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Hit the road: RV season revs up

Families are trying the Will Smith way as cottage and travel costs climb

Published January 10, 2014

Summer-vacation season may still be months away, but interest in hitting the road is already starting to pick up.

The first in a series of RV shows across Canada begins next weekend in the GTA, catering to the growing number of families choosing to take highway holidays in the great outdoors.

There’s a lot to see and do when rolling through Canada’s Maritimes, woodland, prairies and mountains, and an increasing number of people are making those trips in motorhomes, travel trailers or other recreational vehicles.

“We’re definitely seeing a growth in both sides of the market (sales and rentals),” says Chris Mahony, director of the Go RVing Canada website, which promotes the RV industry and lifestyle. The site says there are more than 1 million RVs on the road in Canada. (Story continues after the video, below.)

VIDEO: You won’t believe Will Smith’s 2-storey RV

A Harris/Decima study commissioned by the Recreational Vehicle Dealers Association of Canada found that the overall economic impact of manufacturing, purchasing, servicing and using recreation vehicles was $14.5 billion in 2011.

It reported that the more than 400 RV dealers in Canada had sales totaling nearly $3.1 billion. And it appears sales revenues are on the rise again.

“Cottages have become priced out of reach for a lot of people (and) travelling has become more of a pain,” says Mahony. “So we’re finding more and more couples in their 40s with a couple of kids and an interest in the outdoors are getting into RVing.”

GoRVing.ca has information on planning, purchasing and renting RVs, locations of RV parks and campgrounds across Canada, a schedule of upcoming shows and a variety of tips ranging from the culinary to regulatory.

It also offers a detailed list of the 10 types of RVs to help you choose one that’s right for your needs.

“We did a consumer survey and we’re seeing that the demographic of the market is getting younger and younger,” says Mahony. “A lot of people who have enjoyed camping are getting into RVing.”

“It’s incredible to see the market growing from the bottom up. You can get an RV starting at $6,500 for a small popup trailer. Some people start there and upgrade as time goes on.”

“The RV provides mobility and privacy, and it’s one of the reasons we’re seeing a growth in that sector,” he adds. “Even outside the affordability, there is the flexibility of when and where to go as a family.”

The growing market was evident at last fall’s Toronto RV show, which was held at the Congress Centre. It moves this year to a larger venue at The International Centre by Pearson airport.

More than 7,000 people attended the show last fall, a 30 per cent increase from the year before. Next weekend’s show, the biggest of the year, is expected to draw more than the 17,000 who came in 2013.

“Sales at the fall RV show were up 28 per cent,” says Larry Boyd, executive vice-president of the Ontario RV Dealers Association. “It means that people are back in the buying mood and the industry is getting stronger.”

“Our show next week (Jan. 17-19) is the biggest one of the year, and I think we’ll be seeing some significant changes from last year. Even during the toughest (economic) times our shows haven’t been down by much.”

The Ontario dealers Association puts on 10 RV shows around the province each year.

Boyd says Canadian RV manufacturers are seeing growth in both the domestic and U.S. markets.

Although there are more than 33 manufacturers south of the border (19 in the state of Indiana alone) and only eight in Canada, most Canadian-built RVs are exported to the U.S., especially Class B camper vans.

“The Class B motorhome was pioneered in Canada and it has become very popular,” says Boyd. “It all started with a company called Roadtrek in Kitchener. The owner of that company saw the need for a smaller motorized product that was easy enough to drive and good on gas.”

Roadtrek is one of three companies making RVs in Ontario. There are three more in Manitoba, and one each in Saskatchewan and B.C.

There are also dozens of small-scale custom shops across the country converting buses and trucks into RVs.

Although the Class B is growing in popularity, the king of the RV road in North America is still the Travel Trailer class.

“And the Fifth-wheel RV is the fastest-growing market because a lot of people are buying trucks instead of cars these days,” says Boyd.

The association says people between 45 and 64 are the biggest buyers of RVs.

And both Boyd and Mahony say new Canadians are a growing demographic in Canada’s booming RV market.

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