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The 16-foot Airstream Sport travel trailer is designed for weekend warriors, with features such as an exterior shower, rear bath and Bluetooth entertainment system.

Katherine Scarrow/The Globe and Mail

From the models on prominent display and the messaging on the floor of the Toronto RV Show in January, you wouldn’t have known that the RV industry is in the midst of a renaissance. Baby boomers populated the crowd, at a time when experience-craving young people are truly propelling recreational-vehicle sales in Canada.

Likely it will be a different scene at the Toronto Spring Camping and RV Show, Feb. 28-March 3, at the International Centre in Mississauga. Nicknamed “the Big One,” the event brings together a wider range of outdoor exhibitors, including those from the fishing, hiking, hunting and mountain-biking industries – all areas of interest for millennials who are driving much of the growth of camping in Canada and the United States.

The strong employment rate, cheap gas, low-interest financing, lightweight materials that boost fuel efficiency are factors attracting millennials, especially to compact RVs, says Christopher Mahony, president of Go RVing Canada. Moreover, “the rise of the nomadic lifestyle … and increasingly technological sophistication” are underlying the movement, he says. RVs complement activities they already enjoy such as road trips, camping and music festivals.

The three qualities they seek in an RV are towability, technology and affordability.

The Ranger 12 Aliner A-frame is a lightweight yet rugged trailer. It's a solid option for weekend camping excursions and small enough to fit in a garage.

Katherine Scarrow/The Globe and Mail

A gigantic pickup truck is no longer required to tow a 22-foot travel trailer, and cars and SUVs are more fuel-efficient these days, Mahony says. That’s drawn millennials who don’t want to bring a Class A motorhome to a quick weekend camping trip. Manufacturers have responded by creating ultralightweight trailers such as the Happier Camper HC1, Timberleaf Trailer and Safari’s Alto R Series, to name a few.

The ability to stay connected is also critical for millennials, even as research indicates this generation allegedly wants to unplug while on vacation. “I don’t think millennials want to disconnect,” Mahony says. “The reality is, we’re just not going to. In fact, having our device accessible sometimes takes the stress away.”

For entry-level purchasers, manufacturers are offering WiFi, head-to-toe solar panels and LED lighting as options.

This generation is also price sensitive. Many companies offer entry-level travel trailers in the US$11,000-US$35,000 range. According to Camper Report, an average 24-foot travel trailer with decent construction will cost roughly US$23,000.

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Quebec-based HÉLIO manufactures compact travel trailers for outdoor enthusiasts. The O4 is designed with families in mind, with ample storage, a dedicated electric cooler space and a portable toilet.

Katherine Scarrow/The Globe and Mail

Functional design is a must-have for millennials too, especially if you’re bringing a husband, two small children and a dog on the road. Yet, at the RV Show, only a handful of units seemed to cater to these millennial demands, and they weren’t easy to find. The majority of dealers were targeting empty nesters looking for larger-scale models.

“Our core buyer demographic is still 45 to 50-plus,” says Sam Parkers, owner of the Camp-Out RV Centre. “They’re the people who are secure in their jobs, taking packages and in the ‘play time in their lives.’”

Dealers, as well as show directors, have an unenviable task ahead of them: how to attract new potential buyers to the “RV lifestyle club,” without ostracizing loyal patrons.

“We did an analysis of our existing audience, and speaking to a younger audience was identified as being really important,” says Natalie Conway, executive director of the Ontario RV Dealers Association. “In years to come, we want to capture younger families who may not know about the RV lifestyle.”

RV dealers and show directors won’t have to work so hard to sell the RV lifestyle to younger people. They’ve already bought into it.

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But it will take another few years for the industry to change in any significant way, and by then, who knows what Gen Z will be looking for in an RV?

Read more

RVs provide freedom for adventurous travellers, but it will cost you

How RVs could help address Vancouver’s homelessness problem

Living the compact life in an RV did my soul good

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