It’s become clear that far-flung international travel isn’t going to be as common as it once was for quite some time. Four-hour wait times to get on a plane will be the norm with as much as twice that to get out of the airport when you arrive. That’s before you take into account that most international travel will require 14-day quarantine on arrival and once you return home or consider which borders will to be open to tourists from our continent. (For example, it’s looking more and more like Europe will only allow internal tourism for the rest of the year.)
With international travel pretty much off the books for the rest of 2020, it’s time to look to the highways and byways of the good ol’ US of A to get your travel fix (assuming you’re lucky enough to get a couple weeks of vacation this year and feel able to afford it). That means the Great American Road Trip is back in a big way. A chance to see the ever-changing nation in a time of massive upheaval, use your tourist dollars to support struggling communities, and get a little elbow room as quarantine winds down. A chance to stay socially distanced without going stir-crazy.
According to a recent GasBuddy survey 36 percent of respondents are canceling trips that require flying and 24 percent plan to make shorter trips by distance. 31 percent are planning to take a road trip. Not to mention, gas prices are the cheapest they’ve been in almost 20 years, AAA says.
It’s not a surprise that summer vacation will look at lot different this year but perhaps what no one saw coming was the rise of RV travel. A recent survey of 4,000 U.S. and Canadian residents by KOA showed the pandemic sparking interest in camping especially among first-timers and younger generations.
“Once it is safe to travel, it’s likely the camping market will get a greater share of leisure travelers’ trips in 2020,” reads the May 11 report measuring the effects of COVID-19 on the campground industry. (The study showed camping drawing 16 percent of leisure travelers for the rest of 2020, up from 11 percent before the pandemic.)
In March, as RV buyers evaporated and manufacturing plants—mostly in northeastern Indiana—closed, the RV industry pivoted toward crisis management. Dealers and manufacturers sent vehicles across the country for use as isolation units, housing for critical health care workers, command centers, and mobile testing labs.
California ordered 1,309 to house the sick should hospitals be overwhelmed. Louisiana state police ordered nearly 100 for command posts. A dealer in Texas sent RVs across the state to municipalities. Florida health officials retrofitted RVs as rolling testing labs.
The 418 businesses that make up the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association pushed federal and state lawmakers to keep RV manufacturers and dealers open as essential businesses to meet this new demand.
The generally accepted plan for reviving the country’s tourism industry starts with people traveling closer to home. It’s not likely vacationers will be jumping in planes anytime soon, so the RV industry is hoping more people start looking at self-contained motorhomes and trailers as a way to vacation while distancing and controlling their own environments.
RV production was strong in January and February with shipments pacing ahead of 2019. Even after the collapse in mid-March, the RV association reported a slight increase in shipments for the first three months of 2020 over last year. After a dormant April, the industry is seeing a revival in May, driven in large part by a surge in demand for RV rentals.
The 3,000-plus members of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds in recent years have seen a majority of their RV visitors traveling within 150 miles of their homes. This most certainly will be the case going forward in the age of COVID-19.
The association’s latest survey of private campground owners estimates there are more than 1.2 million private campsites across the country and owners plan to add more than 60,000 this year. Private campground owners are preparing for wary visitors by scripting specific plans for cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining distancing. Most communal facilities including pools, gyms, and game rooms remain closed.
As restrictions begin to ease we will see people get outside, stay closer to home, and be as safe as possible. The RV is a self-contained way for them to do that.
It’s like everyone was in a holding pen and as things begin to open up, there is a definite and growing demand for RVs and RV travel.
Happy (and safe) adventuring!
Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course, of action and follow it to an end requires courage.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson