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News for January 20, 2022

Outdoor Hospitality Industry Booms Amid Pandemic

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According to reports, campgrounds, glamping sites, recreational vehicles, and other facets of the outdoor hospitality industry have seen significant growth in bookings amid pandemic.

In the beginning, the industry feared it would be challenging to maintain the rapid growth into 2021. However, the trend of growth has continued, and more camping-related products with amenity-rich features are being introduced to meet market demand.

“In 2020, as people switched to domestic and drive-to travel, it was great for us,” said RVShare CEO Jon Gray.

“We wondered how we would top that growth, and we have. We’ve continued to see business accelerate and have had strong growth this year on the back of what was dynamic growth in 2020.” Gay stated.

A recent study conducted by Wakefield Research for RVShare found 45 percent of travelers had RVs in their top three accommodation choices, an increase of 13 percent from 2020. The survey also revealed that when planning a trip to 2022, most people are thinking about outdoor activities.

Toby O’Rourke, CEO of the KOA network of private campgrounds, told the press that the company had experienced an “explosion” in bookings that exceeded their expectations.

“We expected a slowdown as children returned to school and adults returned to offices in the fall but were surprised by continued growth,” O’Rourke said, adding that post-Labor Day business is up 17 percent year over year.

HipCamp, an online marketplace for outdoor stay and camping adventures that include numerous campgrounds and cabins, yurts, and other accommodations alternatives, currently has twice as many future bookings as it did in 2020.

“We are now in the position where we need to create the supply as the bookings come in. We are reaching out to more landowners and working to create more partnerships with campgrounds to meet the interest,” said HipCamp founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio.

“This is a continuation of a really big, long-term paradigm shift. I think you’re seeing consumers move away, hopefully, from wanting to consume so many items and move toward having meaningful, unique, memorable experiences. And the outdoor travel industry is positioned beautifully as that continues.” Ravasio added.

Outdoor travel companies have said that camping, or “glamping,” either with more amenities or a spruced-up site with distinctive lodging or unique specific features, is particularly popular.

“We’ve seen so much interest in treehouses, we could add a million treehouses, and they would all be booked out all the time. I’m sure of it,” Ravasio said.

The companies see the boom in outdoor travel, tapping into several trends. The rise of work-from-home and “workcations” means more flexibility among travelers, but as they stay longer, they also desire to keep costs manageable.

O’Rourke said that KOA had seen an increase in the number of people working from their campgrounds, and she’s now telling franchisees that WiFi has become a necessity rather than an amenity.

Families are also turning into campgrounds to gather and reunite after the pandemic shutdowns.

“There are lots of family reunions happening at campgrounds,” O’Rourke said.

“People are looking for unique experiences, and I think that has driven the rise of unique accommodations. At KOA, we have cabins, we’re seeing treehouses, we’re seeing yurts, and a variety of glamping accommodations coming into campgrounds. That’s largely driven by this family market looking for unique experiences.”

Companies deeply embedded in outdoor travel and traditional hotel chains invest in this growing market.

This year, AutoCamp opened its first East Coast location: a Cape Cod site with an 8,100 square-foot Clubhouse that features a lounge, an indoor fireplace, a general store, and bathrooms with showers.

There are currently three of AutoCamp’s facilities with amenities that allow guests to stay in custom Airstreams, glamping tents, cabins, and cabins throughout the country. Three more are expected to open within the following year.

Margaritaville opened its luxury and RV campgrounds in 2019. After the success of its first two Camp Margaritaville RV Resorts located in Lake Lanier, Ga., and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The company plans to open between 30 to 50 campgrounds over the coming five years. Five sites are set to open in 2022. The resorts can accommodate recreational vehicles and offer glamping sites and cabins, and amenities like dog parks, playgrounds, restaurants, and live music.

As the market for outdoor travel continues to grow, businesses are becoming more convinced that the growth will continue.

“We’re expecting another big year in 2022,” Gray said.

“During the pandemic, people went domestic and drive-to tourism, and what they found is they had a better time than they expected. We saw airfares come back, we saw hotels come back, and we did not see any material slowdown in the outdoor travel business. In fact, we saw it accelerate.”

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