Op-Ed: RV campground manager looks at the state of glamping

By Cole Sampson, GM of Paradise by the Sea Beach RV Resort

During the Global Glamping Summit that took place November 27-28, 2018, I got an inside look at the current state of glamping. In this op-ed, I will share an RV park operator’s perspective of what glamping ultimately should be, and what the two industries can learn from one other. I’ll also name a few glamping operators that are hitting a home run. While extremely popular in Europe, the glamping concept is still a fledgling newcomer to the U.S. travel industry. Does it pose a current threat to the RV industry? Or is it an unregulated travel trend headed for trouble?

Glamping, which is a relatively new term being used in just the last decade, is the hybrid of “Glamorous Camping.” Business operators classify glamping as a form of outdoor hospitality that is virtually anything other than a hotel.

Currently, glamping sits on the fringe of American choices of vacation options because current offerings are one-off dwellings, and there is no standard definition. There are those that attempt to rent out anything from storage sheds in their backyard to million-dollar tree-houses and classify it as glamping.

But there must be basic guidelines for glamping if the industry is to take the next step into the mainstream of American vacation choices, a problem that the newly established American Glamping Association must address in order to grow the glamping trend in North America.

As an RV park operator, I noticed some similarities with glamping operators at the Global Glamping Summit, but found the differences to be glaring. RV park operators tend to be blue collar folks who are experienced in the travel business—and attract mainstream guests who have chosen RVing as a way to travel the country and connect with family and friends. While many glamping operators are leading the way with a professional property and well-appointed accommodations, some glamping operators are inexperienced, idealistic, white-collar refugees that are operating illegal campgrounds. Most glamping locations are small (less than 50 units), and some are operating without the same permits and codes that RV park operators who have 75 to 400 sites must comply with as a public accommodation. RV park operators are aided by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC) as well as the state associations. For example, California’s association (CalARVC) actively lobbies for and educates its members on best practices.

RVers travel in their unit for work, vacation, residence, and medical treatment, making RV parks much more likely to attract the nearly 17 million RV owners. Glamping locations mostly attract urbanite-weekenders who are seeking a two-day escape, posing an occupancy and revenue challenge for glamping operators. If the industry of glamping is to grow and become more attractive to the public, I would recommend they standardize their accommodations and better define glamping, something the AGA is tasked with establishing.

In my opinion, the standard accommodation categories of glamping should include: the original canvas-style safari tent that is ordained with a bed and all the comforts of a hotel room, well-appointed RV trailers such as Airstreams, and other mobile structures that have their origins in camping. A separate category of “alternative accommodations” yet to be named should include: cabins, tree-houses, overseas containers, and more immobile structures that appeal to the eco-conscious or bohemian traveler.

It is also important to create a tiered system that classifies glamping locations from “basic to well-appointed” so that the consumer knows what they’re getting into before they book a glamping trip. RV park operators communicate different accommodation levels to RVers (campground, RV park, or RV resort) that create clear expectations of the travel experience.

Operators who are getting it right:
• FLYING FLAGS RV RESORT AND CAMPGROUND: An RV resort in California that provides RV sites for rent as well as offering unique accommodations such as cottages, safari tents, vintage Airstream trailers and more. As an official RV park, they have the safety you count on such as fencing around pools, lighted walkways, ADA accessibility, an attentive staff, food and beverage options, and convenient parking.
• UNDER CANVAS: A glamping company that offers luxurious private tents near several national parks such as Zion, Yellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountains. Their canvas glamping tents are uniquely appointed with decorations and furnishings that are true to their surroundings and rival the comforts of a hotel-stay. With gourmet chefs and every attention to detail, Under Canvas also provides itineraries and adventure packages that rank on any bucket list.

Popular glamping locations include scenic vistas that are within two hours of major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco, New York, and Denver, as well as locations in close proximity to National Parks and National Forests. These are often eco-friendly locations where people can unplug far from the tech-saturated city life. RV parks and campgrounds are found in nearly every city, range from urban to remote, and number over 15,000 locations.

RV park and glamping operators have much to gain from combining each other’s approach and expertise. While RV park operators trend on the functional side, many miss out on providing the experiential travel experience that the glamping operators have been capitalizing on. I am excited to see the glamping business grow and define itself, and I believe that through collaboration, their industry and brand-of-travel will be a beacon to the many people seeking a memorable vacation experience.

Cole Sampson is the general manager at Paradise by the Sea RV Resort in Oceanside, CA. As Southern California’s only true beach RV resort, he’s focused on creating a genuine beach experience for families and travelers of all ages. He is a liaison to RV dealers and currently serves as Vice President on the board of Camp-California Marketing. Previously, he served on the board of CalARVC and founded United RV Parks, a marketing network for family-owned RV parks.

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years, working in law enforcement, aviation, supply chain and the RV industry. She's not a stranger to RVs, however. She grew up camping, and still camps as many weekends as she can every year. She is the owner of In Good Company Communications and can be reached at ingoodcompanycommunications@gmail.com.

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