With travel via air and sea dramatically limited, 2020 quickly became the year of the road trip. Since the onset of the pandemic, road trip itineraries offered significant appeal to experiential-focused travelers and consumers seeking travel options that seemed safer than flying. The desire to travel with confidence, control and safety remain top priorities for many consumers. This year, staycations in nearby, smaller cities or rural communities are expected to remain attractive options for consumers. Airbnb predicts 56% of travelers will want to stay relatively close to home in 2021. With summer months quickly approaching, camping, glamping and RV trips are likely to be top trends among U.S. travelers seeking excitement, leisure and escape.
The American Road Trip Reigns Supreme Once Again
Following a record sales year in 2020, with a 46.8% increase in units sold over 2019, the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association predicts 61 million Americans plan to go RV-ing in the next 12 months, according to a new survey.
RV sales are projected to continue growing, and popular rental platforms also offer buyers the chance to recoup some of their investments by leveraging the sharing economy. Motorhome and travel trailer rental services such as RVshare and Outdoorsy are banking on the continued interest in hitting the highways and byways to explore wide open spaces in self-contained units.
Outdoorsy, which hit $1B in sales during the pandemic, and RVshare both attribute growth to increased interest from Millennials. Outdoorsy has invested in creating aspirational, Insta-worthy lifestyle content, sharing user-generated content (UGC), including photos promoting #Vanlife, and most recently working with celebrity influencers to highlight the perks of RV-ing.
Online Camping & Glamping Reservations Soar Ahead of Summer
Year over year, reservation trends at National Parks and privately operated campgrounds are looking strong for the upcoming spring and summer seasons, and extending into the fall.
“The outdoors and camping provide a safer alternative to other forms of travel and vacations,” according to Mark Koep, Founder and CEO of CampgroundViews.com, which recently surveyed over 2,000 campgrounds and RV Parks. The results indicated nearly two-thirds of these properties were showing advanced bookings 50% higher than average for the 2021 camping season, and 24% of respondents said their advanced bookings were up over 80% for the upcoming summer.
“We expect 2021 to be the year of camping with record numbers of Americans camping in tents, RVs and glamping accommodations,” stated Koep. Industry websites are utilizing enhanced digital content such as virtual campground tours, user generated reviews and easy online reservation tools to enable travelers to filter by amenities and secure specific campsites in more traditional campgrounds and RV parks, reducing the stress of planning the ultimate road trip.
Quickly rising in popularity, smartphone booking apps such as Harvest Host, Hipcamp and Tentrr are examples of the newest platforms offering an Airbnb-like experience for consumers, while expanding the sharing economy to privately-owned orchards, vineyards, farms and ranches looking to earn extra income from scenic properties. The target audiences for these apps cross generational demographics to appeal to both campers and glampers who are non-RV users looking to stay in luxuriously appointed safari tents, yurts and treehouses on-site.
While some of the consumer appeal is in lower nightly rates, there is also an opportunity to attract new visitors to lesser known rural areas and create micro-economic boosts. Harvest Hosts predicts its members (over 140,000) will spend $40 million at small businesses within the local economies surrounding their choice of camping location, up from $20 million in 2020.
Road Trips Fuel Growth & Loyalty For Grocery Brands
More than half of fuel retailers expect leisure travel and routine driving to return to pre-pandemic levels this summer. Regional and national convenience and grocery store chains are improving their roadside stands to take advantage. New midwest entrant, Wally’s on Route 66 in Michigan, has proclaimed itself “Home of the Great American Road Trip” with a customer experience that offers retro nostalgia mixed with modern amenities. Other brands are continuing to improve their fresh prepared foods and quick-serve restaurant offerings as an alternative to fast food chains to accommodate drivers on the road.
Local franchises and regional multi-location chains have an opportunity to leverage local search listings, user reviews and geo-based advertising to land drive-by motorists looking for ‘near me’ options for gas, refreshments and attractive pit stops along popular routes. GasBuddy, a real-time fuel price locator app which services 12 million monthly active users, is one platform these types of operators are utilizing outside of Google, Facebook and other top media channels to drive new digital user acquisition.
From coast to coast, shopper loyalty programs at convenience stores and grocery retailers offer roadtrippers and RV enthusiasts opportunities to stock their coolers and cabinets inside motorhomes for campfire grilling, while earning discount fuel points. Pilot Co and Flying J Travel Centers recently revamped its myRewards Plus digital app so travelers can quickly find locations on their routes, fill up tanks and drive more savings. Kroger Co., which grew significantly during the pandemic through its e-commerce offerings, is well positioned to extend its fuel savings programs to motorists at over 2,000 locations nationwide. Targeting road trip travelers is a significant opportunity for loyalty marketers to launch creative campaigns to attract and convert new prospects, as 56% of consumers will sign up for a shopper loyalty card for access to gas discounts and ability to spend points.
Vacation Begins Before The Trip Is Booked, Brands Need To Connect With Consumers Early In The Research Stage
The rise of staycations, camping and RV sales is an indication that many of the behaviors consumers adopted during the height of the pandemic are likely to become social norms. One factor that is likely to remain the same is that trips of all lengths begin with a research process. As interest in travel returns, brands must be able to connect with consumers where they are spending their time, and provide seamless opportunities for eager travelers ready to book a trip, create an itinerary, set a reservation or make a purchase. Brands looking to target travelers should consider the entire customer journey, and develop new content marketing strategies that can be promoted across organic, paid and social channels to capitalize on wanderlust and the desire to hit the road safely this summer.
According to Statista, after a slump in 2020, digital ad spend in travel is expected to jump to $3.74 billion in 2021. Without a multichannel digital approach, it will become more difficult to connect with high-intent consumers who are ready for escape, adventure and getaways. After the initial conversion, savvy marketers can look to incorporate value-added products and partner service offerings to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty and retention.
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