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Entering the meeting room for the World Conference on RVs was like entering the United Nations, but the language diversity was offset by the use of wireless translators. This event really felt like a World event!
RVBusiness magazine will publish a complete story on the conference, but until that copy is wrapped, here’s a preview:
Richard Coon, RVIA’s president, led things off with a description of how America’s trade association works. Attendees were enthralled about the scope of the industry in the U.S. Even with the downturn, no country comes even close to the number of rigs that are sold in the U.S. — and the number of households owning RVs. The group was treated to a sampling of the Go RVing Coalition’s campaign videos; clearly everyone was impressed.
When Coon said, “No doubt in my mind this industry is moving toward a world business,” the mood was set for the day.
Canada’s Kevin Betzold, president of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada, followed Coon and presented the audience with a lot of specs and numbers. U.S. manufacturers have a great impact on Canadian sales, which are still strong on the towable side of the equation, even with the softening U.S. economy next door.
About 14% of the Canadian population owns RVs, according to Betzold, and 80% are towable. Betzold captured everyone’s attention when he claimed that Canadians travel 62 million kilometers a year in their RVs. That’s certainly good for economy.
China’s RV industry is just getting started, and most likely will move fairly fast, as described by Wang Jidong, CEO of 21st Century RV. His company is the first pro media organization in China. With only a few thousand RVs roaming a very undeveloped campground system, China is very enthusiastic about developing standards and an RV infrastructure. As Richard Coon joked earlier, “Don’t rediscover America, just copy it.” China will probably take that comment to heart.
South Africa, in turn, has an interesting RV community. Dennis Bouwers, managing director of Motorhome-World (the country’s leading motorcoach builder), made it clear that RVs are, realistically, available only to the affluent. Even though there’s a 61-to-1 ratio of caravans to motorcaravans, Bouwers is very enthusiastic about building motorized products and helping the country expand its RV infrastructure. Rigs designed for South Africa have to meet entirely different standards if they are to survive in the rugged outdoors. For instance, plastic windows don’t last long in the bush.
South Africa, we’re told, has few vehicle standards, but lots of wildlife scattered around the county’s 900 campgrounds. Nevertheless, Bouwers is optimistic that RV sales will improve in the future — or at least when the country sees some relief from a 16% prime rate.
Australia had a big contingent in Dusseldorf. They were clearly — and audibly — rooting (even without the influence of beer) for their own Ben Yates, CEO of the Caravan, RV and Accommodation Industry of Australia, who spoke on their behalf at the conference. Yates says Australia is an exciting place to RV, and attracts lots of tourists. But its RV industry has also slowed down. Yates said that the people are buying homes, pulling money out of equity loans, and watching the rates go up.
Sound familiar?
Australia has a great campground system, with a big sector under the Caravan Holiday Park system (230,000 sites), and a fantastic outback to explore – often by RV. As Yates says, “Caravanning used to be for those who couldn’t afford something else; today it’s the preferred way to travel.”
Japan has 43 domestic RV manufacturers and 40 RV dealers. It also has 870 Roadside Stations designed for the traveler on the go. These are more than just places to pull over for the night, but locations at which visitors can also swim and stock up on supplies. Keike Inomata, director, Overseas Information of the Japanese Recreational Vehicle Association, entertained us with Japanese ingenuity: pocket-size RVs. These tiny rigs, called minis in Japan, are small enough to take anywhere. My view of them? Might work for Barbie and Ken, but I guarantee you my feet will hang out the rear doors. Each rig is supplied with a leaflet, “RVers 10 Clauses of Manners.” Way to go, Japan.
As for the domestic German marketplace, Hans-Karl Sternberg, director general, German Caravanning Industry Association, presented an overview of the bustling European RV market, and wasted no time taking a few digs at England — all in fun, of course. It seems the English have discovered scientific data that the human brain is able to deal with driving on the left better than the right. Most of Europe doesn’t buy into that.
The Germans and English are the biggest players in the European RV field, but don’t discount the Italians and French. Competition among designers is fierce, with the customers being the ultimate beneficiary, and that fact was not lost on the U.S. contingent.
Europe’s RV industry is carefully regulated, and all the players are working on unifying the standards. By the way, Sweden wins the rigs-per-capita contest: 299 RVs for every 10,000 residents. But in 2007 the UK registered the most caravans and France the most motorcaravans.
By the end of the day, most attendees were getting thirsty (remember the beer thing), but their thirst for knowledge of the world’s RV industry was certainly quenched.
One more note: Dusseldorf is a beautiful and thriving city. While everything we (over) ate was fantastic, the most memorable night was gathering with new friends from Italy and England and experiencing Brauerei Schumacher, one of the traditional — and very popular — beer joints in town. The Germans really know how to party!