Welcome to glamping, the “glamorous camping” trend that’s on the rise and on display at the Boston RV & Camping Expo at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center that concludes today (Jan. 21).
“In the past, the whole notion of glamping was in the high-end units. We now see them in every type of RV,” said Bob Zagami, show director for the New England RV Dealers Association (RVDA).
The Boston Herald reported that approximately 300 RVs, from fifth-wheels and motorhomes to park trailers and pop-ups, are on the BCEC floor. Some, such as the Fleetwood Discovery motorhome, come equipped with one and one-half baths, washer and dryer hookups, and polished tile floors for $220,000. And it’s only the entry-level model for the brand.
For a little more than $50,000, 400-square-foot park trailers come with a master bedroom and loft, and room for a big screen TV.
“You can now take the comforts of home with you. You are not giving up anything,” said Zagami, a dedicated RV user. “Having those amenities brings more people into the campground.”
These amenities are similar to those you’d find in an upscale apartment, such as stainless steel appliances, computer nooks and legroom-friendly bathrooms with double sinks, brushed nickel faucets and full-size showers.
Then there’s the toy haulers, which feature an on-board garage to store recreational vehicles such as ATVs and doubles as a common area with table. Planning for a crowd to visit? It’s got two full-size refrigerators.
In terms of style, “the RV industry is a year or two behind homes,” said Zagami.
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Camping used to mean really roughing it. Sleeping on the cold ground, killing and cooking your dinner, using Mother Nature as a bathroom and forgetting about showers.
But for some, according to a FOX News report, camping has gone glam. These “glampers” or “glamorous campers” are staying in grandiose teepees equipped with Persian rugs and heated bathroom floors.
Glamping entered the travel scene nearly a decade ago and has become increasingly popular with seasoned campers and their less-outdoorsy counterparts alike in recent years. Luxury camping resorts are popping up across the globe as well.
While some would argue glamping is hardly camping at all, John Romfo, director of sales and marketing at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont., says these high-end facilities are simply targeting more affluent clients that are adventurous.
“We always hear ‘I’d never go camping, but I would definitely do this,’ or ‘this is my kind of camping,’” he says. “If you are going to go camping, you want to do it in style.”
The Resort at Paws Up opened in 2005 with only one camp of six luxury tents in addition to its vacation housing offerings. Today, the resort has four camps of six tents. The tents boast high thread count sheets, electric blankets, heated floors in the bathrooms as well as art hangings on the walls, according to Romfo.
Pricing begins at $1,135 per night for two adults with three meals a day, and reaches $1,620 per night for two adults in the highest-end tent with three meals a day.
Terri Bowman, general manager of the El Capital Canyon Campground in Santa Barbara, Calif., says the property got a luxury upgrade in 2001 after being in business for 30 years in an effort to attract those who want to experience nature, but are unfamiliar with camping.
“We take the anxiety out of that,” Bowman says. “They really enjoy the environment. We do serve hardcore campers, but it’s also nice to not have to sleep on the ground. I think it’s a merger—I’m sure we’ve kept a lot of happy marriages.”
Cabins and teepees range from $135 to $785 per night, and El Capitan has close to 80,000 visitors a year. Bowman says TVs and cars are not allowed on the property to ensure guests are still inspired to experience nature while staying in high-end lodging.
“With the economy being so bad, people want a lot of family time and want to feel nature,” she says. “It’s simple out here.”
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Entrepreneur Andy Cates, the guy who is credited with helping steer the NBA to Memphis, Tenn., is now driven to shake up the RV park and campground industry with his fledgling enterprise, RVC Outdoor Destinations.
Cates recently took a reporter from the Commercial Appeal to the newest — and nearest to Memphis — of RVC’s five upscale developments, Catherine’s Landing in Hot Springs, Ark. Cates is eager to show RV owners and outdoor enthusiasts how different Catherine’s Landing is from typical RV parks and campgrounds.
So different, he refuses to label his as “RV parks,” calling them “outdoor destinations” instead.
So different, RVC claims to have invented a new category for the industry, one that offers consistently beautiful natural spaces, upscale amenities, and fine-tuned customer service.
