The outdoor sector is travel’s hottest right now, and it sure looks like it won’t be cooling down after the pandemic.
The pandemic not only diverted a flow of travel dollars from city breaks to the great outdoors, it delivered a torrent of new audiences.
The challenge now for those companies benefiting from the behavioral shift is how to stop the tide from turning once the crisis subdues.
“We’re starting 2021 with 145 percent growth, and a good proportion are first-time renters,” said Jen Young, co-founder and chief marketing officer, speaking at Skift Live Short-Term Rental and Outdoor Summit on Wednesday. “There’s been a significant influx of new consumer demand.”
The answer is straightforward, she argued, as Young is on a mission to make outdoor holidays as simple as possible, particularly for those newcomers.
It has been pushing the message that RVs can be delivered, so there’s an easy pick-up and drop-off marketplace. It also overhauled its listing pages, so they now include videos on how-to basics, such as driving, or simply turning on the entertainment system, she added during the Outdoor Travel Is Hot: What Are the Opportunities and Challenges? panel.
“With 80 million camping, and that number expected to go up to 100 million, that’s a lot of new people,” noted Sarah Smith, co-founder of The Dyrt.
She was speaking during the How Outdoor Travel Startups Are Meeting Consumer Demand panel, where other experts discussed the power of partnerships to keep newcomers on side.
“We’ve seen a huge boom in this experiential consumer,” said Rachelle Snyder, co-founder and CEO of Arrive Outdoors. “Last year we saw brands wanting to access these consumers, which led us to launch our B2B offering which powers rentals for brands.”
Part of winning new customers over to the outdoor life was also down to ensuring a high-standard consumer experience, to make the holiday as seamless as possible.
“We ship premium rental products, so there’s no longer a need to wait at the back of a store,” Snyder said. “Everyone adopted those models during the pandemic, and allowing an e-commerce rental model has supported the consumer that we’re going after,”
Meanwhile, with a risk of campsites being overcrowded, AutoCamp turned to “dispersed camping.”
“Campsites are really full, so dispersed camping is when you can go into Bureau of Land Management or National Forest land,” said Anjai Agarwal, AutoCamp’s chief operating officer.
“There’s been a strong surge in demand. AutoCamp has always appealed to adventure curious, from first-timers to avid backpackers. With the pandemic we were able to convert a lot more of those non-campers to try AutoCamp, to get outdoors.”
This was achieved by asking what people wanted to do. For example, do they want a camp where a butler lights their fire, or a more DIY approach? It can then customize the experience. “We get a lot of great feedback from guests that we were able to anticipate their needs,” she added.
Is Outdoor Travel Truly Accessible?
Another area panelists tackled was, with all the fresh faces embracing the sector, were they making sure they were inclusive?
Agarawl said that AitoCamp had partnered with Shelton Johnson, a well-known ranger at Yosemite Park. “He’s coaching us on creating an environment where all communities feel welcome. Even something as little as our website, showing people of color enjoying the outdoor experience, to the photography and our artwork in our properties,” she said.
The Dyrt’s Smith said that she ensured the platform was welcoming, while the company was also on a hiring spree. “We want a diverse pool. If it takes longer to get a more expansive pool, that’s what we want,” she sad.
Meanwhile, Snyder said diversity and inclusion was a major company goal. “How we get more people outdoors, we think about this through our partnership structure. We partner with Washington National Parks for example. It’s more about education through our service offering.”
Another demographic is the work-from-anywhere brigade, and Smith noted there had been a surge in remote workers. “There are whole facebook groups dedicated to how to work remotely in an RV. It’s become really big,” she said.
However, it’s not a target market for cabin rental startup Getaway, according to its founder. The company recently raised $42 million in funding from Certares, and its properties went from being 90 percent booked before Covid to a current 99.5 percent.
“We’re spending way too much on the internet, or being chased by our bosses when it’s dinner time,” said founder and CEO Jon Staff.
“It’s about going away in a special place. We go far as to say, don’t do anything. Sit alone and just think, for an hour or two, or a whole day. Or have a deep conversation with your partner,” added.
Earlier in the summit, investor and HomeAway co-founder Carl Shepherd wondered whether there would still be such demand without a pandemic. “How many parents really do want to spend two weeks with three kids in a RV?” he joked.
For Arrive Outdoors’ Snyder, it’s not an RV and glamping trend, but a trend around consumer behavior. “Consumers have truly shifted the way they behave, and the way they travel. That behavior isn’t a short-term trend,” she said.
For Outdoorsy’s Young, Covid did the opposite, it made families actually want to spend more time together.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Getaway offered Wifi.
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Photo credit: The pandemic delivered RV, camping and other outdoor specialists entirely new audiences. Aaron Blanco Tejedor / Unsplash