In the hard-to-find camp

Airstream popularity grows during pandemic

By Amy Edelen

The Spokesman-Review

About three years ago, Trinidad “Trini” Carreon noticed a small but contemporary travel trailer parked alongside a road and thought it would be fairly simple to buy a model just like it.

But popularity for that particular model of travel trailer — an Airstream Basecamp — was much more than Carreon anticipated.

“I shopped around and thought I could just buy one, but they are in high demand,” he said. “The Airstream dealerships right now are selling everything out — not just the Basecamps.”

Carreon and his wife, Gwen, sold a larger, 20-foot travel trailer and eventually snagged a preorder earlier this year for the 16-foot Airstream Basecamp X at Airstream of Spokane, which is more than four hours from their Whitefish, Montana, residence.

“Airstream has a loyal following, and that’s kind of fun,” Carreon said. “Right now, we are trying to downsize and think it will work out well for us.”

The Carreons are among several people choosing to take to the road in RVs during the coronavirus pandemic.

The RV Industry Association reported a record-breaking number of 45,930 RV shipments in January, a 39.2% increase compared to 33,003 shipments during the same time last year.

“RV shipments show no sign of slowing down,” Craig Kirby, RV Industry Association president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “RV manufacturers and suppliers are producing a record number of units to meet the continued demand from consumers looking to make RVing a part of their active outdoor lifestyle.”

Despite being forced to close for six weeks early in the pandemic, retail sales at Airstream dealerships jumped 22% in 2020, and demand is still on the rise. It’s “beyond anything we anticipated,” Airstream’s chief executive officer Bob Wheeler told the Washington Post recently.

Airstream dealerships closed their doors in March with full inventories — about 40 vehicles on average. Now, many are down to just six or seven and it will take a year to fulfill existing orders, the Post reported.

“That kind of backlog is unprecedented,” Wheeler said. “It’s like nothing I’ve seen in my 19 years at this company.”

Karyn Dietz, who co-owns Airstream of Spokane with her husband, Nick, agreed that demand has been like nothing they’ve seen before. Only one travel trailer — an Airstream Caravel — is in stock at their business at 7611 E. Boone Lane in Spokane Valley.

“We had 40 on the lot last spring and they just all sold out quickly,” Karyn Dietz said. “Any used or preowned (Airstreams) sold out super quickly as well, and (customers) are buying sight unseen because we have no stock.”

Airstream inventory is so low nationwide that customers are coming to Airstream of Spokane from all across the U.S. in search of preowned and new travel trailers, which could be back in stock in August or September, Dietz said.

“Airstream has always been popular, but it has been nuts right now,” she said, adding demand has been fueled by people looking for a socially distanced way to travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wheeler said many of the company’s customers in the past eight months are new to RV life. Airstreams have typically attracted couples and singles, but this year, the travel trailers garnered interest from more families.

In response to customer requests during the pandemic’s remote-work environment, Airstream is building a variation of its Flying Cloud model with a new floor plan and a separate, tech-enabled, WiFi-ready office for $107,000.

“Airstream always had a large preponderance of people who have never RVed before, but heard about the quality of Airstream,” Dietz said. “Now we are seeing more young people and seeing more families.”

Dietz said she recently sold an Airstream model with bunk beds to a family. A Seattle-based customer purchased an Airstream and is using it as a home office in the backyard, she added.

New Airstreams cost from $39,000 to $177,000, according to the company’s website.

Carreon said part of the Airstream Basecamp’s appeal is its affordability compared to higher-end models.

The Basecamp X, which starts at $39,100, has a sleeping area for two, a small kitchen area, solar panels, shower, bathroom, air conditioning, a higher clearance and off-road tires, all of which make it easy for travelers to “boondock,” a term used by RVers to describe camping on public land without water, sewer and power hookups, Carreon said.

“It’s an Airstream that’s not $60,000, $80,000 or $100,000. It’s more affordable,” Carreon said. “Every rivet on the Airstream is very carefully built and it’s going to be one that reflects the future.

“The design is different. It’s more aerodynamic and you can tow it with a lighter-weight vehicle.”

The Basecamp has gained somewhat of a national social media following with several groups dedicated to the travel trailer.

The groups, which share designs, tips and tricks for the Basecamp, provide a sense of camaraderie, Carreon said.

The Carreons, who are receiving their Airstream Basecamp in June, are looking forward to traveling, and visiting friends and family in different states.

“We’re just going to take off. We’ve already planned some sites and places to go,” Carreon said. “We want to go out, camp, be free, have the wind in our faces and enjoy the sunsets.”