Camping’s Pandemic-Inspired Renaissance

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For the non-expert, going camping can be a bit of an intimidating activity. Where to camp, what to pack and how to prepare can seem easy if one already knows what they’re doing — and hard to figure out when one doesn’t. It’s a situation that Hipcamp founder Alyssa Ravasio told PYMNTs she learned the hard way in her pre-entrepreneurial days trying to plan a camping trip.

Despite doing all the research ahead of time and preparing hard for her first camping trip, Ravasio ended up picking a campground adjacent to a massive surf break that kept the immediate area fairly wet most of the time.

“I actually spent most of the camping trip being like, ‘Gosh, I tried so hard and I still didn’t learn this really important thing,’” she said. “Hipcamp is definitely aimed to cater to people who don’t necessarily have all the information or knowledge, and who weren’t lucky enough to be raised by people who could pass it on to them. What we do [is] support really anybody who’s looking to get outside to somewhere so that they’re going to feel comfortable.”

Beyond offering a platform for campers to book campsites on both public and private land, Hipcamp also serves as a structured data resource for potential campers. For instance, consumers can filter for whatever camping environment they’re looking for — oceans, forests, mountains, etc.

And perhaps the most useful thing Hipcamp contributes in this regard is its community aspect. The site allows campers to leave reviews, share their stories and post photos. That makes it easier for others to get an idea of what a specific site will be like and what level of gear and proficiency it requires for an optimal experience.

“We want to get people outside who maybe haven’t always felt as welcome or have had all the gear,” Ravasio said.

And in COVID-19’s wake, a lot more people want to go outside. So, Hipcamp has been busily working for the past several months to make sure it lists plenty of outdoor spaces available to campers.

Ravasio added that rising interest in camping isn’t entirely due to COVID-19, as the platform has seen a steady rise in interest over the past several years. But the outbreak has made other travel destinations like amusement parks and crowded cities suddenly seem a whole lot less desirable. Getting away from it all (including from other people) looks incredibly good to many consumers these days.

The Pandemic Camping Boom 

Camping saw a big slowdown in March and April when many U.S. campsites shut down amid stay-at-home orders. But Hipcamp quickly recovered as soon as authorities lifted those orders, and business has been booming all summer long as consumers avidly rush to get back to nature.

“This summer has really just accelerated and exacerbated [demand],” Ravasio said. “We’re sending well over three times as much money to our hosts this summer as we have this time last year as we are seeing a huge demand spike for good places to camp.”

But as more and more people get out into nature all at once, that’s becoming more difficult. After all, avoiding the crowd is one of camping’s most attractive features.

Ravasio said that’s why the privately owned campgrounds listed on Hipcamp’s site are so important. Many offer solitude as a unique value. In fact, many private-campground owners have been iterating how they can customize their sites to meet users’ safety needs.

“We have a host I was just talking to yesterday who is actually offering private port-a-potties per site for an extra charge that you and only your party can use for the duration of your stay,” Ravasio said. “That kind of creativity and entrepreneurship is excellent and really meets consumers where they are right now. They don’t want to be sharing facilities with lots of people.”

Hipcamp tries to help by including an extensive rundown of rules and requirements for each property the site lists. It also tasks a field team with vetting each site to make sure customers get what they pay for. Ravasio said campsite owners who go the extra mile to assure customer privacy and safety attract more customers who are willing to pay a premium for extra-safe experiences.

A Global Ambition

Though founded in America, Hipcamp’s goal is to get everyone — not just Americans — outside more often. So, the platform is starting a global expansion.

First stop: Australia. The firm announced on Monday (Aug. 24) that it will be expanding Down Under by merging with Youcamp, the Australian-based land-sharing community that’s similar to Hipcamp.

Ravasio said she’s excited to see how Hipcamp can open up the Australian Outback to American camping enthusiasts looking for a new experience.

“We are also really looking to earn the loyalty and the acknowledgment of Australians as they travel around the world,” she said. “We see this as a very important first step for creating a global movement and a global community of people who love to get outside.”

Ravasio added that the firm’s second phase of international expansion would begin later this year with the addition of Canadian listings.

But going global isn’t easy, as compliance regulations on public lands shift from state to state and country to country. That can be a lot for the platform to track. But with time, practice and lots of patience (as public processes tend to be on the slow side), Hipcamp has gotten good an onboarding both public and private campsites.

Ravasio said the goal now is to onboard a whole lot more as demand skyrockets to an extent that the platform often has more campers than campgrounds in some regions. (Hipcamp’s figures show that the majority of this summer’s camping trips happen within 40 miles of campers’ homes.)

“We are actively seeking new landowners, because we’re so constrained,” she said. “And right now, we are selling out faster than ever. … There’s a huge, huge economic opportunity for any landowner right now who’s interested in sharing their land and making some income. It’s really about creating that economic opportunity for landowners and for rural economies.”

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