Baby boomers are keeping the RV industry rolling, especially through the recent sluggish economy. Travelers in their 50s and early 60s are bolstering the local industry by heading out on the highway for adventure, whether it’s golfing in Deer Park, a rock concert at the Gorge Amphitheater or taking the grandkids skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. The boomer generation is putting a new twist on the traditional motor home adventure to an RV park to play bridge.
“It’s a really good market here,” said Steve Cody of Delcreek Productions, which produces this week’s 26th annual Inland Northwest RV Show and Sale that starts Thursday at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. “The baby boomers are just huge.”
The popularity of RVing is growing – as is the attendance of the show, which attracted 12,000 visitors last year, with dealers selling 140 units in four days, Cody said.
That growth is with younger baby boomers. By next year, all of America’s 78 million boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – will be older than 50. Those are the people with the time and money to travel, especially by RV, Cody said.
“It’s hard to keep RVs on the lot,” he said, adding that in tough financial times people invest in family.
Last year national RV sales through November were up 12.8 percent, he said.
So instead of that Hawaiian vacation, families – often multi-generation – pack into the RV and go on a $1,500 vacation. Boomers also are more adventuresome than the previous generation.
“Being 50 or 60 today is not the 50 or 60 of 20 years ago,” Cody said. “They don’t want to play bridge. They want to swim and golf. There are even spa RV parks.”
Nick Dietz, president of Airstream of Spokane, said baby boomers have generally traveled the world and are tired of airports, especially with all the new security precautions.
“Now they’ve got a bedroom, bathroom and food with them full time,” Dietz said of RVing converts. “It doesn’t get better than that. And they can travel with pets.”
Many Airstream owners are avid adventurers who love to tent camp and hike.
“The ground is getting harder and they want something more comfortable,” Dietz added.
Many boomers pick the iconic aluminum Airstream because they remember the trailers from their childhood, Dietz said of the company that began in 1931. Nearly 70 percent of all Airstreams ever built are still on the road, he added, praising their quality construction and longevity.
“That history is unique to the image,” Deitz said of the shiny, aerodynamic trailers easily distinguishable on the highway. “Otherwise a white box is a white box.”
Airstream of Spokane will have five campers set up at the RV show.
When you think of boomers and camping, the stereotypical image of the 1960s hippies camping in Volkswagen Westfalias comes to mind. Because the popular van campers are no longer in production, you won’t see any on display during the show. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a vintage model to buy and join the thousands of others cruising the road in VW style. Westfalia is currently making camper conversions but is no longer associated with Volkswagen, according to the Westfalia website.
If potential RVers aren’t quite up for buying new, there are campers, tent trailers, motor homes and anything on wheels advertised on Craigslist every day, said Julianne G. Crane, The Spokesman-Review’s former Wheel Life columnist, who now spends the majority of her year reporting on the RV lifestyle from her truck camper.
Yet the RV show is the best place to check out options and the newest gadgets all in one afternoon. More than $13 million of RVs, from tent trailers and mini motor homes to fifth wheels and toy haulers, are displayed indoors, with a price point for everyone with costs ranging from $7,000 to $250,000. Cody said the highlights this year are mostly new and improved technology with gadgets such as backup cameras, satellite dishes that work from nearly any location, and GPS.
The campers have come a long way from the former tin shells with a couple of beds and no insulation.
“Some of these are nicer than most homes,” Cody said.
One of the other reasons for RV popularity in the region is because of the region itself with all its beautiful geographic diversity and history. Cody said he has friends who drive 30 miles north to Deer Park and park their RV off the golf course, overseeing the ninth hole. A lot of campers are taking ski vacations to local mountains and camp in the parking lot. And because baby boomers have always liked good music, RVs are a common sight at concerts, especially at the Gorge Amphitheater in George. Of course there are the regional attractions such as the San Juans, Oregon coast and Yellowstone, he said.
Crane agrees that baby boomers are consuming the road and she’s seeing lots of multi-generational campers with parents, children and grandchildren piling out of RVs at campgrounds across the country.
“There are incredible places to camp within a couple hours’ drive,” Crane said. “It’s still an economical way for people to get away.”