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Opinion: The future of RV rallies

Opinion: The future of RV rallies

By Jeannine Patané
Founder, RV Compass

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 organized 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 organizers have recognized the value of the event to both the RV industry and owners, and they’re molding 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 customize our RV, we can write our own rally.

The RV industry recognizes 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 modernize 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 maximize 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.

Jeannine Patané is the founder of RV Compass, a company that promotes and manages RV rallies. As a full-timer in a 13-foot travel trailer, she also serves the coordinator of Eggshells in The Outer Banks, a rally for tiny travel trailer RV owners that takes place in North Carolina in October. She can be reached at jpatane@rvcompass.com.

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RV Daily Report welcomes opinion pieces and feature stories submitted by people interested in the RV industry and the RV lifestyle. To submit something for publication, send it to editor@rvdailyreport.com.

14 comments

  1. Bonnie Worthington

    It is so true about just providing the creature comforts and do it with excellence. Seems like a simple task. I remember being at a popular franchised camp ground with dirty bathrooms and a stinky, milky hot tub. Just a little attention to detail can make the RV experience so much better. However we still had a good time.

  2. Nicely done Jeannine . . . you articulated the case for the next generation of RVers very well. As their selection of RVs change, so also will there expectations of when, where and how to enjoy them change!

  3. I doubt the younger generations, no matter how social, will enjoy the old (and new) sites that require being slithered in with a shoehorn.

  4. Each individual camper, which is really a guest of the campground at least for us. We are In our late 60’s. We don’t want to be sectioned into a group of any thing when it comes to our RV activities. We go to rally’s, from DMCA, to Escapees to others. Rally’s certainly don’t make a comfortable camping experience for attendees in the first place. Too few bathrooms, electrical hookups that are starved for AMPs. And the pump outs are a whole other subject. Parkiby for cars and trucks not motorscooter and Smart Cars. These are the National Rally’s. After 14 years of these Rally’s the entertainment selection are all reruns of the same. If I ever go to another one I will buy the ticket to get to the vendors and reserve outside in a private Campground that is quite, and are interested in making their guest a Happy Campers. .Baby Boomers, seniors, or Melinials shouldn’t make difference to Rally’s or Campgrounds. Just give us what is needed for anybody, clean campsites and friendly service.

  5. The RV lifestyle is a unique way of socializing with many people from varied walks of life. The old school mentality of only caring to be around those who own a certain brand or type of RV is fortunately fading away, as a new generation of people partake in what I believe is the epitome of social undertakings. The RV park industry has frankly, fallen on its face. Certainly there are parks that are clean, spacious and well appointed, but not nearly enough to encourage potential RV enthusiasts to pursue anything more than short getaways. RV parks are first and foremost a business and must remain profitable to survive. Small parks with limited cash flow may find updating their facilities too expensive an undertaking and either plod along, or switch to seasonal/full time residents which in turn leads to fewer spaces for those on the road. As the mellenials enter the RV world, they, who have grown up with most of the current technology already in place, simply will not tolerate mediocrity. Perhaps they will become the impetus for the oh so needed shot in the arm the RV park industry so desperately needs.

  6. We belong to one of these name brand RV clubs and we find in our rallies, as the group gets larger, the members have “clicks” and only associate or do things with those in their “click.” Yet they claim we are one big happy family! We have gotten to where we just pretty much go and do our own thing, even though it’s more fun to do it with another couple. We do have 2 or 3 that we sometimes go explore with. I like the smaller groups anyway.

  7. I, for just my own opinion, have a problem with rallies. I’ll not repeat what another said above, but just say that I really don’t enjoy being packed in a small area with others and trying to smile through the ensuing bedlam so will never attend a rally. As far as the author’s description of what a millennial wants – nah. You cannot pry them away from whatever the current electronic gadget to even be seen in daylight. Quality to them is only a word, not a need. They buy whatever they want, discarding yesterday’s gadget and have no traditional values and according to some, known as the anxiety (Xanax?) generation

  8. I am a generation X’er, about to turn 50, semi-retired, but still anchored to one place much of the time, I am old enough to appreciate some of the traditional stuff, young enough to have grown up with the ever changing technology of the last 40+ years, and old enough to not fully get this online, smartphone thumb twittling generation that feels the need to post 37 photos of themselves online on an average Thursday, and share the minute details of their lives with the world.

