Todd Wynne Parry

Todd Wynne Parry is managing director of Horwath HTL, and has been working in the glamping field for years.

Glamping has continued to grow in recent years as the outdoor hospitality industry is seeing more campers than ever before hit the roadways in search of a new adventure. 

While the industry has shared some struggles due to the COVID pandemic, it has weathered the storm and continues to expand at a rapid pace. 

To get a better grasp on the growth of glamping and trends in the outdoor hospitality industry as a whole, Woodall’s Campground Magazine (WCM) sat down with industry veteran Todd Wynne-Parry, managing director of Horwath HTL and a growth advisor to developers and park owners, to discuss recent projects he has been a part of, how he got involved in the outdoor hospitality industry and what he expects in the years to come. 

Below is our edited conversation. 

WCM: How did you become involved in the outdoor hospitality industry? 

Todd Wynne-Parry: My career was originally in hotel consulting and I started just doing business analysis and feasibility studies and things like that. I did it in California and Mexico, and then I got moved over to Hong Kong and I did it all over Asia. 

Then my career kind of shifted to hotel development. I was growing brands all over the world and I’ve worked for some of the big brands you know, and some lesser brands you might not know.

I was always in the lifestyle boutique kind of sector, if you will, and when our brands, which were in that sector, got sold to Hyatt and I was seeing all these independent hotels no longer being independent. I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I’ll just get out of hotels because I’m not inspired anymore. It doesn’t turn me on, I’m not excited.’ 

But then, I was doing some pro bono consulting for AutoCamp and I was starting to see some inspiration in that sector and I became enamored with it. 

I found a lot of similarities between outdoor hospitality and the emergence of the lifestyle boutique sector, with people that had never been in hospitality before entering the market. That gives them a little bit of freedom — a little bit of artistic license to go, ‘You know what, I don’t care, I think it should be different’ and they just do it, which is great. 

I decided to help other brands like AutoCamp scale and began to offer my services, including experience in site analysis, market feasibility and a variety of other areas. 

WCM: Over your time in the industry, how has glamping changed and transformed into what it is today?

Wynne-Parry: When I talk about the outdoor hospitality sector, the way I kind of sum it up is that I work in this forest. One section is what I call hybrid RV parks. These are RV parks, but they’ve added a lot of accommodations and in some instances, they’re not actually just adding accommodations, they’re adding hospitality. 

Anybody can throw a tipi in the backyard and say, ‘There, that’s accommodation,’ but actually understanding what the guest wants and taking care of the guest, managing their experience, that is hospitality. That’s one end of the forest.

Then you go all the way to the other end of the forest and you have the Camp Sarika by Amangiri or the Resort at Paws Up or the Camp Ventana in Big Sur; these things are going to cost you thousands of dollars a night. That’s the price point that I work in from that spectrum, and then everything in between. 

When you’re an analyst, an institution, an investor or whatever, you have to kind of put things in boxes, so you can understand, and you can start looking at the numbers that relate to those boxes. That’s what I’ve done; I put the outdoor hospitality industry into four distinct categories. 

The first is the one we talked about before, which is the hybrid RV park. I call it hybrid because this is an RV park, but it’s alternative accommodations in that marketplace. I’ve seen RV parks, like the Kampgrounds of America in Moab; I think it has like 270 RV sites, but about 80 of them are cabins, tents, tiny homes and things like that. 

Bay Point Landing

Wynne-Parry notes that park operators need to have the heart of an innkeeper to cater to campers looking for a glamping experience. Credit: Bay Point Landing

If I’m running that park, and I’m looking at my pricing, I’m not looking at what the other RV parks are charging. I’m looking at what the motel down the road is charging or the hotel down the road or whatever; now I’m competing with that room stock. 

That’s why I’ll call it a hybrid; because you’re kind of a hotel/motel/resort.

Then, there’s a new genre that sort of arrived which is this concept where you take an old, beat up, crappy motel that might be in Tahoe or in Vale, or in Cape Cod or whatever, you take that old motel and you upgrade it but you give it a heavy, outdoorsy sort of bent to it. 

You put in a barista and you put in a taproom and mountain bike racks, and you rent mountain bikes. You take that thing and you reposition it to the outdoor hospitality sector. 

That’s brand new, and the guys at Basecamp did a great job with it, and Loge Camps took it to another level. They put Yetis in the room, they put Rumpl puffy blankets in there, they put an Eno Hammock and hang it right over the bed so you can sleep in that if you want.

If you want all that stuff, take it, use it, abuse it, take it out, go do what you do with that equipment. Bring it back, no problem. Even take it with you — it’s an honor bar. They’ll charge your room. You got that Yeti? Whatever.  

Then, just recently, Barry Sternlicht, of Starwood fame and Ben Weprin, who did the Graduate hotels, joined together and are starting a brand called Field and Stream, which is the old hunting and fishing magazine found on the coffee table all the time.

They’re taking that brand, they bought the IP to it, and they’re making that the same thing — motels converted. 

Then Autocamp, one of my few suggestions that they said, ‘Yeah, okay Boomer’ to, they just came out with Field Station, and they’re copycatting Loge and Base Camp, doing that same conversion of old stock in cool places. The first one they’re opening is in Moab. That’s what I call the outdoor motel concept.

Then you’ve got glamping. Glamping is kind of that mainstream, pure, literally the portmanteau of glamorous and camping. Right? 

WCM: What do you think has sparked the growth in this industry? 

Wynne-Parry: I think there are a couple of elements that feed the demand side of the equation. The growth in this was happening, definitely, before the pandemic.

I’ll talk generally first, and then we’ll talk specifically. 

