Glamping – aka luxury camping – is one of the fastest-growing types of short-term stays out there. We’re talking about things like yurts, geodomes, bell tents, tiny homes, mini-cabins, vintage Airstreams, tree houses, and more that help bring the outdoors in for guests.
My wife and I host a glamping property in Northwest Montana (45 minutes south of Glacier National Park) where we feature five vintage Airstreams, a mini log cabin, teardrops, and other hip camping rigs for our guests to experience upscale outdoor accommodations.
Along with running that property, I’ve been a blogger with Outdoorsy going on four years now. I also rent out a couple of RVs with them, so you can imagine how my ears perked up when I heard that Outdoorsy recently launched a platform for glamping hosts like you and me.
The Outdoorsy crew invited me to check out their new Stays site which is currently open to the first 200 hosts who sign up in Southern California. I wanted to write this post to tell you my story and to show you why I think something like Stays can help all of us fill more beds at our properties.
Table of Contents
Want to skip ahead? Use these links:
- How we chose Montana for our glamping property
- How did we decide which type of glamping to offer?
- What ingredients do you need for a successful glamping stay property?
- What can returns look like with glamping stays?
- Questions to ask yourself when building a glamping business
- Outdoorsy Stays is a new hosting platform for glamping hosts
Our journey to Montana
Montana came calling after my wife (Brittain) and I had been full-time RVing for over 4 years. We hit the road in 2016 with high hopes of making The Treasure State right away.
But we let work and life get in the way until the pandemic shutdowns caused us to finally prioritize that Montana trip.
We hit Montana as another stop on the journey, but – as fate would have it – it became the place where we’d turn our glamping dreams into reality.
That’s because Montana – and Northwest Montana in particular – has all the ingredients for a successful glamping business: access to nature, proximity to known attractions (Glacier National Park in our case), proximity to cool towns, and a mystique about it that draws people in (big shout out to Kevin Costner and the Yellowstone crew for next leveling that one :).
And draw us in it did. We settled in Bigfork, Montana and established our glamping property on the shores of Flathead Lake – the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi.
We’re on the main road that’ll get you to Glacier in 45 minutes from our front door and we get to share our love for vintage rigs with all who enter our abode.
How did we pick the type of glamping stay we offer?
Brittain and I got hitched back in 2016. Somewhere along the way in our engagement, we decided that it’d be a swell idea to set out on the road in a vintage Airstream right after we tied the knot.
After a nationwide search, we found a 1988 Airstream that was ripe for restoration. We bought it, lovingly restored it, named her Lucy, and set out on the road for what was to become a 4+ year odyssey of full-time RVing.
While on the road, we were remotely running a Hostel out of a property we owned in Kansas City. Hostel KC was our first mini-foray into short-term rentals. And it was mini – 5 beds to be exact, but it was the perfect way for us to start with a minimally viable product (MVP) to test the waters and see if a larger hostel would make in Kansas City.
Right about the time our hostel business started booming enough to justify growth, we ran into a problem. Two problems really:
- We’d fallen in love with full-time RVing and didn’t want to get off the road just yet.
- We loved the urban hostel model but ultimately wanted to grow by sharing our love of the outdoors and glamping with our guests.
So that’s when it all really began – at this crossroads of trying to figure out how to grow our business in a way that matched our new journey. When we discovered glamping, we quickly knew that it would be a way for us to share our love for retro, outdoor experiences with our guests.
We also gathered that the financial returns from glamping could look really swell. For example, our all-in cost for Lucy (purchase, restorations, etc.) was around $25k. We knew hosts in the right situations were earning $10k+ in annual revenue by hosting glamping rigs like ours.
That’s a pretty groovy return in our book.
The key here is that you pick the type of glamping stay that matches your passion, features a location that suits you and your guests, and allows you to work with elements you already have at your fingertips.
It also helps immensely if you have a targeted audience of people who are already looking for luxury outdoor accommodations. And that’s where Stays comes in.
Outdoorsy has been around since 2015 and they have millions of people hitting their site each month who are looking for one thing and one thing only – outdoor experiences. Outdoorsy’s Stays platform puts your glamping experience right in front of that hyper-targeted audience.
What ingredients do you need for a successful glamping stay property?
I may be in Montana, but there are plenty of spots around the U.S. that are ripe for the glamping. These are the features you want to look for:
Access to open land
You don’t even need to own it yourself. In our case, we made a revenue share deal with the owners of Flathead Lake Resort so we could host our Airstreams on their full-hookup RV spots.
