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More turning to RVs, motor homes to escape COVID-19 — and get away from it all

As someone whose job involves representing the recreational vehicle industry, Monika Geraci decided there was no better time to practice what she preaches.

With the reopenings after the coronavirus pandemic, Geraci decided now is the time to try a motorhome vacation. 

So she packed up the family and headed to a beach campground in Cape Charles, Virginia. Geraci said she now understands firsthand why the industry is rebounding amid the coronavirus doldrums while other segments of the travel industry have been hit hard.

"It does allow you to get out but maintain that social distance," said Geraci, a senior manager for the RV Industry Association trade group by phone. "We’re hearing from dealers across the country: their foot traffic (and) their sales are up."

Only a few states still have restrictions on camping because of the pandemic, and they are expected to be lifted soon, said David Basler, vice president of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. As such, he has high hopes.

Some 20% of Americans surveyed said they are more interested in RVs as a recreation travel option in the aftermath of COVID-19, an Ipsos poll conducted for the RV Industry Association found.

"This is going to be the summer of the RV," Basler predicts. "People have been sheltering in place … and they want to get outside in a safe and responsible way."

The industry is betting on a comeback thanks to Americans who are dealing with cabin fever yet want vacation options that allow for social distancing and aren't far from home. Those who own or rent an RV – be it a motorhome or trailer – can stock it with their own bedding and personal items to give them the feeling that it's a safer option than flying or staying in hotels.

Bob Martin, CEO of Thor Industries, which bills itself as the world's largest RV maker with brands like Airstream and Jayco, said in a statement to investors Monday that it restarted production last month and that the sales outlook is "increasingly positive" as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

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Perhaps best of all, many prospective buyers are new to RVs, industry officials say. Sales were slow amid stay at home orders, then "it went from zero to 60," said Phil Ingrassia, president of the RV Dealers Association.

Some 20% of Americans surveyed said they are more interested in RVs as a recreation travel option in the aftermath of COVID-19, an Ipsos poll conducted for the RV Industry Association found. About half of those that plan to take any RV trip this year said health concerns increased their interest.

RVs "allow you to get out but maintain that social distance," said Monika Geraci, a senior manager for the RV Industry Association trade group

Kampgrounds of America, in an annual survey, found higher interest in trips among those who have camped in the past or are willing to give it a try when it checked in late April when much of the country was under stay-at-home orders in late April, compared to before the pandemic.

"Our business is rebounding significantly," reported Toby O'Rourke, CEO of Kampgrounds of America, known for its hundreds of private campgrounds in the U.S. and Canada. She said the interest extends both to RVers and those pitching tents. "Regardless of how you're camping, there's ample social distancing."

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She said campgrounds are taking extra precautions, depending on the state. Check-in transactions are often contact-free. Facilities are getting cleaned more frequently. The size of groups may be limited and some amenities, like playgrounds or swimming pools, may be temporarily off limits.

No problem, said Geraci, who said the family was either spending time outdoors at the beach on her RV vacation or letting the kids occupy themselves. 

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"My daughter met a little friend and they are able to ride their bikes around the campground – and they are socially distanced," she said. 

The campground this week wasn't full, but she said the chances of coming within 6 feet of other campers are pretty remote. Adding to the safety, the rented RV came with a sanitized kit of personal items like washcloths and kitchen and bath towels.

"One of the big trends we're seeing is [people] are comfortable when they are only two or three hours from home," says campground operator Josh Bell.

As vacations go, it was pretty easy – reachable in about a half-day's drive from home outside Washington, D.C.

That's pretty typical right now, said one Kampgrounds of America franchisee. Families want to stay close to home.

"One of the big trends we're seeing is they are comfortable when they are only two or three hours from home," said Josh Bell, whose family runs seven KOA campgrounds in California, Arizona and Missouri.

RVing or camping, he said, "is a great alternative for folks, especially when they are nervous about hopping on an airplane."