Pump Prices Won't Deter Avid RVers, Boaters
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a column by Today Show contributor Peter Greenberg offering the perspective that boaters and RVers will continue to enjoy their lifestyles despite soaring gas prices. In 2007, Greenberg was presented with the Distinguished Achievement in Journalism Award by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
On the surface, it's shaping up to be a very tough summer for travelers — oil north of $120 a barrel, airlines shrinking capacity, fares rising almost by the day.
But what about travel close to home — and in particular, two segments of travel that you might presume to be in serious trouble: recreational boating and recreational vehicles.
With marine fuel nearing $5 a gallon and regular gas heading in that direction, you might be surprised to learn that when it comes to getting out on the water, or getting out on the road, Americans will not be denied.
If you already own a boat or an RV, chances are good that you're planning to put your boat in the water and you've made plans for road trips in your RV.
That would seem counterintuitive, but the numbers speak otherwise. While retail sales for recreational boating topped $39 billion in 2006 — an increase of nearly 6% from 2005 — the last two years have not been as buoyant. In 2007, the industry saw a drop of 14% in unit sales, and 9% in dollar sales. And this year will be worse.
In fact, at the recent Miami boat show, many new boat dealers were downright depressed. "See that brand-new boat over there?" said the president of one upscale boat manufacturer. "I've sold it four times this week." Translation: The prospective buyers couldn't close financing.
However, on the lower end of the market, deals are closing. In fact, there will still be 300,000 new boats sold this year. Of that number, 200,000 will be outboard models with a price tag of under $40,000.
"It's been a real surprise," says Thomas Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), "but we've seen no connection between the soaring fuel prices and boat sales, especially in the small- and large-boat market." It's the middle that's soft.
But what does this mean? It means the people who have boats, big or small, will be using them this summer. "Boating is one of those untouchables," says Steve Fleming, director of communications at Mercury Marine. "It's a reverent situation where people will complain, and then they'll go to the fuel dock and fill up.”
And on the road? Another surprise. While sales of new RV units are down, those who own existing RVs, like their boating counterparts, plan to use them this summer regardless of the price at the pump.
A recent survey of current RV owners conducted by the RVIA revealed that 93% of RV owners intend to use their RVs at least as much this spring and summer as in 2007. In fact, of the 16 summer weekends this year, nearly 50% of all RVers will spend half of these weekends traveling in their RVs. And of the 93 days of summer, 63% will spend at least 21 days in their vehicles.
But the real indication of the RV trend – even in the face of soaring fuel prices – is that RV rental bookings are up an impressive 20% between Memorial Day-Labor Day compared to 2007.
The reasons for this have a lot to do with the weakness of the U.S. dollar and higher airline fares and hotel rates. RVers get to travel closer to home, they don't have to buy airline tickets, check in or out of hotel rooms or eat out every night.
Everything being relative, a family of four can affordably rent an RV and travel much less expensively than flying and staying in hotels. Another revealing statistic: These campgrounds — like boating marinas — are filling up.
So what’s the breaking point? The psychographics of boating and RVing seem to indicate that boaters and RVers would sooner give up new clothes and dining out before they abandon their gas-guzzling toys. And like the boaters, RV owners may be spending as much time in their RVs — perhaps even more time — than last year, but that doesn’t presume they’ll be driving that far or, in some cases, driving at all.
And of course, when an RV is parked, it consumes no fuel. As one RVer joked, "It gets great gas mileage for a house."