Much like vacation rentals, interest in recreational vehicle accommodations soared amid the pandemic as travelers sought out safe modes of travel.
Investor attention followed, with a number of RV rental platforms and peer-to-peer marketplaces attracting financing and undergoing efforts to professionalize their services to meet evolving consumer expectations.
Now almost three years into the pandemic, RV travel is showing little indication of slowing down: RV rental marketplace Outdoorsy, for example, just reached a milestone $2 billion in total transactions following a record year in 2021.
Other platforms are seeing sustained growth, as well: RV membership platform Harvest Hosts says membership signups and interest in RVing remain at all-time highs, while peer-to-peer marketplace RVshare says bookings are exponentially higher than pre-pandemic levels.
As Outdoorsy co-founder and CEO Jeff Cavins puts it: “Once the consumer knows they can have more, there’s no going back.”
Renting an RV has come a long way since the days of illegal listings on Craigslist, Cavins says, when there were no precautions such as driver record checks or insurance coverage. "The trip was reckless on both sides of the table," he says. "We saw this as a 'bleeding from the neck' problem' in desperate need of a solution.”
Founded in 2014, Austin, Texas-based Outdoorsy "added a level of trust, safety and professionalization to the RV rental experiences so guests could fully enjoy their vacations," Cavins says.
Since then, Outdoorsy’s partnership with its hosts has resulted in more than five million days of booked travel through RV rentals available in 4,800 cities throughout the United States and Canada.
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In June 2021, it raised $120 million, bringing the rental marketplace’s total funding to $227 million. And despite a year of inflation and rising fuel costs, Outdoorsy’s momentum has remained strong.
“The pandemic elevated traveler awareness of RV rentals as an accommodation option,” Cavins says, “and we’ll still realize gains from this new awareness for years to come.”
Cavins continues that Outdoorsy’s repeat booking rate is at an all-time high for 2022 – up 26% year-on-year and up 231% from 2019.
He says travelers are continuing to turn to RV travel because it’s affordable – the average cost of an Outdoorsy RV trip is $299 per night, up just $5 compared to last year – and grants guests an added layer of control and access. With an RV, travelers get to determine where they go and can even get a vehicle delivered to their campsite, eliminating the need to drive it.
Outdoorsy’s insurtech unit, Roamly, has also contributed to the company’s growth. In March of this year, Roamly, which Outdoorsy claims is the only digital insurance platform designed specifically for RVs, reached $40 million in booked premium, which Cavins expects to double by March 2023.
“Roamly currently accounts for about 10% of Outdoorsy’s revenue mix, but in four to five years, I anticipate Roamly and Outdoorsy to become on par with one another,” he says.
“Not only is Roamly the only insurtech with a policy that allows you to legally make money renting your RV, but we’ll also reward policyholders with tiered discounts on their policy the more they rent out their RV.”
As Outdoorsy looks ahead over the next 12 months, “consistency will be key,” Cavins continues. “Our long-term strategy has been and remains, to build a full outdoor travel ecosystem, not just a rental business. An ecosystem is everything from vehicle access to insurance to built-in trust and safety to establishing and finessing ways to fulfill the customer journey.
“With brand and category awareness more established, people will start to expect consistency and convenience in the rental experience as RV rentals are now on the same stage - and competing for the same customers - as cruise, hotel and air travel.”
For RV membership program Harvest Hosts, which experienced major growth numbers as early as a few months into the pandemic, CEO Joel Holland says signups and interest in RVing remain at all-time highs.
Based in Vail, Colorado, Harvest Hosts, which raised $37 million in March 2021, connects its members with a network of attractions, such as wineries, breweries, farms, golf courses and museums.
From 2020 to 2021, Harvest Hosts’ membership base grew 57% and now counts 240,000 paid members, up from the 6,000 who were part of the platform when it was purchased in May 2018 from the original founders.
Signups of new hosts also exploded amid the pandemic as small businesses looked for new ways to attract visitors to their properties and increase revenue.
Harvest Hosts currently has more than 4,400 hosts on its platform, up from about 1,000 at the pandemic’s onset, and Holland says he expects members to spend more than $40 million with the hosts they visit in 2022.
Holland says that, as gas prices were peaking this summer, Harvest Hosts saw a shift in how people were traveling – one he expects to stick around.
“There was still an overall desire to travel, but rather than going far distances, travelers were opting for shorter getaways closer to home. The ‘near-cations’ trend came about amidst a chaotic summer travel season, with rising costs of flights and hotels upending big ‘revenge travel’ plans,” Holland says.
“Many Americans discovered hidden gems in their own backyards when traditional travel was restricted,” he continues. “Now, as many cost-conscious travelers weigh the impact of inflation, we anticipate the 'near-cation' trend is here to stay for now with travelers looking to make the most of their time off without breaking the bank.”
Holland adds that for travelers with families or pets, RV travel is an attractive option because it affords flexibility and offers an alternative to airlines with restrictions on furry friends. Plus, it can save travelers money: According to an RVIA study, the cost of traveling with a family of four in an RV can be 50% less expensive than an equivalent trip that requires planes and hotels.
In the past year, Holland says Harvest Hosts became the largest provider of private RV camping options in the world, with 7,000 locations, surpassing the number of public RV federal and state campgrounds. Over the next 12 months, the goal is to add an additional 2,000 hosts to its network.
Road to professionalization
Jon Gray, CEO of peer-to-peer marketplace RVshare, says RV rentals have come a long way on the road to professionalization, but there are still clear opportunities to realize.
The Ohio-based platform, which raised $100 million in October 2020, offers more than 100,000 RVs that can be booked online in thousands of destinations across the U.S., and its bookings come with 24/7 customer support, 24/7 customer assistance and protection products.
RV rentals are now on the same stage - and competing for the same customers - as cruise, hotel and air travel.
Jeff Cavins - Outdoorsy
“Going forward, we hope to continue to be a force driving the professionalism of the RV rental industry and giving it staying power as a mainstream travel category,” Gray says.
“We want to make booking an RV online as easy as booking a hotel, with a huge selection of high-quality RVs, all the information you need to pick the perfect RV for your group/family and a simple booking process.”
Gray says RVshare is continuing to see high interest and demand since the onset of the pandemic, with bookings exponentially higher than pre-pandemic levels and up nearly 40% in 2022.
Shoulder season bookings are growing faster than peak season bookings, Gray continues. According to RVshare insights, shoulder season growth is outpacing peak season growth by 35% since the pandemic started.
“There are more RV owners in the world today than ever before, and rising interest levels paired with the continued trend of outdoor travel, it's a strong belief of ours that demand will only increase, making RVshare a wonderful platform for owners and renters to both connect and benefit,” he says.
As it eyes continued expansion, Gray says RVshare is focused on making RVing accessible for everyone that wants to go on an RV trip.
“The first component of this strategy is to make renting an RV easier. We will do this by improving information available online to help renters find the perfect RV and making the booking process simpler,” he says.
“As a second component, we will also continue to open the market to folks that want to go on an RV trip, but not drive an RV. We do this by delivering RVs directly to campsites. With a delivered RV, your vacation starts the second you arrive at the campground.”
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