Global Glamping Summit California – Collaboration and Inspiration

At the end of November, a group of glamping experts, glampsite owners and tent and wagon suppliers got together in a hotel in California to swap stories, learn from best practise and buy product in an inspirational event, called The Global Glamping Summit.

Organised by a UK company, Swan Events, who run the only dedicated glamping exhibition in the world – The Glamping Show in the UK (as well as publishing International Glamping Business) this was the second US summit, the first having taken place in Denver, Colorado in April.

“We started The Glamping Show four years ago and unusually, the market matured more quickly in the UK than in the US, where it is still relatively in its infancy,” says show organiser Pete Rusbridge. “We identified an opportunity to start these events in the US, as we see a huge potential for glamping over here.”

Pete Rusbridge welcomes attendees

In fact, the 2018 North American Camping report finds that more than 77 million households in the US now go camping; a figure that’s grown by 6m since 2014. The report also shows that millennials have increased their camping trips and the number of those who camp more than three times a year has grown by 64 per cent  in the same period of time.  On top of that, millions of baby boomers are entering retirement – creating a massive market for comfortable camping – a trend which the industry has come to know as ‘glamping’.

“The US approach to glamping is quite different to that in the UK, where in a lot of cases, it is still something of a ‘cottage industry’ where couples may purchase a few pieces of accommodation to let out on their own land. Here, we are seeing glamping resorts emerging, incorporating 80-100 tents or more and several distinct brands are also establishing themselves in the market,” says Steph Curtis-Raleigh, Editor of International Glamping Business.

Roger Walsh and Tom Butterfield of Eco Structures

Indeed, the Californian Summit attracted speakers from companies such as AutoCamp – the largest private owner and purchaser of the iconic Airstream brand of RVs globally. AutoCamp is expanding its luxury glamping sites in the US – and opening its Yosemite location in early 2019. In addition, French glamping giant Huttopia was also represented at the Summit – the company opened its first US destination in New Hampshire (Huttopia White Mountains) and will open a number more in 2019.

One of the pioneers of glamping in the US is Under Canvas, founded by Sarah and Jacob Dusek in 2009. Their safari inspired tents include amenities such as daily housekeeping and fresh towels, plus king-size beds, luxurious linens, en suite bathrooms and a wood burning stove. They have locations in Yellowstone and Glacier in Montana, Moab and Zion in Utah, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and Grand Canyon and Tucson, Arizona.

Sarah Dusek and Global Glamping Summit co-founder Ruben Martinez of booking giant Glamping Hub, announced their intention to set up the American Glamping Association at the Denver conference and kicked off the California event with details of their plans, which include setting standards for the industry, to ensure that customers will be able to rest assured of a level of accommodation and service when booking.

Glamping may still be a niche market in the US but it is attracting the attention of the major hotel groups, such as Marriot – and the investors are circling. This can be no surprise when one considers that the travel and tourism industry in the US currently generates roughly $1.5 trillion and supports 7.6million jobs.

Laurie and Kevin Womer from Denver Tent

Lyndsey Whang from leading US hotel brokerage firm RobertDouglas attended the California event. The company has offices in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and recently found a capital partner to grow Autocamp’s business. “I think what’s most interesting is that there’s no one thing that defines this industry,” she said. “With hotels it’s very straightforward – a room with a bathroom. In this industry it’s very different, which we knew already but until this event we didn’t actually realise how many differences there are and the many types of ownership. We think there’s a lot of opportunity – there are so many people here with great ideas who may want more institutionalised partners and that’s something we might be able to help them with.”

According to Kampgrounds of America – the main reasons people say they go camping are to “reconnect with nature,” “reduce stress and relax,” and “spend more time with family and friends.” It’s interesting, then, that one of the amenities people care most about when selecting a campground is access to free wifi, according to their annual survey. This was one of the topics covered in the extensive seminar programme. While many sites, adhere to the idea that you need to ‘disconnect to reconnect’ it is clear that the demand for wifi is there and many guests do not consider a wifi-free zone, ‘luxury’.

In addition, social media appears to be the main fuel that powers the demand for this type of unique rental property, meaning that sites need to consider the marketing potential of keeping guests online. Sarah Riley, also from the UK, is a social media and market expert who runs Inspired Courses for glampsite owners across the globe. Her talk was one of the highlights of the event and focused on the power of the influencer in Instagram and how to recognise those with genuine influence, against those who simply ‘buy’ followers.

Stout Tent

Base Camp 37 Degrees on the Utah/Arizona border is an expanding glamping business. Owner Amy Affeld, attended the event. “We are off the grid and just learning this whole world, we haven’t had a community before, so this event is really helpful for the networking,” she said. “I only started in April and just followed my gut. But if I had a piece of advice to give it would be – you have got to be on Instagram – it certainly has been working for me.”

Delegates attended from as far away as Belgium and Guatemala, all at various stages of setting up or running their glamping businesses and keen to see many of the actual tents which vendors had brought to the Westin Long Beach hotel and erected in the ballroom.

Vendors included Davis Tent, founded in 1955 and bought this year by Will Marquardt and his wife Corinne, who also run the hugely successful Outdoors Geek, rental camping and event business.  “We were at the Denver event too,” says Will. “These are our people, I overheard someone say that everyone in this room owns a Davis tent. This event is very important to us; not only from a sales perspective but also from a PR point of view.”

In fact, there was a real camaraderie among the vendors, who themselves are scoping out the opportunities offered by this new form of tourism offer. Ivy Fife from the Colorado Yurt Co. said, “This is our first time exhibiting – we have met some interesting people and we have got some good leads. I have enjoyed talking to the participants but also to the other vendors too – we have learned from each other.”

Laurie Womer owner of Denver Tent agreed, “It’s such a new industry and there’s a lot of excitement and everybody’s trying to help each other. Everybody in the industry is trying to raise everybody up as opposed to just keeping everything to ourselves. The vendor relationships are just as important as the customers coming through here – there really isn’t another avenue in the US because most people still don’t know what glamping is. This event gives us somewhere to start.”

Attendees Joe Koluder, Katie Roller Didonato, and Steve Didonato of UrbGlamp.

Joe Koluder, one of the founding members of UrbGlamp, based in California, plans to create a ‘backyard’ glamping oasis – just a mile or so from Long Beach. He also appreciated the sense of community at the Summit. “Finding these like-minded people is really inspiring,” he said. “There’s a lot of solidarity in this industry – that we are on the spear-head of – and it’s great to get this support from these folks from across the ocean who have come over to help us kick start a lifestyle.”

For details of the next Global Glamping Summit – or to connect with any of those mentioned in the article, visit www.glampingsummit.com or email peter.r@swanevents.co.uk