Cover photo via Collective Retreats, Governors Island, New York
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Think back to your childhood: Remember those nights roasting the perfect marshmallow by the campfire? Or perhaps you were piling into your parents’ camper with your siblings for a long trip south. Maybe it was a classroom nature walk, or a weekend sleeping in tents with the Scouts.
For most adults, spending time in nature evokes a dose of nostalgia, back to simpler times and pleasures. People have long sought to recapture those memories by camping in the great outdoors. But these days, increasing numbers of people are opting for a new style of upgraded camping. An array of private properties, unique campsites and online apps are redefining roughing it with glamorous camping, or glamping, experiences.
“You can stay in a treehouse in Mexico, while still having all-inclusive, or go to a ski resort and stay in a yurt that has Wi-Fi,” says Jessica Armstrong, partnerships manager at online booking site Glamping Hub. The site has more than 34,000 accommodations in over 120 countries, so there are opportunities in exotic, far-flung locations as well as right here in Connecticut.
The site operates like Airbnb with a few key differences, including its vetting process. Each host must offer a unique experience, high-quality comfort and be connected to an activity. The latter is the most appealing part of the glamping experience. Visitors can sleep in a treehouse and then embark on a day of guided fly-fishing, for example.
Matt Powell, sports industry analyst for consumer data firm NPD Group, confirms that while traditional camping is on the decline, companies offering fully outfitted sites are on the rise. “There’s an interesting secondary market developing. Consumers want to be outdoors, but they’re not buying a new canoe to go canoeing,” he says. “They’re borrowing it from Uber-like companies that will deliver a full set of what you need and take it away when you’re done.”
Val Hickey rents her lakefront treehouse at Eleven Isles in Eastford on Hipcamp, and also offers visitors kayaks, fishing gear and grills. That experiential component is key, says Tentrr founder and West Hartford native Michael D’Agostino. Tentrr offers fully equipped campsites on unique locations run by private landowners, who can offer added experiences as part of their rental package. “Click one button and have an incredible experience that’s going to be Instagram worthy, and create memories for a long time to come,” D’Agostino says of the philosophy behind Tentrr.
As demand for enhanced camping experiences continues to grow, expect to see many more glamping sites in the state this year and beyond. Tentrr, for example, has big plans for this season. “Tentrr is growing rapidly in Connecticut and across the Northeast,” D’Agostino says. “By Memorial Day of this year, Tentrr will have close to two dozen sites throughout the state. By the end of this year, Tentrr is targeting 100 sites in Connecticut.”
As the glamping trend spreads across the Northeast, even traditional campsites are adding luxurious accommodations for visitors who aren’t handy with pitching a tent. Charlie Brown Campground in Eastford is entering its second season offering luxury cabin rentals, and owner Christopher St. John reports the new options have been a hit. “We had been seeing an increase in the tiny homes and glamping lifestyle in our industry. We had the opportunity to install a few cabins, and they were really well received,” St. John says, noting that he hopes to add several more luxe lodgings over the next several seasons.
Bear Creek Campground at Lake Compounce also offers both traditional tent camping as well as tipis, cabins and “cub huts” that include electricity, mini-fridges and cots or beds. These upscale accommodations, marketing director Amy Thomas says, book up much faster than traditional tent sites, especially on holiday weekends. Moving forward, Thomas says Bear Creek is working to increase its special events, like a Mother’s Day wine and tea night.
One emerging market for a unique glamping experience in Connecticut is local farms. In fact, the idea behind Tentrr emerged from D’Agostino’s childhood camping with his father on a friend’s farm in Litchfield. “As I grew up, I realized not every kid has a farm to go camping on 1,000 rolling acres in the Litchfield Hills,” he says.
Flirtation Farms offers just that in New Preston. Partnering with Tentrr, owners Maggie and Frank Colangelo have a tent with a wood stove and queen-size bed, and a firepit outside. In a nearby domed tent, there’s a kitchen and pantry. “Campers who come to us don’t need anything at all,” Maggie says. “We have the wood and a fire-starting log in there. It’s the gratification of, boom, campfire!”
For that extra experience, how about a true farm-to-table meal cooked by Maggie, a trained chef? And, guests are welcome to get fresh eggs from the farm’s chickens each morning. The Colangelos are in their second year hosting on Tentrr and see the platform as a viable revenue stream moving forward.
Glampers love that ability to connect with nature without sacrificing modern conveniences. In fact, NPD’s Powell notes that sales of solar-powered devices for remote charging have been on the rise. Plus, D’Agostino says that about 40 percent of people on Tentrr have never been camping before, suggesting that glamping is inviting a new demographic to camping.
“We’ve worked hard for several years to now make enjoying and staying in the outdoors more convenient, comfortable and stylish,” he says. “I think that is attracting a new audience to the outdoors and the glamping space in general.”
Since glamping offers camping of the future, it’s no surprise that booking these experiences is thoroughly modern as well. A crop of online booking sites make it easy to find a glampsite, reserve your stay and add a fly-fishing expedition in one click.
Tentrr: Tucked on picturesque, private land, these fully rigged, standardized campsites are all equipped with a canvas or dome tent, queen bed, firepit and wood stove for heat. tentrr.com
Airbnb: Perhaps the platform that started it all, Airbnb features glamping locations from a geodesic dome to lakeside cabin or luxurious barn as well as a new activity-booking platform. airbnb.com
Glamping Hub: Vetted accommodations from Airstreams to treehouses feature luxurious camping in unique locations with accompanying experiences. glampinghub.com
Hipcamp: Camping on private land stretches from the Berkshire Mountains to Long Island Sound beaches for unique experiences spanning yurts to lakeside retreats. hipcamp.com