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Hearth & Home May 2017

Photo Courtesy: ©2017 Dan Armstrong. MT. Rushmore KOA Resort at Palmer Gulch.

Camping in Comfort

By Lisa Readie Mayer

The luxury camping trend is a good business opportunity for specialty retailers.

Photos: ©2017 Linda Clark.

In the February issue of Hearth & Home, Jim Houck wrote about several potential new business opportunities for manufacturers of hearth and barbecue products. One of them was camping. He pointed out that, with 40 million people involved in camping annually in the U.S., manufacturers of hearth, outdoor cooking, and outdoor living products can find a huge and largely untapped market for their fire pits, grills, fuel, fire starters, patio heaters, outdoor cooking accessories, outdoor furniture, and other related gear.

Specialty retailers also can grow their businesses by connecting with the camping crowd.

Camping is cool again and interest is on the upswing. According to market research firm IBISWorld, campgrounds and RV parks have been experiencing an average of 2.3% growth every year since 2011. RV Business magazine reports the camping equipment market was up by 4.5% overall last year, with tent sales up 35%, and sales of hammocks, tarps, camping accessories, and eco-friendly camping equipment all making gains.

According to Kampgrounds of America (KOA), a franchise campground company with more than 500 locations, camping is catching on all across the U.S. and Canada. KOA research shows that 36% of previous once-a-year campers are now camping three or more times a year, and 3.4 million U.S. households have tried camping for the first time since 2014. These new campers are increasingly likely to camp in cabins or RVs rather than tents, according to the study, indicative of a growing trend called “glamping.”

Interior and exterior of a tent in Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado.

Going Glamping

A mash-up term meaning “glamorous camping,” glamping combines the back-to-nature fun and outdoor experience of traditional camping with comforts more akin to staying in a hotel. Linda Clark, director of Sales for, explains it this way, “Glamping is a way to experience the great outdoors without sacrificing luxury. It is camping without inconveniences, or discomforts.”

The concept started in Africa in the early 1900s, when affluent English and American tourists began traveling on luxurious safaris with sumptuous meals, fine wines, and other creature comforts brought from home to their tents in Kenya and Nairobi. Glamping has been popular in the UK for more than 60 years, but only caught on in the U.S. and Canada 10 to 15 years ago, according to Clark. Today, the glamping trend is growing all over the globe.

Clark says in the four years since was founded, online searches for the term “glamping” rose from a few hundred thousand a year to more than 3 million annually today. The company, billed as the “world’s foremost authority on everything glamping,” now has 40,000 consumer subscribers to its newsletter, and lists hundreds of “glampsites” in its online directory of glamping destination properties around the world.

“We get calls from new properties every day that want to be included in our directory,” she says.

These glamping accommodations include vintage Airstream Travel Trailers, yurts, treehouses, tiny houses, log cabins, eco-pods, domes, huts, barns, teepees, and other unusual structures. According to Clark, “Today, Airstream RVs and treehouses are all the rage for glamping. In the case of treehouses, I think it’s because people associate them with great memories from childhood.”

Most glampsites have electricity, indoor plumbing, and comfy beds. And, because good food is a key component of glamping, many sites also provide grills and fire pits that are a significant step-up in quality from those typically available at public parks or campgrounds.

Some glampsites are operated like an Airbnb, with the host renting out a cabin, tent, RV, or other type of dwelling on their scenic backyard or vacation property. Increasingly however, according to Clark, glampsites are run like resort properties and owned by management companies or even luxury hotel chains (for example, The Four Seasons-owned Tented Camp Golden Triangle in Thailand).

Clark points to more than 20 different websites now devoted to the topic of luxury camping, as well as a tremendous number of Pinterest boards, blogger posts, and other mainstream media coverage, as evidence the trend is here to stay. “There was even an episode of ‘The Real Housewives’ show where they went glamping,” she says, laughing.

“Vacation time is very precious today,” Clark adds. “When people take time away from work, they want to spend it in an experiential way in a unique setting. We believe more and more people will want to spend at least one of their annual vacation weeks doing some type of glamping.”

