Internet Travel Monitor - Industry News
July 19, 2017
'Glamping' Resorts Lure with Four-Star Dinners, Private Docks
Vacationers are plunking down thousands of dollars a week to sleep in tents or RVs at luxury "glamping" resorts featuring massive televisions, private docks and farm-to-table dinners, with concierges ready with fishing guides or to rustle up cowboys for horseback rides.
It's all part of the newest trend to target both retiring Baby Boomers and Millennials looking for active adventures in which not a single moment is wasted in a boring hotel room, and where Mother Nature takes top billing. Today, when even the most casual of travelers expect to find comfy beds and clean showers wherever they choose to sleep, experts say there's a demand for experiences that go above and beyond.
"These are no longer stripped-down campgrounds," said Mark Ellert, the president of Guy Harvey Outdoor Resorts. "These are summer camps for adults, and adults have expectations about those creature comforts."
At Bluewater Key RV Resort near Key West, the creature comforts come in the form of sprawling tiki huts equipped with high-end appliances, flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi. Private docks float on the sparkling blue water and a concierge will whip up a Jeep rental so you don't have to move your RV. Bluewater Key only permits RVs that are at least 24 feet long; pop-ups, truck campers and tents are banned. During the winter, when the weather further north is worst, high-end RVs gather at Bluewater, their owners cooking in their custom kitchens, sleeping in memory-foam beds, relaxing in massaging loungers. Some of them are worth more than $2 million.
In the summer, vacationing families fill out Bluewater.
For Miami native Lizbeth Lara, this is paradise. The palm trees waving in the soft summer breeze. The sand between her toes. Meeting new friends in adjacent sites, sharing meals with family. Nine members of her family are sleeping in their 30-foot RV, air conditioning running at night to keep them all cool. Boasting 80 sites, many of them sitting right on the water, Bluewater prices start at $90 during the slow season and top out at $4,200 for a minimum-duration stay during peak months.
"Oh my God this view," Lara said. "Are you kidding me? It's priceless."
Lara, 47, looks around, as kids pitter-patter across the paver-topped RV site between the tiki hut and the private dock. Lara and her friends rented eight Bluewater sites for the weekend, creating a temporary neighborhood of campers. They've been cooking out, sharing Jet Ski rides and fishing from their docks.
"I lose all sense of time," she said. "I'm not looking at my phone."
More than 2,000 miles away near a dude ranch in Vail, Colo., sit eight white canvas-wall tents, each with a king-size bed and a wood stove that the staff will light if you ask them.
It's a world away from Bluewater Key, but the emphasis remains the same: high-quality experiences without permanent walls. At Collective Retreats' Vail location, guests sleep in fur-trimmed beds sitting inside spacious tents. Woodstoves provide heat in the spring and fall, and each guest gets a box of handmade marshmallows and graham crackers with which to make s'mores. Mountains ring the encampment, and herds of horses race through the nearby pastures as dusk falls.
Peter Mack founded Collective Retreats after a year of business travel in which he spent 250 nights in hotel rooms.
"I woke up one day and I didn't know if I was in Beijing or Dallas," he said. "I want people to wake up in a place where a hotel shouldn't exist."
The company now has three locations - Vail, Yellowstone and New York's Hudson Valley - and is building two more, in Sonoma and in Texas Hill Country. Prices start around $400 a night during the early and late seasons, and the company tends to sell out its most popular weekends. The company uses social media - Instagram in particular - to find customers. Guests who come average 2.5 social media posts per stay, Mack said. They snap photos of the farm-to-table dinners, the smoke rising from the tents glowing amidst the dark sky, the packed-just-for-you barbecue lunches and French press morning coffee.
"When you stay in a (typical hotel), it's fine but it's not necessarily something you'd share with your friends. What we're hearing from our guests is they're tired of the traditional travel experience," he said. "Time is more precious than ever."
And the thing is, Mack said, younger travelers who don't have a lot of money to spare are among their most frequent guests. The unusual and Instagrammable setting draws them: "We find that our millennial guests are willing to spend their last dollar for this kind of experience."
The same goes for RV campers, Ellert said. Young people pile a bunch of friends in a rented RV, stock the cooler and head out to explore. It's not about the opulence of a hotel, but the majesty of Mother Nature, shared with friends and family.
"People want experiences, they want to be active, they want to connect with the great outdoors," he said. "We are in a sea-change of attitude about what physical things are required to make you happy."
Of course, you need an RV to go RVing, and RV sales are booming: The RV industry is on track to have its best year ever in 2017 as retiring Baby Boomers seek out adventures on the open road and younger generations seek to squeeze every dollar's worth of pleasure out of their limited budgets. This year, dealers expect to sell new 472,200 RVs, a nearly 10% increase from last year, and they're expecting even bigger sales for 2018. Low interest rates and gas prices have helped boost the RV industry, and now nearly 9 million American households own a camper.
Guy Harvey Resorts is hoping to capitalize on that trend. While Bluewater is considered one of the nation's top RV resorts, the under-construction $35 million Tarpon Springs from Guy Harvey aims to top it with 270 paved parking spaces, an on-site fishing guide, dog groomer and lap pool, on a picturesque site about 30 miles from Tampa.
Back at Bluewater Key, Ronnie Puno and his friends are lounging in their tiki hut. An hour ago, Puno and a buddy were SCUBA diving. Now they're trying to decide whether to go fishing, kayaking or mix up a drink from the bottles of booze stacked neatly on the counter beneath the television.
"We really wanted access to the water, and personal access, instead of sharing a beach," Puno, 34, said. Puno, his wife and four friends came down from Kentucky in his starter RV. They like having all of their stuff right at hand, their dogs at their feet, and a place to congregate, instead of all cramming into one hotel room or hanging out in a bar.
A few spots away, Norvin Moya, 26, and Aly Seda, 23, are watching a soccer game as Seda mixes up a mojito. They're staying in Seda's mom's luxury Redwood fifth-wheel trailer, and planning to cook up the steaks they've got waiting in their tiki hut's stainless-steel refrigerator. It's their first trip to Bluewater Key, having driven down from Miami for the weekend.
"This is as cool as it gets," Moya said. "I'm mindblown."
Copyright 2017 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. From http://www.usatoday.com. By Trevor Hughes.
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