Well, you bought the damned thing — you might as well use it. That's the advice one rich fella says to another rich fella who, perhaps, is wondering whether he and the wife oughta take their Fleetwood Bounder with the boss triple slide-outs for a spin this summer. It's also the attitude RV parks around here could be counting on during these eye-spinning times of daily fuel-price increases.
"The RV industry has really evolved, and the cost of these vehicles now is typically $150,000 and up," says Tony Smithers, executive director of the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "The fact is, another dollar per gallon of gas is nothing to people like this. And, they've already invested in it. The other thing is that a lot of RVs are rented by some of our international visitors, and as far as they're concerned, gas prices here are lower than they pay at home so it's not really an issue for them."
Rising fuel prices might actually increase visitation at local RV parks, Smithers says, as people drop their far-away travel plans to, say, Yellowstone, and choose a redwoods vacation instead.
"People will change their habits," he says. "They maybe will not drive so far, and so hopefully we are considered not so far — our main area to market is Bay Area-Sacramento."
It's happened in the past when something altered the American travel psyche. "After 9/11, when travel really restricted, we grew," Smithers says. "Having said that, this year the economy is sort of stuttering, as they say, and also the gas price increase is just so much more dramatic than in the past. The expression I've heard is, 'People may come anyway, but they may have their hand on their wallet once they get here.'"
For the first time in six years, says Cynthia Harris with the American Automobile Association, car and RV travel nationwide was off 1 percent over Memorial Day weekend.
John Porter, co-owner of the Benbow RV Resort (and golf course and inn), says their business was up the first four months of this year, but in May slacked. But that's compared to an unusually buoyant May last year. And this Memorial Day "was a sellout weekend," he says.
They've had just one cancellation so far, says Porter — a woman from Reno who'd actually prepaid to stay in the park but decided she couldn't afford the gas to get there.
"But to be quite honest, the high gas prices may not totally be a negative," says Porter. "We're so close to what we call the 'Santa Rosa corridor.' And, we're a destination resort. People might come to Benbow and stay a week."
Many of them, he adds, could be locals, who typically comprise the bulk of his RV park guests over the major holidays.
It all sounds oddly cheery, considering that up the coast in Oregon there are reports of RV parks suffering a 20 percent decline in reservations, and down in Santa Rosa three RV dealers recently went out of business. Maybe there's just a lag in impacts here. Mel Wright, who with his wife Patricia owns the Wright RV dealership on Broadway, says business is going well.
"In fact, up until recently, we had more units sold than we could deliver," Wright says. "But I don't know if that will continue. Our manufacturers are way down on orders."
Still, it's all relative. For the brand-new Ancient Redwoods Immortal Tree RV Park, any business is good business, says Dean Lewis, whose family has run a burl shop on the same site north of Redcrest for 41 years. Their park's grand opening was May 1 and they had "100 percent vacancy," Lewis says, laughing. A big storm in December washed out a section of the Avenue of the Giants, deterring visitors. But they now have two RVs in the park, and more on the way.
"What we've noticed," Lewis says, "is an increase in Canadian visitors."