Image: Ford Motor Company

The number of people who experienced the great outdoors through camping grew exponentially in 2020. Over the previous year, Kampgrounds of America (KOA) says five times the number of North Americans tried camping for the first time last year. Due to COVID restrictions and travel bans as the summer season approaches, it appears that the nation is destined to fill campgrounds to capacity once again.

KOA CEO and president Toby O’Rourke said, “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 – 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. 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.”

It appears that camping is attractive to all types of families and people groups, and the vast country’s opportunities to explore are calling to American-born and foreign-born residents alike. 64% of families completely new to camping in 2020 say they plan to continue with the pastime while 63% of families with children expressed a plan to camp more in the coming season. KOA’s North American Camping Report 2021 shows that camping growth is all but guaranteed this summer.

Why it matters

The KOA report indicates household income levels that participate as campers by year. Massive growth has occurred in households with income greater than $100,000 per year, accounting for 41% of first-time camping families.

However, the most explosive style of camping hasn’t been RVs or cabin rentals, but rather the traditional tenting style. Even among the wealthier segments, popping a tent up on a patch of bare ground has been the preferred choice. That’s likely to change as campers make upgrades based on last year’s experiences. As an example, 24% of those with a travel trailer expect to upgrade in the coming year.

High-quality camping gear is a difference-maker as participants become entrenched in camping, and annual upgrades are the norm for many. That can be camping gear like tents and cooking implements or a shift from tent to travel trailer, or their vehicle.

How dealers can prepare

It’s simple to just recommend carrying inventory on the lot that caters to an outdoor lifestyle such as four-door pickup trucks and spacious SUVs. However, that’s just one component to earning business as people plan to leave the city for a weekend under the stars. There’s more a dealership can do.

Service their current vehicles

In reality, most customers aren’t replacing a vehicle on the sole basis of going camping – although a few will. Rather, dealers can use camping as a way of emphasizing the importance of regular maintenance. Whether for local treks or cross-country camping trips, well-maintained vehicles with good tires will keep your customers safe, and you can use it as service sales opportunities.

Offer trailer towing clinics

Most people have watched painfully as someone tries to back up a trailer. While some truck models come with tech to make reversing a trailer easy, it’s a skill that campers should have and want to be more comfortable with. Offer a clinic in late spring and early summer to help drivers learn the skills to tow a trailer, especially reversing it.

Showcase a vehicle with camping gear

And to help visualize the experience in the showroom, partner with a local retailer to showcase camping gear with an appropriate model. You can turn it into a giveaway or as an accessories package sold along with a vehicle, but the visual aspect will provide a unique way of helping potential buyers view ownership.

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