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They have reason to be happy RVs holding their own during economic downturn

Category: UNSPECIFIED
Source: The Bradenton Herald
Publish Date: Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Summary: Personnel at recreational vehicle resorts and campgrounds have reason to be upbeat these days. While the recession has sunk real estate, it turns out recreational vehicles and RV resorts are a lifestyle many are not willing to give up.

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Grace Gagliano

Feb. 10, 2009 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- MANATEE

The phone rings. Donna Campion answers, "It's a great day at Holiday Cove RV Resort."

And, at another local resort, Manatee Winter Quarters Encore, a similar greeting is used, "We're having a great day at Encore Manatee."

Personnel at recreational vehicle resorts and campgrounds have reason to be upbeat these days.

While the recession has sunk real estate, it turns out recreational vehicles and RV resorts are a lifestyle many are not willing to give up.

"We're full and the phone keeps ringing," said David Gorin, owner of Holiday Cove RV Resort. "I asked my resort manager, Donna, 'could we use 20 more sites?' And she said, 'We could use 40.'"

That's because over the past year Holiday Cove has sold about 32 of its 97 sites, which start at $80,000 and can go up to $185,000.

And, there are 13 people on a waiting list for rentals for the peak months of February and March.

"There is unexpectedly strong interest, unexpectedly only because of the economy, expected because of our location," Gorin said. "And we're delighted."

Holiday Cove, in Cortez off Cortez Road, is less than a mile from Anna Maria Island.

In anticipation that the resort will still be a viable business in this economy, Gorin renovated the park last year at a cost in the "high six-figures" and has a sales director,

Ryan Billib is at the resort daily to meet with potential buyers and market Holiday Cove.

"The big thing is the rental numbers," Billib said. "We're full with a waiting list and that breeds quite a bit of interest on the sales of these lots."

Terry Haughawout and his wife, Joan, purchased an RV site at Holiday Cove 10 years ago for winter vacations from Ohio.

The Haughawouts say they are happy with the investment.

"Our philosophy has been get it out of the stock market and buy something you're going to have, because you're going to lose it," said Terry Haughawout.

The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association reported campground business was steady in 2008, with RV rentals seeing an 18 percent increase over 2007.

Fiesta Grove RV Resort in Bradenton says seasonal residents returned to its rental-only grounds this winter but for a shorter time period. Fiesta Grove's 220 sites are fully occupied through the end of February, but next month it will start to see a majority of the sites clear out as senior residents head back north.

Seasonal residents typically stay January-March.

"A lot of people have had to make it a shorter stay," said resort Manager Linda Scallion. "Because of the economy, they lost a lot of their savings."

Scallion said next year's reservations show the seasonal residents will return to their traditional three-month stays.

"They're adding back in their one extra month," Scallion said. "Now that the election and everything is over, they're feeling better about the economy."

At Holiday Cove, seasonal resident Rita Collins said she didn't consider putting her vacation on the shelf due to the economy.

"We've worked for it," Collins said. "We've worked all our lives for this."

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association is projecting consumer confidence will be better by next year, too. The association, based in Virginia, reported RV shipments to dealers totaled 237,000 vehicles in 2008, a 32 percent decline from 2007 based on a survey of manufacturers.

And due to the tight credit market, the association projects RV shipments will decline this year to 186,800, about 23 percent.

"The big issues are consumer confidence and availability of credit," Kevin Broom, a spokesman for RVIA. "When credit markets begin to flow again, we believe that's when sales will turn around."

RV dealers in Manatee County say interest in motor homes and RVs in the $200,000 price range has declined; however, consumers are showing more interest in light-weight trailers that can be towed.

"Because of fuel costs, and most everybody has a half ton pickup or SUV, the lighter-weight vehicles are being looked at more," said Herb Hoelle, general manager of Conley RV Center in Bradenton.

The Go RVing Coalition is wrapping up a $62 million marketing campaign it started in 2006 to boost consumer confidence in the industry.

The coalition, which consists of RV manufacturers, suppliers, dealers and campgrounds, will run ads through December that focus on a theme in line with these economic times: "Go Affordably. Go RVing."

The ads are scheduled to appear on 28 cable networks including ESPN, CNN, and the History Channel, and in 17 print publications including Good Housekeeping, National Geographic Traveler and Southern Living.

Dan Wylie, owner of Dream RV in Bradenton, said sales reached the $1 million mark in January, as the company did in January 2007.

"We're tremendously surprised," Wylie said. "Our sales are holding."

Wylie said baby boomers are expected to be one of the main driving forces in sales in the future.

In anticipation of that, Dream RV relocated from a 1.5-acre site off First Street West to a 7-acre lot off State Road 64 East.

"The baby boomers market is going to continue to expand for several years and we just want to be ready for it," Wylie said.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0027-31614530


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