“Glamping” is just as it sounds — luxury meets camping. It’s a melding of upscale spaces and the great outdoors, allowing even those who “don’t and won’t camp” a chance to experience the miraculous beauty of nature without sacrificing the amenities of home. From a travel perspective, the surging demand for unique stays like glamping is exciting. In fact, this summer Airbnb rolled out its biggest update in a decade, adding categories to its search that include unique stays such as glamping, caves, barns, castles and more.
Even more exciting for investors, I consider the risk low and the return potential high.
I’ve seen firsthand both the consumer demand for this type of experience and the money-making potential. The numbers alone are enough to at least consider the luxury camping market. It grossed $2.35 billion in 2021 and is projected to generate $5.41 billion in revenue by 2028, with a growth rate of more than 14 percent. Europe currently holds the most dominant share of the market, but North America is the fastest-growing region at a rate of 16.7 percent.
However, there is a clear barrier of entry with this new asset class as banks and municipalities work to figure out how to loan money and create a new housing class for these types of projects. Now is the time for private investors to claim the market.
Before we can break down the investor’s journey into the glamping space, here’s a quick rundown of Stay Minty, the Nashville-based glamping company for which I serve as CEO.
We got our start with several Airbnb properties in Nashville geared toward the bachelor and bachelorette party demographics. We dove head-first into that market after I noticed nearly all of the vacation rental postings for Nashville said “no bach parties welcome here.” This was so bizarre to me. The demographic creating this amazing market in Nashville was being told not to stay here. We did what we do best and we re-invented the vacation rental experience for these groups of men and women looking to celebrate and have an unforgettable experience. The pivot paid off.
Fast-forward a couple of years and COVID brought our thriving business to a halt. Our houses were empty, and I knew we needed to diversify. Glamping was all over social media at this time and when I started researching this relatively new travel trend, I was blown away by the demand. Small “glampgrounds” had a year-long wait list. It was unbelievable. And it was everywhere. As a seasoned real estate investor, I had to take action when I saw a glamping opportunity in the Great Smoky Mountains. I used my luxury construction and development company to set up shop and make waves. The Stay Minty brand, after all, is “vacation rentals re-invented,” and that’s exactly what we’ve brought to the glamping space.
When I first ran the numbers on a glamping campground, the profit and loss statement was too good to be true. I kept running the numbers and actually tried talking myself out of this crazy idea to invest millions. Thankfully, I didn’t listen to myself this time.
In March, Stay Minty debuted eight glamping domes in the central region of the Great Smoky Mountains. Make no mistake about it, these domes are far from your average campground. They have running water, HVAC, bathrooms, kitchens, dishwashers, refrigerators, hot tubs and barbecues, and those are just some of the amenities. The domes can stay up all year and can sustain 120 mph winds. (Ours were tested recently during some pretty insane storms, and I can confirm the domes did not move.) They are not only on trend, they’re upping the game by giving vacationers a tailored experience they didn’t know they needed — and one they are willing to pay $400 to $500 per night.
EBITDA margins of up to 50 percent are usually enough for investors to take a closer look. However, what makes this asset class even more exciting is that it attracts two big and highly sought-after market segments. Yes, we’ve had the more “traditional” retired baby-boomer campers who thoroughly enjoy it. But the biggest market driver, and the consumer I’m most excited about, is the 18- to 32-year-old crowd. This age group dominated the market in 2020, accounting for nearly 45 percent of glamping stays. The Gen Z demo is also growing into this type of product, so as they make higher incomes they can spend more on unique stays and experiences, as opposed to traditional travel.
Many Gen Z consumers are also ready and willing to share nearly every aspect of their lives on social media. Glamping content is a staple of social media, with both campgrounds and campers capitalizing on the reach and influence of sites like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Twitter. When you’ve got a great product, or you’ve had a great experience, it’s now easier than ever to show the world.
Let’s circle back to one of my previous points. Commercial banks haven’t yet figured out how to underwrite a construction loan on this type of a property. I can’t tell you how many bank employees looked at me cross-eyed when I inquired about a loan. There is a window here for private investors to really own this space, and the asset class coming next. The tiny home category for residential living is also growing fast. By having the zoning and proper infrastructure already in place for glamping, investors can pivot into the tiny home space years down the road if they so choose.
I’m sure you can see the finances and market trends surrounding glamping are a big selling point, but there is also the opportunity to elevate the camping experience so any consumer who wants to be in nature can do so comfortably. It’s about having the ability to unplug (did I mention our domes intentionally do not wifi?), to really connect with yourself, with others, and the natural world around you. It’s about valuing the emotions and memories that accompany the experience, in a society that tends to prioritize possessions and mentally overwhelm its citizens.
The post-pandemic consumer is different and this trend of valuing experiences over possessions is here to stay.
It’s a growing and exciting recreational space and investment opportunity.
Meredith Garrett is founder and CEO of Stay Minty, a vacation rental company.