With COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations inhibiting or outright prohibiting indoor vacation stays this year, the open road has become an increasingly palatable getaway option for travel seekers.
Burdette Camping Center has been in the camper and RV sales and service business for more than 40 years, and pandemic-driven circumstances have propelled unexpectedly boisterous sales and demand in the Putnam County dealership’s latest one.
That’s according to Burdette Camping Center Senior Service Representative Jimmie Dean, who has been with the Winfield-based company for the past 16 years.
“Interest is just off the planet,” Dean said. “Sales levels are way exceeding anything we’ve encountered in years. When we opened back up, we did a year’s worth of sales in a little over two months — or it was pretty daggone close to that.”
Dean said the skyrocketing summertime camper and RV demand is national in scope.
“We were in the Myrtle Beach area recently,” he recounted, “and, traveling north and south, it was nothing to pass a camper every 30 seconds each way. It was just incredible amounts of them.
“We’re a large dealer and we still have inventory in stock, but the mega-dealers don’t have any more inventory than we do right now.”
A June 3 RV Industry Association report concurred, stating shipments of new RVs declined in May due to factory shutdowns, but dealers able to be open have reported record sales in many instances.
The boom in recent sales seemed tenuous, at best, earlier this year when the COVID-19 sales standstill went into effect.
“For the industry as a whole, when we had to shut down back in March and April, our suppliers were unable to build campers,” said Dean. “I spoke to a manufacturer two days ago who said they had had one employee working; COVID-19 had just about wiped them out.”
As the nationwide shutdown eased, the turnaround was “phenomenal,” Dean said.
“We had our March and April buyers come out with the May and June buyers at the same time. On top of that, we have a new classification of people who don’t want to stay in hotels come out. It’s driven the industry to incredible levels.”
So much so that Burdette and its fellow camper, travel trailer and RV suppliers are placing orders for next year to meet the burgeoning consumer demand.
“All [camper] sizes are really popular right now. I can’t answer for the motor home industry, but a lot of the small stuff — 30 feet and down — is just incredibly popular.”
Dean said the Burdette staff is continuing to adhere diligently to in-person guidelines for its returning walk-in traffic. “We’ve been wearing masks in the dealership and practicing sanitizing and social distancing. We have daily meetings on how to deal with it. We’ve been telling folks to come in, pick out a floor plan and pick out your camper, and, when it gets here, we’ll call you. We have a substantial amount on order.”
For those open-road-craving customers who remain reluctant to shop in person just yet, online shopping options have spurred their purchases instead.
“Eight out of 10 buyers coming in our front door have already viewed and decided what they want off the internet,” Dean said.
Nationally, the uptick in RV sales and rentals appears to have begun spiking in April and increasing prior to the Fourth of July holiday. According to RVshare, an Austin, Texas-based peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace, RV rentals were up 81% over the 2019 holiday bookings.
“RV bookings have nearly tripled since last year and have increased by more than 1,600% since early April as travelers opt for a safe, cost-effective means of travel this summer,” a June 16 RVshare release said.
And, according to recent Ipsos research, 46 million Americans plan to take an RV trip in the coming year.
“As states across America continue to open up, more and more consumers are looking for ways to get outdoors and recreate responsibly,” RV Industry Association President Craig Kirby said in a June 3 RVIA release. “RVs provide a great way for consumers to enjoy vacations with their families, while still adhering to social distancing policies that are likely to remain in place in some fashion moving forward. ... The industry is seeing both very strong retail traffic, as well as sales, especially with first-time buyers.”
Fifty-one percent of those intending to take a RV trip this year said current health concerns increased their interest in RV camping — higher than any other travel options.