RV sales surge as travellers seek to avoid crowds

NEW YORK -- Rows of camper trailers fill the parking lot at this California RV showroom. And business is brisk.

Around the U.S., states are lifting restrictions on travel after weeks or months of stay-at-home orders. But with COVID-19 still a threat, many travelers want to stay away from crowds. So these mobile vehicles are an increasingly attractive option.

Nohr's RV Center in Tracy reopened on May 1. Since then, its owner reports that sales have roughly doubled compared to the same period last year, with many first-time buyers driving the surge.

"So you could take an RV, go away with your family and stay out in a campground or in the woods and be by yourself," explains Mike Nohr. "Now the RV industry is on fire because everybody stayed at home 60 to 90 days, they're tired and they want to get away and they can't stay in a hotel room."

His business is on track to sell out of travel campers next month, in part because RV production was previously halted because of shelter-in-place orders.

Clara Ayora has come to look at RVs. She wants to take her family away on holiday but is wary of exposing them the risk of catching the virus. An RV would allow her to avoid hotels and restaurants and mean her loved ones don't need to board a flight to get away.

"You can still travel, you can still go on vacation. But you know that everything is sanitized. It's yours. Yeah, I think it's peace of mind in my case," she explains.

Demand is high for spots at camping grounds. Thousand Trails Campgrounds, which runs more than 190 campgrounds and RV Resorts in the U.S. and  Canada, has seen a jump in bookings this summer, as well as sales of camping passes that give members year-round access, officials say.

"We've always looked at ourselves in the camping industry as the original social distancing and a lot of our new customers are telling us just that," says Mitch Craighead, a regional manager for Thousand Trails Campgrounds.

For some, RV living is already a way of life. Sharie Parkinson sold her home several years ago and now she and her partner live in a motorhome full-time. They stay in various Thousand Trails campgrounds in California, Oregon and Washington throughout the year.

"Yes, it is freedom. It's a real, real nice freedom. And I only have that freedom while I'm healthy. So now's the time," she says,

Retired single dad Eric Hardy has lived in his trailer for more than a decade and his young children stay with him for several days each week.

"It's a very adventurous way to live. But it's very affordable. And that's what I like about it," says the former auto factory worker.

So has the pandemic changed the way Americans vacation? Some RV aficionados don't think the outdoor lifestyle will appeal to everyone - and expect interest to wane as the U.S. gets back to business as usual.

Danny Cannon, a retiree who is staying at the Turtle Beach RV Park and lives in a motor home full-time, suspects the latest RV boom is just a coronavirus-inspired fad.

"When they get a vaccine and all this other stuff, there's going to be a whole lot of RVs being turned in at that time. So yeah, I think it's a temporary thing," he says.

But until then, now is the perfect time for Americans to hit the road and explore the great outdoors.