We pitched the deal to the owners based on the assumption that – even with a revenue split – they’d stand to make more off those spots with our Airstreams than as a traditional RV park.
We also secured options for expansion on some plots of raw land near the resort. This land has opened the door to our hosting things like rustic teardrop campers and tent sites.
Within range of natural features
Glacier National Park is the biggie in our case. We also sit on the shores of Flathead Lake, near the cool little village of Bigfork, MT, and have hiking/biking trails near our doorstep.
But that doesn’t mean you have to have such a known commodity as Glacier NP – plenty of glamping sites build their businesses around local attractions like hiking trails, water access, and nearby towns.
The point is that for hosts like you and me to market our glamping properties successfully, we need to have proximity to such features and we need to highlight them in our marketing.
On that note – if you’re near natural features, the chances are good that you could build additional revenue streams by selling things like bike rentals, paddleboard rentals, and more to give your guests access.
That’s another reason I dig the Outdoorsy Stays platform – it’s already equipped with a system for you to offer add-ons like these to your guests and get paid for it.
Removed but not too removed
Generally speaking, folks won’t drive too far down bad roads or into the boonies unless you have a really unique selling proposition at your glamping property (i.e. guests book long stays and want to be totally unplugged).
That’s why an important ingredient for glamping stays is finding spots that get folks into nature without getting them too deep in.
Same as above – unless you plan to make disconnection a big part of your brand and marketing, you’ll want to provide your guests with fast WiFi.
We had to work hard and pay a premium to get high-speed internet at our Montana property. It’s been worth every penny based on the guests who list it as a top feature that keeps them coming back.
If you find yourself in an area without easy internet access, check out Starlink. It’s Space-X-style satellite internet that’s bringing high speed to the remotest of areas.
Trying to find glamping insurance on your own can be a sticky proposition. I know because I tried…
You can probably imagine how my traditional insurance agent reacted when I told him about our Airstream plan:
“Wait, you want to do what with that Airstream from the 50s? And who exactly will be staying in it? And why do you think that’s a good idea?”
I eventually got a new agent who got it and was able to offer me some basic coverage. But the simple truth is – it can be tough for us small glamping businesses to get ample coverage on our own.
That’s where booking platforms come in. For example, Stays offers the same sort of commercial insurance for glamping as Outdoorsy offers for RV rentals: up to $1 million in liability coverage and ample coverage for property damage.
You’d be hard-pressed to find affordable coverage like this on your own. That’s why it often pays to work with a booking engine that takes a small cut to provide insurance coverage for every booking it brings you.
A platform to take bookings, manage your calendar, message guests, etc.
You could hack this with something like Airbnb, but the people visiting Airbnb’s site are searching for a large array of stay types. Airbnb has 55+ stay categories ranging from homes to hotels to cabins that’ll be fighting you for attention.
By hosting on a platform like Outdoorsy Stays, you’ll get in front of an audience that’s searching for one thing: restoring their relationship with the outdoors.
Couple that with the fact that Stays comes built-in with all the features you need to accept bookings, sell add-on experiences, manage your calendar, and securely message guests – and we’ve got a platform made for you and me.
Oh and if you find yourself in California right now – Outdoorsy is offering to only take a 4% cut of any booking they send you, meaning you keep 96% of the money coming in. They’ll do that for the first year, then it’s 10% after that.
Either way, these are some of the lowest fees in the biz, so definitely worth a look.
A marketing funnel
How will you get the right people with the right budgets coming to your glamping property? This is one of the most important questions we have to ask ourselves as owners of outdoor accommodations.
Marketing on your own can be challenging and expensive – especially when it comes to a relatively new concept like glamping.
That’s because we have to first educate people on what glamping is and why it matters before we can get them to book – and education is expensive.
That’s why it helps immensely to get a pre-targeted audience looking at your place. By syncing up with a community of customers already looking for outdoor experiences, you’ll save yourself scads of time and headaches.
Outdoorsy is one of the world’s largest outdoor accommodation marketplaces with millions of glamping-targeted leads coming to their site every month. Outdoorsy has booked over 5 million nights on its platform and recently surpassed $2 billion in total booking value.
And – if you’re one of the first 200 properties to join the Stays platform in Californial – the Outdoorsy team will even help you put together your listing so you can best reach the potential customers coming to their site.
What can results look like with glamping stays?
Before I jump into sharing some real-life results we’ve had with our Montana glamping business, let me share a standard disclaimer:
My numbers are for illustrative purposes only. Your mileage can and will vary depending on stay type, location, and much more. Glamping stays can also be very sensitive to things like seasonality and location, so take what I’m about to share with that in mind.
