Representing a landmark gathering for FMCA, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based family RV travel club welcomed members to the organization’s 100th International Convention & RV Expo, held Aug. 14-17 at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot.
CEO Chris Smith reported that the family registration count for the event totaled 1,700, the highest number for the summer convention since 2013. “We’re pretty happy with it,” Smith said, noting that the event was last held in Minot 15 years ago. “We’re hoping to see that upward trend continue.
“It was nice to return to Minot,” he added. “The thing that’s great about the venue is that everything is compact. In Perry (Ga.) and Gillette (Wyo.), we’re more spread out. The coach exhibits were around the main building where all the seminars are held, so it’s very convenient for attendees. Nobody wants to wait for shuttles to take them around the show.”
Significantly, FMCA’s attendance this year included a healthy turnout by towable owners, a strategic move that FMCA instituted in December of 2017.
“We now have over 5,000 towable members,” Smith told RVBUSINESS.com, noting that overall the organization now stands at 81,000 family memberships and 150,000 individual members. “It was a very significant decision for our organization that has helped us grow.
“Statistics showed how important it was as towables represent the lion’s share of RVs on the road. As a result, we’re still gaining members each month. It’s really about the people not the equipment, and it has been a very smooth transition.”
The convention “highlight,” according Smith, was the keynote delivered Thursday night by Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger. Captain Sullenberger gained worldwide acclaim on Jan. 15, 2009, when he and his crew safely guided US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency water landing in New York’s frigid Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 people onboard.
“I have never seen as many people attend our evening entertainment,” Smith said. “The arena at the fairgrounds holds around 4,000 people, and nearly every seat was filled. On the lower level we set up folding chairs and then the entire upper level was packed. I think every person on the grounds was there.”
While offering countless networking opportunities along with nightly entertainment, the primary focus of the convention has always been on education. “I think the educational format that we provide is the primary reason people come. The entertainment is just icing on the cake,” Smith said, relating that over 200 seminars were scheduled over 3 1/2 days.
FMCA also restaged its “RV Basics” program overseen by Gary Bunzer, which ran prior to the opening of the convention, providing members – particularly first-timers – high-level, intensive training. In addition, FMCA conducted a separate RV driving school for hands-on-training.
“It’s virtually impossible for a first-timer go to all the seminars at the convention,” Smith noted, “so we now offer two to three days of training prior to the actual event. This year, we had over 150 people sign up, so we basically sold it out. It’s extremely popular and the feedback has been tremendous.”
He added, “One of the more popular classes is our driving school, which began last year. Classroom learning is great, but attendees also want a hands-on experience.”
As in past years, the convention included a charitable component. “This year we hosted ‘The Minot Mile,’ which raised money the North Dakota State Fair Foundation. Members donated money and then FMCA matched those funds.”
Next March, FMCA will be hosting its convention at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Tucson, Ariz., according to Smith. “We expect our largest crowd in some time,” he said, adding that plans for future convention venues were still in negotiation.