Camping can be one of the cheapest ways to travel. Yet a relatively new style of camping is proliferating – by some metrics – and it’s glamping.
Glamping is a fusion of luxury and nature, where tents are filled with plush pillows, and some even have private bathrooms with heated, running water. Campgrounds typically are outfitted with fast Wi-Fi, and such camping activities as pitching a tent and starting a fire are already done for you. But the blend of outdoor glamor with hotel comfort commands prices more expensive than those of high-end hotels. It’s also a sharp contrast to what traditional campers spend.
U.S. National Park visitors in 2021 spent, on average, $351 daily per group on traditional lodging outside the parks, such as hotels or bed-and-breakfast establishments. Parties who camped spent just $149, according to a Department of the Interior 2021 visitor spending report. That’s a 58% discount for visitors willing to exchange concrete for canvas. But canvas doesn’t always connote cost savings. That is, if you’re glamping.
For example, you might pay $650 per night after taxes and resort fees at Under Canvas Zion as part of a glamping trip to Utah’s Zion National Park this autumn. Situated about 30 minutes from the park’s entrance, the resort’s accommodations include safari-inspired tents with beds, bathrooms, hot showers and wood-burning stoves. There’s no electricity, but guests can borrow USB battery packs to keep devices charged. The resort fee covers all-you-can-roast s’mores, live music and yoga classes.
That $650 covers the entry-level tent, which accommodates two adults via a king bed. The suite tent, which includes a queen sofa bed in addition to the king bed (thus better for families), can run nearly $850 per night on autumn weekends.
Under Canvas is among the biggest glamping operators. Another is AutoCamp, which offers canvas tents as well as other accommodations including Airstream trailers. A weekend stay at AutoCamp Zion this autumn can cost about $570 per night after taxes and fees. A larger campsite with an Airstream and tent (large enough for six) can cost nearly $900 nightly. Yet such prices aren’t turning off travelers; glamping is exploding in popularity.
In 2022, an estimated 10.5 million households went glamping, up from an estimated 7.7 million households in 2020. That’s according to the 2023 North American Camping & Outdoor Hospitality Report from KOA, which runs more than 500 campgrounds across the U.S. and Canada.
Camping Cools Down
Camping of all kinds took off at the beginning of the pandemic.
In 2019, 23.5 million North American households said they camped in traditional tents, a figure that ballooned 31% to 30.8 million in 2020, according to KOA’s survey. By 2021, that had grown by an even sharper 50.2% compared with 2019, to 35.3 million.
In 2022, traditional camping enthusiasts dropped off to levels lower than 2020’s numbers, back to about 30.4 million households.
Camping of all kinds accounted for 40% of all North American vacations in 2021 but dropped to 32% in 2022. Some people might have gotten over camping, but that’s only if your definition of camping means pitching your own tent and starting your own fire.
Glamping Heats Up – Despite High Costs
If you’re willing to consider glamping as a form of camping, then North America’s enthusiasm for camping is just getting started. While KOA said this is the first time it has seen a drop in the number of tent-camping households since it started tracking data in 2014, interest in glamping is growing – so much that the overall rate of camping of all kinds is at a record high.
In 2020, 4.8 million North American camping households said they’d choose cabins or glamping as their primary accommodation style, according to KOA’s survey. That figure grew to 5.1 million by 2021 before more than doubling to 12.3 million in 2022. That’s all despite the high costs of glamping, which can often exceed traditional hotel prices.
KOA analyzed average daily traveler expenditures in 2022 and found that glampers spent roughly 18% ($61) more than traditional campers. Glampers also spent more than traditional hotel guests by about 3% ($12).
About 63% of respondents said they like glamping to get an experience that blends the benefits of staying at a resort and the outdoors, according to KOA’s report. At AutoCamp Zion’s Airstream Suite, you’ll sleep on a luxurious mattress and relax in a walk-in rain shower. At AutoCamp’s outpost along Northern California’s Russian River, some suites have private, wood-fired hot tubs.
Despite glamping’s higher price tag, the amenities seem to seduce non-campers – 33% of KOA survey respondents say they glamp because they want an outdoor experience without actually having to go camping.
by Sally French of NerdWallet