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For Those Who Like to Vacation, Travel, Camp--It’s Show Time

Times Staff Writer

If your idea of roughing it is a night or two at the Holiday Inn, the Anaheim Sports, Vacation & RV Show won’t be your idea of a good time.

If, on the other hand, you’re one of those folks who can’t get enough of mosquito-slapping in the great outdoors or bagging your own wild boar, the 24th annual show that starts today can keep you fascinated for hours.

The 9-day show features more than 600 exhibits with people selling everything from glacier-climbing treks through Wyoming to rockhounding and bird-watching excursions.

Where else can you find recreational vehicles with queen-size beds, slide-out rooms and TV monitors for backing out of a tight spot? Where else can you watch log rollers on roller skates or “Mr. Sound Effects,” Wes Harrison, who imitates full-scale air raids and jet aircraft taking off? Or how about signing up for fishing trips to Venezuela or hot-air balloon trips that will have you skimming the surface of a white-water river?

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The show reflects the increasing popularity of vacations in out-of-the-way spots, its promoters say. “People are finding that they certainly can travel much cheaper in an RV, where they don’t have to spend money in a coffee shop or stay in a hotel,” said Sharon Buck, the show’s producer. At the same time, she said, the aging of the baby boom is bringing more people into the market for more adventuresome, exotic outdoorsy trips--such as angling and dog-sledding in Alaska or covered-wagon trips through Montana.

One result is that in 2 years, the annual show plans to expand from its current 300,000 square feet--about the size of 12 football fields--to 400,000 square feet. That means that there should be about 100 more exhibits added to the present 600, Buck said.

Buck’s hopes for the current show, which runs through Jan. 15 at the Anaheim Convention Center, are that about 250,000 people will plunk down the $6.50 admission fee for adults ($2.25 for children). That may be a tad optimistic, considering that show promoters estimated last year’s attendance at close to 90,000.

But to hear exhibitors tell it, at least, there is no doubting that catering to nature-minded vacationeers has become big business.

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Take Anglers Travel Connection in Torrance, for instance. Owner Chet Young caters almost exclusively to the travel fisherman, booking trips to Alaska, Canada and Mexico. The excursions range from $177 for 3 nights and 2 days of panga fishing in Baja to $3,750 for a week of fishing and deluxe lodging in Alaska.

Since he started the company 6 years ago, Young estimates that business has climbed 30% to 40% each year. “People are more oriented to leisure every year,” he said. “And fishing is the No. 1 participation sport.” After all, Young added, “There are more than 1.5 million fishing licenses in Southern California alone.”

On Friday afternoon, exhibitors like Young were busily setting up their displays of brochures, gigantic color posters, and camping tents and equipment. Stuffed moose heads littered the floor next to huge, mounted salmon. And while most convention floors are blanketed with people in three-piece suits, at the Sports, Vacation and RV Show, red-checkered wool shirts and khaki and olive green jackets were de rigueur.

Much of the floor space is taken up by another high-grossing business--recreational vehicles. With its year-round sunny weather and dense population, it is small wonder that Southern California is called the RV Capitol of the World.

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Nearly 300 RV models are on display at the show.

They include the 37-foot Overland, a diesel model with rear engine that comes equipped with solid wood cabinets, leather seats and dash and an electric sofa that converts into a bed at the push of a button. “You can sip your martini while the bed is being made,” said Bruce Lassiter, owner of Lassiter’s RV Center in Irvine, which is displaying the Overland.

The creme-de-la-creme model is priced for quick sale at $129,000. That’s small change compared to some of the ultra-deluxe custom jobs selling for more than $500,000. In all, an assortment of the latest RVs and accessories valued at more than $15 million are on display for sale, according to Corrine Sidney, the show’s publicity director.

But the displays don’t stop with exhibits and motor homes. Just down the halls are other diversions.

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You’ve heard of the casting couch. How about the casting pond? The show’s “Tackle Row"--a group of fishing products’ exhibits--are right by an 80-foot-long pond that is used to demonstrate fly fishing.

Then there are fishing clinics, seminars on RV maintenance and High Sierra fishing, and an International Travel Film Festival that includes movies on how to lure just about every kind of fish you can catch.


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