Generally, I think that the newer generations have adopted outdoor activities much more than older generations. Whether it’s Gen X, Millennials or Gen Z, they’re doing things that my parents never did. 

My parents never mountain biked and only a very small portion of them skied. Hiking, a little bit, but the next generations are getting outside, showing their pictures on Instagram, doing things in the great outdoors, whether it’s virtue signaling or not and showing they care about the environment.

At the same time, the ability to work remotely, the explosion of entrepreneurship and how people do business; ‘I want to be in a startup, whatever.’ That flexibility I think has fed into it; digital nomads and all that stuff.

I think that’s a general sort of underlying thing that was happening 10 years ago. 

More specifically, 2016 was the centennial of the national parks and boy, they did an amazing job pushing that. 

Then you saw it drop in 2017 and then it went back up again, close to the record in 2019, and then dropped, and then now we’re back at 2019 levels at the national parks. 

I think it’s sort of the general trend toward an outdoor lifestyle. Younger generations picking up activities that are more aligned with the outdoors. They’re also more egalitarian. 

You know, 15 to 20 years ago, meeting planners were saying I just don’t want to do another meeting with golf. Right? There’s been this big shift because golf is very exclusive. Not that it means to be exclusive, it’s just not everybody knows how to do it. They’re going to a conference and there’s, you know, 50% women and we do a big golf tournament. It’s like, well, yes, some women golf, but not all of them. It kind of bifurcates the group, and so they’ve wanted to get off the golf course for decades now. 

Providing things that are outdoors gets you out doing team-building things and this has been going on for literally decades now. That’s kind of part of it as well; there’s just more demand from an activity basis and it’s a wider spread of things that people want to do when they’re meeting, and generally in their lives. 

The other part too is the hires for the tech giants prefer to live in a more urban area, rather than the valley where they work. They don’t have room in their tiny city apartments for a tent. They don’t have room for a bike and all these things. They want to do activities, but they can’t have it in their little apartment. 

Being able to get out, go hike, bike, swim, boat…whatever; it’s really attractive for them to get away and do that stuff. I think that’s part of it too.

Glamping Show USA

Shows like The Glamping Show Americas offer park owners a chance to see new and exciting things and Wynne-Parry notes that they should be willing to use others’ ideas and concepts at their own parks if it makes sense. 

WCM: What challenges do you see the industry, especially park owners and developers, facing?

Wynne-Parry: I think for park owners there are two major challenges. The first challenge is that I’m concerned that the population of park managers and park owners — and this is anecdotal — is growing older, and the park model RV and how the RV parks were put together is relatively not changing a whole lot. 

If I’m a 20-something, am I attracted to go and operate a traditional RV park? Is it set up the way I live my life and the way I think people my age would want to be coming in and enjoying that park? Or is it a different generation? 

I know younger people that want to do this work and they have the heart of an innkeeper and they want to be in these remote locations, they want to run an RV park and stuff like that. 

Maybe KOA has some research that doesn’t agree with this, but my general feeling is that. Is there an institutional sort of support for them to do a more modern style of RV park? One that is catering more to these van-life people and the digital nomads? Is there a movement to get outside the mold of the traditional stuff? 

Then the second challenge I think is for those parks that are out there, particularly talking about the hybrid RV parks that have accommodations, is on adjusting their mindset from being a property manager to an innkeeper. 

If you look at successful RV parks and you look at the comments, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God, Betty and John were just amazing. They did this, they did that.’ It’s a relationship that happens.

WCM: Are you excited about the future?

Wynne-Parry: Very much so. You can’t point to any demographic, psychographic or thing that’s going to stop people wanting to be outside, and outside hospitality sits there to take care of them. 

I believe that as technology advances — and now it’s getting hyper-advanced with the AI stuff — we’re going to continue to get the need to balance because the use of technology like smartphones is pervasive and relentless.

WCM: What are the things you tell current park owners and developers? What are the keys to operating a glamping campground?

Wynne-Parry: When people come to me and they’ve got a vision; they want to do this, they’ve got a plan and they want to do that…etc. my usual thing is, ‘Well, okay, if you don’t have the site, get the site. If you have the site, just get after it, go do it.’

Don’t overthink it. If you have the heart of an innkeeper, then somehow get a unit up or two units or three or whatever you need. Think about what the guest needs to have a great experience where you are and fill it in, whether it’s through Airbnb or one of the other online travel agency platforms that you can get on.

A lot of times people aren’t sure what to do with land and how to deal with land. I tell them ‘Well, if you think you want to do a combination on it, set up some campsites, do whatever you’ve got to do, and just take your time and don’t get out in front of your skis. Don’t spend more money than you have.’

Learn how the people use your land because they might do things on the land or utilize the topography completely differently than you might. They might go to things in the area that you’ve never even been to yet, but you need to listen to your demand and then build accommodations around that as you go.

I ask them, ‘So, where do you think you’d like this to be in five years and what do you want your lifestyle to be then?’

Do you want to be the innkeeper? Do you want to be the one checking everybody in and cleaning the toilets and changing the beds and doing all that stuff? Or do you want to have enough business to where you can hire somebody to do all those things?

Some people are very happy with that being their lifestyle. They do have the heart of an innkeeper and they do have a great time taking care of people day in, day out, meeting new people and they get a lot of joy out of providing that service.

Work backward and then drive to get there. Don’t be afraid to steal ideas and concepts. Look out there and find three or five properties that would be ‘Wow, they nailed it” and copycat like crazy. 

You might have some motivations of your own, but if someone’s already plowed the field, go use it. We are all on the shoulders of giants, so find your little giants out there and talk to them. How did you get here? How did you get to do this? How did you learn about it? Then emulate it, but just go do it.