That said, let me jump in to share some of the possibilities of glamping stays.
Northwest Montana is a very seasonal bird. We have barely four months (June-September) to make around 90% of all the money we make hosting glamping stays. But that winds up being plenty because our occupancy rate goes through the roof during those months as tourists come from far and wide to experience Flathead Valley and Glacier National Park.
We currently host four vintage Airstreams on our property – one from each decade from the 50s-the 80s. Two of our Airstreams have all-in costs of ~$25k while the other two cost us ~$12.5k all-in.
Over the past two seasons, our average nightly rate was $130/night across all Airstreams and we sit at about a 70% occupancy rate during our 4-month glamping season.
That gives us an average revenue of $10k per Airstream. Expenses (e.g. utilities, rent, staff, etc.) eat up ~40% so our average profit per unit is ~$6k.
Our profit translates into roughly 30% annual returns on our Airsteams each year – not bad in our book.
Possible returns with other glamping stay types
Cabins like these can be purchased new for $15-$20K and command $120+ per night in the right situations.
For example, we rent out this mini log cabin for an average of $120/night and see an 80% occupancy rate during its five-month open season. It generated $13k in revenue in 2022.
Geodesic domes vary in cost, but kits can be purchased for under $20k. Depending on the setup and style, Geodesic domes can bring $180+/night.
Glamping Conestoga Wagons can cost $50k+ because they’re an all-inclusive luxury accommodation. The uniqueness of this stay type can help you fetch $200+/night off Conestoga Wagons.
Tiny homes can offer tremendous glamping returns but they have relatively high startup costs. DROP Structures, for example, is a Canadian tiny home company that’ll deliver turn-key tiny homes for $60k and up. The right kind of tiny home in the right setup can deliver over $200/night.
No matter which combination of glamping units you choose – your profits will be impacted heavily by your ability to get people in beds and by the expenses you pay. Outdoorsy Stays brings you that hyper-targeted audience and they let you keep 96% of the booking money they send your way.
That’s why I think it’s a worthy companion to have at your side.
What about you?
I’ve shown you a sample of my Montana journey in hopes of inspiring you to either leap into glamping or to grow an accommodation you already have. As you think about what your glamping future might look like, let’s recap some questions to ask yourself:
What outdoor experiences do you love?
The best glamping experiences for you to host are ones that have personal meaning to you. Airstreams run in my veins. I also love the water, so renting out paddle boards and kayaks is a natural thing for me to share with my guests.
Think about the things you’re passionate about and how you can meld them into a unique outdoor stay.
What raw goods do you have at your fingertips?
My wife and I come at any new business asking this question. You’ll create large amounts of work for yourself if you try to reinvent the wheel with your glamping business.
Instead, take a beat to see what gold you might have in your very own backyard. For us, it was an Airstream we already knew and loved because we’d lived in it. What could that be for you?
What sort of land do you have access to?
Glamping stays can work in off-grid situations, meaning you don’t always have to have traditional utilities to create a successful glamping stay. Think things like solar power, composting toilets, gray water recycling, and more to help you establish an off-grid glamping property.
And remember you don’t actually have to own the land. Think about ways you can gain access to other people’s land by showing them how you could create revenue from unused space.
What natural features are already bringing people to the area?
It’s important that any glamping accommodation has outdoor activities nearby. Rather than reinventing the wheel, ask yourself what natural features you’d like to draw people into and find a glamping spot that has those.
If you’re already hosting a glamping spot, are you maximizing outdoor attractions in your marketing by upselling activities like bike and watersport rentals?
Why I think Outdoorsy Stays brings it all together for us
I happen to think that we glamping hosts are leading the charge on one of the hottest new trends to hit hospitality. I love the memories we help make for people. I love showing guests the healing power of nature. And I love the strong business metrics like excellent returns, high occupancy rates, and relatively low startup costs that a glamping site can offer.
Outdoorsy Stays seems like a game changer to me because it helps us get the right people to our properties, provides built-in features for us to monetize outdoor activities, and brings us in on the ground floor of something big.
This is especially true if you find yourself with a glamping accommodation in California right now. That’s because the first 200 hosts to sign up out there will get 1:1 listing help from Outdoorsy, an uber-low booking fee, and (in some cases) can even benefit from a complimentary professional photo shoot of your property.
And if you’re not in Cafornia, don’t worry. Outdoorsy Stays is coming everywhere soon. Sign up here to stay in the loop.