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New campers not very interested in “camping”

 

“The new campers are ‘looking for hotel-type amenities’ “

By Andy Zipser
If there’s one trend that has many veteran campground and RV park owners shaking their heads, it’s the largely pandemic-driven phenomenon of “the new camper.” Considerably younger, more diverse and more urban than their predecessors, the newcomers have changed not just the quantity of campers, but their overall quality—and not always in a good way. At least not from a traditionalist perspective.

Perhaps no one statistic sums up this new reality more succinctly than the answers to a Campspot survey, taken this past August, that among other things asked campers why they camp. A less than overwhelming 10% of 1,556 respondents answered “to spend time in nature.” The three larger responses could as readily have applied to an ocean cruise, a hotel stay or a ski resort: 23% for vacation family time, 19% for relaxation and 17% for proximity to outdoor activities. In other words, the one characteristic that traditionally set camping apart from all other vacation options has become the least important reason for doing it.

A summary of the Campspot survey was distributed at a breakout session at the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) annual convention earlier this month, which was only fitting. Campspot, a cloud-based campground reservation management system, has been a principal driver behind both the swelling tide of new campers—who are most comfortable in the online universe—and of the increasingly transactional nature of “the camping experience.”

With more than 2,000 campgrounds in its customer base, for which it processed more than $1 billion in gross bookings within a recent 12-month period, Campspot has been a leader in pushing “revenue optimization” in all its various incarnations, including demand pricing, site-lock fees and increasingly onerous cancellation fees.

But other industry representatives at the ARVC convention sang the same tune, usually to lay the groundwork for urging campground owners to accommodate the changing demographics. Typical in that regard was the observation by Jon Gray of RVshare, a peer-to-peer RV rental company, that the new campers are “looking for hotel-type amenities,” which he contended is a “great opportunity” for campground operators.

IN REAL-WORLD TERMS, “great opportunity” means the opportunity to spend more money on various upgrades, increased amenities and all the marketing bells and whistles that go along with that. More spending, in turn, will necessitate higher rates, but the new campers, everyone seems to agree, not only can afford to foot the bill but won’t even notice the difference. “They’re conditioned for it—nobody says anything,” piped up an audience member at the Campspot presentation.



Indeed, KOA’s North American Camping Report 2022, released in late April, found that nearly 40% of the new campers have annual household incomes exceeding $100,000. Moreover, nearly half went glamping in 2021 and the rest planned to glamp this year, which is to say, planned on the least outdoorsy—and most expensive— way to “camp.” That high level of glamping interest contributed to KOA’s broader finding that 36% of all campers went on a glamping trip for the first time in 2021, with 50% saying they would seek a glamping trip this year.

While industry purists may shake their heads at such trends, others are all too willing to jump aboard what they see as a gravy train. As one such campground owner observed at a cracker barrel discussion about managing RV parks in a softening economy, “When we first started we welcomed everyone, but then we started upgrading our clientele.” Added another campground manager, who runs a large Florida park, ” People will pay to have fun. That will never go away.”

Just how pervasive the change has become was evidenced by ARVC’s choice of campgrounds for its prospective owners’ workshop, a pre-convention one-day session attended by approximately 30 people learning the business as they prepare to build or buy an RV park of their own. Following a morning of quick-and-dirty workshops, the prospective owners piled into a bus to drive an hour to … Camp Margaritaville RV Resort, the only example of what an RV park looks like that they would be shown.

Margaritaville campsite

Nice place, Margaritaville. Two restaurants, 401 sites that include 75 RV park models, 650 imported palm trees, artificial turf throughout, its own call center, a cashless economy—everything that’s needed, said one of its amiable owners, “to propel old-style RV parks into the present day.”

 PREVIOUSLY FROM ANDY… 

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through some bookstores or at Amazon.com.

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Aly
1 month ago

It seems everyone is blind to the fact of WHY campgrounds are becoming “popular”; give a clue, it has nothing to do with camping! Housing scarcity and impossible rents are why you see campgrounds full and all these restrictions regarding rig qualifications. This is also why monthly camp rates are $1000-1500 and require a rig less than 10 years old. They’re trying to keep out the “poors”.

Lonewolf
1 month ago
Reply to  Aly

Aly, I believe you are speaking from a West Coast perspective. If some folks can afford a decent camper to “camp” with, whatever the definition, then they can afford either rent or a place to call home.

Did you ever think that owning a home really isn’t that expensive, that is until you add the taxes the state down to local governments price many folks out of the market? That is why you see the great migration from Western states like California, Oregon, and Washington to less tax and “Free” states like Montana, Idaho, Texas, and most Southern states. Heck, Arizona has already been ruined by this migration.

