True to their name, baby boomers are creating an RV travel ‘boom’ that has helped the industry grow more rapidly than before, according to RV Registry, which helps connect RV sellers with potential buyers. The Alliance for Aging Research reports that another baby boomer turns 50 every seven seconds, which amounts to more than 11,000 new 50-year-olds every day.
Sharon O’Brien of About.com’s Senior Living section adds that one of the first things many of these aging baby boomers do is rush out and rent or buy an RV. According to a 2001 study conducted by the University of Michigan, ownership of RVs in the United States is skyrocketing, and the baby boomer market is one of the primary reasons for the increase.
The survey found that more RVs are owned by baby boomers than by any other age group. It also found that baby boomers are also the fastest growing segment of the RV market.
As Dr. Richard Curtin, Director of the University of Michigan Survey Research Center, explains, “Overall, there is a strong and enduring appeal to the RV lifestyle that is as valid today as it was 20 years ago.”
RV Registry adds that baby boomers tend to pick RV travel for several reasons, including that having one creates new experiences. It also teaches a respect for nature, according to O’Brien and helps bring the family closer together. As O’Brien mentions, 16,000 campgrounds nationwide cater to RV travelers. Many of them offer amenities such as swimming pools, recreation centers, evening entertainment options, snack bars, and camp stores.
Some RV travelers are also attracted to the growing number of luxury RV resorts popping up across the country. O’Brien writes that these resorts include facilities like tennis courts, gold courses, and health spas. Other RV owners and renters prefer public RV campground that could have less lavish facilities but make up for it with scenic beauty and easy access to outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and whitewater rafting.
In a 2013 article for U.S News & World Report, writer Danielle Kurtzleben notes that RV sales, much like the majority of other markets, crashed during the recession as Americans lost jobs and savings. RV shipments dropped more than 30 percent in 2008 and again in 2009, according to figures from the RVIA. Annual shipments fell from almost 400,000 per year in 2005 and 2006 to less than 166,000 in 2009. The drop forced many dealerships and RV plants to lay off workers or close entirely.
However, Kurtzleben writes that the industry soon rebounded, posting a 46 percent growth in 2010. The increase has leveled off since then, but nonetheless has remained strong. Manufacturers shipped nearly 290,000 units in 2012. RV Registry notes that this increase is an indication that Americans are feeling more comfortable spending money on luxuries like campers and motorhomes. Another industry expert adds that banks are also more willing to help customers buy RVs than they were during and immediately after the recession.
Phil Ingrassia, president of the RV Dealers’ Association, adds, “This industry was impacted by the economic crisis, as far as the drying up of consumer credit. As things have improved, the economy has gotten better and there’s more credit available for consumer purchases like an RV.”
The lack of credit options and decline in consumer spending are only two of the obstacles the industry has faced in recent years. However, baby boomers have been able to rebuild the industry. According to figures from RVIA, the average RV owner is late-middle-aged, but still younger than the average baby boomer. However, RV Registry asserts that older buyers are often big spenders and are willing to splurge on nicer models that they plan to use to travel after retirement.
While many manufacturers are marketing to baby boomers and retirees, some are also aiming some of their marketing efforts at younger buyers. One manufacturer explained to O’Brien, “We’re definitely looking at Generation X and Y as well. We have a lot of families that are starting to camp.”
Still, baby boomers comprise 78 million Americans and represent almost 30 percent of the current U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By 2015, all baby boomers will be over 50 and edging closer to retirement.
For individuals and families who aren’t able to purchase an RV, O’Brien notes that renting an RV is another popular way to travel. Along with helping people experience RV travel without purchasing a motorhome or camper, renting is a great way for potential buyers to test the waters and decide whether or not they want to eventually make a purchase. As RV Registry notes, the RV rental business is a multimillion-dollar industry; there are more than 460 RV rental outlets located across the country.
The rate of RV purchases has increased again post-recession, and industry experts expect the number to continue growing, thanks in large part to baby boomers. A spokesman for RV Registry adds, “Baby boomers have the right idea by starting off their retirement adventure with a bang! RVs can take you anywhere and everywhere you’d like, while still letting you feel the comfort of being at home.”
Melissa Stusinski contributed to this article.