Two new peer-to-peer RV rental websites, Calgary’s WheelEstate.ca and Outdoorsy.com are racing ahead of traditional RV rental companies to connect North American campers and RV owners. Renters enjoy camping without the burdens of ownership, while owners turn their parked assets into extra cash.
Conventional RV rental companies are finding that the new “sharing economy” is forcing them to change the way they do business. “At one time there was no one else doing what we do,” Keith Hanks, the owner of Affordable RV in Calgary, says. “All we needed was a telephone. Now we have to be online to be competitive.”
More than 5.3 million Canadians camp each year while most trailers in Canada are only used an average of two weeks during camping season. Wheel Estate turns these unused trailers into income for their owners, with rentals that average $110 per night. Some start as low as $45, making them an affordable option, especially for young families who want an alternative to tent camping. Renters deal directly with owners to negotiate details on mileage rates, cleaning services and accessories such as bedding and lawn chairs. Some owners will even set up the trailer, eliminating the need for a tow vehicle.
Outdoorsy, founded by Canadian Jen Young and her husband Jeff Cavins, is based in Austin, Tex. Their trendy vintage chrome Airstream trailers and self-contained VW camper vans appeal to social media savvy millennials who make up 40 per cent of their users. They also rent every class and category of RV from fifth wheel trailers to high-end luxury motorhomes. Before launching, they travelled across the U.S. reaching out to 1,200 RV owners on Craigslist to find out what would make them feel comfortable enough to rent out their units. They began offering cross-border camping in the United States and Canada in 2017. Both companies offer insurance policies and roadside assistance packages.
Some traditional RV rental companies are choosing to partner rather than compete. Creekside RV Rental in Sherwood Park, Alta., has jumped on board and lists with Wheel Estate. “Renting from a company is the difference between staying at a hotel and an AirBnB,” owner Michael Huisman says. “We can supply a bare-bones set up or provide everything but the groceries. For us, listing with Wheel Estate was a win-win.” Outdoorsy offers a similar free service for RV rental companies called Wheelbase that may be next turn in the road for this once unchallenged industry.
For Tim Fauser of Calgary, renting out his RV was an easy decision. “I asked a lot of questions initially. The first couple of times I saw someone drive off with my RV was a little nerve-racking, but now I think it’s a great idea.”
Trailers need to have a clean title, no mechanical issues and have a yearly maintenance checkup. Unlike some rental companies, most owners are enthusiastic campers themselves and tend go all out to provide renters with the information and necessities that they need. “I take about 90 minutes to educate people on absolutely everything about the trailer. Everything is included from toothpicks to garbage bags, plus I made up an 18-page manual with photos and bullet points,” Fauser says.