It's Great Out There, as the European Outdoor Group's campaign wants people to know. When it comes to spending the night in the midst of nature, there are, broadly speaking, two types of people that take to the Great Outdoors. There are those who enjoy the wilderness through the sweat of their brows. For them, tramping 20 kilometers or more lugging all the equipment they need to eat and sleep is not so much a physical torture as a way to commune intimately with nature while testing the limits of their endurance.
Then there are the others. They, too, like escaping from the city for the pleasures of the countryside. And they, too, like sleeping under the stars – as long as there are at least four of them when they retire for the night. When bedding down, some of these recreational campers prefer a stylish yurt between them and nature, along with a nearby well-stocked fridge and a comfortable queen-sized bed decked in frazadas, versatile rug-blankets made in Morocco, to lie on.
Camping purists may sneer but glamorous camping, or “glamping,” is a growing worldwide trend, so much so that the fusion word entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2016. It is, according to the OED, camping “involving accommodation and facilities more luxurious than those associated with traditional camping.”
“I don't think you can call it a trend anymore,” says Linda Clark, when asked. “Glamping is now an established market segment.” Clark is the director of sales at glamping.com, one of more than 15 websites that have sprung up in recent years offering glamping site bookings. It really caught on in the U.S. about 2005, she explains. It was around then that a more upscale version of camping emerged that offered all the comfort you could want while camping, “but without the guest having to lift a finger.”
Glamping is far removed from a Crocodile Dundee or Bear Gryllis experience. Instead of a pup tent with a billy tin and foam mat, people glamping may stay overnight in a cabin, dome, gypsy wagon igloo or teepee. In Scotland, at Mains Farm Wigwams, people can even spend the night in a refurbished Royal Navy Sea King Helicopter. The common factor is comfort, so amenities like clean showers and flushing toilets are standard, while TVs, wood burning stoves, elegant meals and even maid service may be options.
Glamping.com started in 2006 with 25 sites. Today the niche website has more than 850 featured properties, including the 4 Rivers Floating Lodge in Koh Kong, Cambodia, which starts from $259 per person per night. A grass and thatched bamboo chalet at Luwi Camp in Zambia, South Africa, costs $1,530 a head for a night, while the Moose Meadow Treehouse in Vermont in the U.S. starts at $475. In comparison, a basic campsite in the U.S. or Europe costs $15-$30 for two people a night
“I can't tell you the most popular properties on our website,” says Clark, “but the most clicked on are treehouses, domes and airstreams. Treehouses in particular seem to capture people's imagination because they are so unusual.”
While glamping may be the camping equivalent of dipping your toe into water, it is rapidly growing in popularity – and not just in the U.S.. You can now go glamping everywhere from Indonesia to the U.K., from Norway down to the deep jungles of Africa.
Some of the traditional suppliers of tents have entered the new segment. Nordisk, the Danish outdoor equipment manufacturer, this year opened an entire glamping village in Jesolo, a popular Italian camping ground just outside Venice. The Nordisk Village features ten luxury tents located in a self-contained space within the larger campsite. Opened with little fanfare, the 24-square-meter tents were booked throughout the past summer. Accommodating four people, the tents feature wooden floors, a double bed and bunk bed, bedlinen, sofa and fridge. Each tent also has a decked eating area with wooden furniture and an ultra-modern luxury kitchen is shared between the tents.
Other manufacturers are making a play in the glamping space. Oase Outdoor, for example, commented at OutDoor 2017 in Friedrichshafen, Germany, that this was one of its fastest-growing segments, particularly in the U.K.. The company's retro-style Klondike tipi tents and pseudo Prospector tents have been proving popular with campers who would rather make a statement than a long hike.
In the U.S., REI has developed an adventure travel arm that offers small-group camping itineraries in nine national parks. REI Adventures are complete with luxury tents and concierge services, including in-tent Epsom salt footbaths at the end of every day. Another company, Backroads, offers deluxe camping, including camp hosts and a chef, on trips in Africa, Asia, Europe, Canada and the U.S. Coleman is making a push into Southeast Asia with glamping ads promising fuss-free tent sites set up within five minutes.