So different, RVC clamors for the kind of “segmentation” in the RV park industry that hotels enjoy. Hotel travelers, for example, instantly know from seeing the signs for a Motel 6, Hampton Inn or Hilton what to expect from each in service, amenities and price.
RVC considers itself the Hilton of RV parks.
In addition to the KOA’s, Jellystones and the independent campgrounds, RVC seeks to distinguish itself from the government parks, too.
“A lot of state and federal parks have incredibly attractive outdoor environments, but an underwhelming service culture and operating culture,” Cates says. “We’re trying to democratize phenomenal recreational land.”
So after reaching Hot Springs in under three hours, Cates first gives a quick driving tour of a competing, independently owned RV park that’s been, he says, “arguably the highest-rated in town.”
On a slow Monday morning, he points out at least four motorhomes worth $200,000 in a place that offers views of the surrounding hills, but no pool or access to recreational water.
The 41-year-old Cates motors on to RVC’s three-month-old Catherine’s Landing, nestled on 400 acres of a former dairy farm along the banks of Lake Catherine.
The entrance is a long, gently curving ribbon of asphalt that eventually reveals the welcome center/headquarters lodge designed by Memphis architects Hunter Fleming and John Harrison Jones.
The stone, metal and glass building, perched on a rise, is modern and striking, with an angled roof that opens the lobby’s glass wall to a terraced, saline swimming pool and below to the campground and Lake Catherine.
Cates leads his guests straight to the men’s restroom to show they sparkle and are extra private. Each toilet and shower stall, while illuminated in natural light from windows above, is a room to itself.
The lodge has a store, wine and coffee, large fireplace with a flat-screen TV, washers and dryers, a fitness room and even a “Wii-dia room” where families can play Wii video games on a large screen.
RVC doesn’t just provide Wi-Fi and coffee, he says. “We offer good Wi-Fi and good coffee.”
Manager Brad Boler and assistant manager Ian Horgan provide Cates a golf cart to tour the grounds.
He drives through the 120 RV spaces ($40 to $45 daily weekdays, $42 to $50 weekends), which are dotted with either motor coaches or fifth-wheel rigs. Circles of lawn chairs and clusters of bikes sit outside nearly every RV.
Planted among the concrete RV pads are young oak, elm and pine trees. The new grass turf has not yet been established.
Cates stops the cart to show the fenced dog park, saying, “A huge portion of guests have pets.”
He continues to the row of 25 RV sites that line the bank of calm Lake Catherine. If the water looks more like a pretty river, it was. Construction of Remmel Dam turned it into an 11-mile-long lake in 1924.
The golf cart reaches Catherine’s Landing’s 13-slip dock, where a pontoon boat and kayaks are available to rent. Cates points to an extra bathroom RVC built near the dock for the convenience of boaters and fishermen.
The tour continues to the picnic pavilion, its dramatically angled roof mirroring the lodge design and sheltering 20 picnic tables. There’s an ice machine and showers.
He drives the cart as far as he dares into the undeveloped Phase II property, gets out and puts his hiking shoes to use.
“I want to show y’all a neat hiking trail,” says Cates, a slim road cyclist who now speed-walks ahead of the pack into the woods.
Catherine’s Landing doesn’t accommodate tent campers, but does offer high-end camping — “glamping” — with five air-conditioned yurts ($50-$70 a night) clustered under a canopy of towering trees.
Each has hardwood floors, beds, a skylight at its peak and its own picnic table and grill. The yurts — vinyl wrapped around wood framing — sleep four to eight-plus, depending on their size.
Close by is the pavilion with bathrooms, showers and ice.
Atop the hill behind the welcome lodge sits 10 small cottages ($140 to $160 a night) that can sleep four people within their 400 square feet. Each includes a covered deck with ceiling fan, full kitchen and flat-screen TV. They’re actually little mobile homes, but it’s hard to tell by looking.
In future phases, RVC plans to sell the cottages and lease the ground they sit on.
Both the corporate and independent owners of other campgrounds might acknowledge how nice their new competition is, but question the business model.
After all, they’re receiving roughly the same per-unit revenue without nearly the costs RVC has born.
“On a per-unit basis, we’re way out there and we know that,” Cates says. “If the consumer does not reward us, we’re in trouble.” RVC must enlarge its scale exponentially, creating a network of many dozens of outdoor destinations across the nation, he says.
