Joe McAdams - President, Equity LifeStyle Properties

As we wind down the Centennial Year for the RV Industry, TrailBlazer sat down with Joe McAdams to get his thoughts on the industry's longevity as well as what he thinks the future holds.

TB: Why do you think the RV industry has endured, not to mention gained in popularity through the years?

Joe: Well, it remains one of the best ways to travel and provides the most freedom. Many people have said that the freedom is the draw, in fact David Woodworth said it in our interview with him this past June. Basically, you're doing it your way. No check-in lines, no delays - except for traffic but even the novice RVers can figure out not to drive in peak traffic. If you want to stay somewhere a bit longer, no worries. Just hit the road again tomorrow. If people found it fun to do back in 1910 with limited facilities, dirt roads and only your own good sense to find where you're going, imagine the draw today. Superhighways, GPS systems that basically lead you right to the front door, so to speak, and the immense changes in the RVs themselves - what's not to like?

TB: From an innovation standpoint, what stands out as some of the most significant changes in the RV industry through the years?

Joe: The industry has been on the forefront of a number of changes over the years. A few that come to mind are, the introduction of more fuel-efficient engines with enhanced body styles. A number of today's lightweight models can even be towed by your typical automobile. Solar power is being used not only in batteries and other RV accessories but also operationally at the RV resorts/campgrounds to heat swimming pools, spas and other common areas throughout the property. And we can't forget all the technical gadgets that have been introduced making our RV lifestyle a bit more comfortable and easier, including GPS units, LED lighting, flatscreen TVs, iPod docking centers and much more. Not to mention the appeal of the variety of options in accommodations including RVs, park models, yurts and cabins. To that end the RV resorts/campgrounds have implemented upgrades to accommodate the variety of options our customers are seeking.

TB: What's the attraction of RVing?

Joe: Again, we're going back to the idea of being in charge of your own agenda. It's your adventure, do it your way. Then there's the whole cost-savings aspect of it. You are in charge of your RV lifestyle. You save on airfare, hotel and motel costs. The family driving vacation remains one of the most popular summer travel agendas. RVing is the basic family driving vacation but in a much more comfortable mode of transportation. Interestingly the past few years saw a rise in "staycations" and yet RV rentals and campground reservations increased. From an empty-nester perspective, RVing can serve as a stepping stone to full-timing and snowbirding. There's no better way to explore an area than by spending a few weeks or so in an RV resort and getting a feel for the place. It can help make the decision as to where you want to spend your retirement years. As park models continue to increase in popularity and availability they now essentially serve as second homes for vacation/seasonal getaways. With these units located in sought after vacation and retirement destinations they provide an affordable option for the customer.

TB: What do you think the draw is for the younger RVers? The lifestyle, the nostalgia from childhood experiences or a mix of both?

Joe: I really believe it's a mix of both. We see generations of families at our campgrounds. In addition to the family experience, their purpose is to create memories and family history that will last for generations to come. The difference is the changes in the campgrounds and the availability of technology. This isn't your grandmother's camping experience! The experience at some resorts/campgrounds is like a cruise ship with full activity schedules, all sorts of amenities and truly high-end facilities. Glamping is the new buzzword, plus with access to technology and the availability of it at campgrounds, you can stay as connected as you want. Of course, there's something to be said for disconnecting and reconnecting too. The younger generation is very accustomed to having it their way - with the endless options available in the RV and camping realm, they build their own experience. Kinda like those old burger commercials - they really can customize their experience.

TB: How is ELS and Thousand Trails staying ahead of the curve and adapting to the changes in the industry?

Joe: We have introduced a number of new products at various price points that appeal to a much larger customer base. We have adopted changes to our deposit and cancellation policies to make them more customer friendly. In addition, we continue to invest in our properties to provide amenities that appeal to the boomers. We have introduced a number of educational programs, sporting events, as well as health and wellness and financial seminars. Our concerts and sports tournaments have grown substantially over the years.

TB: What is one of the most significant signs you've seen to indicate that the RV industry is bouncing back from the past few years?

Joe: As we move into the fourth quarter there are a number of RV consumer and industry events. Recently the Hershey show held this past September posted record attendance and manufacturers are reporting strong sales for the event. We also experienced higher reservation traffic at this event. We are coming off a good summer season and seasonal reservations at our Sunbelt locations, in particular in Arizona and Texas, are running slightly ahead of last year.

TB: If you had a crystal ball, what do you think the next 100 years holds for the RV industry?

Joe: It's only going to get better. Manufacturers are aware of the need to go green and are making great strides in introducing environmentally friendly products from the RV itself to all the accoutrements. The RVer continues to look for ways to make less of an negative impact on the environment while they enjoy our great land. Coaches are being streamlined and reproportioned - the frills are there but just done a whole lot better. The industry watched and learned through the ups and downs and made changes accordingly. It won't die off as generations age, that's pretty obvious by the past 100 years. This last century saw some of the most drastic advances in technology, the automotive industry, the transportation industry and more, and yet, people still want to hit the open road in search of adventure. And they're in the driver's seat.