Vacations Are Curtailed, but Road Trips Are Rolling—and That’s Good News for These Brands

Makers of RVs and portable grills are revving up marketing accordingly

Family standing next to a packed car
'People are itching to get out,' said GasBuddy analyst Patrick De Haan, 'and that’s the easiest way—get in a car.'
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Key insights:

Summer is historically bread-and-butter season for the people at Traeger, the manufacturer that’s sold its high-end, wood-fired grills from Salt Lake City for three decades now. The fundamentals of cooking over wood may not have changed since the stone age, but one of Traeger’s latest offerings, the Pro Series 575, is a smart cooker that lets grillers add hickory smoke simply by tapping their phones. Of course, like the executives at most every nonessential brand in the country, Traeger’s management held its breath with the onset of Covid-19. As well it should have: With an estimated 40 million Americans now out of work and pool parties on hold for the foreseeable future, this is hardly the best time to sell Americans an $800 Wi-Fi-enabled grill.

Nevertheless, CMO Todd Smith is feeling optimistic, and there’s a good reason for it. Indications are that, as summer travel season hits, Americans who plan to take a vacation will increasingly be hitting the road to do it. For many of them, that means camping and, for Smith, that means an opportunity to sell them a lower-priced Traeger portable.

“Rather than jumping on a plane, train or boat, many consumers will be jumping in their cars or renting an RV and heading to state parks or campgrounds or the beach to relax and get away,” Smith told Adweek. “As we head into the summer months, our two most portable grills, Ranger and Tailgater, continue to be some of the hottest and most sought after.” (In fact, of the six portable grills the company makes, half of them are sold out.)

Smith is not alone. Despite the lugubrious picture of the travel industry right now—airline travel down by 95% in April, hotels losing an estimated $500 million a day—a select number of brands are starting to sound optimistic notes. Not coincidentally, these are also the brands that stand to benefit from consumers who heed the call of the open road.

Traeger's Ironwood 885 ($1,500) is a griller's dream, but the big demand now is for portables.
Traeger

Jon Gray is one of them. As CEO of peer-to-peer recreational vehicle rental platform RVshare, Gray has watched as a comparatively sleepy corner of the sharing economy suddenly became very busy. RVshare lists some 60,000 campers and motor homes for rent at any given time. In April, it saw a 650% increase in bookings for the summer travel season. As of May 19, bookings were up by 1,000%.

“Domestic travel is going to reign supreme this summer,” Gray said. “As travelers look for affordable and safer options, they will turn to drivable destinations rather than flying across the country.”

Statistics suggest that Gray’s predictions aren’t just hyperbole. In May, travel insights platform Skift published a survey in which 41% of Americans said their first trip after the Covid danger passes will be to a destination within 100 miles of their homes. Another way of putting it: They’ll be driving, not flying. Consumers, the report stated, “want to travel in their own car or a rented car instead of flying, and they want to avoid densely populated urban centers that used to be the scary epicenters of the pandemic.”

As a result, companies like RVshare have also stepped up their marketing efforts. “We’re expanding our presence in a few key regional markets through TV, radio and ad buys,” vp marketing Martijn Scheijbeler told Adweek, adding that the company will be “investing in performance marketing through our highest booking months.”

Cheap gas and other incentives

Given how quickly the pandemic is evolving and the dramatic differences in local conditions, it’s admittedly hard to forecast how consumers will be acting anywhere in the country come August. But several factors explain why driving looks likely to be the travel medium of choice this summer.

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