What sets Nordisk apart, however, is its international ambition. Michael Hübertz, marketing manager with Nordisk, says the company has been supplying a number of glamping sites throughout Europe with its Legacy range of tents. The company decided to open its own Jesolo site as a test (see nordiskvillage.com).
Based on feedback from the Jesolo prototype, Nordisk is aiming to roll out similar sites in Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and even in Japan in the near future. The global concept of the Nordisk Village calls for the same quality, tents and services to be provided at each location, but with added local flavor.
The Italian campsite was billed as the ‘Vikings meet the Doges,” and was roughly a 50/50 mix between the Danish heritage of the company and the local Italian culture.
Other outdoor companies that have been catering for hiking and trekking enthusiasts are considering a diversification into the glamping segment. The management of Ferrino, the leading Italian supplier of tents, which prides itself on developing some of the most technical solutions for extreme weather conditions at high altitudes, is thinking about a special version of well-furnished recreational tents for glamping with a sophisticated Italian design.
The size of the glamping boom can be difficult to assess as little research exists on the subject. Hübertz is reluctant to share company figures, but notes that Nordisk has increased production of the Legacy brand continually over the last few years, and that has never been enough.
The brand is proving particularly popular in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. “In Asia, they seem to have skipped over the whole camping and caravanning experience of Americans and Europeans over the last 50 years and gone straight to glamping,” he says. “We are experiencing great demand there.”
Interest in glamping worldwide has tripled in the last five years, with the word receiving three million hits a year, according to Google Trends. It is becoming particularly strong in Ireland and the U.K. One factor may be a recent trend in the region toward “stayvacations” that don't require travel to foreign destination.
British adults took more than 17 million camping and caravanning trips in 2016, according to the research agency Mintel. It seems that the plummeting value of the pound as a result of the Brexit decision in June of last year has led more budget-conscious Brits to stay home for holidays. This figure is expected to rise in 2017 to 17.9 million.
Clarks notes that some luxury hotels are now offering glamping options. Ventana, a luxury resort in Big Sur, California, now provides safari-style canvas tents in a new Redwood Canyon Glampsite, and even Disney has got in on the act.
In July, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, opened a collection of cabins and campsites in its 750 acres of pine and cypress forest. Each campsite includes water, cable television, electrical and sewer hookups. Local companies supply the tents and caravans if requested. In Japan, Nordisk is in negotiations with a luxury hotel chain that is considering high-end glamping experiences as part of their offering.
Before the opening of its Jesolo village, Nordisk worked with Jesper Bo Jenson from the Center for Future Studies in Denmark to identify the strength of the glamping boom. Jenson identified three mega trends he believed would sustain glamping.
In wealthy societies, incomes are continuing to grow, so inexpensive camping is becoming less important in terms of holiday options, says Jenson. Second, digitalization is driving people to seek respite from their smartphones and screens in nature. Finally, the comfort expectations of holidaymakers are continually rising, which is also helping to drive the glamping boom.
A demographic factor is also promoting glamping. While camping sites such as Jesolo remain as popular as ever, the profile of the campers visiting such locations is slowly changing. Baby Boomers, once avid campers are aging, and millennials tend to have different expectations when it comes to the outdoors, so camping grounds are seeking new ways to attract them.
In the U.S., an estimated 13 million households planned to camp more in 2017 than in 2016. According to the 2017 Camping report by Kampgrounds of America (KOA), more than one million new households have started camping each year since 2014, with millennials driving the growth as they gradually take to the outdoor in greater numbers.
“Glamping is a whole new ballgame,” says Hübertz. “It offers greater luxury, more fun and so is more appealing to people who would never have thought about sleeping in a tent before. Glamping is encouraging them to get out and experience nature.”