Greg Watt presents how glamping has the potential to be at the forefront of the global tourism reset.
The extraordinary event of Covid-19 has caused transformative change across the globe. Historical observations show that trends or societal advances that establish themselves over time are pushed forward during extraordinary events. Ways of working, living and holidaying can undergo substantial transformation, favouring some and challenging others.
Prior to 2020, perhaps the most notable past event affecting tourism involved the access and affordability of air-travel after the Second World War. Before the war, air travel was limited to the elite, aviation explorers and the military. Advances in aviation during wartime enabled ordinary people to travel longer distances more economically, thereby democratising air travel. Destinations within range of major populations developed vast hotel complexes (largely uncontrolled) and the commencement of mass-tourism began.
Continued refinements within aviation have propelled tourism into becoming one of the most significant global industries but has also created issues around over-tourism, environment degradation, infrastructure saturation, resident angst, and culture commodification. These issues require substantial resources and expensive strategies to resolve.
Covid-19 has created perhaps the most significant impact on world economies and tourism in generations. Not since the democratising of air travel has tourism been impacted in such a direct and rapid fashion. It is clear that the tourism and hospitality industries have been decimated and its effect will remain with us for years to come.
Despite the prayers of many in the industry for it to return to “the way it was” it seems clear that this is unlikely and people will travel and holiday differently. The event has allowed society to collectively push a reset button in a way that never could have happened through normal economic circumstances.
In doing so, some of the issues surrounding tourism can be addressed. New Zealand tourism, held up as an exemplar model for small destinations, is a case in point. Being fortunate to possess outstanding landscapes, and a small impacting population, New Zealand had successfully marketed its ‘100% Pure’ branding image. However, with tourist numbers growing too big, too fast, tourist infrastructure proved to be inadequate. With substantial business investment at stake, governance at all levels appeared unwilling or unable to address an increasing systemic deterioration. With the reset offered by Covid-19, the Labour government (2020) seems ready to realign tourism by prioritising sustainability and instigating policies that ensure tourists contribute equitably to the real costs of their visit (Brunton, 2020). Developed correctly, such policies will connect communities and tourists in a fashion that provides authentic value to each.
Changing motivations and expectations
Most importantly, travellers have changed. For many, since Covid-19, the intervening pause has created retrospection, discussion, and stimulated alternative expectations about how we live and vacation. Anticipation now leans towards quality of experience, rather than quantity; authenticity, rather than commodification; and personal connection with destinations, rather than detachment.
Previously, travelling around one’s own country never engendered the same excitement as travelling abroad. However, today domestic tourists are discovering their homeland in ways that were unthinkable previously. Interest in local landscapes, local culture, local cuisine, and local communities has become increasingly prevalent. Amongst other things, glamping provides that space for people to escape, get back to nature, and reconnect with more fundamental worldly aspects.
While academic thinking is diffuse, some themes appear prevalent. The M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation was established by the University of South Florida “to enable and conduct rigorous academic research of significance to the global hospitality industry”. The top 10 global trends predicted to 2030, compiled from the results of three think-tanks and surveys, were initially published in 2019 and amended in 2020 to account for the impact of Covid-19, encompasses sustainable tourism, experience tourism, security and safety, alternative tourism, and wellness tourism (M3 Center, 2020).
It is notable that these five attributes included in the global trends can be, and are often included as, features of glamping. Interestingly, all except sustainable tourism are personal and their prominence can be attributed in part to a reaction towards Covid-19. Regard for social distancing has given people pause to reconsider holiday options at popular destinations where crowds congregate. Alternatives that are off the beaten track, have fewer people around and possess little social interaction, are seen as safer options than typically bustling and chaotic urban destinations.
Sustainability is a more general issue and perhaps points more to societal unease and perception that tourism can be exploitative and pays lip service to sustainable strategies.
Responses to Covid-19 ebb and flow, and resurgence, second waves and new outbreaks dictate choices travellers make. Over the European summer 2020, glamping experienced phenomenal growth, where holidaymakers chose options that minimised contact with others while maximising experiences. A barometer (of sorts) regarding an industry’s health can be obtained by gauging the performance of online travel agents (OTAs) which are active in particular tourism spaces.
Canopy and Stars is a significant actor in glamping bookings and is partly owned by the notable Sawday family who specialises in curated tourism accommodation. Catering for glamping sites in England, Wales, Scotland and France, Canopy and Stars has experienced exponential interest in 2020, commencing before the advent of Covid-19 (Dixon, 2020). Bookings for July, August and September were their highest summer numbers to date, while bookings for October through to December strengthened 100 per cent year on year. More significantly, bookings for 2021 have increased 400 per cent year on year showing that interest in glamping is not merely a fad fuelled by circumstance.
This is supported by a white paper released by Glamping Advisors (2020) who specialise in glamping throughout Portugal. Anecdotal research carried out by Glamping Advisors indicates that Google searches for glamping experiences rose by around 100 per cent during the July/August 2020 period (Glamping Advisors, 2020). Covid-19 is credited to not only the surge in domestic bookings, but also an intense interest in alternative accommodation. They also reference bookings made through the OTA www.coolcamping.com with the website recording the largest single day bookings in June.
The way forward for glamping
Presently, the world is beset by an extreme event that is unprecedented in recent times, causing socio-economic instability and insecurity. Tourism has been decimated, with international travel all but eliminated in the short term. Airline routes are likely to remain substantially closed over the following year, and will only slowly re-establish. With the implementation of strict international border controls, interest in domestic tourism has taken hold.
However, tourists still seek that sense of the unexpected, the exotic, along with an anticipation of novel experiences that is often inherent in overseas travel. Glamping can instil excitement, a chance to escape from the present, to reconnect with nature, and for a moment in time allowing people to reside in a sanctuary away from the pandemic. The exceptional interest in glamping throughout 2020 shows that as a tourism model, it has the potential to be at the forefront of the tourism reset.
• Brunton, T. (2020) Tourism Industry Hails new Minister Nash’s Stance, Radio New Zealand, 17 November 2020.
• Dixon, T. (2020) The future of glamping – ideas, insights and key trends, The Glamping Show UK, 2020.
• Glamping Advisors (2020) Glamping in Portugal.
• M3 Center (2020) Top 10 Hospitality and Tourism 2030 Trends (2020), University of South Florida M3 Center, Muma College of Business.
About the Author
Greg Watt is currently a candidate for doctor of philosophy at Auckland University of Technology. An avid traveller and advocate for authenticity in travel, Greg’s research concerns a global study of glamping spaces and experiences. His interest stems from an association with small boutique and community tourism projects within Vanuatu and New Zealand. Both countries are blessed with beautiful landscapes, along with an outdoor presence. Greg also writes informative articles about topics, destinations and social entrepreneurship within tourism at https://watt.nz