An enthusiastic audience and energetic, information-packed presentations helped make the Dec. 2 “Outlook 2009: We’ve Got Heart!” a showcase for the RV industry’s resilience and “heart” in the face of difficult economic times, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).
Hosted by RVIA Chairman Jim Sheldon, the kickoff event to the 46th National RV Trade Show featured a detailed assessment of the industry’s future by RVIA President Richard Coon, a timely assessment of the new political environment by Washington Times columnist Tara Wall, insights on how to break into the Hispanic market from diversity experts Gary and Valerie Berman, and an entertaining talk by National Geographic Channel Personality, Brady Barr.
In a presentation titled “Straight From the Heart,” RVIA President Richard Coon acknowledged the difficulties the industry currently faces while encouraging the crowd to remain optimistic. Coon stressed that the RV industry has survived tough times before, and historically, the industry recovers from such down times by coming back stronger than ever.
Coon urged the industry to prepare now for the market’s eventual recovery, saying, “RV manufacturers need to press forward with their plans for the RV market of tomorrow by designing exciting and innovative products, adding more lightweight vehicles to their product lines and offering more green vehicles.”
Go RVing Coalition Co-Chairmen Don Walter and Tom Stinnett then took the stage with RVIA Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Gary LaBella for a presentation titled “Heartening Words from Go RVing,” which emphasized the national advertising campaign’s continued success in communicating its messages to consumers, even in stormy economic times.
The industry coalition announced the addition of new value messages and unveiled print ads that have been retooled to put the spotlight on the affordability of RV travel. Go RVing Coalition Co-Chair Tom Stinnett said, “A new slogan – ‘Go Affordably. Go RVing,’ will set the tone for our 2009 print and Internet ad campaign. Because no matter how people today may be yearning for the intangibles that make RVing so special, what’s really going to convince them to buy now is knowing they’ll be saving money as a result.”
Barr, The National Geographic Society’s resident reptile expert for more than a decade, entertained the crowd with fascinating stories of his travels to the world’s most exotic places in search of rare species of crocodiles. Barr appeared at the event to assist in introducing Go RVing’s sponsorship in 2009 of his popular show, “Dangerous Encounters With Brady Barr.” Go RVing will have strong representation on the National Geographic Channel next year, including sponsorships of National Geographic’s Memorial Day TV Marathon and a new summer special, “Wild Spaces.”
In “A Heart-to-Heart Talk with RVIA Public Relations,” RVIA Public Relations Committee Chairman B.J. Thompson joined LaBella to offer perspectives on what has undeniably been a difficult year for the industry. They noted that new studies commissioned by RVIA this year found RV vacations to be both more affordable and “greener” than many other types of travel – which helped maintain the industry’s positive image. LaBella said, “Our research helped us make an extremely important point to the media – that RV sales are down because of external forces beyond the industry’s control, not because RVs are becoming unpopular.”
LaBella and Thompson reviewed several issues that could have – but didn’t – critically injure the RV industry. The media-hyped “staycation” trend never caught on, and high gas prices didn’t stop RVers from traveling – they simply adjusted by staying closer to home. Overall, despite negative outside forces, the efforts of RVIA’s PR team ensured that RVing’s reputation has remained unblemished among consumers, a fact which positions the industry to return to growth when the economy improves.
Diversity experts and experienced market researchers Gary and Valerie Berman offered the crowd real-world strategies to assist the industry in embracing the nation’s growing number of Hispanic consumers. The Bermans discussed what their research has taught them about Hispanics’ leisure preferences and outlined the best ways to market to the growing, upwardly-mobile, family-centric demographic.
Washington Times Deputy Editorial Page Editor Tara Wall spoke to the crowd about the new political landscape under the Obama Administration and how the nation will start to recover economically. “I truly believe we will recover and become prosperous again,” she said. “We are a country of ebbs and flows, ups and downs. Half the battle now is restoring confidence.”
At the start of the high-energy show, Sheldon was officially presented with a “Mr. Chairman 2009” sash by Miss Kentucky 2008, Emily Cox, as part of a Kentucky Welcome featuring the University of Louisville’s Spirit Band, Col. Sanders, and Churchill Charlie, the official mascot of Churchill Downs. Attendees were also treated to a performance by R&B icons, The Drifters, members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.