Aspen Grove

The Aspen Grove Inn RV park in Rigby is seen on Friday, August 3, 2018.

The number of flyers in and out of the Idaho Falls Regional Airport is down 40% to 60% this summer. In May, hotels in Idaho Falls reported an average 58% decline in guests since the pandemic began. People it seems, aren’t feeling comfortable flying and staying in hotels with a pandemic going on.

Instead, they’ve been turning to one specific way of travel this summer: RVs.

According to a survey by Thor Industries, 40% of people said they will use their RVs as often as usual this year, while 39% of people said they would be using them more often.

Steve Murphy owns Snake River RV & Hitch, Inc., an RV repair and hitch installation shop in Idaho Falls. He said he has seen a 50% increase in customers this year compared to 2019.

“I think people are staying close by. Instead of flying somewhere, they’re taking a camper somewhere,” Murphy said.

It’s not just people who already own RVs who are increasing RV activity. Phil Moon, sales manager and public relations director for Smith RV in Idaho Falls, has seen more people buying RVs for the first time than ever before.

“Have we seen an increase in sales? Yeah, it’s been pretty dramatic. It’s an entirely different demographic. I’ve been at this 30 years, and we’ve seen more first time buyers this year than any time I can remember in a long shot.”

The RV Industry Association said suppliers are seeing as much as 170% increase in first-time RV buyers, with 46 million Americans planning on taking an RV trip within the next 12 months.

Moon said “30% to 40% would be a conservative estimate” for the overall number of increased sales Smith RV has seen.

He believes many people are taking the money they would normally spend on expensive vacations to instead buy RVs

“They’re not going to Disneyland. They’re not going to lay on beaches at all-inclusive resorts in Playa Del Carmen, (Mexico) or something because they just can’t get there. So they’re taking that money and making a pretty substantial trailer payment for the year,” Moon said.

Moon says many locals are realizing that, though they might not be able to travel to far-flung locales this year, they have a great travel substitute right in their own backyard. Many of his customers are wanting to spend time in Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park this summer.

“I think it’s a tremendous alternative. We kind of live in the mecca of RVing,” Moon said. “They can go out and do it every weekend, rather than once a year.”

While locals may be looking to road trip out of here, out-of-staters are filling the RV parks right here in eastern Idaho.

Annie King, co-owner of Mountain River Ranch RV park in Ririe, said she has seen a big increase in people from outside of Idaho at her park.

“We’ve had a lot more reservations, a lot more people traveling from around the country, a lot of people that aren’t local. They’ve left Florida or Illinois, and they’re just traveling. They stay a week or two and then have gone on. We’ve seen a lot more of that this year,” King said.

Mountain River Ranch has also had a large increase in people staying at the park Monday though Thursday, rather than just on the weekends as they have in past years. King attributes this to her many guests who have told her they are working remotely due to the coronavirus. With the ability to work from anywhere, they figure, why not do it while traveling across the country?

“There’s been a good amount of people that are working age and can work from home who are just traveling and doing their job from their RV,” King said. “Everyone wants to get out of the cities right now.”