Is Glamping a Real Estate Investment Opportunity?

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Glamping is easy to scorn. Glamorous camping? Like, you’re one with nature, but also, your tent has heating and a floor, and a couch and a mini-fridge? Mock it if you like, but the fact is, if a permanent lodging unit can’t be built — or is merely inefficient to build — on a piece of beautiful property in a vacation destination, some form of glamping may be a smart way to monetize it.

What is glamping, from a structural standpoint?

When the word “glamping” comes up, people tend to think immediately of some sort of luxury tent. And yes, it’s easy to see the irony in this, because tents are meant to be portable and functional, quick to pop up, and light to haul. There are certainly larger, sturdier tents that can be semipermanent, but glamping can encompass many types of shelter besides that, including:

Basically, any simple, typically austere structure that’s been outfitted with ultra-comfort amenities for overnight guests could fall into the “glamping” category for marketing purposes. And that’s great for property owners — much more so, thanks to the pandemic.

Why glamping is having a moment

Of all the many widespread effects of the pandemic, one is that people are less comfortable sharing space — and oxygen — with each other. Social distancing rules have settled into many people’s psyches, especially as they pertain to indoor space. They fear social contact, but

beyond that, they fear shared spaces and shared central HVAC.

Being with their “bubble” in an individual lodging unit with no shared walls is the setup that makes them feel safe — and it remains to be seen whether they’ll permanently trade off comfort and social activities.

At the moment, glamping, just like all vacation lodging options that allow for social distancing, is enjoying a boom. The RV space continues to see record-high bookings, springboarding the success of start-ups like Outdoorsy and public, established companies like Winnebago (NYSE: WGO).

Publicly traded RV park company Equity LifeStyle (NYSE: ELS) announced peak season 2021-2022 reservations that were four times higher than the previous year in its January 2021 earnings call. And the start-ups Getaway, which specializes in building tiny cabins for socially distanced getaways, and Hipcamp, which is a peer-to-peer platform for short-term rentals on private land, have each nabbed approximately $50 million in funding.

Digital booking solutions are leveling the playing field

With numerous peer-to-peer platforms and marketing apps coming online, plus hyperfocused media attention on the space, it seems evident that even small lodging providers could see a boost to their bookings through 2021 and beyond. And one of the great things about glamping is, if you’ve got a prime piece of land with nothing on it, it shouldn’t take you until 2023 to have it ready to rent. Install a shipping container, a themed RV, or a luxe jumbo-sized tent; have it professionally decorated; and be ready for renters within a couple months.

The bottom line

Will the boom last? Perhaps not to its current popularity peak, but really, it’s too soon to tell. Some experts say there’ll be a return to pre-pandemic “normal” within two years, while others say it’s never going to happen. When it comes to vacations, there will likely be people (not all, but certainly a new market of them) who discover that hotels and condos aren’t their cup of tea. It’s on the glamping providers to seize the next few seasons and make sure that new customers are reached and converted — hopefully to be retained in ensuing years.