Jakester
1 month ago
Reply to  Lonewolf

I don’t consider my 1971 Barn Find TT “”JUNK”

Gayle
2 months ago

Did anyone else find the comments as interesting as the article? I think there’s room for just about everything. The average cost of a hotel is $133 per night in the U.S. So for me, being in a van is economical and having solar provides flexibility. I travel frequently and like to mix it up with mostly parking lots of national, state or city parks. A couple of times I’ve rented full hook up spots at a Love’s to do laundry and dump as needed. But, there are rare occasions when it’s nice to have a dog park with an obstacle course, pool or mini-golf for a night or two. And, it can be nice to be around other campers in case of nearby forest fires or dangerous weather. The only thing there isn’t room for is judging other campers for how they choose to experience the world. Our time on earth is just too fleeting.

Matt
2 months ago

This is an interesting article but as one of those younger new sort of campers I feel I need to opine. First of all, I’ll do what I want with what I spend my money on. You can have your definition of what camping should be but that is not a universal definition applied to all. Secondly, my camper is a mobile hotel room more than anything. It gets me where I need to go, gives me a place to sleep, and give me the freedom to travel. I have no interest in nature or the camp grounds themselves. They could be a parking lot and it would make no difference to me as long as I can park and leave the trailer there to go see new things.

D Keener
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt

You certainly can use your camper in that manner. I can see that possibility for myself given the right circumstances, but I have difficulty calling it camping. I would call it sleeping in a camper. Enjoy your travels.

Bill
2 months ago

It’s literally the Wild Wild West of RV-ing right now in some respects to the change I’ve witnessed the past 2-3 years. We have “evolved” as campers from a tent strapped to the back of my motorcycle to now a older 07′ well maintained 35′ 5th toy hauler.

We are also a Harvest Host site again. It got pretty crazy for a while. We had to suspend it because by and large the new participant didn’t under the program, RV etiquette or in some cases how to competently drive their rig.

New guidelines and technology have really made the program worth being a host again. I see opportunities to add amenities we think. It was much better this past summer in respect to member interaction.

We are going through the largest transfer of intergenerational wealth in the history of mankind. It’s going to take a minute for all this cash to seek it’s level. And that imho will be reflected in the RV parks and overall market.

Last edited 2 months ago by Bill
Tania Thompson
2 months ago

It’s way, way cheaper to stay in a motel in comfort and go explore the scenery in a different town and state. It’s a lot less hassle than the cost of a RV payment or purchase and a camper even counting gasoline too. No worries on expensive high costs of RV repairs and all the other issues. Easier driving your regular vehicle and save thousands in gas. One less insurance cost too! The RV parks are packed in like sardines anymore and twice the cost of a motel room to park it in a lot. Some RV parks don’t even have trees or nature and are near highways and next to interstates. They look more like truck stops anymore! The costs of gasoline is outrageous to drive an RV, especially the ones big as a Greyhound bus. The stress of driving and maneuvering a large RV is stressful. Just go back to a very small bumper pull camper or a big luxurious tent and really have fun in a real campground. The money you will save and actually go back to the true and simple way of camping. Far more fun!!!

Big Bill
2 months ago

Well over the years I went from primitive tent camping in remote areas to gradually moving up to van camping, 5th wheel camping, and now with my third Class A. I avoid both the high end la de da and the circus atmosphere kiddy parks. Much prefer a smaller, quiet, shady and clean rv park a little, away from the hustle and bustle. Don’t need a pool. Don’t need fancy recreational facilities, etc. Just peace and quiet for a night or two and usually but not always full hook ups. I am sure younger families with kids prefer lots of amenities. I now have great grandkids God bless them. But I never rv with them. We have stayed at very high end senior and adult only sites which are very nice but expensive. And sometimes when desperate, a one night stay at a more common these days camp ground full of loud kiddies and their many amenities . Cute sometimes. Irritating most time! When the small quiet campgrounds go away, so will I. Yup. I am an old fart. 🙂

Sandra Dyl
2 months ago

After tent camping for years and using a pop-up for 20 years, we bought a hardside trailer, so we could extend our camping season into colder weather. Now that we are in our 70s, we enjoy having a real bed and a bathroom for those midnight trips that might otherwise be in the rain. It is also great being able to keep our trailer loaded, and having a fridge, so we don’t have to get ice, a real convenience. However, that is where the glamping stops. Our trailer has an outdoor kitchen as well as an indoor kitchen, but I still cook some meals over a campfire using a tri-pod and cast iron. We avoid campgrounds with full hook-ups and swimming pools, and we usually stay in state parks in more rustic sites. We find that seeking campgrounds without lots of amenities is the best way to find campers like us. We do see some glampers, but they have to follow the same rules as we do, and our parks don’t allow generators. Personally, we love seeing more young families taking their kids out camping.

