Coronavirus: RV rentals speeding up as travelers seek alternate routes

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, RV rentals here in East Tennessee have soared.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare visited a rental dealer Tuesday where the units come in one day, then out the next.

The novel coronavirus pandemic is making people rethink what vacation looks like – one way to travel without going through airports is renting a recreational vehicle, or RV.

These are not campers, which are often pulled behind a truck, and they’re not Coach buses like those of the rock stars, these are units that anybody can drive and are currently speeding out of rental spaces.

Jim Donaldson spent about an hour today cleaning up an RV that has just returned from a road trip. The Cruise America dealer in Knoxville has a fleet of a dozen vehicles 25 and 30 feet long. Only five were in the yard today … the rental market has rarely been this strong.

“With COVID it is craze because we have so many people who have never rented an RV before. They’re not campers, they just want to get away from everything,” Donaldson said.

He also says customers have recently traveled to visit family and didn’t want to stay in motels.

“Who they are going to see doesn’t want them exposed to the Coronavirus, so they are renting RVs so they can stay in their own little world,” Donaldson said.

Cruise America is the biggest rental outfit in the country. Some recent local renters have even traveled westward.

“They don’t want to fly, they just want to go, they want to see America. They want to get away from what is going on, they are scared to go anywhere else,” Donaldson said.

The RVs are equipped with a large luggage area to carry all you need. Donaldson showed us a 30-foot unit rental unit which he says is the most popular – it can sleep up to seven people, has separate bathroom/shower amenities and has a V-10 engine.

With the precarious state of things because of the virus — Donaldson expects rental reservations will likely remain strong all summer.

“Everything you see is rented for the next day or two,” Donaldson said Tuesday. “When they come in, we quickly jump in to maintain them. I clean them up, try to find out if there is anything wrong with them, correct that for the next rental that is coming in.”

Typically, the summer months of June, July and August are very busy for RV rentals. We’re told last year, many people rented RVs to attend sporting events by traveling to Bristol or Talladega for NASCAR races; as well as to the Bonnaroo festival.

With sporting event cancellations and reschedules, companies like Cruise America saw RV rentals start a lot earlier than summer, a trend that may continue into the fall season.

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