Opinion: The Future of (US) RV Rallies
Is there a lesson in the direction American RV rallies are heading?
By Jeannine Patané
Millennial, Millennial, Millennial! Hitch up and hold on to your seat, it’s going to be an activity-filled ride. With Millennials in the vista of camping, wheels are rolling to the reinvented rally.
This is not rocket science — only event planning — but the Millennial is now dictating the atmosphere and quality experience in RV recreation.
Addressing some of the distinguishing camper demographics of the 2016 Topline North American Camping Report, ethnicity is now almost a non-issue compared to older age groups, and campgrounds are chosen more based on atmosphere than location. In reference to the younger generations, it was recorded that they heavily rely on social activity and spending time with others when they recreate. It sounds like a perfect group to rally.
Baby Boomers have been rallying for decades, but over time, their events have often become more political than fun. As Aristotle pointed out, man is by nature a political animal. Gatherings are not exempt from this.
All too often, rallies have been organised by committees, chapters and too many chefs in the kitchen trying to make another potluck happen. If you change your RV brand, don’t return to the rally. It’s the same ‘ole dance. However, there is a tectonic shift happening underneath this complacency, and it already shook up some of the larger, established events.
One event that has fallen off the map is called, “The Rally,” sponsored by Camping World/Good Sam Club. They self-proclaim it the “Greatest RV Rally in the World!” Sounds like a giant carnival more than a gathering of like-minded folks. According to their latest rally news online, the last post was over two years ago in Jan. 30, 2015, announcing that year’s Phoenix Rally. The website’s home page spun a 2016 rally opt-out to celebrate Camping World/Good Sam Club’s 50th Anniversary at a store near you, and instead of a future rally, they advertised a super RV show in the beginning of 2017.
Like an antiquated circus show, “The Rally” folded up its tents and left town with no explanation. Why didn’t the “Greatest RV Rally in the World!” draw the massive numbers of these record breaking RV sales? At first guess, it was designed too large, complicated, and overly commercial for a camper convergence. The newest RV owner demographic in their smaller travel trailers weren’t even considered.
The future of RVing will continue to thrive and the younger demographics are taking the lead to make the viability continue for the industry. This shift is probably lastly reflected at the beginning of the manufacturing line, with the reinvention movement first displayed in the owner periphery through RV lifestyle support like clubs and rallies. It’s a grassroots effort trickling up to the manufacturing design.
Take the Escapees RV Club for example. The GenXers have already embraced what the generation before them have achieved. Building upon that, the Xscapers came into fruition as a subsidiary to the parent Escapees RV Club. Xscapers is a support network geared toward a new generation of RVers who have not yet retired and who have already, or are aspiring to, hit the road pursuing a full-time or part-time nomadic lifestyle. It’s not just the demographics of age; technology clearly plays a large role in the RV lifestyle now.
Niche rallies have already hit cult-like fever. The vintage trailer community has developed an almost mainstream course around taking their rescued and restored trailers to rallies. Sisters on the Fly are thousands of members strong and women-only campouts are ever growing in popularity.
We rally to be with like-minded people, and that can happen annually or be a one-time anomaly. We’re making the rendezvous relatable to our interests now, and the brand of camper one owns is not an issue.
Independent rally organisers have recognised the value of the event to both the RV industry and owners, and they’re moulding these events to suit all. Rallies offer not only a social setting, but also fertile ground for sharing knowledge. Each time a rally occurs our RV community should strengthen.
Millennials are a very social group, so it would be natural that they’ll get hooked on rallies. The earlier someone becomes engaged in an activity, the better chance they will continue the activity throughout their life.
There is no formula or committee structure to have fun with your RV community. The younger generations have learned how to rally, and tossing the Crockpot potluck off the schedule isn’t breaking the rules. Or it might be, but we don’t care. In fact, any activity that we’d enjoy engaging in with others can be planned. If we can modify and customise our RV, we can write our own rally.
The RV industry recognises the demographic shift in RV purchasing and the changed attitude in lifestyle use. It not only affects manufacturing, marketing and sales, but how the RVs are being used afterwards and the end-user communication. Campgrounds can attest to this.
Toby O’Rourke, chief franchise operations officer for KOA said, “The Millennials are going to be very focused on quality. As an industry we have to continue to modernise our parks. We have to have recreation in our parks, we have to have quality sites. Millennials are demanding excellence and they want quality.”
Although Millennials expect excellence and quality from the campground atmosphere, campground management doesn’t need to reinvent their facility for this new demographic group. Simple adjustments can make campgrounds group friendly. There is no need to install a rock-climbing wall over a pool. Mind you, a campground is not a cruise ship, nor do we want to pay cruise ship prices for nightly camping.
It comes down to providing basic amenities, and doing it with excellence. That will attract large, social groups. Work with rally coordinators, as they are the outside sales representatives for your campground. Accommodate the group size, and maximise opportunity for social interaction.
Give groups a gratis, large sheltered gathering point with a community fire pit, clean, hot showers and robust Wi-Fi to share the awesome experience. The rest is happy camping.