Scott
2 months ago
Reply to  Sandra Dyl

Amen…I do use a small 2000 watt generator during approved generator hour use time when we dry camp IF the solar does not top off the batteries. Glamping is something that I do not see my wife and I starting but god bless those with the $$ to support the businesses that offer this type of “Hybrid” out door options. My idea of a great camping trip is to have a campfire in a “dry camp” state park with a small group of family members under a star lit sky…not surrounded by bright lights, blaring music or out door televisions.

C. Fox
1 month ago
Reply to  Sandra Dyl

We took the same path. Parking lot “Camping “ in a city environment is not our choice either. We are located in No. Ca with dozens of places within 1-2 hours to go in nature. Our small trailer is a joy to use while watching non-human animals, trees, streams and stars. If others want to join the two of us great. They can use our tent. Oddly, with what is reported to be overcrowding of campgrounds, we never have problems finding spots for our camping style. And with a senior pass we pay but a few $ for a large site in quiet natural luxury. The old ways still work well here.

Danny
2 months ago

So much animosity. Sad. Why dislike someone who does it differently than you?

Peter Colquhoun
2 months ago
Reply to  Danny

Agreed!

mark
2 months ago
Reply to  Danny

Based on his second sentence, I think Andy is upset about anyone who isn’t old and white enjoying an RV park.

Natalie
2 months ago

It’ll be fun to see the glamping grounds fall to disrepair the same way lovebird retreats of the 1920s and carpeted hot tub hotel rooms of the 60s did.

Dan F
2 months ago

Its a market condition and I am ok with it.There’s room for everyone ,what goes up comes down in markets. I know my budget and what’s acceptable cost wise.Sometimes I thinks its envy on others part ,we all know at some point there will be a flood of used campers in the market,similar to saturation Harley did and then had compete against used market. I looked at Margaritaville and their base camping price wasn’t horrible , and no one says you have buy all the options.

nic
2 months ago

Next time I hear the hum of a generator during golden hour and see two old, fat white retirees’ tv glowing from behind the window of a 30-footer with slide outs, I’ll have a good chuckle at this. Can’t tell you how many evenings I’ve had ruined by such “nature loving” legacy campers.

Harry
1 month ago
Reply to  nic

So now we bring race into the discussion?

Donald N Wright
2 months ago

I guess if I opened a RV campground, everything would be back in, 30/50 amp only, maybe 60′ spaces, no wifi, no pool, no bar, little food & supply store. Children welcome, tight corners, doggie park and playground. Wait a minute, I just described a COE park !

Practical Camper
2 months ago

Funny, my family has an RV parked at a campground all summer, and it is way more expensive than glamping or any occasional rental would be, considering they don’t use it very often. If you own an RV, you pay for the maintenance/ownership costs of the RV in addition to the usually expensive cost to park it somewhere. As far as being in nature, many campgrounds have RV’s packed in like sardines, which really doesn’t make it feel like a nature experience. Nicer, modern camping setups appeal to the occasional camper, who doesn’t want the headaches/expenses of owning an RV. And in many cases, it’s actually cheaper. Personally, I car camp in the most remote spots possible, which I find to be amazing.

Marcia
2 months ago

I enjoy our state campgrounds. Great for disconnecting. No electricity, computer or internet. They have toilet/shower facilities that are cleaned daily. Large grassy sites perfect for a tent. Occasionally I will go to a private campground for “civilized camping” (water/electric sites).

Paul
2 months ago

I don’t think I have “camped” since we bought our first motorhome 22 years ago. Before that we stayed in state and county parks in our tent. We enjoyed rain/wind/cold and hot and the occasional wonderful moderate day. We did not move about a lot since takedown and setup was time consuming (we were young, the work was no effort). Since we bought our first Cl A we have been glamping, even in the first “breadbox” with no slides/jacks or inverter. We could sit in comfort and read a book if the weather was inclement. Be warm at night and cool in the day. For us when we are on the move and stop for a day or 5, we do not care about amenities, won’t pay up for KOA and endless kids and all the toys. Will gladly pay up for spacious sites and pleasant views, even for a one night stop. Love alternatives like wineries and Boondockers Welcome hosts. We enjoy pulling off on to some public land and spending a few nights dry camping in the quiet. Then we arrive at our Escapee Coop with all the amenities

Gary Ray
2 months ago

I work in a trade known in the past for poor service, dirty facilities, catering to a narrow clientele. What we learned in the last 20 years is a rising tide is inevitable, when the general public finds what we do interesting. You either adapt with the times, upgrade, clean, broaden appeal, or you fail or get gobbled up by competitors. The campground industry is going to go through this and among the campground owners we will see winners and losers, but the campers? Most likely everyone will benefit from a more professional environment, except those who only care about price, those on the fringe of affordability, or the gate keepers who are resentful of the others. Lot of gate keepers out there.

