October '20

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36 • RV PRO • October 2020 rv-pro.com Cavins acknowledges that the peer-to-peer rental market, which he calls the "Wild West," lacks consistency when it comes to how customers are treated. "We have some owners who operate really well. They do a great job," he says. "And then we have some owners who are new to this. They may not be very adept at being great hosts. They forget things like a kitchen kit or linens." Cavins says Outdoorsy is working on a program – featuring a concierge element – that's designed to improve professionalism and quality in the peer-to-peer rental market and ultimately sta- bilize the customer experience. Peer-to-Peer Rentals Are Here to Stay While Jones may be critical of the customer service delivered by RV owners on the rental platforms, he realizes they're now an industry fixture. When the marketplaces first emerged, many tra- ditional RV rental companies balked at doing business with them, he says. Today, more and more RV rental businesses are exploring ways to work with the platforms, Jones says. Looking ahead, Gray believes the RV marketplace model is sustainable beyond the coronavirus pandemic, which has boosted work-from-anywhere flexibility and has driven up demand for road trips as an avenue to avoid airplanes and hotels. More people are gravitating toward family-friendly, back-to-nature excursions in the U.S., he says, and awareness of RV rentals and the RV lifestyle has soared. Longtime RV industry analyst Richard Curtin, an economist at the University of Michigan, says the rise in the "overall attrac- tiveness of RVs" – triggered in part by the pandemic – will benefit RV rentals and sales. This, he says, could include new entrants in the RV rental business, leading to further expansion of the sector. However, Curtin adds, "There is the problem that the new company that sets up just to make money off renting RVs may not be working in the best interest of the industry as a whole." Rental marketplaces like Outdoorsy and RVshare say they believe they are working in the industry's best interests. "We by no means want to encroach on the traditional businesses that have operated in the RV space, but we definitely offer additional selection," Gray says. "We have hundreds of RV models on the site, instead of the three or four that are typically offered by a fleet." He emphasizes that RVshare and other marketplaces send lots of bookings to RV rental companies. The relationship between those companies and the platforms can be "mutually beneficial," Gray says. Cavins acknowledges the relationship between the RV industry and RV rental platforms got off to a rocky start. At first, he says, the traditional players viewed the platforms like the film industry once viewed DVDs or the music industry once viewed iTunes – as a disruptive force. However, as time marches on, the RV industry has warmed up to the idea that Outdoorsy and other platforms can attract new consumers and, therefore, spur greater demand in RV manufacturing and sales, according to Cavins. "Our whole approach to the legacy interests in this industry," he says, "has been one of respect – of honoring what they've built, of trying to be a partner and feed information to them on what we're seeing – as opposed to picking fights and saying, 'I'm here to disrupt your business and take it all away from you.' But the goal is, if we all work together, we're going to really do something great for the world. And that's the way we've approached these relationships." RV rental companies say that, after spending time self-isolating at home because of COVID-19, campers were ready this summer to get out and experience the majesty of the great outdoors. (Photo courtesy of RVshare)

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