Platform Basics Rule the Road, Says RVshare CEO

“I’d like to believe that I’ve spent my career making travel more accessible,” Jon Gray, CEO of RVshare, told Karen Webster in the most recent “Matchmakers” installment. 

From his vantage point at RVshare’s helm for half a decade and at VRBO (formerly HomeAway) for more than decade prior to that, Gray remarked that there’s a similarity between the firms: 

At the most fundamental level, VRBO/HomeAway and RVshare both exist as peer-to-peer sharing economy marketplaces, where existing, owned assets (a home, an RV) can be turned into a secondary source of income.

A decade into its existence, RVshare operates as the largest RV rental site in the United States, facilitating more than 127 million miles rented and 4 million nights booked with an installed base of more than 100,000 RVs. 

The marketplace model, he said, sits in the middle of supply and demand, removing friction from this segment of the sharing economy.

“We want to make this as easy as booking a rental car,” said Gray of RV rentals, “or booking a hotel room.” 

An ecosystem has developed, and still is being developed, with the RV as an integral component, giving rise to a community that extends beyond the marketplace. 

“There’s been a tremendous amount of public and private money that has gone into developing campgrounds, to enhancing national and state parks and building infrastructure for outdoor travel,” said Gray. The rise of remote work and Zoom calls, he said, has made it easier to work from anywhere — even the great outdoors. 

Fueled by the Pandemic

Not surprisingly, the RV rental market has seen a lift in the wake of the pandemic. The supply part of the equation, Gray noted, had been bolstered by COVID: 

“Everyone wanted to have an RV,” he said. “It was a way for people to vacation without being exposed, in the early days, to COVID while taking the kids and families out to see the country.”

Demand also grew as the world’s left the pandemic in the rear-view mirror. 

Interest rates and a constrained used vehicle market have made it tougher to buy RVs, so renting them has become a viable alternative, as they come to the platform to look at reviews of the campers, choose the model they want and kick the tires, so to speak, of vehicles that have already been vetted. There’s roadside assistance and insurance available as renters book and take the RVs out on the road, Gray said, which helps offset any concerns about safety and maintenance. The owners themselves test drive the vehicles upon return to help ensure quality. 

For the owners, there’s the boon of monetizing the RV, which otherwise is idle in the driveway, and offsetting the ownership cost. In fact, he noted, more than half of the owners renting their vehicles on the platform offset all of their RV ownership costs through renting.

The Fleets Grow

“People see this as a business opportunity,” Gray said. Owners of single RVs have shown a willingness to branch out and buy more where possible and rent them out. Or they’ll manage someone else’s RV on their behalf while receiving a percentage of the rental – a subset of the market known as consignment fleets. As evidence of that growing trend, RVshare earlier this month said that it had teamed with Direct, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) firm, to offer fleet management tools for owners with several listings. 

“This is an earlier stage business,” Gray said of the consignment model. For now, a significant slice of RVshare’s business can be likened to a “hotel on site,” as 40% of the bookings are delivered to various sites around the country, an approach driven by renters scouting RVs based on their sleeping capacity and location. RVshare, he said, has partnerships with campground providers, wherein RVs are driven to the grounds as part of that location-based activity.

Looking ahead, he said, there’s an ebb and flow to RV rental demand — as interest resurges after the year-end holidays and as families begin planning their next vacation. 

As 2024 gets underway, he said, RVshare will look to bolster its search functions and “push forward the standardization” of check-in and checkout processes.  

Of the RV rental market and the road ahead, he told Webster, “We want to be considered along all the other options of mainstream travel, from cruises to hotel stays.”