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Sunday, December 12, 2021

Glamping Offers New Investment Opportunities for Hospitality Operators

As reported in the RLA Global Wellness Real Estate Report, which I co-wrote, glamping has been one of the beneficiaries of the social distancing, back-to-nature trends brought on by COVID. During 2020 and 2021, the trend for glamping sites accelerated and popped up everywhere, from the most remote countryside locations to urban backyards.

Glamping is a portmanteau combining “camping” and “glamour”. Aside from safari camps in Africa, the concept has largely developed as a one-off Mom and Pop conceit, with individual owners setting up shop on small plots of land. Oftentimes, the latter has had little to do with glamour.

However, within the past couple of years, glamping has become a more serious business, as facilities are becoming more sophisticated, outfitted with the services and amenities experienced at four or five-star hotels. Aside from amenities, what sets the next wave of glamping resorts apart is their focus on landscape, architectural design and development of a unique creation story set in the local environment.

Glamping-style properties have witnessed explosive demand during the COVID era due to their ability to combine socially distant, stress-free and secluded sojourns with immersion in nature. The pandemic has not only helped glamping leap from niche to more mainstream, but it has created a growing demand for a more upscale, sophisticated product. Thus, for developers looking to diversify their lodging portfolios, glamping may offer a solution for a reasonable price.

While the exponential growth of the past two years may slow a bit after COVID, glamping is a phenomenon that is not going away. With the glamping proposition gaining traction among the investment community thanks to high EBITDA margins and low upfront development costs, and among consumers for its back-to-nature, experiential mentality, glamping will continue an impressive forecast to expand at an annual growth rate of 16.7 through 2028.

Beyond making investments in midscale, multi-unit operators like Under Canvas, Hipcamp and Collective Retreats (all of which have secured multi-million dollar deals from the investment community), there’s even more opportunity for investors ahead.

After all, as the glamping consumer becomes more sophisticated, it will take much more than merely “pitching a tent” to attract them.

There is great potential for development in a number of areas.

  1. Glamping Sites in Rural Areas

Locations within a three-hour driving radius of major urban centers may proliferate, particularly if those rural areas feature natural assets like lakes, mountains, or national and state parks. There is a great deal of unexploited potential in this realm, particularly in the American Midwest, which is currently somewhat bereft of glamping opportunities.

  1. Year-Round Glamping

Part of the reason we mainly see glamping facilities in places like California and Florida has been the nature of the glamping structures. But as glamping structures evolve beyond tents and treehouses to more four-season constructs (tiny houses, cabins or A-frame structures), this drawback may be allayed to a certain degree, thereby opening the glamping market to a broader array of destinations.

  1. Resorts Add Glamping to the Mix

Instead of adding new rooms, some established resorts started added glamping units to their offerings during the pandemic. Eastwind Hotel in New York’s Catskills region added 10 glamping cabins to its resort mix this summer, and they regularly sold out.

  1. Dedicated Glamping Resorts

A glamping site typically costs 33 to 50 percent less to develop than a standard brick and mortar resort. That’s part of the reason we see a future for dedicated glamping resorts made up of glamping-style units complemented by resort-like features including a spa, F & B outlets, and recreational facilities like a pool or tennis courts. Developer risk can be reduced by locating such facilities in traditional resort areas where the consumer may be looking for something a bit different. Additionally, by building glamping resorts with some permanent infrastructure attached, resale possibilities grow exponentially.

For developers looking for opportunities with limited financial risk, glamping can be the right way to go. But as in any kind of real estate, location, location, location will be vital. The best options for success sit within a three-hour radius of a major urban area, and will be directly sited by an attractive natural asset. But as the glamping consumer becomes more sophisticated, location will not be enough. The glamping schemes that will stand out in an increasingly crowded market with be those they add quality service and value-added facilities (such as spas and restaurants) to the product mix.

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