Nothing about the past year has been normal. And yet despite all the challenges that the global pandemic created, the RV industry managed to provide a glimmer of hope to people looking to escape from home and have fun in the great outdoors in a responsible way. Much like our friends in the marine industry, the RV industry has seen people turn to our products for some semblance of normalcy. This renewed appreciation for the outdoors is something that will outlast the pandemic and have a long-term, positive impact on the health and well-being of many.
However, with this renewed interest in the great outdoors comes a responsibility from those of us in the outdoor recreation industry to take care of these new customers.
Millions of RVers across the country depend on our iconic state and federal lands for recreation, conservation, enjoyment and overnight camping. These lands have long needed additional funding to create safer and more enjoyable experiences, by addressing deferred maintenance and campground modernization. That funding is now a reality thanks to the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, the most significant piece of outdoor recreation legislation in six decades.
It is fitting that in a year when so many Americans turned to the outdoors, Congress was able to pass this landmark legislation. The ultimate result will be increased recreation access for all, thanks to years of work by the RV, marine and outdoor recreation industries.
Going forward, the RV Industry Association has identified additional opportunities to improve the experiences of people who have discovered RVing for the first time.
First, we are making sure that these new RVers have the resources and information they need for a successful inaugural trip. Go RVing, the consumer advertising arm of our association, has partnered with experienced RVers to provide a “first-timers tool kit.” This resource — made up of brief but comprehensive videos and articles on everything from how to select the right RV to how to set up at a campground for the first time — allows new RVers to be more informed, resulting in more enjoyable trips and a higher likelihood they will become RVers for life.
Second, we are placing a renewed focus on reducing the amount of time it takes for an RV to be repaired. Prior to the pandemic, the RV industry had begun the process of analyzing how to address this issue. This year, a task force will be created to establish and deliver on measurable ways to reduce repair time.
Third is the work of the RV Technical Institute to increase the number of trained and certified RV technicians. Even before RV technician became the third-fastest-growing job in 2020, the RV Technical Institute was working to train and certify more RV technicians at its headquarters in Elkhart, Ind., and through partnerships across the country.
One of the most exciting things the RV Technical Institute team accomplished in 2020 was creating an online training program. The immersive program is completely self-paced, allowing students to complete training and testing according to their own schedules. The level one program, which focuses on predelivery inspections, is already available, and our team will be rolling out the level two program this spring. While hands-on, in-person training will continue to be a focus of the institute’s curriculum, this additional online program allows many more RV technicians to be trained and certified on the only RV industrywide curriculum.
The freedom, control and fun of RVing has made it the travel option of choice for many Americans this past year. While quite a few have discovered RVs for the first time, the RV industry has been experiencing more than 40 years of long-term growth that predates the pandemic. Our latest survey shows that RV purchase intent is strongest among millennials, followed closely by Gen X and Gen Z. This data bodes very well for the future of the RV industry — and the wider outdoor recreation industry.
For that growth to become a reality, we must ensure that consumers have the enjoyable experience they expect and deserve. If we take care of our public lands and our customers, there is no limit to the future growth of outdoor recreation.
Craig Kirby is president of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.
This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue.