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Backcountry Battle: Websites Duel to Become the Airbnb of RVs

A new entrant to the peer-to-peer economy hopes to capitalize on the trend of consumers who want to rent recreational vehicles. Using the Airbnb model, Outdoorsy.co launched nationally last week and is among a handful of companies competing in the new industry.

Outdoorsy has approximately 2,300 RVs listed on its website — everything from pop-up trailers and classic Volkswagen campers to Airstreams and Winnebago motorhomes — with rental costs ranging from about $30 to more than $500 a day. Outdoorsy has its work cut out for it, as RVshare.com, a 2-year-old company, has a head start and more than 7,000 listings on its website in 50 states.

According to Outdoorsy, more than 12 percent of American households own an RV. The company estimates that most sit idle about 11.5 months out of the year.

Photo: Recreational vehicles on the road in Nags Head, North Carolina.
Recreational vehicles arrive on the road in Nags Head, North Carolina. Gerry Broome / AP file

"Our objective is to really be the market leader on a global scale," said Outdoorsy co-founder and CEO Jeff Cavins.

After beta-testing the service in the California market for several months, the San Francisco-based company has expanded to all states. Cavin said it's adding 50 to 100 listings daily.

Cavins calls RV rentals "a multibillion-dollar opportunity," adding that the average age of an RV owner today is 48, but the average age of an interested renter is 33. "It's clearly a millennial-driven market in terms of the rental desire."

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Joel Clark, co-founder and director of business development for Akron, Ohio-based RVshare, said the RV sharing market "has been booming. It's a desirable way for people to travel now, and the economy being up certainly helps. People are taking more vacations, and cheaper gas certainly doesn't hurt."

RV owners see the peer-to-peer marketplace as "not only a way to offset the cost of RVs," Clark said, but "as a way to start earning money."

RV owners can earn between $5,000 and $40,000 a year renting RVs to others, according to RVshare. Outdoorsy claims that figure can be up to $86,000 a year.

"Our motor home just ended up sitting in our backyard, and while we didn't want to necessarily give it up, we found this RVshare as a great solution to generating a little bit of revenue to maintain it while we're not using it," said Ken Kilgore, an RV owner in Lake Forest, California.

A client rented his 32-foot Class A motorhome last week. He conceded that "it's a little bit spooky" to share such a big-ticket asset with strangers, but said there's some comfort in knowing the site offers owners insurance protection.

RVshare and Outdoorsy both offer an online payment system and special RV insurance through a third-party. For example, Outdoorsy advertises a $1 million liability insurance policy available for its domestic and international travelers.

The RV rental companies make money by charging a commission of up to 25 percent on the total ticket price. Demand and rental fees tend to be higher during the summer months, and at major sporting and outdoor events such as the Burning Man festival.

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Owners set the rates and dates of RV availability. The renter typically is required to pick up the vehicle, although some owners will deliver it for a fee.

Outdoorsy received its initial funding from the company's four founders but also recently received an investment from a group of angel investors, according to Cavins. He wouldn't divulge the names of the investors but said they include executives from tech firms.