The Louisville, Ky., metro area population will swell by about 12,000 in June when 5,000 or more recreational vehicles drop anchor at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center (KFEC) for the first time.
Organizers of the 2003 Great North American RV Rally expect at least that many campers, trailers and land yachts to show up for the June 16-19 event, which includes educational seminars, entertainment and a trade show for RV manufacturers and equipment suppliers, according to The Courier-Journal of Louisville.
There are campsites sketched out for every patch of open ground around the KFEC and the parking lot of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. And most of the nearly 1 million square feet of exhibit space, including Broadbent Arena and Freedom Hall, has been reserved.
“They’ve booked pretty much the entire facility,” said fairgrounds spokesman Stacy Arnett. “It’s kind of like when we have the Street Rod Nationals” showcase of hot-rod cars.
The rally producer is Affinity Group Inc. (AGI), Ventura, Calif., publisher of RV Business, RVBUSINESS.COM and other RV-related magazines.
“There are only a handful of facilities in the United States that can handle a rally of our size,” said Ron Epstein, media director for the rally.
What began as a scattering of small-scale shows to bring advertisers together with readers has turned into a movable feast for AGI, the Courier-Journal reported.
“It’s a lot of work, but we make some money off of it,” Epstein said.
This is the fourth year for the expanded rally. After averaging 5,500 vehicles the first two years at sites in Wyoming and Georgia, it drew just 3,000 last year in Pomona, Calif.
“One thing we found in our studies, 70% of our guests will drive 1,000 miles or less to get there,” Epstein said. “We alienated a little too much of the country that year. We wanted to go back to somewhere a little more central, and Louisville’s a great fit.”
Louisville area tourism officials are estimating a $12 million boost for the economy, including 10,000 hotel room nights from rally staff and personnel staffing the 600 exhibits lined up for the trade show.
Most of the RVers don’t rent rooms, of course, but they do go out for groceries, a restaurant dinner or a movie. Some tow cars behind their vehicles for local side trips and others take cabs.
“They don’t spend a lot of time in their RVs,” Epstein said.
The rally offers daily seminars on 16 subjects from chassis maintenance to towing for women. A dozen tours will take campers to attractions as far removed as the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Shakertown and Mammoth Cave.
There’s a bowling tournament, contests and nightly entertainment with the Oak Ridge Boys, Lee Greenwood, The Coasters and The Marvelettes.
All that’s for campers only. Visitors can buy daily passes for $5 that will admit them to the trade show, which will include about 1,000 new RVs to gawk at.
Neither war, nor the economy, nor the high price of gas will deter campers from coming to the rally, Epstein said. The mathematics of RV ownership is on his side.
“There are a couple million RVs on the road today and roughly 5,000 will come to our rally,” he said. “There is no one rally that can or wants to attract every RV in the country.”