Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism has been one of the largest industries to be impacted. The fear of contracting the virus during a flight or the horror that we saw unfold on cruise ships last spring still weighs heavily on our minds.
COVID-19 has forced many people to postpone and cancel their international travel plans. This has resulted in an estimated decline in the number of international tourists by 58 per cent to 78 per cent from 2019 to 2020. The first few months of 2020 recorded a loss of $320 billion, more than three times the loss experienced during the 2009 economic crisis.
A new policy brief from the United Nations expects that the total projected loss in revenues from international tourism will be over a trillion dollars. A devastating fact for many countries and communities that depend on this industry for their livelihoods.
International travelling trepidations have caused many to press pause on their globetrotting ways and search for a safer, more local and socially distant alternative.
What's more, the past few months have really brought to light the importance of experiencing nature and spending time outdoors with loved ones. This notion translated into an increase in North American vacationers choosing to camp this summer.
Trailers, tents, and RVs sales trended among experienced and first-time campers. Campgrounds and RV sites saw a significant increase in their annual bookings and continue to thrive outside of the warmer months. At the same time, however, this also raises the concern as to whether the camping industry can sustain its growth post-pandemic?
The pandemic has helped many people realize the importance of nature and the role it can play in our mental health. Research has indicated that nature can ease symptoms of depression, improve cognitive function, and reduce stress, among other benefits. Faced with quarantine, lockdowns, isolation, and social distancing, the pandemic has amplified our desire to be outdoors.
Over the summer, the camping industry has exploded beyond what anyone had anticipated. According to the Growth of Camping Amid Covid-19: A Fall 2020 Update, approximately 46 per cent of campers had either restarted camping after taking a hiatus for many years, or they found themselves taking it up for the first time. The Update predicts that 18 per cent of new campers will choose camping as their preferred holiday in the upcoming year as well.
With an increase of 650 per cent this year, It is not surprising that this shift in travel preference has caused a boost to RV sales and rentals. RV’s remain the preferred choice of accommodation as they offer the ultimate socially distinct experience with a private kitchen and bathroom, leaving campers empowered by a sense of self-sufficiency. RV’ers are even going out of their way to seek more secluded, less popular destinations to avoid overcrowding, ultimately boosting revenues in more unknown camping destinations.
In spite of their hefty price tags ranging between $10,000 and $300,000, RV manufacturers have seen strong consumer growth over the last ten years. Moreover, the recent surge of the COVID-19 has called for increased RV shipments to meet the overall demand in the nation.
So, it’s safe to say that the RV business and camping industry has flourished. People have invested in this brand of vacation with a sense of security that they can enjoy their holidays and reduce their risk to contract the virus.
Camping has inherited the popular belief that it is the ‘safest’ type of vacation. Still, if pandemic cases continue to increase, the renewed interest in camping will likely continue for years to come, jumping from a timely fad to an enduring pastime.
Even after a vaccine comes into play, the emotional impact of COVID-19 will last for many years. Apprehensions among travellers will likely prevail even when restrictions lift and it's deemed safe for international travel again. Further to that, it is assumed that there will be an expectation that accommodations will have permanent protective measures in place even after this pandemic, to limit exposures to future illnesses.
The long-lasting emotional effects of the virus provide evidence that camping will be considered the safest form of travel for years to come. Therefore, it is necessary that the RV and camping industry invest in their vacationing developments to meet the current needs of the pandemic as well as ensure repeat annual business.
Through planning and design, developers can capitalize on the revitalized interest in camping to ensure financial longevity. First and foremost, upgrading infrastructure such as privatized bathrooms, showers, and laundry will address current concerns regarding safe social distancing.
Beyond the immediate issues, developers need to plan for continued site attraction to encourage annual camper visitation. New amenities can be phased in over several years to continually evolve the camping experience. Design interventions such as hiking trail design and expansion, lookout points, kitchen garden plots, glamping infrastructure, natural playgrounds, and artificial lakes are several design solutions that could be considered.
As with all types of businesses, there are moments in time when the spotlight shines upon them. It may only be a brief moment and in this case, brought on by a virus. However, now it’s a time to plan, expand, and evolve.
Personally, I would have never expected the camping industry to blow up because of the pandemic. I even found myself out camping this summer, after a decade long break sleeping under the stars. So, it’s an opportune time to capitalize on this newfound enthusiasm and reinvest it into a long-term camping tourism master plan.