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The great outdoors is appealing to many people who have been cooped up under stay-at-home restrictions. It's no wonder that several booking services for camping and related services are reporting growth.

Cabana, a travel-tech startup, closed in late May a $3.5 million seed funding round. The amount of money is less impressive than the underlying business trend. Cabana offers a U.S. fleet of mobile hotels, better known as camper vans or recreational vehicles. Investors said they expected the outdoor recreation segment boom this year, given that traveler interest in wide-open spaces may be self-explanatory in an era of social distancing.

Businesses targeting outdoor recreation are reporting strong bookings so far in 2020. Exhibit A: Traffic to the top-ranked campground search app The Dyrt is at a seven-year high as of May 2020, with a 400,000 visitor increase in May 2020 versus the same month a year earlier.

PaulCamper, a European recreational vehicle rental platform, has also seen a boom.

“In the last few days, we’ve seen overall growth in bookings of about 100 percent, year-over-year,” said Dirk Fehse, founder and CEO of PaulCamper. “Looking ahead, we can say that there are already confirmed bookings for more than a quarter of our fleet for the summer vacation time from the end of June ’til August.”

“Based on a mix of general market assumptions and our knowledge about our users’ behavior from the past, we see quite a good chance to get to between 50 and 100 percent year-over-year growth during the summer,” Fehse said.

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Campgrounds and public parks are in various stages of phased re-openings in many countries. For example, some camping in the Mendocino National Forest, which is overseen by the U.S. Forest Service, reopened in May. But other national parks still ban overnight stays.

Rising intent to camp bubbled up as a trend in a late April survey of 4,500 U.S. and Canadian households sponsored by Koa.

“The study found that 43 percent of leisure travelers said spending time outdoors is now more important as a result of the pandemic, and road trips are poised to spike by 28% of campers,” said Ryan Miller, co-founder of luxe Airstream rental service AutoCamp.

Bookings are another telltale sign of a trend. Peer-to-peer recreational vehicle rental booking service RVshare said April generated the highest recorded booking numbers in its history.

Recreation-focused startups that have raised a lot of funding in recent years, such as Outdoorsy, a listing service for renting recreational vehicles that received $50 million in investment last year.

“We are currently seeing roughly a booking per minute,” said Jen Young, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Outdoorsy. “In May, we saw year-over-year growth, and over the last week, the growth has continued to accelerate.”

Another indicator of sector popularity is that the stock prices of recreational vehicle retailers Winnebago and Camping World are higher now than May 2019 thanks in part to sales forecasts.

Perks and Recreation

Companies that actually manage rentals of vehicles or campsites have taken steps to appeal to people worried about the pandemic.

Cabana, for instance, has set up a detailed regimen to make sure that every van is sanitized between guests, and its mobile app enables guests to manage booking, check-in, check-out, vehicle pickup, and authorization without social interactions.

Tentrr, a similar service that focuses mostly on upscale private camping across 48 U.S. states, has also seen a rise in bookings. It provides all the gear and instructions, so novice campers can just show up.

So-called “glamping” might boost outdoor travel numbers as many people experiment with it for the first time as adults. Tentrr leaves equipment unused for 48 hours in-between rentals as a germ-busting tactic.

“For another year, camping will see a boost in interest as people are going to be cautious about going into shared spaces,” said Tentrr CEO Anand Subramanian.

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Tags: camping, hipcamp, outdoors, recreation, RVs, startups

Photo credit: Enney Ranch is an 850-acre cattle and grain ranch in Paso Robles, California, which is open to guests who book tents via Tentrr, an online service. Tentrr

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