Multiple phone lines, queen-sized waterbeds with heated mattresses and plasma TVs? This is camping?
It is if you travel in an RV. The $12 billion per year recreational vehicle industry is swelling, despite a lackluster economy. For the past five years, the fastest-growing segment of the industry has been luxury motor homes, priced from $200,000 to $1 million-this market has increased 120-fold since 1991. Even celebrities like Will Smith and Justin Timberlake have embraced the RV lifestyle.
Campgrounds are flourishing as well, featuring everything from Starbucks to yoga classes, Jacuzzis, tennis courts and Olympic-size swimming pools. "I've seen an RV with an exquisite circular staircase leading to the roof, which had bench seating, a grill and wet bar," marvels Jim Lubinskas, PR manager of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, a Reston, Virginia, national trade association that represents RV and conversion vehicle manufacturers and component suppliers in the United States. Lubinskas adds that RV rooftop patios are increasingly popular among football-game tailgaters.
It's good news for some entrepreneurs. "Baby boomers are retiring with more income than the World War II generation. They don't want to sit around and do nothing," says Scott Roberts, 28, co-owner and CFO of Roberts Resorts, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based group of family-owned RV resorts in business since 1969, when their only "extras" were a billiards table and swimming pool. Today, they're building a 20,000-square-foot recreation center with a stage for live entertainment. The $75 million company, which had 2004 sales of $13 million, has grown 10 percent per year for the past five years, about double what they experienced previously.
Dave Bane, 40, bought Tom Raper Inc. in 2002 and has since expanded from one RV dealership in Richmond, Indiana, to a second in Fairfield, Ohio. Since 1992, the company has claimed to sell more RVs than anyone in the world and makes annual sales exceeding $100 million-luxury RVs make up 22 percent of that. The nation's bestselling diesel motor-home, says Bane, is the Discovery. Its 2005 model has two TV sets, a swivel recliner, a leather love seat, a computer workplace and a fireplace.
The most luxurious RVs boast French doors, granite counters, marble floors, gold-plated faucets, power curtains and shades, seats with built-in heat and massage, sunken dens, and even wine cellars and freezers. Slide-outs-moving walls-expand the living space.
"RV traveling has advantages over a traditional family vacation," says Bane. "Everything is at your fingertips."