More Gen Zers are taking a step back to plug in to nature through campcations, taking a vacation from technology through camping.
In search of a camping getaway, these young travelers are geared up to be on the road. With the unwavering boom in the camping and RV industry, this surge poses a question: is the outdoor hospitality industry ready?
For Whitney Scott, the chief marketing officer of Kampgrounds of America (KOA), while the outdoors is ready for millennials and Gen Z wanting to get outside, some campgrounds are lagging behind when it comes to camping infrastructure.
“I think from a camping infrastructure perspective, we’re [the industry] probably behind what . . . those demographics really want,” Scott told Modern Campground.
An increasing number of younger people are going camping, and it seems to keep growing over time, with 53% of campers being millennials (40%) and Gen Z (13%) in 2021. In short, 7-in-10 new campers are 40 years old or younger—that’s according to the 2022 Annual North American Camping Report of KOA.
Of the various age groups, Whitney Scott believes that the industry should start focusing on Gen Z.
“It’s really exciting to watch this new generation and understand their habits because . . . the trend of millennials—while strong in camping—as [a] business-minded industry, we really need to start focusing on the Gen Z,” she said.
For a generation who grew up immersed in the internet and technology, younger campers are now finding a new connection in the great outdoors, most of them practicing a more eco-conscious approach, making sure that the companies they support and the places they’re visiting are helping preserve the environment and have sustainability efforts.
Scott said that most younger campers are strongly connecting to the environment. They’re also putting weight on the importance of getting outdoors as well as how the outdoors is preserved, which she believes are things that companies must be cognizant of.
As for other characteristics of the Gen Z campers, when out camping, they prefer to keep it rustic. In fact, 61% of them prefer tent camping.
For activities during camping, Scott said that the young respondents prefer fishing, biking, hiking, organized team sports, and kayaking.
The rise of these young campcationers is also being noticed in the water recreation industry, as per Jeff Cunningham, the general manager and Vice President of Global Sales at Aquaglide.
“I think it used to be an older demographic—you know: forties, fifties, sixties—that were really enjoying that type of recreation. And now we’re seeing . . . a much younger demographic . . . purchase those products and getting out onto the lakes and the waterways,” Cunningham told Modern Campground.
He believes the surge in water sports participation came during the COVID-19 pandemic as working from home allowed more people to work from anywhere. Campcations, he said, is an indicator of people looking to get away and take a break from technology, most surprisingly coming from a younger demographic.
“I think people are just enjoying getting further away from . . . life [and] technology. We’re, so controlled by our computers and our phones and all of those sorts of things, and so I think the campcation ideology is to leave that and go experience nature,” he said.
However, with the rise in younger campers, KOA’s report suggests that camper retention proves to be a challenge.
Many younger campers in the past two years do not feel connected to camping. As per the outdoor hospitality industry giant’s report, this issue is usually attributed to lack of enjoyment during the trip, lack of connection to their travel companions, not having the right gear, and staying at a location that minimized their overall comfort level.
Furthermore, Scott told Modern Campground that there could be a little bit of loss as other travel forms open up. For the camping sector to retain the massive influx of customers, Scott said it’s important to focus on the risk factors that will not help new campers camp.
“I think that if we want them to stay, we need to embrace them on their terms. We need to help them—to educate them on camping. We need to kind of look at what they find valuable and make sure that as we look forward, we’re kind of building our campgrounds [and] our messages towards some of that,” she said.
Reflecting KOA’s efforts to “push the needle” as to what campgrounds need to do to help keep new campers camping, Scott said that the latest research suggests that their properties have high MPS and retention rate because of meeting the services and amenities that younger campers are looking for.
These range from WiFi, patio sites, designated campfire areas, clean bathrooms, and even the capability of supporting electric vehicles in the future.
“Our campgrounds really need to support that [EVs] too. And I think that will be a pivotal piece for campground infrastructure and innovation and to step up to that electric kind of movement,” Scott expressed.
Still, she acknowledges that installing charging stations is not an easy path to navigate, and industry leaders must help usher campground owners.
“As industry leaders, it’s not just saying ‘EV is coming’; we really have to help them understand what that means and how to evaluate their campground to help support that,” Scott said.
The camping audience continues to change and diversify, and as per the results of KOA’s 2022 survey, millennials, campers with children in the household, and higher-income campers will have the most impact on growth. Still, the Gen Z bracket is another group to watch as most are “on the fence about their camping plans, who could potentially be at risk for future camping.”
In relation to this, camping could see a net loss of some gains made across diverse groups and populations of color, as 57% of Hispanic campers and 55% of Black campers are younger than 35.
“The new camper of all types requires access to opportunities to camp in comfort, which includes feeling safe, secured, and welcomed,” the report states.
To do this, instead of focusing on the negative, campgrounds must educate new campers and help make them have a better experience, Scott said.
“I think as campground owners . . . whether they’re [new and young campers] building the fire wrong or backing the RV up wrong, we see it as this negative . . . but maybe we should see it more as an opportunity to say ‘ this is a new camper and this is my contribution to the camping industry,’” stated Scott.
As for long-time campers, Scott believes they can serve as ambassadors or camping coaches, helping new and younger campers feel connected and extending assistance when they see them struggling.
Whitney Scott considers the surge of Gen Z campers as a looking glass for the future of camping.
“If these people are coming in early and liking their experience, they’re going to stay camping, they’re gonna buy RVs, they’re gonna try glamping,” she said.
“As long as we’re giving these people good experiences and the experiences that they want, it means that we can look forward and be pretty positive about our future business,“ she added.