t one point in the mid-2010s, “glamping” became a four-letter word.
A sudden boom in upscale tented accommodations, which ultimately felt neither glamorous nor like camping, saw the trend go from boom to bust as quickly as spaghetti donuts and ramen burgers.
But now, glamping is back, and the glamour factor is through the canvas roof.
Everywhere from Luang Prabang to New South Wales, Tulum to Costa Rica — even in the heart of New York City — hoteliers are ditching bricks-and-mortar walls and ceilings for safari-style tents, many with free-standing bathtubs, fireplaces, wood floors and outdoor dual-head rain showers. The concept has become so high-end, “glamping” no longer does it justice.
For travelers, the experi- ence offers novelty, digital disconnection, and access to experiences that are at once authentic and Instagrammable (when you get back on Wi-Fi). Think interacting with rescued elephants in northern Thailand at the Four Seasons Golden Triangle tented camp or hot air ballooning over the Rocky Mountains from the Resort at Paws Up, in Montana.
“Kids love it — it’s great for multigenerational trips,” said Jack Ezon, president of Ovation Vacations. “It’s a completely different experience.” He says clients come to him with tented properties on their bucket lists — or simply looking for something “different” and outdoorsy.
Just don’t expect these trips to come cheap.
“We’ve seen some of our tents going for $5,000 a night,” said Luca Franco, founder and chief executive of Luxury Frontiers, a soup-to-nuts design firm and consultancy that specializes in ultra-high-end tented camps such as Abu Camp and Eagle Island Lodge, two iconic properties in Botswana. Among his upcoming projects: a One&Only resort in Riviera Nayarit, Mexico; a private island in the Maldives; and a tented village in Utah. At all of them, guests will pay a premium to camp out under the stars. With butler service, of course.
When Franco got into the luxury tent business, the market was concentrated in Africa’s game parks. “All I knew was that 50 to 70 percent of the guests at the top-tier safari lodges in Africa were coming from the U.S,” he said. That signaled to him that the safari-style concept might have legs in other naturally pristine destinations.
“I saw a lot of demand and little supply,” Franco explained. And as the market for eco-sensitive and off-the-grid vacations has spiked, tented camps have benefited even more.
Franco and his contemporaries have converted that demand by thinking of these projects not just as fancy tents but as conduits to unique experiences.
“We flip the concept of designing the box and filling it with activities,” he said. “Instead we design the activities first and then design the box around that.”
At the upcoming Shinta Mani Wild, on the border of Cambodia’s Cardamom National Park, guests will be able to eat at a restaurant tucked under a waterfall and zipline into the resort before sleeping off their adventures in Jackie O-inspired tents. It opens this December. At the One&Only in Riviera Nayarit, coming in 2020, guests will practically be able to roll out of their beds and onto a horse for sunset rides on a white, powdery beach. And when it opens next fall, Nayara Tented Camp in Costa Rica will offer budding conservationists an up-close look at the country’s dwindling sloth population.
Of course you can spend less than a small fortune on your tented camp experience. Look no further than Collective Retreats, a brand built on simpler glamping principles with locations in Yellowstone National Park and Governor’s Island with views of Manhattan’s Financial District. Its tents start at $150 per night.
In Australia, Sierra Escape, Nashdale Lane and Bubbletent are all new concepts that are less fullservice hotel, more unconventional accommodations that you can book for less than $300.
“We wanted to do something completely different, and immerse guests in the environment without taking away the luxury,” said Cameron D’Arcy, co-founder of Sierra Escape, a three-tent camp in New South Wales. As a marketing professional, he says the concept is a nobrainer: “Thanks to the Instagram appeal, the product almost markets itself.”
As much as the midrange glamping resort is thriving, it’s the ultra-highend proposition that’s truly resonating with travelers.
Sonny Vrebac, co-owner of Bubbletent — a property overlooking Capertee Valley, the world’s secondlargest canyon — says he’s learned that the hard way. He created three types of tents, one fancier than the next, only to diagnose himself with what he calls the “grand cru Champagne problem.” He gets disproportionate demand for the highest-end of the bunch, a bubble with both climate control and its own outdoor wood-fired hot tub.
In Costa Rica, Nayara’s owner and mastermind, Leo Ghitis, shouldn’t have that problem.
“I’ve already blown my budget 10 times,” Ghitis joked, saying he’s working toward creating the most luxurious tented camp in the world. “But if what you were looking for was to maximize profits, you wouldn’t be building a tented camp. You do it because you’re thinking about legacy.”