Campground Association Reports Rise in RV Campers, Interest

A picture of a general camper sitting on top an RV

The latest research from Kampgrounds of America (KOA) unveiled findings that show first-time campers across the U.S. grew by 2.6 million compared with 2019.

COVID-19 proved a “key driver” beyond the camping influx, KOA stated in conjunction with its annual North American Camping Report. In 2020, the report found 10.1 million campers ventured outside for the first time – one-third of which attributed trying camping because of a belief in its safe and socially-distanced travel method.

“More than 80% of campers changed their camping habits last year – including working and schooling from the campground – turning to RVs for travel safety and security, and adding more weekdays to their trips,” KOA President and CEO Toby O’Rourke said. “Which, coupled with the influx of first-time campers, solidifies that many Americans turned to camping and the outdoors to make it through a challenging year.”

Camping had been growing steadily in popularity before the pandemic, KOA stated, but experienced “aggressive growth” across the U.S. last year.

The 2021 North American Camping Report, which surveyed U.S. and Canadian campers’ sentiment on outdoor recreation this January, showed more than 86 million U.S. households consider themselves “campers,” and 48 million of those households took at least one camping trip last year – up more than 6 million from 2019.

In addition to the influx, KOA’s report showed campers are “more diverse than ever.” The activity among non-white and same-sex communities meets or exceeds national representation, KOA stated. Within a group of 10 first-time campers, six reported representing diverse ethnic groups. Regarding same-sex families, 61% responded that they camp with children – a 12% increase from 2019.

“One of the most encouraging trends of this year’s data is the continued growth of diverse communities engaging in camping for the first time and becoming even more engaged, like black campers having the highest intent of all camper sub-groups to purchase an RV this year,” O’Rourke said.

Additional key findings of the 2021 North American Camping Report include:

  • More than 80% of campers changed their camping habits in 2020, with one of the most “encouraging” changes being an increase in the number of weekday trips.
  • Forty-one percent of all campers, and 51% of new campers, say they sometimes or always work while camping. Millennial campers are the most likely to work while camping (54%), up 11 percentage points since 2019.
  • Families are the most likely to say that being able to work or school remotely allowed them to camp more often.
  • Up slightly from 2019, more than half of all campers say that access to cell or Wi-Fi service impacts the amount they are able to camp. On average across all campers, access to technology generates six additional camper nights, a rate that has doubled since 2018.

The Impact of COVID-19 on RVing:

  • In 2020, the number of U.S. households who camp in an RV is 13 million, which reflects a 1.6 million increase of households from 2019. The number of households who own an RV is 9.6 million, which reflects an increase of 2.6 million households from 2019.
  • From a generational perspective, RV ownership increased the most among GenXers and millennials; ownership growth also can be seen in families.
  • Among all RV owners, about one-fourth said they plan to upgrade their RV in the coming year; half of new RV owners plan to upgrade in 2021, showcasing that these new RV owners are continuing to find their groove as they gain more experience.
  • Up substantially from 2019, about one-third of non-RV owners indicated they would like to purchase an RV in the coming year.
  • Nearly half of first-time campers who do not currently use an RV to camp say they plan to purchase an RV in the next 12 months.

The 2021 Camping Outlook:

  • As the world continues to deal with COVID-19 into 2021, campers intend to continue camping. Campers intend to increase their trips in the coming year.
  • Across all campers, families (couples with children) are the group most likely to continue camping in 2021 as they noted plans to spend more nights camping (70%) and taking more camping trips (64%).
  • Sixty-two percent of first-time campers plan to camp the same or more camping nights in the coming year.
  • Almost half of campers say that the COVID vaccine will allow them to camp more often in 2021. The vaccine is most likely to increase camping among millennial and GenX campers.
  • There is high interest among all campers to try a new experience in 2021, as half want to try RVing or glamping.

Attributes of 2020’s First-Time Campers:

  • Twenty-one percent of those who camped in 2020 – 10.1 million households – classified themselves as taking a first camping trip in 2020, compared with 4% in 2019.
  • These first-time campers are under the age of 40, parents and ethnically diverse. More than half stayed at campgrounds with at least some amenities and services, but also purchased some type of camping for their first trip. Nearly half tried “glamping,” and 28% identified as RV campers.
  • First-time campers said having access to technology allowed them to camp an additional nine days in 2020.
  • Nearly three-fourths of first-time campers who indicated they had a “great” first camping experience are likely to camp again in 2021.
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