RV resorts see more reservations being taken, but demand might be too high
Most vacation options have gone by the wayside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is one that is gaining large traction in Santa Barbara County: recreational vehicles.
As cruises and long flights continue to be seen as a risky choice, families are choosing to buy RVs, commute across the state and get some fresh air.
“We absolutely have seen a spike in reservations,” Matt Bernard, area general manager for Highway West Vacations, told the News-Press.
Mr. Bernard oversees operations at Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground in Buellton and has been a bit shocked by the amount of people suddenly interested in renting and buying RVs.
“This July is actually busier than last July was. We’ve seen a huge increase in demand for people looking to get out and get outside,” Mr. Bernard said.
“People look at RVs as being sort of a safer way of traveling where everything is sort of self contained.
“It’s obviously a welcomed surprise.”
Genese Izuno, property manager of Santa Barbara Sunrise RV Park, has noticed a similar trend among an uptick in reservations, but also a new one as well.
“In the summertime, we usually get a lot of international guests, and of course almost none are now, so more of our guests are from Southern California,” Ms. Izuno said.
“A lot of them are renting our RVs for the first time.”
Asked why she thinks there are people more interested in buying or renting RVs now than before, Ms. Izuno said it really has to do with the ability to control one’s own environment.
“I am sure hotels do a great job, but you are walking through lobbies and things like that and even if it doesn’t have more risk, people can perceive it does,” Ms. Izuno said.
“Especially when you’re traveling with a family… in an RV you can control costs.”
Of course, with new buyers means that sometimes folks are a little unprepared. To mitigate the concerns, Ms. Izuno says they send an email out to RV renters looking to camp.
The email contains a list of items one should have in order to safely RV, as well as instructions on how to do certain things. People at the site will also help as well, but can only help if people have the proper equipment.
“People who rent are not always as careful as they could be or should be… and that’s sad for us because it starts their trip on a bad note,” Ms. Izuno said.
They also send videos on how to park and drive RVs in reverse.
“We suggest they watch those before they go to pick it up. Don’t get in a hurry, don’t let people rush you, take somebody with you and somebody take notes,” Ms. Izuno said.
For Mr. Bernard, his team is also ready to help new RV buyers at a moment’s notice.
“We welcome the opportunity to be able to introduce people to the world of RVing, it’s one of our passions so we’re happy to have both a new generation and perhaps a new demographic of people that are RVing that previously weren’t,” Mr. Bernard said.
While RVing may seem popular now because of COVID, Mr. Bernard believes this trend could be here to stay.
“We know a lot of folks that are first time RV buyers that had never previously given it thought and then they’re introduced to the world of our being and they’re able to stay in a Luxury RV Resort like ours and they fall in love with it,” Mr. Bernard said.
“It’s obviously different than perhaps what people are used to of staying in a hotel but I think people enjoy having the ability, you know to be outside and with our property with multiple swimming pools and, you know, lots of space to spread out.
“I think it’s a new way for people to travel that perhaps they hadn’t considered and I do think we will continue to see the trend in the coming years.”
Flying Flags is also taking every precaution they can welcoming guests, moving all check-in outside and having increased sanitizer options.
The site’s cafe and stores are also closed for indoor operations, but people can order and have everything delivered to them.
“I think these new changes in our operation provide for a more efficient experience,” Mr. Bernard said.
Still, while the demand is high, the supply is dimming by the day.
Mr. Brewer is the president of Pacific Coast RV, a company that sells RVs, trailers and also provides services for those items. He himself is a third-generation RV business owner as both his father and grandfather were in the business as well.
Mr. Brewer also noted that while people wanting to buy RVs are through the roof, there is not enough supply to meet the demand.
“As far as sales go, the demand is very high. Probably the highest it’s ever been, but we have a major shortage of inventory so because of our shortage, our sales are actually going to be down because we can’t get a good supply going,” Mr. Brewer said.
The COVID shutdowns forced the closure of many manufacturers and their output is way down as a result.
“You couple that with supply chain shortages of parts and you have a major supply issue,” Mr. Brewer said.
He added that he currently only has about 30% of the inventory from last year, and even that is shared among his four locations.
In fact, Mr. Brewer even had to delay the opening of his newest and fifth location in Nipomo due to the lack of inventory.
He also isn’t shocked by this latest development either.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all, we knew it was going to happen, we just didn’t know that our manufacturers are not going to be able to keep up with supply, it’s not even close,” Mr. Brewer said.
He added that there are also a lot of RVs in advance where people sign to eventually get their RV once manufacturers can provide as well as backups.
But, the increase in demand has also led to an increase in price.
“Everyone is like ‘oh, it’s so great,’ and I mean it’s great, it’s awesome. RV’s are amazing, I’ve been saying it forever… but at the end of the day, it’s really sad because the ones that I do have coming in, the price increases are massive,” he said.
Mr. Brewer added that in an auction, he saw a one-year old used trailer go for $3,000 more than listed for.
“This is the first time I can ever remember that our value guide that we use, that the values have gone up substantially,” Mr. Brewer said.
“Someone who owns an RV, it’s probably worth more now, which is crazy, and feels like it goes against the laws of business.”
He added that he has even bought some used RVs from previous owners with negotiation just because he wants to have the inventory.
He expects to run out of inventory within the next two months and not expect a new shipment until 2021. He currently has 200 units on backlog.
Still, while it is a bit scary, Mr. Brewer is up to the task and he is hopeful he can get the RVs into people’s hands as soon as possible.
“What better way to see our country than an RV? A lot of people are buying them because it’s their own space and it’s clean and it is a little scary now, I can’t lie. You’re trying not to sell yourself out of business, and it’s crazy to think about but, we will figure it out,” Mr. Brewer said.