“… If we’re unable to grow this, I’ll feel very stupid,” he says. “We’re not doing this for just six properties.”
Eventually RVC may raise prices to befit its amenities, but for now the company is sharply focused on getting more and more guests.
In addition to Catherine’s Landing, RVC has locations in Pine Mountain, Ga., south of Atlanta, Carrabelle Beach, Fla., Live Oak Landing, Fla., and Mountain Springs, N.C.
Today, the great outdoors is filled not only with pools, game rooms and horseshoe pits but giant movie screens, inflatable bounce pillows, cappuccino carts and, of course, Wi-Fi. Tent sites and recreational vehicle parks sharing space with cabins and fully appointed lodges, according to the Contra Costa Times.
• El Capitan Canyon: About 20 miles north of Santa Barbara, this luxury campground offers fully appointed cedar cabins — some of which look bigger and nicer than a house — and raised canvas safari tents with willow beds and linens. There’s a restaurant and deli selling barbecue kits. During the summer, guests can enjoy free concerts on Saturday nights. Beach cruise bikes are also complimentary.
• Petaluma KOA Camping: The 70-acre campground has tent and RV sites, cabins and Wine Country lodges with a private bedroom, bunk bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, television and DVD, fire pit and deck. The campground has a playground, basketball and volleyball courts, pool, arcade, movie theater, dog park and themed weeks during the summer. San Francisco and Wine Country tours also are available.
• Crystal Cove Beach Cottages: Located in Crystal Cove State Park Historic District, these restored cottages were built as part of a seaside colony in the 1930s and ’40s. Available for rent are 11 individual cottages with different floor plans and designs and three dorm-style cottages. Most have kitchens and views of the ocean in Newport Beach.
• Sacred Rocks Reserve: The tent and RV park in San Diego County has a mile-long labyrinth for meditation, a pool, clubhouse with movie nights and a dog run. Also available for rent are a bunkhouse that sleeps 14 and two show models of its eco-friendly vacation homes. Home to an artists’ colony, the reserve hosts workshops in writing, poetry, photography and crafts and holds occasional geocaching events.
• Emerald Desert RV Park: This gem in Palm Springs for RVs only is a resort in disguise. There’s a driving range and two-hole putting green, tennis courts, two pools, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor spas, a video library and event catering. Golf and tennis clinics are offered seasonally. Two-bedroom condos with luxury furnishings are available to rent.
• Manhattan Beach KOA: The biggest draw here is direct access to a five-mile stretch of beach. Like other KOA sites, Manhattan Beach offers tent and RV sites, cabins and cottages, but it also rents stationary trailers for guests who want a more traditional camping experience (without the tent). Amenities include an 18-hole disc golf course, two bocce ball courts, food court, pool, arcade, volleyball court, two playgrounds, dog park and peddle carts for rent. Television and DVD rentals also are available.
• Santa Cruz KOA: There’s little chance of being bored at this park at La Selva Beach. Intriguing attractions include a mechanical bull, mechanical surfboard, fun train and agility course for pets. There are outdoor movies, a game room, pool, espresso cafe, volleyball and basketball courts, climbing wall, bounce pillow and playground, as well as golf carts, bike rentals and mini golf for an extra charge. The campground also has a pizza parlor with campsite deliveries, Sunday pancake breakfasts and Saturday barbecue lunches. And in addition to cabins and lodges, guests can rent classic Airstream trailers.
• The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course: The 90-site RV resort located just outside Anza Borrego State Park capitalized on its hot mineral baths by opening a wellness center last month. Services include massages, acupuncture and acupressure. It was named Small RV Park of the Year last year by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds. The reason: a 9-hole golf course, dog park, saltwater swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, pond with catch-and-release fishing and an astronomy park with an 11-inch telescope. The Springs also rents RVs.
• Campland on the Bay: The park in San Diego offers a private getaway called the Super Site — private patio, grill and hot tub, all tucked away from the other campsites. For everyone, there’s a pool, marina with 124 slips, watercraft and bike rentals, game room, restaurant, new skate park and activities that include sand castle building contests, concerts with live bands and scavenger hunts.