Tammie
2 months ago
Reply to  Gary Ray

I actually think the campground industry is large enough for “some of everything.”

I do not know what industry you work in, how large/small it is, if it has broad appeal or not. However camping appeals to a broad and diverse group! There are so many campers that we can have it all!!

Some days I want the “more professional environment” you speak of, but more often than not I just want basic, no frills-let me park & plug in, &see you at checkout. And sometimes I am even one of those that only cares about price!! We travel a minimum of 10wks/yr, more often 14-16wks.

Luckily I believe there is room for everyone!! So far we’ve never had an issue finding what we want and/or need in the moment!!

captain gort
2 months ago

Way too much mass-printed money now in circulation…and this sort of greedy behavior is the inevitable result.
This will all capsize eventually. In fact, the “ship” has a very serious list right now…and the portholes on that low side are all wide open. The center of gravity has simply risen too high…and the ballast in the bottom has been carried off by bandits and sold. The engineers have left the engine room. The lifeboats are already full of First Class passengers and motoring away to safety. But the band still is merrily playing and free drinks are being handed out on the increasingly sloped deck. Party on!

Brian Burry
2 months ago

Ok, the RVers are not one minded group, it is composed of a full spectrum of people from young to old, single, to couples, to families and all have a myriad of interests. Some want to Camp, some who purchase Motorhomes to enjoy traveling with comforts, many had years of more primitive enjoyable outdoor camping but now want more comfort. Let us actually celebrate the actual recreational diversity of the various ways to enjoy America and the amazing places we can travel to. If anything, today there are so many different opportunities to enjoy our away from home time!

Q-Ball
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Burry

Well said.

Tammie
2 months ago
Reply to  Brian Burry

This is so well said!!

And there are even some people that enjoy doing many different things-some nights with basic full hookup site, some nights on BLM lands in the wilderness, some nights at an ‘RV Resort.’ For us that’s half the fun!! Being able to have multiple types of experiences, all different from each other!!

There have long been many ways to travel! For years there have been ‘prevost’ or ‘high end only’ resorts(we saw one for the first time last year, however wouldn’t stay despite “qualifying”-from what i can tell, no additional amenities-just 2/3x the price to ensure you stay among folks with a similar demographic-not for us, we like the diversity and exposure camping offers!! However that obviously appeals to others-they were 80% full), there have been low-frills COE and state/national park campgrounds, as well as everything in between!! Remember the Jellystone and Flintstone parks of the 70s/80s???(that are now mostly in total disrepair/long gone).

For us, that’s the why! Different experiences. We don’t want to only go to resorts, if we did, we would stay in a hotel. We don’t want to only be in the wilderness, if we did, we would have bought a tent.

Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you dont!!

Edit to add….
My only issue with some of the newer campers is in managing expectations. As I have said, we like to vary our experiences, life is an adventure!! Some of the newbies will stay at a 30-50/night campground and expect 150+/night amenities! You will see reviews with 1* complaining about lack of pool or clubhouse or restaurant or some such amenity not offered. Well, you’re staying at a basic 30/night CAMPGROUND, not a 150+/night resort. Did you not look into it before making the reservation???

Recently I’ve been getting the social media ads/posts for ThousandTrails. The number of people in the comments that expect to pay 500/yr for an unlimited camping pass and have nothing but 150/night experiences is mind boggling!! I simply don’t understand it.

We happen to belong to & love TT(I know many others dont-and thats ok), yes it is basic. However we know we will have hookups and security and fairly level sites. Yes, there often isn’t much more, but thats ok for most nights!! Some nights/trips we want more & then we pay for more!! Some nights we want “less” and again, then pay for “less”(as in boondocking/BLM/state or federal park type experience).

Just wish the “new group” would manage expectations!!

Last edited 2 months ago by Tammie
Scott R. Ellis
2 months ago

If the interest of the masses is, indeed, trending toward “camping” (by whatever name) that may as well be in a Home Depot parking lot as long as there’s full hookups, a pool, and a Broadway show in the clubhouse . . . so much the better for me. I’d rather not see you (or anybody else) way out in the sticks, anyway.

Burt
2 months ago
Reply to  Scott R. Ellis

Well said.
Idiots destroy everything.

Irv
2 months ago

There are very few commercial campgrounds that I would visit if I wanted to spend time in nature. If a state park campground is full, it’s probably not going to be a nature experience–although there may be hiking trails that offer that.

The survey doesn’t say that it was specific to new RVers. The stats have probably been true for years.

The article is much ado about nothing. Too many RVers think there motivation is the only legitimate one.

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