Expert Insights

Can EV Charging Stations Be a New Type of Tourist Destination?

Dr. Pavlina McGrady
Samantha Silberberger
December 12, 2023
While charging on the go can be an inconvenience for electric car drivers on a road trip, it also creates opportunities for local tourism that wouldn't have existed in the gas-and-go world of gasoline vehicles. How will the travel industry adapt?
Car charging in an EV charging station

Growth in EV Sales Creates "Charging Deserts"

Over the last few years, the number of Electric Vehicles (EVs) sold in the United States has seen tremendous growth. There have been 1.6 million new and used EVs sold in 2023 thus far, an increase from 1 million in 2022. This transition to EVs is a step towards a more sustainable future but also an opportunity to redefine how we approach daily activities. One aspect of EV ownership that has been overlooked is the time spent charging the vehicle. Rather than viewing this time as a mere inconvenience, drivers can turn it into an opportunity for recreation and personal well-being.

For those considering an EV, one of the most frequently cited concerns is a lack of charging stations and the related “range anxiety.” This is only amplified when these charging stations are located mainly in urban areas, and many rural areas become what are known as “charging deserts.” To exacerbate the issue, the time needed to charge an EV can be quite long. While traditional combustion engine vehicles take only a few minutes to fill up their tanks, EVs take much longer, from 20 minutes up to 4+ hours (depending on the charger available), consequently giving EV owners more time on their hands while their vehicles charge. In rural areas, this causes a problem, as there are usually not enough offerings to entertain the average person.

Man sitting with car door open of an electric car

Passive Tourism: The Opportunity

Destinations typically build EV charging infrastructure near local tourism offices and visitor centers, shopping malls and hotels, and State parks, as these locations give visitors (EV drivers) more options. However, as charging network expansion in more remote areas is needed, there exists an opportunity to develop rural areas around charging stations into mini-travel destinations, while also encouraging more climate-friendly and “passive” tourism. Passive tourism refers to slowing down and enjoying small towns that they might not visit otherwise. This, in turn, promotes destinations that are more focused on scenic and leisure activities.

Communities should consider building small and walkable areas specifically targeted towards EV owners. This would boost tourism for those drop-by places along freeways or in rural areas where many people only stop for a quick treat or gas but now will have plenty of time to explore the town. Instead of waiting impatiently for the EV battery to charge, drivers can go for a stroll, a quick hike, or a visit to a local museum or a café. This not only adds an element of physical activity to the charging process but also allows drivers to discover new places. EV charging time can also be transformed into social and cultural experiences where charging stations can host art installations or even cultural events and live performances. Drivers can connect with fellow EV enthusiasts or attend community gatherings.

Some destinations are already connecting EV charging with tourism. These destinations encourage a natural, more passive way of traveling, with an integration of new technology into preexisting nature and tourism. White Passage Scenic Byway in Washington, for example, focuses on EV tourism with charging stations located along the road within forests and historic towns. Travel Oregon, helps EV travelers with trip ideas on its EV trips page, which is beneficial for Oregon visitors but also aligns with the organization’s vision for sustainability.

Sustainability is another consideration for EV drivers and communities alike. Although more infrastructure in rural, underdeveloped areas can be of concern, this infrastructure offers more opportunities for a climate-friendly travel experience in often beautiful, delicate environments. EVs create less air pollution, less noise pollution, and lower environmental impacts, thus providing an incentive for rural communities to adopt EV developments and potentially brand destinations as “eco-friendly.” Nevertheless, it is always important to remember to consider each community's views on new infrastructure development and to encourage a deeper understanding of what is best for that community before any expansion.

Person checking on their ev battery on their navigation screen

EV Travel: The Future

Electric Vehicles are becoming avenues for better travel and more opportunities for small tourist visits – taking scenic routes and the road less traveled, eating at small mom-and-pop restaurants, or taking a hike while charging your car. Companies are increasingly seeing this opportunity for the connection between EVs and tourism. One such company is Hertz Rental Cars, which is planning to implement EVs into their market by replacing one-fourth of gas vehicles with electric ones by 2024. And the increase in demand for electric vehicles by the consumers of these tourism companies will only increase as more and more infrastructure for these vehicles is being developed.

Hotels are also starting to get on the EV train as they are marketing many of their services to those who own EVs, and even the government is investing in this industry. The Biden Administration has proposed building a national network of 500,000 EV chargers along America’s busiest highways and communities and having EVs make up at least 50% of new car sales by 2030 with an investment of $7.5 billion in EV charging, $10 billion in clean transportation, and over $7 billion in EV battery components, critical minerals, and material, all towards the goal of net zero emissions by 2050. Much of this proposed infrastructure will be in the most visited, and popular urban areas. However, with EVs becoming more popular, more rural areas will soon see the effects of this proposition and get their charging stations to accommodate their local communities and travelers.

Maybe it is time to rethink our approach to transportation and our use of time, combining the practicality of EVs with the joy of travel and recreation.  In this new time and age of climate change, and anxiety-inducing news worldwide, it will be an important step for many people to connect with the communities they travel to. These are all amazing opportunities for EVs and, by extension, those who own them, as it will be more socially accepted and even encouraged to travel slower and enjoy “the charge.”