Bath house exterior and interior at Dunton Hot Springs, Colorado.

Millennials Driving the Trend

Camping and glamping are particularly appealing to Millennials. According to Millennial trends tracker Ypulse, that generation is driving the comeback of the camping industry. Ypulse research shows that nearly half of all households who went camping in 2015 were 18- to 35-year-olds. 64% of Millennials say they are interested in camping in the future, and 59% say they are interested in glamping.

Experts say camping and glamping appeal to Millennials’ desire for unique experiences – particularly, experiences worthy of posting on Instagram, Facebook and other social media. Ypulse says, with this in mind, campsites are increasingly offering WiFi accessibility to “keep the digital generation sharing.”

Glamping also supports Millennials’ interests in good food, cooking, outdoor activities, and environmental sustainability, and is a unique and somewhat luxurious vacation that can be enjoyed on a comparatively limited budget.

Many Millennials are first being exposed to camping and glamping through multi-day music and art festivals such as Coachella and Firefly. Besides offering traditional DIY campgrounds, these festivals often host attendees in reserved, pre-pitched, amenity-packed tents, teepees, or other glamping accommodations, complete with access to showers, toilets, cellphone charging stations, and sometimes even air conditioning.

Once the ultimate on-the-cheap vacation, today’s luxury camping experiences can be pricey. Though fees for camping at a traditional, primitive campsite might be as little as $5 per night (or even free), Clark says a stay at a glampsite resort averages $125 to $150 a night. Depending on the location, accommodations, and luxuries provided, fees may even run as high as $1,500 a night or more. The priciest of properties take care of every need, with amenities such as luxury linens, hotel-style bathrooms, chef-prepared meals, and sometimes even butler service, so guests don’t have to lift a finger.

Dining pavilion at the resort in Paws Up, Montana.

Glamping Gear

But those creating their own glamping experience are also looking for high-quality gear to take on luxury camping adventures, particularly portable grills and entertaining products.

“Food is such a big part of the vacation and travel experience today,” says Travis Simon, director of Marketing at Camp Chef, a leading manufacturer of camp stoves and outdoor cooking gear for more than 25 years. “A lot of people are trying camping, but they want the same – or better – quality food and cooking experience they are used to at home,” he says. In other words, franks and beans won’t cut it anymore.

Camp Chef offers dozens of models of camp stoves, ranging from compact, backpack models, to full-scale, portable outdoor kitchens with interchangeable components for grilling, griddling, baking, making pizzas, and more. The company has a directory of hundreds of gourmet camping recipes on its website, including prosciutto-wrapped chicken breasts stuffed with dried cherries and pistachios, Buffalo chicken tacos, and pumpkin French toast with caramel syrup and bacon.

It also offers portable gas fire pits which run on 1lb. propane cylinders and are certified for use during burn bans. “People want that campfire experience, but you can’t always burn wood everywhere,” says Simon.

OPENFIRE, a modern retake on a campfire cooker, combines a wood fire pit with various swing-arm cooking attachments such as a grill, griddle, Dutch oven and more.

“It can be used for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and really steps up the food you can make while camping,” says OPENFIRE’s importer/distributor Kevin Dusold.

The Kudu Safari Braai by Kudu Grills is another versatile fire pit cooker that can grill, sauté, sear, fry, boil, smoke, and steam on elevated grates suspended over a wood or charcoal fire in the base.

Passionate kamado enthusiasts will want portable versions of their ceramic grills to take camping and tailgating. Though heavier than typical portable grills, small kamados such as the Big Green Egg Mini Max, Primo Oval Jr. Grill, Kamado Joe Jr, Grill Dome Small, and Louisiana Grills K13, can easily be toted by two people using the handles incorporated in the tabletop stands.

For when there’s a crowd at the campsite, Broil King has an optional Trailer Hitch Adaptor to hold and transport a full-size Broil King Keg off the bumper of a pickup or SUV.