    What I can see is that things need to change in the RV world, for one thing this younger generation does not see bigger as better, they do like quality, but fantasize about living in a “tiny house”, think the perfect car is a Mini-Cooper, and when it comes to RV’s retro is in, and there is nothing more retro than a teardrop trailer. They are not against pot luck dinners, cooking is the new in thing, but it is not the classic American food, they want their pot lucks to be samplers of Asian fusion, and German-Jamacian blends. They don’t necessarily want pools and hot tubs at their RV campgrounds, but would rather have good wifi and a coffee bar that serves Frappaccinos and exotic cupcakes, and maybe some trees between RV spaces. They want to get back to nature, or at least some civilized version of it, but remember to them micro is better than mega, they want quint little RV parks with a stream running through it, not parking for 400, think bed and breakfast, not mega resort. They want activities that they can do on their schedule, not shuffleboard at 10AM.

    There needs to be some common ground with the older, experienced RV crowd, and this is where we have our gap, and we need a bridge between the older knitting circle crowd and the younger everything posted to facebook generation. Exactly what that bridge is I don’t know, but Asian fusion and German-Jamacian blend themed pot luck might be a start.

    • You hit it on the head!

    • I love this, it is so true. We are in our 50s and have been rving about 7 years. Rallies are ok, but good internet is better. Pools are ok, but a morning coffee bar would be better. We stay at a lot of military rv parks. Nice rest rooms and laundry. They are also small. My daughter has a motorhome, but they go to atv riding or dirt bike riding places. Mostly primitive camp areas.

    • Jeannine Patané

      Hi Ike,
      I appreciate your vision of what needs to change in the RV world. Like you, I am a GenXer closer to 50 and I believe we identify with all ages. There are gaps in interest between the generations, but I think that’s where you, the rallies and I build the bridges to common ground.

      There is no stereotype to define any generation, only how we communicate necessity of individual interest.

      Again, you’ve closely identified the purpose of why we have rallies. Bring on the Crockpot of Asian fusion and German-Jamacian of taste! Thanks.

      • Wow as someone who is straddling the gen-x/millennial line, you really hit the nail on the head. We just bough a 2018 a-frame camper and love things being small. I do not want the complications of plumbing breaking and the maintenance of another motorized vehicle. I want to have space and privacy when I go camping (the camp site) but I would also like the amenities if wi-fi and a nice camp store with baked goods and good coffee. I love to cook when camping but it is nice to not have to at all times. Our friends are looking to buy an RV as well and again, they are only looking at small units like a-frames and T@B’s. I hope that the camping industry catches up soon!

  9. Great article and an opinion I have been sharing for years as attendance at rallies gets smaller and smaller every year. I am a vendor who also gives seminars on Ways to Save Space in any RV and i usually speak to packed rooms. However, it gets harder and harder to travel to these rallies as they are not attracting the very demographic that is purchasing RV’s in record numbers. And yet the rally organizers continue to raise booth rates while attracting less and less attendees. In the years we have been going, sadly we are not seeing much change in Rally activities except that Escapees who is ahead of the curve. I hope this will really open up a good dialog in to ways to make rallies a great place to meet and get to know Rver’s

  10. Jeannine Patané

    This was personally emailed to me, but it belongs in comments. Why he didn’t post his view in the comments section is beyond me:

    Are you nuts: Opinion: The future of RV rallies?
    Kern Hendricks Jun 11 at 5:56 PM
    To: jpatane@rvcompass.com

    Ms. Patane
    I read your editorial on the above subject in RV Daily Report. It left me scratching my head in wonder. My lovely wife and I spend about four months per year traveling around the country in my LTV Unity MB. We stay all over the place – boondocking, state parks, national parks, high and low end RV parks in Canada and the United States. Rarely do we spend more than one night at the same place.

    Wherever we stay we talk with lots of people. In 65 days earlier this year we traveled over 5,800 miles in 5 western states. We have yet to see a Millennial in anything other than a towed fold-out tent trailer and we don’t see many of these. So, just where are all these youngsters you are writing about and where are their specialty RV parks?

    In case you haven’t noticed; Millennials either have the time and no money or (rarely) have the money and no time. Put the computer geeks in the latter category. Just the other day I read an article in the Wall Street Journal the premise of which was that few Millennials were able to come up with down payments to purchase homes. Couple this will the low marriage rates with this group and you have the characteristics of people who are very unlikely to buy an RV. They may be the big renters at Cruise America but this hardly counts as a commitment to the RV life style.

    I think that this is wishful thinking on your part. Maybe something from a survey: “If you could afford a motorhome, what kind of RV parks would you like to stay in?”. There is an old saying that I will clean up for you: “Money talks, and BS walks”.

    W. Kern Hendricks, CEO
    System Three Resins, Inc.

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