What’s Driving the Increase in Camping Families?

About a million new households have come into camping each year since 2014.

Much of that growth is coming from Generation X campers and Millennials, and even teens have a great outlook toward the future. The growth over the past several years in the camping market also reflects a diversity of racial and ethnic groups that has the camping public starting to more closely resemble the general public, according to the 2017 North American Camper Report.

Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The report by Scott Bahr of Cairn Consulting Group was commissioned by Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), but it looks at a cross-section of all U.S. and Canadian campers, not just KOA guests.

“To me, the big stories in growth are younger, more diverse campers and more families. There’s a huge increase in the numbers of people camping with children,” Cairn noted.

Campers are also staying longer, the report revealed, largely due to the growth of Gen X campers—but also driven in part by technology.

Millennial campers, especially, have grown up with technology, and they’re using it to find campgrounds—but fewer are actually using Google, the study found.

“People are using a lot of other online sources,”  KOA Chief Franchise Operations Officer Toby O’Rourke noted.

Cochise Terrace RV Resort, Benson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cochise Terrace RV Resort, Benson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“They’re going to places like KOA.com, they’re finding places using social media and online recommendations. They’re looking at websites for a certain geographic area and then finding campgrounds. Google was still the highest in terms of how people access information, but we did see a decrease there.”

Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family remain the largest drivers of camping, she pointed out. “They like to camp because they can spend time with friends and family, and they find campgrounds on the recommendation of friends and family,” she said.

O’Rourke noted that access to technology also helps drive longer stays.

Sunshine Valley RV Resort near Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunshine Valley RV Resort near Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“A high percentage of campers, 60 percent, said that was an important consideration when selecting a campground, because they felt the use of technology allowed them to camp longer,” O’Rourke said—though Canadians are far less reliant on technology when camping.

In fact, more than a quarter of Canadians don’t go online while camping, compared to only 18 percent in the U.S., according to the report. Canadians are also significantly less likely to expect free Wi-Fi at a campground or to be influenced by the presence of Wi-Fi, and are much more likely to say technology detracts from camping, with 50 percent of Canadians displeased with tech’s effect on their camping trips.

“Among all U.S. campers, 37 percent—including at least 43 percent of Millennials—say their access to technology allows them to spend more time camping,” the report notes.

“Specifically, access to technology is freeing up more time among younger campers who, in all likelihood, are able to check work emails and check in with work when needed.

New campers continue to largely start in tents, but growth in cabin/park model RV stays is coupled with growth with RV stays.

Oh! Kentucky Campground & RV Park, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh! Kentucky Campground & RV Park, Berea, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“When we looked at the new campers, 26 percent of them camped in an RV. Overall, about 22 percent of all campers camp in RVs. We also saw growth in diversity coming to RVs,” O’Rourke continued, “in African Americans and Asian Americans in particular. And if we look at the RV base, 33 percent of RVers were Millennials. Traditionally we looked at that RV market as more of an older, white group, but now we’re seeing younger, more diverse people giving it a try.”

“What’s more,” it continues, “campers who say that technology allows them to spend more time camping take an average of almost two additional vacation days for camping.”

While most teens bring smartphones with them when camping—like their adult counterparts—an overwhelming majority, 71 percent, say they would still want to camp without the ability to stay in touch with others by using their phones or computers.

Still, 20 percent of all campers list free Wi-Fi as one of the top offerings they value in a campground.

Buccaneer State Park near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearly all campers, 95 percent, bring technology with them when camping, though only 36 percent of Millennials say it enhances the experience, while 38 percent say it detracts from camping. Still, Millennials and Generation X campers are as likely as teens to go online while camping.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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