business travel

On the road: RV sales picking up

Heading out on a road trip this summer?

You might stay entertained on the highway playing Punch Buggy, a game in which passengers slug each other in the shoulder whenever a Volkswagen Beetle goes by.

But to learn something about trends in the economy while out on the highway, watch for a different type of vehicle.

“I’m starting to see a lot more RV products on the road. And it’s not just because it’s summer,” said Kathryn Thompson, CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based Thompson Research Group.

“An RV is as discretionary a purchase as you can think of,” she said. “So if someone is buying an RV, something must be working.”


Photo courtesy Rich Eiswerth

According to Thompson, sales of recreational vehicles in the United States hit a low point during the recession, bottoming out in the spring of 2009 with the bankruptcy of two large motor home manufacturers—Fleetwood Enterprises and Monaco Coach.

Yet these days, RV sales have improved along with the economy. Lower priced towables and trailers, with price tags that can start at around $10,000, led the recovery. Sales of the more expensive motorized RVs, including motor homes that can have price tags well over $500,000, caught up later.

“In North America sales were was running over 300,000 units a year until 2008,” said Tom Walworth, president of Statistical Surveys in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “In 2009, sales dropped to 206,000 units. By 2013, they went back to 303,000 units. So in four years it came back 47 percent from the bottom, which is very impressive as an economic indicator,” Walworth said.

During that time, sales of towable RVs (including folding trailers, truck campers and travel trailers) rose 46.4 percent, while sales of the more expensive motorized motorhomes (categorized as Class A, B or C) gained 51 percent from the 2009 low.

This year, shipments of new RVs to dealers will total 349,400 units, an 8.8 percent over 2013, said RV analyst Richard Curtin, director of the Consumer Research Center at the University of Michigan. In 2015, he expects shipments to rise another 3.1 percent.

Who’s buying all these RVs?

“Boomers are the largest demographic of RV owners,” said Mac Bryan, vice president of administration at the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. “But those age 35-54, the younger consumers who want to be active and outdoors, are the fastest-growing demographic.”

And when friends and family members go along on RV trips, or just hear about them, “that introduces even more people to the RV lifestyle,” Bryan said.

“We have an increasing number of friends and acquaintances ‘of a certain age’ who have chosen the RV lifestyle full or part-time,” said Richard Eiswerth, president and general manager of a Cincinnati public radio station who is in his early 60s. “If and when I retire, who knows?”

Longtime tent campers, Eiswerth and his wife, Susan, last May dipped their toes in the RV ownership market with a small, retro-style, teardrop trailer they bought in Wisconsin before heading west for a trip to Devil’s Tower, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

The couple has large dogs, so they also bought an attachable add-on tent to cover the crates the dogs sleep in at night.

“We didn’t want to simply have another, more expensive, version of home on wheels with all the frills and luxuries of our actual home. We wanted to be able to travel to and camp in a variety of locales, not just asphalt RV compounds,” Eiswerth said.

He lists the advantages of the small camper as better gas mileage than a larger RV, ease of maneuverability, speed and convenience of set-up and tear-down and heat and air conditioning, when necessary.

And best of all, he said, “Much like a tent, this has a connection to the outdoors.”

(My story on recreational vehicles sales increasing first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).



airberlin’s funny face

Excited to be visiting Berlin for a tour of airports and museums (of course), having arrived courtesy of airberlin, which was kind enough to give me one of their cozy lie-flat business class seats for the ride here and entertain me along the way with a couple of cabin amenities.

The seat:

airberlin seat

Before settling in, I looked around for the headphone/USB jack and noticed it was looking at me:

airberlin face.

I also noticed that the reading material offered passengers on my flight included newspapers, fashion and business magazines, as well as a copy of Playboy.

airberlin playboy

Clearly airberlin has a sense of humor about these offbeat amenities.

The tweets I dashed off about before the 10-hour flight were met with these responses when I landed:

air berlin

Delta launches in-flight mentoring program

Most airlines offer first class, business class, economy class and, often, a premium economy class section on their flights.

Now Delta Air Lines has introduced another, extremely exclusive, seating section: “innovation class.”

The first class-style seats are free, but will be available only occasionally to select up-and-coming professionals whose applications meet a special set of criteria. Their seatmates (who also get free seats) will be selected by Delta from leaders in various fields on their way to major industry events who have agreed to participate in what the airline is calling “a mentoring program—that just so happens to take place at 35,000 feet.”

“We have customers flying with us who are big thinkers and innovators and are changing the world,” Mauricio Parise, Delta’s director of worldwide marketing communications, told CNBC. “We want to bring the ones succeeding in their field together with people who aspire to follow them.”


The program’s first such mentoring session took place earlier this month on a flight from Salt Lake City to Vancouver, Canada, site of the TED 2014 conference. It paired mentor Eric Migicovsky, the Pebble smartwatch developer, with James Patten, a 2014 TED senior fellow who is an inventor and visual artist working on projects at the intersection of the physical and digital worlds.

“It’s very rare to get a chance to sit down with someone in that sort of position and get to talk about whatever you want,” Patten said in a video about the in-flight chat posted on Delta’s website. “Had we met in another context, we probably would have had at most a five-minute conversation.”

Applications are now open for the next Delta Innovation Class, which will take place May 5. The mentor will be Sean Brock, whose Husk and McCrady’s restaurants in Charleston, S.C. serve locally sourced Southern meals. Brock, a finalist for Outstanding Chef in this year’s James Beard Awards, will be flying to New York for the award ceremony.

Future mentors are still being chosen and “will be drawn from any field that is fueling innovation,” including entertainment, fashion, financial service, sports and advertising, Parise said. “We have not set up every event because the world is changing and we need to keep up with the conversation.”

Applications are being accepted through Delta’s page on LinkedIn. Delta’s team will evaluate the applications and forward a set of finalists to each session’s mentor, who will make the final choice. “He or she will pick the person they think is the most interesting and will have the most passion for having that opportunity,” Parise said.

This is not the first airline-sponsored in-flight mentoring program. British Airways, for example, hosted a flight between San Francisco and London filled with what it said were “forward-thinking founders, CEOs, venture capitalists and Silicon Valley game-changers.”

Delta’s mentoring program is set to be ongoing with sessions filmed and shared.

“It’s a total win-win,” said executive coach Mark Sachs, principal at Mark Sachs & Associates in Silver Spring, Md. “Mentoring is sometimes seen as Mr. Smarty Pants giving advice to a less Mr. Smarty Pants. But it’s a reciprocal relationship and, if they listen carefully, these participants will be learning a great deal from the other person.”

(My story about Delta’s Innovation Class program first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)