Erin & Dan Thiem

Erin & Dan Thiem

Editor’s Note: Erin and Dan Thiem are the owners of the Inn Town Campground in Nevada City, Calif. 

Much has been written about glamping and how it’s the newest, hottest trend. As a park that has offered glamping since we opened, we’re looking forward to attending the upcoming Glamping Show Americas in Colorado to learn more about how this segment has changed over the last decade. In addition to the opportunity to see and walk inside a variety of different types of glamping structures, it’s always a great opportunity to connect with people in different aspects of the industry and see how it’s evolving.

When we built our campground, we knew we wanted to include glamping as part of the design. We were fortunate enough to have had experiences staying in canvas tents over the years, from Costanoa on the California coast to a no-frills option on safari in Botswana. We distilled our experiences and what we knew about our potential customers to form a clear vision of that type of glamping. It would be a family-friendly, convenient and easy camping option for people who wanted to get outside without all the fuss. Ten years ago, when we started our campground journey, glamping was still new, and we didn’t have a lot of other businesses to compare our idea with, so we jumped into the unknown. Now, glamping is known and growing remarkably fast.

One of the interesting trends we’ve seen over the years is how glamping’s popularity has exploded. We didn’t expect that trend. It has become a powerhouse market segment in outdoor hospitality that is as varied as your imagination can make it. The broader the segment grows, the richer and more diverse its offerings become. That also leads to some problems for operators and guests. Everyone seems to have a different idea of what a glamping experience is. They range from a no-frills tent in someone’s backyard to elaborate multi-room structures with hot tubs, bathrooms and designer furniture. It’s exciting and offers a lot of new possibilities for our industry.

Now, everyone is talking about adding glamping to their parks or even developing purpose-built glamping destinations. AutoCamp, Under Canvas and many others have sprouted and grown quickly from the glamping movement. In some ways, it feels like the future (even the present) of outdoor hospitality. So, how does that fit with our industry and the more traditional RV park/campground model? We’ve found that it’s not necessarily a plug-and-play substitute for what RV parks currently offer. Some owners convert RV sites into cabins or even safari tents. But glamping is more than just a structure, it’s a way of thinking and recreating that can be vastly different from RVers or tenters. This difference is important to understand and consider when adding glamping to your park.

This divergence in customer base is a natural growth opportunity for many businesses, provided they can reconcile the different expectations that glampers have from traditional campers. Glamping is a huge spectrum of outdoor hospitality experiences and as business owners and marketers, we must ensure that our brand of glamping is clearly understood by our customers. It is important to be honest and authentic in what you offer and how you advertise it. We don’t have A/C in our glamping tents or bathrooms. We make sure all our campers know that, avoiding surprises at check-in (hopefully!). Authenticity is one of our core business values, so even though we built our park with glamping in mind from the beginning, we are still very careful to be clear on what our version of glamping is and what exactly we offer.

Glamping has become more available, and customers have a more refined idea of what they expect from a glamping destination. Their view of our offering is now seen through the lens of their other glamping experiences. We need to make sure that our communications and advertising prepare them for the kind of experience they can expect when they visit, which might not match what their friend shared on Instagram or even what other campgrounds in the area provide. In short, we need to distinguish ourselves from the growing saturation in the segment.

We’re dealing with a lot more competition in the glamping space. Competition will absolutely affect our business, but it also gives us the chance to really focus on the niche our property occupies in the campground space, specifically around glamping in our region. A lot of our discussions about competition center on constraints and strengths. For example, the regulatory environment doesn’t allow us to put bathrooms in our glamping tents. So, we don’t worry about how we’ll compete with a two-bedroom dome with a jacuzzi tub and toilet — we can’t build one of those. What we can do is focus on how to make the best possible experience from the environment, infrastructure and location we have. For us, that means highlighting our pretty forested property, our mix of camping options and our proximity to Nevada City. Of course, competitors will have some strengths that we don’t have too, but that’s ok. We’ll focus on what we can do well and make sure we deliver on that promise.

With so many new and innovative options in the glamping space, it’s really a great opportunity to look at pricing. Is what you’re charging realistic for your space? Are you going to cover your costs and add good margin? Have you thought about ways to evolve and change to increase your margin? Looking at different glamping options and learning from others in the industry is a great opportunity to re-think what we do, what we can do better and what sort of return we can expect on our sites.

Competition is good for our industry. It forces all operators to pay attention to their facilities, customer service and product mix. It makes us look at our businesses critically and from different perspectives. It also allows us, in the context of collaboration, to leverage our shared experiences for individual and collective problem-solving.

Glamping is a new segment in our market that is already raising the profile and quality of outdoor hospitality. It’s invigorating to have a new creative focus for our industry, even if it’s becoming more saturated. Have you added it to your park, if so, how’s it going?  Let us know!