The outdoor travel sector has witnessed significant growth in recent years, establishing itself as a formidable presence in the leisure travel landscape. As people seek solace in nature and affordable vacation options, camping and outdoor hospitality have become increasingly popular.
The 2023 North American Camping and Outdoor Hospitality Report, conducted by Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), offers a comprehensive analysis of the key trends shaping the industry.
This report sheds light on the evolving camping and glamping market, traveler adaptations amid economic uncertainty, and the changing dynamics of outdoor-focused leisure travel as the 2023 peak camping season kicks off.
In its ninth year of measuring growth and interest in camping and outdoor travel, KOA’s industry-leading report has expanded its scope to encompass outdoor hospitality as a whole.
The concept of outdoor hospitality encompasses four sectors: accommodation, food and beverage, travel and tourism, and entertainment and recreation.
The report reveals that 61% of campers consider offering services and amenities beyond the campsite crucial for a satisfactory outdoor hospitality experience.
Furthermore, a significant 78% of campers emphasize the importance of outdoor hospitality in their overall travel experiences. In fact, camping and glamping accounted for 32% of all leisure trips in 2022, highlighting the significance of camping and outdoor hospitality as a crucial segment of the travel industry.
According to Toby O’Rourke, CEO and president of KOA, camping continues to be a preferred way for many to travel, explore new experiences, and connect with nature.
O’Rourke notes: “The segment of outdoor hospitality, growing in importance, offers additional ways for people to connect to the outdoors.”
This sentiment is reflected in the 2023 survey findings, which indicate that the desire for new and unique experiences drives camping participation. Approximately 80% of campers try a new form of camping each year, with the average camper seeking out three new or unique camping experiences in 2023.
Natural events such as eclipses, meteor showers, and animal migrations top the list of sought-after experiences, with 40% of campers expressing interest in these types of trips.
Other popular camping themes include food tourism (36%) and visits to small towns (31%). Additionally, glamping continues to gain momentum, with over 10 million households taking glamping trips in 2022, and a 7% increase in camper interest in glamping trips for 2023.
Despite the record-breaking growth in outdoor travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2022 witnessed a stabilization in the number of camping households, with an increase of approximately 1.5 million.
This stabilization occurred alongside a reshuffling of camping demographics. Younger, more diverse audiences residing in urban areas are now discovering their love for camping.
Currently, 92 million U.S. households identify as campers.
Even in the face of economic headwinds, 50% of campers view camping as a cost-friendly travel option during downturns, with 38% committed to camping regardless of economic conditions. Among RVers, 56% plan to use their RVs either more (33%) or the same amount (23%) in the event of an economic downturn.
The appeal of outdoor travel extends beyond financial considerations, as campers also value the physical and mental health benefits and the opportunity to connect with family and friends.
“Camping continues to prove that it is resilient to economic headwinds,” emphasizes O’Rourke. “In fact, 38% of campers will continue to camp and reduce trips of other types during times of economic uncertainty. Camping offers physical and emotional benefits in a reliable and cost-effective manner that outdoor travelers seek out.”
The 2023 North American Camping and Outdoor Hospitality Report also delves into various aspects related to camping and outdoor hospitality.
One significant finding is the impact of camping on local communities. On average, campers spent an additional $19 per day on travel expenses in 2022 compared to the previous year.
Among different types of campers, glampers stood out by spending an average of $393 per day on accommodations and off-site expenses.
The report estimates that campers contributed a staggering $52 billion to local communities in the past year, representing an $8 billion increase from the previous year.
The report also highlights the increasing presence of Generation Z (Gen Z) campers in the camping landscape. The younger demographic has shown a growing interest in camping, with Gen Z campers now accounting for over one-fourth of all campers—a figure that has doubled since last year.
The research demonstrates the impact of camping experiences during teenage years on Gen Z campers, as 65% of adult Gen Z campers attribute their desire to continue camping to their earlier experiences.
Looking ahead, avid Gen Z campers intend to embark on an average of four trips this year, with a particular emphasis on new and unique experiences.
Urban campers are another prominent group shaping the camping and outdoor hospitality industry.
In 2022, 44% of new campers resided in urban areas. Urban campers tend to extend their camping trips, averaging two more nights compared to suburban or rural campers. This group has also shown a greater inclination towards diverse camping experiences, including glamping, overlanding, backcountry camping, and introducing their children to camping.
Urban campers seek camping experiences that involve natural events, food tourism, agritourism, and the combination of work and leisure travel.
The allure of the great American road trip has experienced a resurgence, with more campers opting for road trips in 2022. This trend extends beyond the camping community, as both campers and non-campers express a keen interest in hitting the open road for extended road trips or adventurous explorations of new places.
Nostalgia and the desire to create family memories are significant drivers for embarking on road trips, particularly among the millennial generation, who seek to recreate cherished trips from their youth.
The importance of creating new family memories and shared experiences is emphasized by campers, with 6 out of 10 expressing the desire to establish new chapters in their family’s book of shared experiences in 2023. More than half of campers recognize the value of these shared experiences, encompassing the manner of camping, the stories created, and the preservation of traditions.
The report also addresses the accessibility of camping and outdoor activities for individuals with limited abilities.
Roughly one-third of all leisure travelers view camping as a more accessible option compared to other outdoor activities. However, campground accessibility remains an important consideration due to the higher percentage of campers with physical mobility issues.
Approximately 37% of campers face challenges in finding suitable locations that accommodate their physical needs, which hinders their ability to engage in more frequent camping trips or select suitable campgrounds.
Those with physical limitations or who travel with others with physical limitations say the top three barriers to camping or more frequent trips include the restroom or bathhouse (46%), level or smooth pathways/walkways (37%), and adequate accessibility (32%).
The 2023 North American Camping and Outdoor Hospitality Report, based on a total of 4,100 surveys conducted among a random sample of U.S. and Canadian households, offers valuable insights into the current state of the private campground industry and the broader outdoor hospitality sector.
With camping and outdoor travel gaining momentum, private campground owners have the opportunity to capitalize on these trends by catering to the diverse preferences of campers and providing exceptional outdoor hospitality experiences.
For more detailed findings from the 2023 North American Camping and Outdoor Hospitality Report, as well as access to previous editions of the annual report, visit https://koa.com/north-american-camping-report/.