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It's quite remarkable that despite the lengthy recession and sluggishness of the U.S. economy there's one intriguing consumer sector that's showing solid performance. Interest in travel via recreational vehicles grows steadily as the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) reports total year-to-date shipments have increased by 8.6 percent over vehicle sales for the same period in 2011.
Towable RV shipments are up by 9.8 percent and experts say the growing curiosity and interest in RVs is due to the flexibility and built-in cost savings of RV travel. RVIA is confident that the freedom it affords families is striking a resonant chord that builds the core of passionate RV travelers and also has many others becoming first-time buyers.
According to travel industry experts, PKF Consulting, a family of four can save from 23 to 59 percent when they travel in an RV, even when factoring in the purchase price, maintenance costs and fuel expense.
RVIA says approximately 18 percent of RV owners are engaging in "seasonal" or "destination" camping. Such campers leave their RV at one location for the entire spring/summer and travel back and forth using a family car.
Another emerging trend, they say, is the number of travelers who bring the family pets. RVIA says 54 percent of RV owners bring pets along on their trips. Most who have pets bring dogs (92 percent) and cats (14 percent).
RV enthusiasts say this kind of travel is a great way to stay more physically active and enjoy the outdoors while escaping the everyday stress and pressure; one of the primary benefits they say they find in RV travel versus other types of vacations.
A solid majority (72 percent) plan to visit a national park this year and 74 percent say they'll visit a state park. If it sounds like fun then you'll be in agreement with many others.
RVIA's Kevin Broom, director of media relations, tells us more:
Last year at least 8.9 million American families owned an RV. That's from the most recent market study completed and it's the highest level ever recorded. Since then the industry has sold roughly another 250,000 RVs. Some of those sold recently inevitably supplanted other vehicles, but Broom estimates that the number of American RV households now probably surpasses 9 million. Of course, there's a sizable rental fleet of RVs too!
"A lot of people kind of know; 'This is what I want to do' and they go out and get their RV," Broom says. "A lot of people will go to the dealer and test-drive and find out that they're a lot easier to drive than they may have thought. Even some of the larger ones are easy to drive.
Plus, a lot of them are towed, and it's something they can test out at the dealerships, or the dealers can arrange for a class for them... I've driven lots of different RVs from small to large and it's easy. The motor homes are just easy. If you can drive a minivan you can drive an RV."
About 90 percent of RVs sold these days are towed as trailers.
Technology and the high-end motor homes and trailers generate a lot of buzz, Broom noted, but that kind of luxury is working its way down... if you went to an RV show, or a dealership you would be surprised at the kinds of amenities and features that are quite accessible at an attractive price.
For instance, Broom said he saw a 32-ft. RV trailer at a Philadelphia show recently that had a full kitchen inside and an outdoor kitchen; flatscreen TV; bunk beds; a bathroom with a separate outdoor entrance; a master bedroom, slide-outs and additional space (all totaling about 300 sq. ft.) for $25,000.
Here's a few more insights:
The typical RVer is 48 years old; and typical median income is $62,200.
39 percent of RVers have children under 18 living at home.
RV owners ages 35 to 54 posted the largest gains in ownership rates and ownership rates also increased among those 55 and older.
On a personal note, I'll let you know that we'll probably be talking about RVs again in the not-too-distant future... In my family we've got an 11-year-old named Matthew who has an unwavering interest in RVs (where this originated we can't say; maybe he saw one of those cable TV shows about super luxurious motorhomes!...) and he can be awfully persuasive and persistent.
What about you? Are you an experienced RV traveler? Please share some of your experiences and advice!