RV Park Mastery: Episode 38

Everything Old Is New Again – The Return Of Glamping

Glamour camping is called “glamping”, and it has its roots in 16th century Scotland when the Duke of Atholl built luxurious tents to entertain King James V. Today’s version is focused on providing an upscale experience in the outdoors, and RV parks are the center of this travel offering. In this RV Park Mastery podcast we review what “glamping” is all about and how you might introduce it into your property’s list of options.

Episode 38: Everything Old Is New Again – The Return Of Glamping Transcript


In the 16th century, the Earl of Atholl put together an outdoor experience for King James V and his mother. He built a virtual palace of tents offering every luxury they could imagine that they were accustomed to in their castle in England. On that day, glamping was invented. This is Frank Rolfe for the RV Park Mastery Podcast series. We're talking about glamping, which basically is an acronym for glamour camping.

Now, from that 16th secondary experience of King James V, you jumped in the 1920s. There, you have the African Safari, which became very popular with very wealthy American travelers. They would go to Africa, and they would stay in these tents. But these tents were gigantic, and they had every luxury you could imagine, so people could tell others, "Well, I went out camping in the wilds of Africa," but really they weren't, it was just as luxurious as any five star hotel. Then you jump from the 1920s to roughly 2005, where glamping is thought to have originated yet again, in the United Kingdom. Someone took a property and they put in an outdoor experience that was glamorous, and lavish and upscale, and it went well. And that's kind of the new modern glamping. It's not really about King James V, it's not really about the epic African safari. Today it's something that's offered to Americans from coast to coast, who want a little something different.

So how does it work for the RV park owner to get into glamping? And why would they? Well, in 2020, glamping, was considered one of the hottest travel trends in the US. Now what spurred that on? Well, this thing you may have heard of called COVID. And as a part of COVID, people were afraid to go to traditional luxury hotels or hotels of any type. I myself was no different. At that time, if you went to a standard hotel, well, you thought, gosh, it could be the end of me. We didn't have any cures for COVID at that time, and weren't really even sure how you got it. So a lot of people who did have to travel or wanted to travel, they didn't want to do the traditional hotel experience. And they knew that everything they heard on TV said go outdoors, outdoors is safer. Whatever the bacteria is causing COVID won't come after you if you're outdoors. So when you put the two together, people said, "Wow, that's what I'll do. I'm not going to go to hotel, I am going to go and be outdoors."

But the problem was, a lot of Americans, they don't want to camp, they don't even have any camping gear. When you think about camping, traditional camping, it is not really a luxury experience. You get to commune with nature, but you also have to sacrifice other things that you're kind of accustomed to. And there's a lot of people who will do it. But there's others who simply won't. They want to have bathrooms, they want to have more of a luxury feel. They don't just want to go out and be in a sleeping bag on the ground, just isn't what their idea is of how they want to travel. And glamping cured that. Because for the first time, you had that mixture of outdoor experience which Americans so desired, coupled with having all the regular niceties that you need.

Now, some places have taken that to an extreme. Big Cedar Lodge out near Branson, Missouri, they have a whole glamping section and their glamping is over the top, considered one of the best in the US. You can go online and look at the pictures. I mean, who ever imagined you would see king size bed and a chandelier inside of a tent? Well, those who had gone to those African safaris would have. But in modern times, no you don't see anything like that. It's so over the top but it's also over the top expensive. Your typical RV park owner is not going to be able to lay out the capital that Big Cedar did. If you've ever been to Big Cedar, you know what I'm talking about. There's a restaurant at Big Cedar called Top of the Rock it took them 10 years to build it. It's built right into the solid rock. Spectacular views, but outside of the budgets of most RV park owner.

So you might say well then how can I, with my RV park, actually get involved in glamping then? Is that just beyond my budget? Well no. The way you could get into it is by classic travel trailers. That's what most RV park owners are doing. So what you do is you buy a classic travel trailer, Airstream would be great, but doesn't have to be Airstream, and you get that and then you rehab that into something that either goes back nostalgically back to the day of the 1950s or 60s, or that has a whole new look where you redesign the inside to make it much nicer than it ever was using all kinds of modern finish out. And obviously, you've got to make the bathroom where it's functional, yet also attractive.

Now, some people are good at these things, others are not. If you can rehab it yourself, well, that's great. But if you can't, you can definitely find somebody who can do the renovation of a travel trailer. Once you get that done, what do you then do with it? Well, typically, you put it on Airbnb. If you go to Airbnb and search, you'll see that there's an entire glamping section on Airbnb. And then you can see the rates and you'll see those classic travel trailers and those Airstreams. Those typically rent across America for around $200 a night. And now you'll say, "Aha, now I see where the money is." And you're correct.

What's going on here is glamping is very, very profitable from the source, from the owner of the RV park who does it, because you're getting often the same revenue you get on that four star hotel room. But let's be honest, it does not cost you anywhere near the cost to build the room as it did to build that giant four star hotel. Because your main amenity and like the hotel, what's the hotel have? Well, it's got a restaurant and the lobby and the pool. But yours is Mother Nature. Mother Nature to you, since you own the property, is basically free. So the main components that the person is paying for nature, the sounds of nature, the smells of nature, the sights of nature, that's all inclusive when you bought the RV park, that doesn't cost you anything. All you have to provide is simply the shelter.

Now typically, if you look online at the offerings in the glamping section of Airbnb, what they really have is typically the classic trailer, or the Airstream with a nice deck. Again, not a really big expensive item to build a nice deck. And you can look through there and get a wondrous idea of the way they've done the finish out the things they've done and the themes that they use. But these are all things you can clearly replicate with not very much money. And it's not a very complicated business model, right? I mean, basically, all you're going to do is jump in there and put out your shingle and say, "Yes, I've got glamping. And here's my location, here's my photos, and please, please come and sample my wares." Not a really big high threshold. If you want to build a big old hotel, well, that's a gigantic nightmare. You'd have to have the right brand, you'd have to get all the correct marketing, you'd have to have all kinds of employees, but not in this case. And that's why a lot of RV park, people are trying this.

That's the key in life moderation, try things and see if they work. And if they don't stop. But if they do continue on is not very much to risk to try the glamping component in an RV park. You already have the manager, you've already got the property. I know you've got at least one vacant spot. It's not that expensive to buy that classic travel trailer, or that Airstream and bring it in and build a deck and set it up and open up for business and put it on Airbnb and see what happens. Let's be honest, if you only rented that thing a few days a month, it was still a successful experiment, because otherwise that spot would have been vacant anyway, right? And today's cost of capital, if you look at basically what you would have had if you put the money that you spent building that deck and building that whole unit into a CD sell, you would have earned what 1%.

So all I'm saying is you might just give it a try. If you brought in one or two and it succeeds, then you can bring in another and then another and another. There are some RV parks in America that have transitioned now to all glamping that's all they have. They no longer allow anyone to bring in any of their own RVs. They're 100% occupied every vacant lot with their own unit which is now rented nightly. And there's nothing wrong with that. Let the market determine whether glamping works for you or not. The trial isn't very expensive. You always have the backstop that you can always just sell that travel trailer once you've remodeled it off. It's not much to risk. But it could be a huge reward for your gamble. You might find that your RV park is best suited to glamping and that over time you transition at least a portion of it into the glamping model.

I'm a big believer risk versus reward. When you have opportunities for a reward with very little risk, you typically take them and in many cases, that's what glamping offers. This is Frank Rolfe, the RV Park Mastery Podcast. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.