Ottawa-based RV rental platforms gearing up for busy summer

Michael McNaught
RVezy CEO Michael McNaught.

With physical distancing measures poised to keep many Canadians close to home this summer, Michael McNaught says he’s not surprised people are scrapping plans to hop on planes and turning to his business instead.

McNaught is the co-founder of RVezy, an Ottawa-based peer-to-peer rental platform for recreational vehicles. He says the four-year-old company ​– which now has an inventory of more than 7,000 motorhomes, trailers and camper vans across the country ​– is already seeing traffic on its website hit levels it usually only reaches in July.

“Pent-up demand just seems to be exploding,” says McNaught, a former police officer who launched the platform in 2016 with business partner Will Thompson. 

The site is already taking thousands of bookings a week, and he expects things to just keep getting busier. McNaught predicts his July numbers will be up at least 150 per cent over 2019. 

“I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like once Ontario and Quebec loosen the restrictions and allow camping,” he says. “We had a pretty remarkable year last year, and now we’re on pace to double that.”

A father of three kids aged 14, 12 and six, McNaught says many families are wondering how they’ll pass time over the next few months when many of the usual go-to activities such as summer camps and water parks could remain off-limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Camping is still banned in Ontario’s provincial parks, and officials say they don’t know when the campgrounds will reopen.

“What are you going to do all summer?” McNaught says. 

RVezy recently commissioned a poll to get feedback on the industry. The results would seem to suggest that Canadians are indeed more revved up about RVing this summer as they seek vacation ideas that don’t involve gathering in crowded amusement parks, staying in hotels with other guests or travelling in the close confines of an aircraft. 

In the survey of 2,000 Canadians conducted by Ottawa’s Abacus Data earlier this month, one-third of respondents said they previously didn’t think RVing was right for them but would now consider it.

With COVID-19 forcing many individuals to rethink previously common activities such as travel, the survey also asked about the perceived safety of various leisure activities.

About the same percentage said they thought camping in an RV was a risky activity. Meanwhile, about six in 10 people surveyed said they believed staying in a hotel would carry at least some level of risk, while three-quarters of those polled felt the same about going to a water park. More than half of the respondents deemed flying to be “too risky” to consider this summer.

“People that have never really considered RVing as an option are now considering it,” says McNaught, who covers all the insurance and administrative costs for renting vehicles on his platform and charges owners a 15 per cent service fee. 

“They’re kind of forced to adapt to the current environment. They will vacation. They’re just likely to vacation much closer to home.”

Ruckify rethinks RV opportunities

Ottawa entrepreneur Steve Cody says he’s seeing a similar trend. Cody runs online rental marketplace Ruckify, which added recreational vehicles to its stable of products late last year when it acquired Calgary-based RV-sharing site Wheel Estate.

Wheel Estate’s site contains about 800 RVs, fifth wheels and pop-up tents available for rent in Western Canada and Ontario. While Cody concedes he’d virtually “written off” the RV rental business a couple of months ago when the lockdown was in full effect across the country, he says demand for the service is now surging ​– particularly in the western provinces as they begin to reopen their economies and ease physical distancing restrictions.

“We’ve had more bookings so far this week than we’ve had in our last three months,” says Cody, who adds he’s looking at buying a couple of campers himself and renting them out on the platform for extra cash.

McNaught says his platform’s stock of RVs is growing by the day as more owners eye ways to generate a little extra income in tough economic times.

“There’s a lot of Canadians out there that have lost their primary source of income (and) are hurting financially,” he explains.

Cody says Ruckify is preparing to expand the service to vehicles and renters south of the border, and McNaught says he’s not ruling out a similar move.

“You never know,” he says. “We’ll have to see what the future holds.”