Teepees, treehouses, trailers: Your next competition
Teepees, treehouses, trailers: Your next competition
29 APRIL 2016 7:14 AM

Today’s travelers are searching for unique experiences. They might not find them at hotels, but they will find them at teepees, treehouses and trailers modeled after hotel guestrooms.

Once I went camping with my dad’s family. It was then that I truly had a unique experience, setting a world record for the most mosquito bites on the surface of a human body. I also did the camping thing as a Girl Scout, where I discovered outhouses weren’t anything I ever wanted to experience again.

It was then that I swore I would never again go camping, that any travel experience I had would be at your cookie-cutter hotel. Check in to a room. Fall onto clean bed linens. Use indoor plumbing.

But now, there’s “glamping,” or glamorous camping. I’m sure this has always been a thing, but now it has a cool term. And when things are assigned cool terms, they tend to take off due to their hashtagability. (For instance: “Just hanging out with the girls #glamping! #fun #girlsnight #somuchwine #greatoutdoors #ithinkisawabear” – you get the idea; it starts with glamping and then turns into a dissertation written completely in hashtags.) Glamping is interesting to me because it means I can pretend to like nature while enjoying all the amenities of a hotel room.

Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo in Florida recently introduced luxury teepees for glampers. The teepees are 651 square feet and can accommodate up to four guests. According to a news release, each teepee is “uniquely designed with décor themed in Native American style with such comforts as a double-sided stone rock hearth fireplace, screened private patio deck, microwave, mini refrigerator, leather chairs, a king bed, full sleeper sofa, and air conditioning and heating.” They also feature in-suite bathrooms.

These teepees even have indoor plumbing, so I never actually have to go outside. (Photo: Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo)

“Guests of our Luxe Teepees can expect a 5-star hotel experience in a camping setting,” said David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, in a news release.

It’s important for someone like me who holds some small amount of guilt for being totally disconnected from nature but who at the same time doesn’t want to go all Henry David Thoreau. It’s the perfect compromise to my inner dilemma. I also can talk myself into this being a unique experience because it’s not like it’s an actual hotel—but it has all the aspects of a hotel, including a concierge who will assist me from pre-arrival to check-out.

Glamping is for people who don’t want to actually camp. (Photo: Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo)

Another form of glamping comes in tree form. In my neck of the woods, close to Cleveland, there’s Mohican, where luxurious treehouses are for rent. Again, these accommodations include all the amenities of a hotel room but provide the unique experience of camping out in a tree.

And yet another company seeks to profit on the glamping trend. AutoCamp takes the elements of a boutique hotel and puts them in a trailer. Amenities include (but are not limited to): “hotel-style interiors” that host up to four guests; bathrooms with walk-in showers; free coffee and tea; and free Wi-Fi. OK, hoteliers, if a camper can give me free Wi-Fi, surely you can.

AutoCamp puts the amenities of a boutique hotel into a travel trailer. For people who don’t care for camping or hotels. (Photo: AutoCamp via Kickstarter)

What’s the point?
As a hotelier you might think to yourself that this is really nothing new. This sort of competition has always been present, perhaps in luxury cabin form. And you might say, “We’ve never been competing with them anyway.”

And I might respond: You’re right. But times are changing. Your customers are looking for a unique experience (and you know that—that’s why you talk about it all the time). Think about your new customer, the one who wants the Instagrammable moment. He or she might have stayed in a hotel but instead opted for a teepee, treehouse or decked-out trailer because those accommodations lend themselves to better hashtags and therefore better tweets, photos and overall perception of living a cool life (that’s what social media is for, after all, making your friends jealous). And this competition is different from the alternative accommodations listed on Airbnb because these offer the same amenities as your hotels.

I’m not saying hotel companies need to go out and start building teepees or parking trailers in their lots. But I am saying that it’s time to stop just talking about offering unique experiences. You have to put that talk into action. Some hoteliers are doing just that. When will the rest of you join them?

Email Alicia Hoisington or find her on Twitter.

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