Getting back to nature

Felicity Butcher speaks to camping booking website Campingninja about why the market for camping is growing and how making it more accessible is helping grow consumer interest.

It is without doubt that camping has surged in popularity over the past year.

Evidence includes a dramatic increase in web traffic to camping websites since the start of 2011 and a significant increase in online searches for campsites and camping holidays.

Campingninja is the first independent website that allows campers to search over 200 bookable campsites, find up-to-date availability and book a campsite online. It reported website traffic and bookings up 200 per cent over the Easter period.

Further evidence that camping has dramatically increased in popularity was made clear at a number of the outdoor trade shows that took place earlier this year, including the Outdoor Show and the Outdoor Leisure Show. Having spoken with several hundred camping and outdoor enthusiasts, Campingninja noted a significant increase in people who visited the shows that were new to the camping market.

Surprisingly this was not in the 18-22 year old market as you’d expect; instead these new to camping individuals tended to be in their late 30s and 40s trying camping for the first time or at least trying it again since a very young age.

With a significant increase in people now keen  to explore their own country, having been put off by the extortionate Euro zone and the ever increasing cost of travel, camping is appealing to a much wider audience. Statistics from Visit Britain last year demonstrated that the increase in people staying within Britain to holiday was fuelled by people changing their plans because of changes in circumstances. More significantly people are now choosing to have shorter, better value holidays at home on a more regular basis. People are looking for somewhere closer to home to holiday for a number of reasons.

Whether due to financial constraints or the desire to reduce CO2 emissions and help protect the environment, camping is now seen as a viable and exciting alternative to an increasingly bland yet expensive holiday abroad. With a standard campsite generating 95 per cent less CO2 than taking a typical holiday abroad, taking 62 per cent less time to travel to and costing 92 per cent less in transport , it is easy to see why camping is becoming increasingly fashionable.

Geoff Vaughan (left), co-founder of Campingninja, says: “The outdoors is becoming , more and more appealing with the significant increase in fine weather we are experiencing in the UK, awareness of the environment and the financial constraints that are ever present. With such a wide variety of places to stay and different styles of camping on offer, from wild and rustic camping to the infamous glamping – the equivalent to a four star hotel, almost – it is easy to see why there has been such a dramatic increase in interest in camping and caravanning.”

Whilst the camping scene is looking very positive, benefitting from an astronomical increase in interest from such a wide variety of types of campers and an ever-increasing number of quirky and different camping experiences available, the overall picture is looking incredibly healthy for the industry yet the reality is somewhat different.

During April, the prime-time month of summer holiday booking activity, Campingninja took to the phones to investigate how easy it was to contact campsites. The results painted a picture of a tourism sector in need of a smart and helpful management solution.

Of the 2,054 phone calls made to campsites, caravan and holiday parks in England, Wales and Scotland, during working hours, 877 went unanswered – that’s an alarming 42 per cent of calls made. Campsite owners and their staff are clearly very busy people, but with more than a quarter (538) of the calls never diverting to a voicemail facility that would allow potential customers to lodge a verbal enquiry, or request a call back, the chance of these sites losing out on potential business leads is extremely high. The non-response will no doubt speak volumes to the customer, who is left feeling frustrated, resorting to taking their business elsewhere.

“Low cost camping holidays are a perfect tonic for would-be travellers keen to escape the daily grind, but acutely aware of the need to rein in the budget and keep accommodation costs down,” says Rhian Evans, co-director of Campingninja.

“Campsite operators need to find a way to ensure they make the most of their powerful niche in this domestic tourism market and improve their customer service experience and allround visibility.”

With 42 per cent of telephone enquiries failing to be answered there has to be an alternative way for campers to find out information and book pitches quickly and easily. Many people already prefer to research, book and pay for products and services online with information available in an instant. Much like the sites available for flight, hotel and restaurant bookings, Campingninja has come up with an answer to this problem by masterminding the UK’s first ever full-service search and booking platform that huddles together a detailed community of campsites, caravan and holiday parks across Great Britain.

This model eliminates the need to ring around campsites or send off booking requests, instead providing a single user interface that takes care of research, selection, booking and payment quickly.

The site also does not levy booking fees, and sites can be searched by facilities and location, from local farms to eco-friendly sites; by what they do want; and, at the same time, by what they don’t want, such as adult-only sites and cold showers.

In a recent poll carried out by Campingninja to find out the most important criteria when finding a campsite, having a pub within walking distance  came out top with campfires being allowed and being able to pitch your tent where you like following closely behind. Other important criteria included being able to pitch your tent in the woods, having no static caravans close by, camping in the mountains, being able to have dogs onsite and being able to purchase local produce.

So as camping continues to increase in popularity, technology to support this must be implemented by both campers and campsites to ensure a smooth search and booking experience – after all camping isn’t always about taking the rough ride is it?