Giddy times at the Tampa supershow

As waves of winter storms batter the Pacific Coast, the Rockies and the upper Plains, any friendly—dare I say amorous—thoughts about Mother Nature may be the furthest thing from the minds of the folks who live there. Not so in Tampa, Florida! As proclaimed in an RVBusiness headline, exhibitors at the Florida RV SuperShow are “rocking and rolling.”

This annual five-day RV orgasm, rapidly becoming one of the largest in the country, runs through Sunday and shows every sign of defying the downturn in RV sales that kicked in mid-way through 2022. Attendance has been at near-record highs, edged just a bit by last year’s extravaganza, when then-low interest rates and pandemic-unleashed tailwinds made RVing the newest “it” thing for American consumers. Aggressive interest rate hikes and possible market saturation for first-time buyers subsequently took the wind out of the industry’s sails, but now that corner may have been turned.

More than 1,300 RVs are currently on display, with an additional 1,500 or so owned by show attendees camped at the fairgrounds. Winnebago was offering test drives of its second-generation all-electric RV, still in the prototype stage, but all available time slots reportedly were booked days ago. High-end motorcoaches are a dime a dozen, liberally garnished with “wow” add-ons like Garmin total-control coach control systems, electronically controlled suspensions and blinged-out interiors. And custom builder SpaceCraft (?!?) Mfg. has trucked in a 54-foot converted semi-trailer that sports 10,000 watts of solar panels, 108,000 watt/hours of lithium battery storage and 485 gallons of water tanks—enough, says the company, to enable up to a month of off-the-grid camping.

Of course, first the thing has to be maneuvered into its boondocking paradise. That alone should limit the customer base. As will the price tag.

But it’s not just the big-ticket items that are drawing attention. RVers are swarming supplier displays as well, leading a Dometic brand manager to tell RVBusiness, “I would say I wouldn’t wait to buy something. If you see it and you think it’s cool, you should buy it, because it’s selling out.” Campground reservations also have been surging, according to Don Bennett of the Anderson Brochure Distribution Service, which distributes RV park brochures at trade shows. “I think the one thing that the pandemic has impressed upon not only the new campers but the seasoned veterans as well,” he said, “is to try to make reservations as early as possible, and I know a lot of campgrounds are seeing an uptick in reservations as of January.”

There is, in other words, a lot of excitement in the Tampa air this week—as is a certain fin de siecle feeling, as though too many people were rushing for too limited a supply of lifeboats. A surprising number of news accounts about the show include interviews with potential buyers looking to become full-timers. As one noted, even an upscale motorcoach “is still cheaper than a house,” which is a remarkable comparison to make on behalf of a depreciating asset. Meanwhile, the economy is still wobbling around the rim of a possible recession, an increasingly volatile climate is playing Russian roulette with campgrounds, and the owners of gas-guzzling behemoths run the risk of becoming the next generation of scorned wearers of mink stoles and sable coats.

It’s a mixed bag, in other words, and possibly not the best time to get swept up in the crowd’s euphoria. But it’s always hard to see a bubble from the inside.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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