for bears. So are investors in the recreational vehicle market.
Recreational vehicle renters in the U.S. are planning trips closer to home or having fuel-gulping motor homes delivered to their final destination in an effort to cut down on fuel costs as travel remains a top priority even during record inflation.
At the height of the pandemic, recreational vehicle, or RV, vacations exploded in popularity for Americans eager for the great outdoors and socially distant experiences. But this summer, with diesel and gasoline prices at record levels, some RV travelers are changing their itineraries to try to save money.
Some travelers opting to spend their summer on the road are now ditching long-haul trips for those that typically span around 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 km).
“We’re seeing cancellations from people coming further away, but then those reservations are filling up with people that might be more in the region or local,” said Toby O’Rourke, chief executive of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), a franchise brand of campgrounds across the country.
Online RV rental site RVshare said about 58% of its renters factored fuel prices into their plans this summer, while around 16% of travelers said increased gas prices have hindered or halted their plans, according to its travel sentiment survey.
So the company is now offering fuel rebates totaling $500,000 to customers to help ease their worries about pump prices.
More Dollars, Fewer Miles
The Smith family started living in their RV full-time during the pandemic, and planned this year to drive from Florida to Maine, and then journey to California. But, with gas prices rising now, the Smiths are reconsidering their trip west.
“When we first planned it at our mileage per gallon, we figured it out to be about $1 for every three miles. We (now) envision the dollar bills just flying out the window,” said Michelle Smith.
In addition to motor homes that travel under their own power, RVs include trailers towed by a pickup truck or a car. Some are fueled by gasoline, some by diesel.
The largest motorized RVs have a fuel tank that can hold up to 100 gallons (380 liters) but smaller models are plentiful. An average-size Class C motor-home tank holds about 25 gallons (95 liters) and would cost more than $140 to fill up with diesel at today’s average price. Still, “the total gas used in a recreational vehicle trip is less than one airline ticket. On the aggregate, an RV trip is cheaper than a hotel vacation,” said Jennifer Young, chief brand officer for Outdoorsy, an RV rental marketplace.
RV renter and seller Cruise America’s global marketing executive, Randall Smalley, said that during previous fuel price booms people still rented RVs – but shortened their itineraries.
Some RV vacationers are skipping the driving altogether.
“People are getting the RV delivered to their destination rather than driving themselves, which definitely curbs gas price cost. We’re seeing about a third of our bookings are delivered, which is a huge jump from previous years,” said RVshare communications director Maddi Bourgerie.
Austin, Texas-based Outdoorsy said that, so far, about 28% of their customers requested their rental be delivered to their campsite this summer, compared with about 24% last summer.
During the pandemic, RV vacations grew in popularity among younger, more diverse demographics.
In 2021, about 2.6 million more households in North America owned an RV than the year before, and the RV rental market added over 2 million new renters, according to Kampgrounds of America’s 2022 camping report.
If gas prices continue to rise, 25% of RV owners said they’d plan to use their RV less often. Eight out of 10 campers have already made some kind of adjustments to their travel plans due to increased gas prices, according to KOA’s June monthly research report.
However, not all RV vacationers are cutting back.
Last summer, the McCune family traveled north by RV for 12 weeks from Florida to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and plan to drive this summer for another 12 weeks toward Maine.
Outside Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City, LoyAnn McCune said, “We already booked out our campgrounds for the summer, so we wouldn’t change our plans just because of the diesel prices.”
For more context, see Skift’s story: Summer Vacationers Are Budgeting and the RV Market Is Responding.
(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo; Editing by Anna Driver and Jonathan Oatis)
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Photo credit: Camper van for rent from Outdoorsy as shown near Dawson City, Canada. Source: Outdoorsy.