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RVDA Presentation: COVID Initially Put KOA in a Deep Hole

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The following is a report from the RVDA 2020 Virtual Convention/Expo

During the darkest days of the COVID-19 outbreak last spring, campgrounds across the United States and Canada saw a 185 percent increase in cancellations from mid-March to mid-May.

After a promising start to the year, advanced reservations had declined 23 percent by the end of May.


Toby O’Rourke, president and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, painted that bleak picture for attendees of the RV Dealers Association’s annual Convention/Expo during a presentation that debuted Wednesday afternoon but is available on-demand at the convention’s virtual platform. But more importantly, O’Rourke showed the industry how KOA experienced near miraculous growth once the lockdowns and quarantines were lifted.

Her presentation, which also included data on bookings for the 2021 season and information from first-time campers in 2020, could be a beacon of hope for the RV industry as it continues to recover from COVID-forced shutdowns during peak production season that put manufacturers behind in meeting an ever-increasing demand for their products.

“We spent a lot of time advocating for getting campgrounds open and allowing RVs to be on the road for essential business,” O’Rourke said. “Our campgrounds hosted a lot of medical workers and travelling nurses and that kept the light on for a lot of our campgrounds.”

The public response after the lockdowns was something KOA certainly had hoped for, but nothing that could have been predicted.

Americans went camping like never before.

Studies showed people wanted to get outside after being cooped up and considered camping the safest way to make that happen. O’Rourke said data indicated 36 percent of people who are regular campers went camping for their first trip after restrictions were lifted; 21 percent of typical leisure travelers did, too.

And half of those campers said they were more likely to buy an RV due to their experiences with COVID.

“We know that once people camp, once they RV and enjoy it, they are likely to keep doing that,” she said. “I think this is a great investment in our future in having all of these new people coming to camping.”

The fall season has continued the activity, with many campgrounds extending their seasons, but uncertainty still surrounds the winter season in the Southern U.S. because of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada that prevents many snowbirds from coming down to enjoy the warmer weather.

O’Rourke said KOA surveys indicate that 44 percent of new RVers are likely to continue the lifestyle in 2021. More than half of the responders said they are able to increase their camping activities, because they are able to work or handle schooling from home.

“This is obviously underscoring the need for great Wi-Fi, and this is an initiative that KOA is working on,” she said. “We need to make sure campgrounds can deliver really good Wi-Fi with high bandwidth to accommodate people working from the road or schooling from the road.”

To view the KOA presentation, click here or visit the RVDA Booth in the Exhibit Hall.  The Q&A section of the presentation will be available on-demand next wee

To view the KOA presentation, click here or visit the RVDA Booth in the Exhibit Hall.  The Q&A section of the presentation will be available on-demand next week.

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