As pandemic restrictions wind down, camping is showing signs that it may maintain its popularity even as many Americans become more comfortable with indoor activities.
The global market for camping and caravanning is expected to grow 6.6% from 2020 to 2025, according to Research and Markets. And the number of RVs shipped in 2021 jumped a record 39% from the previous year, according to a report from StorageCafe, a unit of real estate software company Yardi Systems.
To capitalize on the increased interest, national campground companies such as Kampgrounds of America and Northgate Resorts, which owns several Jellystone locations, are moving beyond triangular tents pitched on bumpy dirt patches. They are adding accommodations akin to those found at resorts and are tacking on theme-park attractions like zip lines and waterslides.
“During the pandemic, I think people came and understood what camping was in the 21st century,” said Robert Schutter Jr., president of Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts, a franchise system owned by Sun Communities, a real estate investment trust. “It wasn’t looked at being this roughened type of scenario.”
The trend toward adding eye-catching amenities faces pushback from fans of traditional camping, who favor “roughing it” over “glamping,” but camping companies are moving ahead undeterred.
Jellystone is perhaps best known for its branding association with Yogi Bear and other Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters. But in recent years, Jellystone has also become recognized for its inclusion of on-site restaurants, full-service cabins resembling upscale hotel rooms and water-recreation activities such as “spray grounds” that appeal to families.
Most Jellystone campgrounds average 240 sites, with about eight sites per acre. The company has more than 4 million guests a year, with visitors staying just over three days on average.
During the first year of the pandemic, about half the patrons were first-time visitors, renting lodging that ranged from cabins to yurts.
The travel industry does face obstacles for growth, including rising gas prices, inflation and fickle vacationers. But since most campgrounds are reachable on a single tank of gas, offer all-inclusive packages and allow for social distancing, many owners think the camping renaissance can withstand those hurdles.