“Eighty to 90% of people who buy a small kamado also own a full size unit,” says Bobby Brennan of Kamado Joe. “They want to take it with them on weekend outings, or maybe to a beach house vacation rental. They don’t want to cook on a crappy grill. They want to be able to make the delicious food and flavor they’re used to.”

Lightweight, tabletop Uuni pizza ovens are a fun addition to a camping experience and a great way to make gourmet, wood-fired pizzas away from home. Fans of infrared grills will appreciate searing their steaks on portable Cherokee FR and G Sport FR grills by TEC Infrared Grills, or Solaire Anywhere and Solaire Everywhere infraredgrills by Rasmussen Iron Works.

Green Mountain Grills and Traeger both offer tabletop pellet grills to get wood-smoke flavor at the campsite, and Holland Grill Company offers The Companion, a portable version of its unique, no-flare-ups, gas cooking system.

Glampers looking for convenience have plenty of quality, portable, gas grills to choose from. Weber’s Q Series, Napoleon’s TravelQ grills, and Broil King’s Porta-Chef grills and camp stoves, all have optional stands that collapse and can be pulled like luggage. The new tabletop, gas Elevate Grill folds up like a briefcase for easy transporting.

For outdoor enthusiasts for whom sustainability is important, there is a growing number of eco-friendly, camp stoves such as those from EcoZoom, Envirofit, and Solo Stove, that produce very little smoke and can be fueled by charcoal, wood, or even biomass collected at the campsite. The BioLite Base Camp stove has the ability to power a spotlight and charge a cell phone in addition to cooking a meal. Many of these companies also have a philanthropic mission to distribute their clean-burning cook stoves in developing countries.

Cliffside tent. Inset: River camp at Paws Up, Montana.

Besides grills and fire pits, there are myriad accessory products to enhance the luxury-camping lifestyle, and a retailer’s bottom line. Space-saving barbecue tools with folding handles, such as those from Montana Grills, Man Law, and Charcoal Companion, are ideal for toting on glamping trips.

Camp Chef has seen substantial year-to-year growth in sales of its cast-iron cookware, particularly cast-iron skillets, Dutch ovens, muffin pans, and pie irons, according to Simon. Fish baskets to grill the catch of the day, smoker boxes, cedar planks, and gear for grilling pizza also are big sellers for campers, according to the experts.

Weber’s new charcoal briquettes packaged in weatherproof, resealable bags would be a smart convenience for campers. Ditto for smoking wood chips and pellets packaged in resealable plastic bags. Environmentally conscious gas grillers-on-the-go will go for Flame King’s new refillable 1lb. propane cylinders. The cylinders can be refilled numerous times, saving money and preventing some of the millions of disposable gas cylinders from being discarded in public parks and landfills every year.

Since no glamper worth his or her salt would eat from paper plates, stylish and upscale enamelware or other reusable place settings and flatware would be good alternatives to stock. Even impulse items such as Kingsford’s nonstick Grilling Foil and Grill Toppers are a great way to grow the sales basket among camping customers.

Premium, durable, hard-sided coolers such as those from YETI Coolers, Pelican, and Bison, would make a good addition to a camping products display at retail.

“People with disposable income want to be comfortable when enjoying the outdoors,” says Daniel Mitchum, Territory Sales manager at YETI Coolers. “They don’t want to rough it.”

Cork-insulated, hard- and soft-sided premium coolers from Sovaro are designed with the luxury outdoor vacationer in mind. The coolers are designed to be tall enough to hold wine bottles upright, and have features such as built-in cutting boards, garnish containers, compartments for clean ice, and luggage-style extension handles and wheels. Those who want to out-Jones the campers in the next site can opt for gold or silver speckling in the cork insulation and matching metallic handles.

“Besides camping, people take these coolers to music festivals, art festivals, and other upscale outdoor events,” says Katie Nisbet, director of Marketing for Sovaro.

“The camping world is a lot more than just selling a grill or a stove,” says Simon. “There’s a lot of other gear and related accessory products that go with it. Glamping really seems to be gaining in popularity, so people will want even more amenities, comforts and conveniences while camping. We see real growth ahead.”

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