Is camping really everyone’s favorite outdoor activity? Maybe not quite yet when you consider minority groups, specifically Black campers. But it appears we’re making some progress.
KOA (Kampgrounds of America Inc.) celebrated Black History Month in February by releasing research dealing with the prevalence of camping among Black Americans. The data shows continued growth in the number of Black Americans either packing up a tent, renting a cabin, or purchasing an RV. KOA’s 2022 Black Community Camping Snapshot found 8 million Black camping households in the U.S. That’s a marked increase from the 3.1 million Black camping households KOA found the last time they looked in 2017.
In fact, it looks like Black camping has increased 158 percent over the past five years. About 27 percent of those 8 million Black campers gave it their first try in 2021. Despite those numbers, there’s still plenty of room for growth.
By KOA’s own count, Black campers make up only a small percentage of the total 86.1 million camping households in the U.S.
Black campers “weren’t invited” into the outdoors
Earl B. Hunter, Jr.—founder and president of Black Folks Camp Too—says his organization isn’t trying to further segregate the outdoors. There’s already plenty of that, he said.
“There’s probably more (segregation in the outdoors) than in barbershops and churches,” Hunter said about the enjoyment of the outdoors. “What we want is for more Black folks to enjoy the 640 million acres of public land that we pay for. Our job is to educate. We’re not here to twist arms, we’re here to twist hearts.”
Hunter said his job has three parts. He is not only charged with making the outdoors more accessible to Black people by educating them about how to use recreational resources, but his company also works to educate what he calls “the current lifestylers” who are predominately white and use the outdoors regularly. He said current non-Black campers need to understand why Black people haven’t been using parks, trails and public lands.
“We have generational fear,” Hunter said. “My great-grandmother told my grandmother told my mother told me, ‘You don’t belong in those woods.’ The woods were places where lynchings, cross burnings and intimidation took place.” But in addition to that generational trauma, Hunter says there is another reason the outdoor recreation space is so white-dominated: “The industry never invited us.”
That could be changing, too. Hunter and his company recently partnered with Go RVing—the RV Industry Association’s marketing machine—to help RV dealers better market to and reach new Black consumers. KOA, for its part, is telling the stories of Black campers by highlighting two Black recipients in its “Get Out There” Grant Program. You can view the videos about their experiences on KOA’s YouTube channel. KOA has also created ongoing partnerships with more Black influencers and content producers to help put out the welcome mat for Black campers.
Black community camping snapshot
KOA’s research had a few more interesting findings regarding Black campers:
- 61 percent of Black campers prefer tent camping over other lodging options.
- 46 percent take more than three camping trips a year.
- One-third of Black campers plan to purchase an RV in 2022.
- 60 percent camp with multi-generational groups.
When it comes to Black campers and RVs, KOA’s research found that 48 percent of Black RVers own their own rig. About 35 percent rented their RV from a peer-to-peer service like Outdoorsy, 13 percent rented from a dealership and about 4 percent borrowed an RV from a friend or family member.
Most of these new Black campers are also younger. Only 5 percent of Black campers are Baby Boomers and 4 percent were in the “mature” category. That means 91 percent of these Black campers are 55 years old or less.
Seeing the big picture for Black campers
Hunter says he’s encouraged by recent progress within the camping and RVing industries. KOA’s 2021 North American Camping Report says about 60 percent of new campers are from non-white groups. Hunter says there is still a very long way to go.
He says his for-profit business has a big, audacious mission: to change the world.
“We have an opportunity to change the world and we’re going to do that through the outdoors,” he said. “This is not a regional vision or even a state vision—this is a world vision.”
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