Before Covid-19, 4WD touring also commonly known as Overlanding (particularly in the US) has been rapidly growing in popularity amongst adventurers looking to get off the beaten track.
Overlanding is best described as ‘off-road campervaning’ where intrepid travellers can take a road trip that covers not only the blacktop, but also the ungroomed and remote tracks leading deep into the wilderness. The vehicles used are typically built for off-road driving and fitted with Roof Top Tents.
‘Overlanders/4WD tourers’ look for remote locations and campsites, those located at the top of a mountain trail, deep in a forest or hidden in a desert, basically, anywhere out in nature where encountering other humans is unlikely and there is no competition for optimal views and campsites from RVs or campervans.Now that we have experienced Covid-19 and with it a destruction of the travel industry internationally, with the US reporting approximately $24 billion lost and 825,000 jobs wiped out, according to Paula Froelich of the New York Post.
In Europe, it is estimated that the industry, which employs around 13 million people, is estimated to be losing around €1 billion in revenue per month as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.
In many otherwise popular tourist destinations, hotels have been deserted and restaurants, bars, tourist attractions, theme parks and museums closed. Trade fairs like the Abenteuer & Allrad show in Germany have been cancelled or postponed until 2021.
It is interesting to note that many people in the industry believe that once this lockdown fully ends, a pent-up desire to explore after isolation will create a huge need to travel. So what are the likely preferred options? “We are currently focusing on #staycations, within-country travel … domestic travel will recover from this crisis first” said Mark Wong, an executive at Small Luxury Hotels of the World in a recent CNBC interview.
“Road trips – the drive market – will be this summer’s trend. Travellers will be more comfortable hopping into their own cars or rental vehicles than commuting in mass transportation” stated Wong.With plummeting oil prices and fuel becoming cheap, he is probably right. If you’ve got kids, ditch the one large trip and schedule a series of three or four road trips to places closer to home. In fact, the likelihood of pretty much anyone taking long holidays after months under lockdown, is slim.This sentiment was echoed by Samantha Brown, the host of “Places to Live” on PBS. She predicts a huge need to travel, not just to distant places, but on shorter local trips.
Chris Elliott, a contributor to Forbes Magazine and founder of Elliott Advocacy, succinctly summed up how people will travel after the Coronavirus:
1. They’ll stay in their own country and International travel will fall out of favour as people stay closer to the safety of home.
2. They won’t travel far from home. “#Staycation” and road trips will be favoured over flying or cruising.
3. They’ll make it quick. A softer economy will mean the traditional two-week summer holiday could turn into a long weekend.
Finding destinations without crowds and discovering new places to go to will be the new challenge. This is where the small 4WD touring/Overlanding industry could flourish, providing more than just vehicles and camping equipment, Overlanding tour companies provide off-road capable vehicles like Jeeps or Land Rovers and equip them with roof top tents, allowing families to travel to remote spots and places they can comfortably explore.
Very few people have off-road capable vehicles sitting in their driveway, ready to go. In fact, most don’t even have a tent or sleeping bag. This is where small 4WD/Overlanding businesses have developed their niche. They can rent out fully equipped 4WD tourers, complete with roof top tents, for much cheaper than you would pay for a small to mid- size RV or campervan. You simply arrive and drive. Companies like Funki Adventures, Rustika Travel, Dream Overland, Overland New Zealand, Highland Defenders,Higher Adventure, and Transylvania Tours in Romania could do very well within their own domestic markets as we all emerge from this pandemic.
The founders of Overlanding New Zealand, Corey and Andrea, believe that domestic travel will be the vacation type of choice in New Zealand, both for the cost savings as well as the reduced risk profile. “The undoubted benefit of being able to get ‘off the grid’ in a hurry will mean a spike in sales of off-road and overlanding style vehicles” suggested Andrea. She added that many local businesses have built themselves on the tourist dollar, so their products and services may not be at a price point acceptable to the average New Zealander. In contrast, Overlanding through a professional company can be a relatively inexpensive few days away from daily life.Overlanding in New Zealand will be geared more towards the local tourist, rather than the foreign big spender
Highland Defenders, an Overland provider in Scotland, are working with other local businesses to cater for the local tourist. “With an expected drop in international trade, we are working harder than ever to promote and support our local businesses through this difficult time. We are expecting to see a more UK focused customer base for a while as folk begin to travel again, but may be limited to movement within the country.” James at Highland Defenders is also working with local vendors to provide gift vouchers to any upcoming bookings in an effort to draw more tourists to frequent small businesses in Scotland.
Popular Overland provider in Northern California, Cypress Overland is run by Alexa Birukova and she firmly believes that ‘Netflix fatigue’ will soon affect most of us after weeks (or months) of lockdown: “Post-Covid 19 reality will most certainly encourage more city dwellers to explore nature and find its healing properties. 4WD tourers around the world have known for decades that it’s one of the best ways to experience our beautiful planet without the limitations of hotels, motels, RVs, Campervans or really anything that has walls. We think long weekend getaway trips will become the new ‘Netflix and Chill’ where Netflix will be replaced by oceans, forests, lakes, deserts and mountains”.
It will be interesting to see how this niche industry will evolve in the new normal that will emerge once this virus passes. Overlanding and 4WD touring might just be the tonic needed to cure the post-Covid hangover.