With some 9 million recreational vehicle owners in the U.S. and tens of thousands of RV renters hitting the road each year, vacations on wheels constitute a massive travel marketplace that remains relatively untapped by domestic travel agents. Paradoxically, agents in other countries are selling RV travel in the U.S. en masse.
“Fifty percent of our overall retail rental business comes from travel agents,” said Joe Laing, director of marketing for El Monte RV, one of the largest RV rental companies in the U.S. “But almost all of that comes from travel agents in other countries.”
Travel Weekly reported that with a fleet of between 1,500 and 2,000 rental RVs, El Monte RV handles tens of thousands of passengers each year. Its largest competitor, Cruise America, operates a fleet of more than 4,000 RVs. But despite the plethora of product and the fact that these companies have travel agent programs and offer commissions, and despite the fact that travel agents abroad are selling RV vacations like hotcakes, U.S. travel agents have not honed in on a market that lives, and arguably thrives, right in their backyard.
“There’s no reason in the world why domestic travel agents couldn’t or shouldn’t be booking [RV travel],” Laing said. “We actually have international travel agents who are giving us hundreds of thousands of dollars from domestic clients. It’s already happening. It’s always driven me crazy, why domestic travel agents haven’t done it.”
Laing admits that one big reason international agents are profiting from sending their clients on RV trips in the U.S. is that travelers from countries such as Germany, Japan, China, Korea and India will want to drive around the U.S. for several weeks at a time. Conversely, domestic travelers will only spend about a week taking an RV road trip, making it a smaller-ticket item for agents here. He recommends promoting RV rental as a fly-and-drive vacation and combining it with other possible add-ons to enhance the RV vacation package and sale.
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