Hotel Guests are Looking to ‘Glamp’ & are Changing the Outdoor Hospitality Industry

ben quiggle May 19, 2021
Woman eating outside a tent

While hotels remained open for most of theCOVID-19 pandemic, the hotel industry saw a significant dip in customer nights because people for the most part were avoiding closed-in spaces.

According to the American Hotel& Lodging Association (AHLA), in July 2020 nearly nine in 10 hotels had been forced to lay off or furlough employees due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the height of the crisis, more than half of the 600 hotel owners that responded to the AHLA survey indicated that they were in danger of losing their property to foreclosure by commercial real estate lenders. 

This demonstrates the dire situation that the hotel industry was in, but also the nexus of what has become a boon for the outdoor hospitality industry.

An increasing number of studies on the outdoor hospitality industry have shown that the typical hotel customer has shifted towards camping and RVing — maybe even more particularly, they are looking to go glamping.

According to the 2021 North American Camping Report, commissioned by Kampgrounds of America Inc., new entrants to the camping sector tried glamping accommodations first or were looking to try glamping accommodations within the next year.

“Of first-time campers, 28% indicated they started their camping experiences in some type of glamping accommodation compared to only 11% of experienced campers and 14% of first-time campers in 2019. Additionally, half of the first-time campers said they had a glamping experience for the first time in 2020, up from 3-in-10 in 2019.”

This increase in interest has also led to a growth in glamping park developments, with applications and permit requests springing up across North America. Along with sole glamping parks, RV park and campground developers are adding glamping sections to their site projects.

The accommodation units and services provided at these glamping parks run the gamut.

AutoCamp, which has built numerous glamping parks around the country, has capitalized on the popularity of Airstream RVs and offers Airstream units that are built specifically for its resorts.

The company offers several experiences and amenities at its resorts, including yoga classes, wine tastings…etc., that work to capitalize on the areas they are based in.

Branson Treehouse Adventures in Branson, Mo., offers a chance for guests to spend the night in luxury treehouses that were built by hand. The treehouses offer all the comfort of a typical hotel room, plus amenities that offer guests a chance to explore the great outdoors.

Glamping is attracting a new segment of the population to the outdoor hospitality industry that normally wouldn’t have looked twice at an RV or a typical camping tent — the hotel crowd.  

While it may be easy to point at the COVID pandemic as the driving factor behind this shift, that is not entirely the case, according to a recent study by the RV Industry Association (RVIA).

While RVIA looked at trends driving people to RV more, those trends also translate to the attitudes of the typical glamping customer.

“Even with other forms of travel returning, the desire to use an RV to get outdoors and experience an active outdoor lifestyle is stronger than ever. RVing has been cemented as a mainstream travel option that is here to stay,” noted Craig Kirby, president and CEO of the RVIA.

Asked their reasons for considering RV travel, the respondents cited an interest in exploring the great outdoors, flexibility to work or attend school remotely, and a desire to travel with children and family members as their top three motivations. The least popular response was unreadiness to take other kinds of trips.

That all translates to the driving factors behind the surge in glamping too.

Why is any of this important? 

Understanding why people are being attracted to the outdoors and the mindsets of the new people trying out camping or glamping for the first time is key as park owners and developers continue to explore ways of retaining these new guests for the long term.

Hotel guests are bringing different kinds of expectations and exploring glamping at a higher rate than past campers and that is key information that is encouraging park owners and developers to incorporate amenities and lodging that attracts those types of customers.  

The industry is also encouraging park owners to find ways to help new campers (and glampers) adapt to the camping lifestyle.

“I think it is safe to say that a large number of your guests this season will be new to this type of travel,” noted Evanne Schmarder, in a recent column for Woodall’s Campground Magazine. “They might be full-timers, or they might be weekend warriors. Maybe they have decided to bring the family back to nature or are kicking around a retirement lifestyle. Regardless, there is a lot to learn, and they’ll be looking to you, park owners and operators, to set the stage for their (and indirectly, our industry’s) success.”

The glamping segment is attracting a new breed of camper and it is bringing a level of change to the outdoor hospitality industry that includes more amenities, higher end sleeping quarters and more of a hotel feel.

While some camping purists might balk at the impact glamping and its avid fans are having on the traditional camping experience. There is no doubt that the drive to develop and improve campgrounds and glamping parks is going to benefit every camper — whether they prefer an RV or a first-class experience more akin to a Hilton hotel.