Millions of new people started camping in 2020.
That is one of the key takeaways of Billings, Mont.-based Kampgrounds of America Inc.’s (KOA) seventh annual North American Camping Report which was released today (April 21).
Administered by Scott Bahr, of Cairn Consulting Group, the report is filled with statistics and key measurements on the state of the RV park and campground sectors. Making it a vital tool for owners as they gauge future trends and look to add new amenities.
Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has been no secret that many have been looking for ways to get outdoors and engage with nature in ways that the outdoor hospitality industry hasn’t seen in a long time.
That led to an almost four million increase in the number of active camper households, moving from 82,300,000 in 2019 to 86,100,000 in 2020. That is the largest one-year jump in active camper households since KOA began the report in 2014.
“There was a lot of new people that started camping, and that is a consistent theme throughout the report,” Toby O’Rourke, CEO and president of KOA, told WOODALLSCM.com. “We estimate over 10 million new campers came out last year, which really drove these numbers up. It was an enlarged response to the pandemic and looking for safe vacation alternatives and wanting to be outdoors.”
The KOA report notes that more than half (55%) of first-time campers cite reasons that can be directly tied to concerns surrounding COVID-19 as a reason they started camping in 2020. Two-thirds (66%) of first-time campers also said that they stayed at parks that offered a great deal of enhanced amenities or provided at least some amenities such as a bathhouse with running water, electric hookups, etc., that allowed them to work or school while camping.
The numbers show that campers were also camping more frequently, with an almost four million increase in campers who said they camped three or more times in 2020.
“We also see that 13.5 million camped at least one time in 2020, that is a significant increase from the over five million that did so in 2019,” noted O’Rourke. “These numbers just show the sheer amount of people that were trying it for the first time and maybe only camped once.”
There was a dip in the number of people that camped two or more times a year, but O’Rourke notes that many of those campers probably added extra nights to their trips and were pushed into the three or more category.
Not only did the industry drive in more new campers in 2020, but the diversity of campers also increased. The report states that 60% of first-time campers in 2020 were from non-white groups, the highest since the inception of the KOA report.
“One thing to point out is that 37% of campers were part of non-white groups, and that is one point over the census population statistics,” O’Rourke explained. “So, 36% of the census is non-Caucasian and 37% of campers last year were. We’ve been watching that number ever since we first started measuring this data in 2014 and have just seen it steadily increase. I just love to see that it is now beyond the proportion of the population that is considered non-white by the census numbers. I think that is phenomenal growth for camping.”
The report also highlighted a nice growth trend in the number of families that participated in camping. Fifty-four percent of campers in 2020 reported having minor children in the household. Sixty-three percent of new camping families who joined the fold in 2020 intend to keep camping, while 64% of campers with children plan to camp even more in 2021.
The report highlights that couples with children are camping’s best advocates, with 63% indicating that they would recommend camping to others as a way to travel and explore.
“Millennials are the largest segment of the camping population at 37%,” said O’Rourke. “With that comes a nice increase in families. You will see throughout the data, some of the most engaged and active campers over the past year were couples with children. Families are definitely driving a lot of activity, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to more younger people camping.”
For the first time, the report took a harder look at Gen Z, which includes people born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, in an effort to better understand their camping habits.
“There was some good growth in first-time campers and 17% were from Gen Z,” O’Rourke explained. “We started looking at Millennials a few years ago and that’s all anybody wanted to talk about. We want to start understanding this younger generation and what’s going to influence their camping habits and continue to start watching them as they go through different life stages and see how their camping behavior changes.”
RV ownership went up significantly as well the report notes, with 25% of campers noting that an RV was their preferred way of camping. Tenting was still extremely popular too, with 64% of campers indicating that was their preferred method of camping.
“Tenting offers a lower barrier to entry and it’s more affordable versus an RV,” explained O’Rourke. “We always see that the majority of people that camp are tenters, so it naturally makes sense as more new people first start camping, we’re going to see an increase in tenting. If they wanted their own equipment, in their own space, tenting was a good alternative for a lot of people.
“But we also saw that a quarter of people that did camp did so in an RV,” she continued. “We saw a big jump in ownership of RVs last year, a lot more people owning RVs than the year before. Good, healthy indications of people wanting to buy new RVs or upgrade their RVs this year. I think those trends are very strong and will continue into this year and beyond on the RVing side.”
Other key data points:
Top considerations when staying at a campground: Safety and security (36%), campground atmosphere (29%), Clean and well-maintained bathhouse/restrooms (29%), Allows pets and has a pet area (29%), kid-friendly (28%), Family-style bathrooms with showers (26%), Full-service RV sites (26%), Cabins (25%), Easy in/easy out pull-thru sites (25%), and a campground store (24%).
More than half of campers say that access to cell or Wi-Fi service has a great deal of impact on the length of trips. First-time campers and couples with children say that Wi-Fi service impacts how often they camp. First-time campers are most impacted by Wi-Fi access, attributing nine additional days of camping to it versus six days for experienced campers.
About 6-in-10 RV owners say they plan some type of change or upgrade to their RV in 2020, though one-in-five are uncertain about what those changes may be. Thirty-two percent plan to move to a bigger RV, 28% plan to find an RV with more or better amenities and 24% want an upgrade.
Two-thirds of camper households indicate that the availability of vaccines will allow them to camp more and take different types of trips. “We’re doing research on a monthly basis now and we’re seeing that 57% say the availability of vaccines will have an impact on their summer camping plans and about a third of people say they want to be vaccinated before they go camping again,” noted O’Rourke. “Another 28% are waiting for more people to be vaccinated before they camp.”
First-time campers in 2020 were more likely than first-time campers in 2019 to start camping in glamping accommodations. Of first-time campers, 28% indicated they started their camping experiences in some type of glamping accommodation compared to only 11% of experienced campers and 14% of first-time campers in 2019. Additionally, half of the first-time campers said they had a glamping experience for the first time in 2020, up from 3-in-10 in 2019.
Campers were somewhat more likely to travel a little further in 2020. Previously most campers stayed within 50 miles (29%), but in 2020 they were more likely to venture 100 to 150 miles (19%) away from home than in years past.