Camping, RV show caters to novices, experts

Union Leader Correspondent

The New Hampshire Camping and RV Show will feature campgrounds, rental and RV vendors and educational seminars on camping.

BEDFORD — With hundreds of campgrounds scattered all over the state — for beginners and seasoned outdoorsmen alike — camping is big business in the Granite State.

So big, in fact, that the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association has moved its annual New Hampshire Camping and RV Show to the NH Sportsplex in Bedford to accommodate a crowd of up to 10,000 visitors this Friday through Sunday.

The camping and RV show will feature booths from over 50 campgrounds in the state, RV dealers, camping equipment and rental units, New Hampshire attractions and activities, and free educational seminars.

“Our business has been very good for the last five years,” said Sam Bouchie, owner of the Woodmore Family Campground and RV Park in Rindge and president of the Campground Owners Association, citing the struggling economy and high gas prices in recent years for the boon to the state’s camping industry, with many coming from neighboring states to camp instead of taking more expensive vacations.

This has also meant bigger crowds each year at the Camping and RV Show, Bouchie said. The Sportsplex, with 92,000 square feet of exhibition space and ample parking, will allow for more visitors and vendors than ever before.

The show not only gives campground owners a chance to book reservations, but also gives potential campers the chance to scope out which campground best suits their needs.

“Our campground is a true family campground … but there’s other campgrounds in New Hampshire that just cater to retired couples,” he said. “There’s a good mix of everything you want to see, it’s just what type of camping you want to do.”

“People are looking (into) who’s the owner, am I going to fit into that campground? I want to see pictures, I want to talk to (the owners), what are they doing there this summer,” said Gregg Pitman, executive director of the Campground Owners Association. “Versus just going on the web and looking at pictures, here you get an opportunity to live interview with a campground owner.”

Bouchie said this year’s show at the Sportsplex will cost around $150,000 for the Campground Owner’s Association to put on, and is expected to turn over $30,000 in profits back to the association

It’s a great opportunity for RV dealers to showcase their products, with over 100 models on display at the show, and for interested buyers to score deals, Pitman said. While the RV industry took a hit in the height of the recession, with some manufacturers in the Midwest closing down, the industry has since “come back very strong,” he said.

“If people are looking to buy an RV, then this is the place to do it,” Pitman said, adding that prospective out-of-state buyers can skip sales taxes at the show. “At shows, there are great discounts. And we’re getting to the end of the season, so now is the time (to buy).”

For those not interested in buying, Pitman said, there will be plenty of rental opportunities at the show as well. Rental options include cabins, park model RVs, and yurts – a Mongolian-style tent with a wooden frame, a door, and covered with animal skins or felt.

“The rental business is there to attract people who don’t have any equipment, and probably aren’t necessarily going to buy any equipment, because it costs a lot to buy an RV, or they don’t have any place to store it,” Pitman said. “But they want that campground experience that’s different from going to a hotel.”

Bouchie said the impact of the camping industry on the state’s economy overall is “nothing but positive.”

“We have a positive effect on the local economy — we know that because the business owners tell us this,” he said. “And 85 percent of our customers come from out of state … and every dime that they spend is a positive impact for the state of New Hampshire.”

“For every dollar the state spends to advertise, they get a little over $9 back in room and meals taxes,” Pitman said, adding that those taxes apply to campsite rentals and rental units. “It’s a great return on their investment.”

The New Hampshire Camping and RV Show kicks off tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the NH Sportsplex, located at 68 Technology Drive in Bedford, and runs through 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children under 12. Visitors can save $2 on their admission fee with a donation of two non-perishable food items for the New Hampshire Food Bank.

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Cassidy Swanson