RVs have joined the sharing economy in a fiercely competitive new sector of the market, which is creating a plethora of opportunities for those prepared to go along for the ride.
While soft launches for most players in this space took place some three years ago, it’s only now traction is happening, and if the stats are anything to go by, it’s showing no signs of slowing.
One of the first on the scene in Australia was Camplify, who officially launched in August 2015.
CEO and founder Justin Hales says he and his wife were looking to hire an RV and couldn’t find anything near their suburb, but noted there were plenty of caravans sitting in driveways.
As a mining logistics software provider, building mining software, Hales decided to build his own website to offer RV owners the opportunity to rent them out, and within four weeks he had pitched to a jump start programme, and was on his way.
Hales says getting the first 100 listings was the hardest. “It took us about ten months, but we now have 2,900 listings in Australia and then we hit the overseas market, the UK at the end of 2017 and now there are about 490 there.”
The business has since partnered with Apollo, which owns 25 per cent.
Hales says families are big part of the market, so school holidays are always booked out.
“We had someone who listed a van and within four minutes they were booked out. That’s been our record.”
He says the popularity is because of the cost of a coastal holiday, “it’s rare in Australia to be able to have some real estate a couple of hundred metres from water for a reasonable cost, unless you’re in an RV. It’s also the ability to get kids away from screens and outside enjoying life and this type of holiday forces you to do that.”
He says those listing vary from young people who have converted vans into campers, to people with large family caravans.
“We have families who have camper trailers and caravans and are getting great income, on average making about $10K a year. Then you have the semi-retired or retired sector who usually have four to six berth motorhomes, and for them the beauty is they can rent one in peak time when don’t want to go away, and we have some who will make $20K a year.”
Hales says there have also been plenty of entrepreneurial spin-offs.
“We have a guy in Brisbane who started with us over a year ago with one camper trailer and it went so well, he now has 26 camper trailers, caravans and motorhomes, and he’s quit his full-time job.”
He says people are listing because it’s easy, and while Camplify charges commission, they also handle all payments and provide insurance.
Tourism Holdings Limited’s scheme Mighway launched in New Zealand about the same time as Camplify launched in Australia.
CEO Dave Simmons says it was created through the growing success of THL’s commercial business, where during peak seasons the commercial fleet would sell out.
“The challenge was set by board as to how we continue to drive growth without buying vans, and this was before peer-to-peer platforms had serviced, we weren’t wedded to this idea to begin with, but we knew there was inventory of privately-owned vehicles and people don’t use them as much as they thought they would, and it seemed to make sense to make income for the passive owner.”
He says while initially focused on New Zealand where they now have more than 800 motorhomes, they are also in the United States, from Alaska to Florida, and have plans to launch in Australia in the next 12 months.
He says the average engaged owner in New Zealand is earning about $15K a year for a fourth to six berth which is less than 10 years old.
Simmons says people are now buying specifically to list their vehicles.
“People are buying because of Mighway, we have that information now and have one couple who owns seven vans ... and we do all the insurance and road side for them and the servicing goes back through the RV Super Centre, so they have that comfort knowing we are taking care of things for them.”
He says there are other business spin-offs too.
“We have someone in New Zealand who has launched a business to drive the Chinese market, a curated seven-day itinerary where they pick them up from the airport and take them to the vehicle and present information in Mandarin and drive the vehicle for them.”
He says the biggest fear in the Chinese market is to drive, and so they have a driver alongside them for the first couple of days while they become familiar, and then the driver drops out half way when they are happy to proceed on their own.
“There’s also a Danish couple in Auckland who are doing something similar and targeting the Danish market, and they have built an entire business around that.”
While motorhomes are the key market for Mighway, Caravans are where it’s at for MyCaravan which launched in late 2014.
Sales manager Richard Duncan says when it first started there were 80 listings in Australia, and they now have about 300.
Duncan says it has an offer called ‘no-tow’, which is proving popular as a lot of people don’t have the right vehicle to tow a caravan.
“We can drop their caravan off at a park or a free campsite and set it up and open it up, so the renters just turn up have their holiday and then the owner picks it up for them afterwards, and we can arrange multiple stops as well, and it’s lower risk for insurance purposes to do it this way.”
He says it also has a platform so all renters go through an identification check and it matches drivers’ licences back to a database, “there are a lot of security measures put in place so owners are aware who has their vehicle”.
Duncan says the use of hired RVs is diverse too.
“People use them as extra accommodation and we do long-term rentals ... we have two people in Queensland right now where their house is going through renovations and they want to stay on site and have a farm, so that’s a good option for them, they can keep an eye on the process.”
Another player in this space, SHAREaCAMPER, set about getting three countries at the same time, and now has 600 listings in German, 400 in New Zealand and 350 in Australia.
CEO Phillip Dunn says it too has seen micro-businesses created off the back of its platform.
“We’ve got mum and dad owners who are going, actually I can run multiple vehicles and some are even wanting to offer land where they can get people off the beaten track.
“With more people trying to get away now and wanting unique experiences … people are going well I have a great bit of land over there and a lake, and I can put in a toilet block and I’ll give a unique opportunity, so we have more people approaching us to say I have this land, how can I work with you to get travellers there.”
The newest player to Australia, who is promising to be a major disruptor is Texas headquartered, Outdoorsy, which claims to be the world’s fastest-growing on-demand motorhome and caravan marketplace.
Just weeks ago, it announced its expansion to the Asia-Pacific region following a launch in Canada late last year.
It says it holds the largest bookable inventory of motorhomes and caravans worldwide with 25,000 listings on its site, growing by what it says is about 3,000 a month globally. In Australia and New Zealand it has 5,000 listings.
It’s the seventh business for CEO Jeff Cavins who has a background launching highly successful tech companies.
He says its differentiation factors are around its insurance partnerships and inspections, where owners have to prove their vehicles are inspected.
Cavins says it also has a software product for people who own more than five or six vehicles, “so if you use Airbnb you know using a consumer face is easy if you have one house, but if you own buildings that’s not appropriate, it doesn’t have the reporting tools and features to run a proper business and no one had anything like that, so we built this and are able to start getting professional rental agencies and tour operators to come on our platform”.
“We measure internet demand and see global activity for RVs and we’ll advise what you need to do with pricing to get the most rentals. We coach RV owners on how to adjust prices to get booking activity so it’s an intelligent pricing algorithm.”
Cavins says its other key differentiation factor is that it includes add-ons.
“So if you want to list a kayak, bike, camping chairs or surf boards you can give people those experiences. Going forward we’ll move to the ability for people to book a band or festival, and we’ll have bundles and promos with the RV.”
Cavins says it’s now looking at other international markets, earmarking Germany, France, Italy and the UK.
“I can only see this growing and you’ll see specialist players coming in and targeting certain areas and ultimately there will be a reduction of price.”
He says owners will get more in tune with the traveller and, “it’s about tailoring it and we’ll nail that down and it’ll become more unique”.
Hales from Camplify says it’s also looking at other options overseas.
“We’ve got some ambitions to be in other countries, we’re not sure where yet, but we’re looking at what fits our product and customers.”
But he says despite what will be huge growth in the RV sharing economy, he doesn’t see the need for consolidation.
“A lot of people haven’t heard about the fact you can do this … and we see in peak period more demand than supply and so we see the more growth we can get the better, and the more we can provide options for customers, the more people can get away.”
Simmons from Mighway disagrees. He says there will have to be consolidation in the marketplace going forward.
“I don’t think there’s a big enough market to sustain the number there are and I’m sure that’ll play out, but we’re just focused now on the concept and sustainability of the market, and making this last.”