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Hot Hotel Trend - Glamping

Glamping, or Glamour Camping, is quickly becoming the next big travel trend, even in New York City!

Monday, July 16, 2012
Caryn Eve Murray
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There is something to be said for a night spent in a luxury boutique hotel with custom bedding exquisitely turned down, chocolates as an added welcome, for halogen reading lamps overhead and room service ready in the blink of an eye.

But sometimes that something is “No thanks.”

Some guests at the Hyatt 48 Lex in Manhattan are opting instead to turn in atop an air mattress or in an L.L. Bean sleeping bag out on a terrace that blends city skyline with the stars. They do their reading by lantern light. And instead of warming S’mores or roasting marshmallows by any campfire, they’re sipping wine and feasting on peanut brittle and other goodies from a Dean & Deluca snack sack.

In a word, this is “glamping” – or glamour camping – urban style. What’s available as a “glamping package” attached to eight terraced rooms began as a joke during the planning stages for the hotel, which opened in August 2011.

“I have to say when we imagined this, it was just in the moment of having fun and being whimsical,” said Deirdre Yack, director of sales and marketing. “We didn’t know what the audience would be. We just knew we had some rooms with incredible landscaped terraces. And, well, we started giggling a little bit.”

Now the hotel’s staff isn’t laughing so much – but they are certainly smiling, Yack said. Guests are camping it up in every sense of the phrase. Since late May, when “glamping” packages became available, increasing numbers of takers have been making reservations. “What we love about it is that people are booking it,” she said. “Who knew?”

Admittedly, a view of night clubs down below offers a different take on camping close to wildlife. But for those who are game to sleep closer to big game (without the hunting, of course), there are options such as boats, tree houses, yurts, tents and tipis, that are far less urban but no less luxurious.

Glamour camping may be as old as the existence of tent-toting nomads throughout world history, yet in some ways as new as re-invention and clever marketing can spin it.

There is Kokopelli’s Cave, a one-bedroom B&B home in Farmington, N.M., near the Mesa Verde National Monument. There are houseboat rentals in Boston, with the amenities of a floating inn in the protection of the city’s harbor. Elsewhere, in Costa Rica, there is a hotel suite created out of the refurbished fuselage of a Boeing 727 near a national park in Costa Verde.

And then there is African safari-style living in southeastern Ohio, where since July 2009, The Wilds at Nomad Ridge has offered hotel-style access to a game preserve of nearly 10,000 acres between May and October.

“Glamping” packages offer meals at the nearby restaurant as well as the safari experience at the preserve, said Heather Bell, operations coordinator.

“You get, essentially, a well-furnished hotel room,” she said. “You have your custom bed linens and towels, your own bathroom with a shower, and your own private deck so you can sit in the tree line or peek out and see animals roaming through. We have screened windows and ceiling fans and a space heater in the yurt which takes the edge off when things begin to cool in the fall. And we try to make it personal with concierge service. Our staff is here to answer questions.” Some of those questions often focus on the educational work and conservation research being done on the property, which is home to numerous species of rare and endangered animals.

“Glamping is something that has been going on for many years, it just hasn’t had that term,” said Bell. “You can travel all around the world and stay in very luxurious resorts or getaways. Well, we wanted to compete with that. Hey, you can have your safari here in Ohio of all places. So if you cannot make it to Kenya or Tanzania, well, come to The Wilds.”

Although these yurts are permanent installations, some glamping sites honor their nomadic roots with a portability that only adds to their attractiveness and flexibility. Yellowstone Under Canvas, owned and operated by Montana-based Sage Safaris LLC, is spending its first summer in the western national park from May through September, and bookings have been strong since they first started being inked in March, said co-operator Sarah Dusek.

“We have had some Montanans, but this brings people from all over the world,” she said. “Lots of Asians, lots of Americans, lots of Canadians. You name it, we probably have it.” With a spectrum of luxury that ranges from high-end bathrooms and beds to a more budget-oriented facility with cots and shared bathrooms, the glamping site is “pretty filled up all summer, to be honest,” she said. About 75 percent are families who gravitate to the larger tents, she said, although the budget-minded accommodations also attract single travelers in their 20s.

Glamping’s popularity in her native England inspired her, in part, but so did their family’s own travels. “We really have enjoyed safariing in Africa and when I first moved back to Montana I felt like the plains of Montana, where my husband is from, is very much like Africa. So the idea of doing a safari camp seemed like great fun.” She and her husband have already moved their tents to sites on his family’s farm in that state, but also to Chicago, and even to the Hamptons on Long Island, N.Y.

“We ship everything, our bathrooms, our tents, our furnishings, our bed linens. It’s all you have to do if you want to party and want the accommodations. We provide them,” she said. “Just pack your camera and your personal stuff and off you go. It’s like checking into a hotel room except you are sleeping under canvas.” And the Yellowstone outdoor hotel, she said, “has taken off like a rocket.”

None of this comes as a surprise to David Troya. As a founder of the Glamping Hub, www.glampinghub.com, a global reservations portal for many of the world’s tipis, tree houses, yurts and other rustic accommodations, Troya and his colleagues, all travelers like him, saw the venture as a natural. Troya was still a master’s candidate at the University of San Francisco School of Management in late 2010, when he launched the modest first page for the site. But after his graduation in May 2011, the site grew in maturity and garnered both market attention and media attention.

“This year,” he said, “it has really taken off,” and traffic to the site is six times greater this year than last year. A change in the site this past February now hooks prospective guests with the individual owner-operators of the glamping sites – nearly 160 have signed up for the hub as of early summer, said Troya, who also has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and travel management.

“We knew that people with additional income like being close to nature, but most of them are not going to be into camping at a certain age,” he said. “Certainly not. So right away this occurred to me as something that is going to have a market.” He and several colleagues maintain this virtual storefront; Troya works from Spain, another colleague is based in Colorado. Many of them also travel to the various sites listed on the hub. Troya has already investigated the comforts of a tree house in the south of Portugal. “There are some other sites I am excited about visiting soon,” he said.

It seems he has plenty of company. “Yes, it is a trend and we don’t really know if it is going to stick around – but we think it is. The fact is, it is evolving and that keeps things interesting.”
Caryn Eve Murray
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Caryn Eve Murray is a freelance writer and an assistant editor on the news desk at Newsday on Long Island. During her tenure as a business writer for New York Newsday, she covered the city's small business community for which she won the Distinguished Business Reporting Award of Excellence from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association. She has also been a feature columnist and writer and has ...
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