Airbnb-style camping comes to UK as US giant Hipcamp buys Cool Camping

0
3

The British camping brand Cool Camping has been taken over by a large US company, Hipcamp, which aims to bring its Airbnb-style model of campsite booking to the UK.

From today, all 25,000 camping pitches and glamping structures on Cool Camping’s website will be listed instead on Hipcamp.

Based in San Francisco, Hipcamp claims to be the world’s biggest provider of outdoor stays, offering half a million campsites in the US, Canada and Australia. This is its first foray into Europe.

As well as covering commercial campsites and glamping, the site enables private landowners to rent their outdoor space to campers, in the same way Airbnb enables homeowners to rent properties and spare rooms to holidaymakers. Anyone with suitable land can charge from £10 a night for a pitch using the Hipcamp platform, setting their own nightly rates. Listings on the website are free, but Hipcamp takes 15% from each booking.

Only those in rural locations, rather than urban and suburban settings, and with an acre or more of available space can sign up. They must provide toilets for tent campers (though not for campervanners), can choose to offer outdoor activities and extras, such as fresh eggs or fry-ups for breakfast, and must meet a list of other criteria regarding safety, hygiene and planning laws. Many will operate under the UK’s 28-day planning exemption, which allows landowners to use their land for commercial activities for up to 28 days a year. Private hosts will be eligible for Hipcamp’s liability insurance, which protects them for up to £1m.

Hipcamp’s founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio, who launched the business in the US in 2013, said her aim was to make it simpler for more people to get outside. “I realised that given how crowded our public campgrounds are, the only way to achieve that mission was to create new places, which we started doing on private land,” she said. “We leverage data to understand what specific destinations are likely to book out months ahead, then reach out to landowners in that area.”

Only landowners in rural locations can sign up according to Hipcamp
Only landowners in rural locations can sign up according to Hipcamp. Cool Camping’s glampsites will be included in the listings

Since launching, Hipcamp has “unlocked” some 1,618,000 hectares of private land, ranging from a blueberry farm in Canada to glamping on an Australian ranch. It has booked more than six million guest nights, seeing a 460% increase in bookings since 2019 and acquiring Australia’s Youcamp camping platform in 2020. Its funding drives have raised tens of millions of dollars, including investment from the musician Jay Z’s venture capital firm Marcy Venture Partners.

Meanwhile, Cool Camping’s bookings increased 340% during the same period, thanks in part to the covid-related boom in staycationing. Jonathan Knight, the founder and former managing director of Cool Camping, said that he hadn’t been looking to sell when approached by Hipcamp, but was “struck by the similarities between the two brands. Not only the types of places we feature – small, independent campsites and glamping sites with something a bit special about them – but also our philosophies. It feels natural to combine everything.”

Knight said that allowing British private landowners, farmers, vintners and others to create new revenue streams through camping would help to conserve land and keep it wild, while bringing an economic boost to rural communities.

He turned Cool Camping from a publisher of guidebooks to a booking platform in 2015, phasing out the guidebooks a few years ago. He will remain as Hipcamp’s UK manager.

Hipcamp isn’t the first to offer camping on private land in the UK. Wildpoint.com, which launched in 2021, facilitates camping in people’s gardens and outdoor space, as does Campspace.com and HomeCamper.com, while Wild With Consent lists spots for campervanners and motorhomers.

As well as appealing to private hosts, Hipcamp will continue to add commercial campsites to its UK portfolio, and launch an app for Brits to browse and book stays. There are no plans to expand into other countries at present.

“As far as we know, camping as a recreational pastime originated in the UK. As a result, the camping market here is the most developed in the world,” said Ravasio. “This country is leading the way globally in its thinking about agritourism – specifically, that camping and glamping can support not only the preservation of local culture and economies, but also the rewilding of critical habitat.

“For a long time,” she said, “demand for unique, private and affordable outdoor stays has outpaced supply in the UK. So we see a real opportunity for Hipcamp to help solve that problem.”