Selling more recreational vehicles to the federal government for Hurricane Katrina evacuees could be a double-edged sword for the recreational vehicle industry.
On the positive side, increasing demand means more work available and more products sold. On the negative, it requires RV businesses to deal with the federal government.
That seemed to be the consensus among participants in a panel discussion Tuesday (Sept. 20) at the Indiana/Michigan Classic. The three-day meeting began Monday at the Century Center in downtown South Bend and was the first joint conference between the Indiana Manufactured Housing-Recreation Vehicle Indiana Council (IMHA/RVIC) and the Michigan Manufactured Housing, RV and Campground Association (MMH/RVCA).
“Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” said David J. Humphreys, outgoing president of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), about the hurricane relief effort’s effect on the RV industry.
As representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) snatch units from dealers, RV manufacturers have increased production of travel trailers to meet the demand.
Conference organizers invited FEMA officials to participate in the discussion, but they declined, citing busy schedules and other engagements, according to Bill Garpow, executive director of the Recreational Park Trailer Industry Association (RPTIA).
As the industry learned from dealing with the federal government in the past, Humphreys cautioned those businesses that received requests from FEMA.
“FEMA doesn’t have a plan,” he said.
Industry officials wonder whether FEMA’s actions could be harmful to an industry concerned about its image.
The fear is that helping provide temporary housing for victims of the hurricane may show the industry in a negative light as a producer of “trailer parks” or “trailer ghettos.”
Some worry that if homes are placed in neighborhoods where no jobs are available, residents may resort to crime, which could hurt the industry’s image in the long run.
“I hope they don’t hurt our image,” Humphreys said of FEMA.
Increased demand for the industry’s products could mean that dealers may not have adequate inventory for the next show season, according to Jeff Kurowski, a field representative for the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA).
All industries represented at the panel discussion reported growth for the past year. They also expect the growth to continue in 2005.
“I’m happy to say we had a very good year as an industry and as an association,” Humphreys said.
Humphreys noted that 2004 was the best year for the industry in 26 years and 2005 may be the second best.
“We saw a tremendous amount of growth,” Garpow said. In the last year, the park model industry experienced 30% growth. During the first six months of 2005, the industry has grown by 11%.
Garpow said that according to the demographic research – and contrary to stereotypes – the majority of the customers are “indeed very educated and very married,” he said. An average buyer has been married for 32 years.
Linda Profaizer, president and CEO of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), said the parks and recreation industry saw a 6% increase in occupancy last year.
“We really had a good year,” she said.
One of the major concerns is losing parks. On the Florida coastal area, she said, most parks are being sold for other uses.
While more people camp closer to home, they still camp despite the rising gasoline prices, Profaizer said. Consumers don’t want to give up their camping trips all together, she said.
Profaizer expects the next year will produce more investment into parks in forms of water activities and other add-on services that would provide a better experience for today’s demanding campers.