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RV show indulges wanderlust: Recession, gas prices no match for lure of the open road

Source: The News & Observer, North Carolina
Publish Date: Monday, February 11, 2008
Summary: The lure of the open road has kept the almost $15 billion RV industry seeing steady gains despite surging gas prices.

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By Kinea White Epps

Feb. 11, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) --

More than 20 years ago, Joe and Vicki Kieva traded in their 9-to-5 corporate jobs for life on the road in a recreational vehicle.

Living free from the pressures of deadlines and board meetings, the couple has traveled to every state in the U.S.

"It's like having the control over my own life," Joe Kieva said.

This weekend, the Kievas stopped in Raleigh for the 19th annual N.C. RV and Camping Show at the State Fairgrounds.

The veteran RVers hosted a seminar, doling out tips and techniques for living and traveling with an RV.

This year's show came on the heels of a study released by the National Academy of Sciences this month that said Americans are forgoing outdoor activities such as camping, fishing and visiting parks for the indoor pleasures of recliners, flat-screen televisions and video games.

"People just don't know what they are sacrificing," said Katherine Skinner, executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the Nature Conservancy. The conservation group funded the study.

But RV experts say just the opposite is the case. The lure of the open road has kept the almost $15 billion industry seeing steady gains despite surging gas prices, which now average close to $3 per gallon in the Triangle.

Outdoors in luxury

According to a report commissioned by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, the number of households owning RVs is expected to reach 8.5 million by 2010.

Close to 400,000 RVs were shipped for sale in 2006, the best annual total in the past 30 years, according to the association.

The RV industry hasn't been affected by the trend toward indoor pursuits because RVs allow people to combine the comforts of home with their love of the outdoors, experts and RVers say.

"There is a lot of technology incorporated into the RV. You are basically taking your home on the road," said Jeff Haughton, vice president and eastern region manager of Affinity Events, which hosted the show.

Spend less to see a lot

Under sunny skies this weekend, thousands of folks cruised the fairgrounds to get a glimpse of luxury life on wheels. More than 400 RVs and campers were on display, many equipped with leather sofas, flat-screen televisions and king-sized beds. Prices ranged from $6,000 to $800,000.

Those who own an RV or camper say it gives them the freedom to travel without having to make flight or hotel reservations. Some even say vacationing with an RV can be cheaper.

"You get a chance to see the country for an affordable price," said retired News & Observer columnist and full-time RVer Dennis Rogers.

Since leaving the paper, Rogers and his wife, HollyAnn, have been traveling the country and filing occasional dispatches from the road. He's not surprised by a study that traces the decline of traditional outdoor pursuits.

"The idea is to take your indoors with you when you travel to the outdoors," Rogers said by e-mail from Florida. "The out of doors is sooooo out. Sipping a cocktail while the oysters grill to perfection is about as close to nature as many of us like to get."

Take the whole family

For the Hayeses, their purchase of an RV at Sunday's show means the two will no longer have to find a dog sitter for their two German shepherds. Christy Hayes couldn't stop giggling. The couple has already planned a beach trip for April.

"I'm just so excited; we can take our family, including the animals," she said.

The Hayeses are among a growing number of people between the ages of 18 and 34 who are buying RVs. According to the RV association, the technology incorporated and the sportier look of the rigs have made ownership more appealing.

Christy Hayes said the couple has two sets of friends who already own RVs.

Buddy Seagroves brought his two sons to the show to purchase accessories for the family's RV. They are planning a trip to Yellowstone National Park this summer.

"I think it's one of the best ways to travel across the country," Seagroves said.

(News researcher Becky Ogburn contributed to this report.) or (919) 836-4952

News researcher Becky Ogburn contributed to this report.

Newstex ID: KRTB-0170-22921203

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