An effort by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) to invoke an Internet-based, grassroots lobbying system is succeeding, despite the inability to recruit full participation by the Good Sam Club, the country’s largest consumer RV club.
That is the assessment of RVIA President David Humphreys, who says the association continues to develop the Recreation Vehicle Alliance for Camping and Travel (RVAct), a consumer strike force of sorts that would give the RV sector a speedy response when faced with bad publicity or negative legislation or regulations. “We did this knowing that some clubs are much more advanced in their ability to deal with regulatory matters than others might be,” Humphreys said. “We are not surprised that our help would be less valuable to the Sam Club. On the other hand, we want to make the help available to all clubs. So far, we are very pleased with the results.”
RVAct is a result of RVIA’s Strategic Plan adopted in 2001 that called for RVIA to “partner with other industry segments to create a political force for common ends.”
That goal resulted in the organization of the grass roots lobbying effort and an RVAct website (www.rvact.com) which went on line in January for posting consumer “action alerts.”
Alliance members are urged to call the alerts to the attention of their members. On the website, RVAct has options that allow RVers to send messages to state and federal legislators and government agencies.
Consumers may use a pre-written message or devise their own text. Based on information provided by the consumer but not saved by RVAct, the message is directed to the most appropriate recipients.
While RVAct counts 21 consumer clubs as alliance members – Good Sam, Escapees RV Club and Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) among them – clubs participate at their discretion. Although the alliance claims more than 1 million consumer members, some 950,000 of them are Good Sam members, which has yet to fully embrace RVAct.
Good Sam Executive Director Sue Bray said the club – a subsidiary of Affinity Group Inc., which also publishes (Italic)RV Business – said the club is likely to support issues that directly affect its members rather than something like Corporate Average Fuel Standards (CAFE) or a recent RVAct “alert” on the need for full funding for federal park roads and facilities.
“If we have an issue we are going to support, we don’t want to be directing out members to other organizations’ websites,” Bray said. “That is just a strategic business objective.
“But also, while we appreciate the background information that RVIA gives us, we want to develop our own approach on how to deal with issues. That doesn’t necessarily mean the we disagree with RVIA, we just want to do it our own way.
“We have a limited number of opportunities to communicate with our members. We don’t want to use them up on meaningless issues.”
Although the matter pre-dating establishment of the website, RVAct takes partial credit for defeating a Washington state tax on RVers designed to reduce a state park budget shortfall. “The idea was that it wasn’t fair to ask RVers to be the only ones to share that shortfall since they weren’t the only ones using the state parks,” said Matt Wald, RVIA director of government affairs.
Recent alerts called consumer attention to the failure of Congress to approve a federal highways bill and efforts to allow tolls on interstate highways. RVAct also expects to get behind an effort to allow RV-friendly information signs on Interstate highways, a program that is being tested in Louisiana.
Wald, however, said RVAct has no intention of stepping on the prerogative of the clubs. “RVAct does not exist to reach RV owners directly,” Wald said. “We really are just a tool that allows RV owners and people in the industry to identify an issue, specifically who the consumer’s legislator is and create a contact with that legislator.”
RVAct’s direct contact with the consumer, Wald said, is limited to an optional “action e-list” that updates consumers when something occurs on issues they previously had inquired about. “We don’t track the people who write the e-mails or any of their personal information,” Wald said. Don Eversmann, FMCA executive director, said a legislative advisory committee recommends issues for the association to become involved with, and RVAct requests for action are forwarded to the committee.
“We strictly look to activate our members for those things related to motorhomes,” Eversmann said. “We’ve had participated with RVIA when they previously had their `alerts’ so we already were on board when they switched to RVAct.”
Cathy Carr, CEO of Escapees, a 35,000-member organization with headquarters in Livingston, Texas, said that while RVAct has worked to pull the individual clubs together she too is cautious about which messages are forwarded to Escapee members and the weight they are given.
“We don’t bombard our members with federal level issues,” Carr said. “We are more concerned about issues that directly affect our members. We are selective with what we send, although we think RVAct is a very helpful link on our website.
Carr also said that her club is not likely to promote “gray issues” such as Fee Demo or CAFE until she determines a consensus among Escapees members. “When I am trying to speak for members, I want to know what they think before I jump in and said, `This is how I feel’,” Carr said.
Among the organization participating as alliance members:
American Recreation Coalition, Carriage Travel Club, Coachmen Caravan RV Club, Country Coach Country Club, Escapees Family Campers and RVers Family Motorcoach Association, Foretravel Motorcade Club, Georgie Boy Owners’ Club, Good Sam Club, HitchHikers of American International, Holiday Rambler RV Club, Jayco Jafari International Travel Club, National African-American RV Association, Newmar Kountry Klub, Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, Recreational Vehicle Manufacturer’s Clubs Association, Starcraft Camper Club, Sunnybrook RV’s SunnyTravelers Club, Travel Supreme Owner’s Association, Winnebago/Itasca Travelers.