British camping brand Cool Camping has been acquired by a large American company, Hipcamp, which aims to bring its Airbnb-style model of camping site booking to the UK.
Starting today, all 25,000 campgrounds and luxury structures on Cool Camping’s website will be listed instead at Hipcamp.
Headquartered in San Francisco, Hipcamp claims to be the world’s largest provider of outdoor stays, offering half a million campgrounds in the US, Canada and Australia. This is her first foray into Europe.
In addition to covering commercial and glamping campsites, the site allows private land owners to rent out their outdoor space to campers, in the same way that Airbnb allows homeowners to rent properties and spare rooms to vacationers. Anyone with suitable land can charge from £10 per night to view a pitch using the Hipcamp platform, with their own nightly rates. Menus on the site are free, but Hipcamp takes 15% of every booking.
Only those who live in rural areas, rather than urban and suburban areas, and who have an acre or more of available space can register. They must provide toilets for campers in tents (although not for campers), they can choose to offer outdoor activities and extras, such as fresh eggs or frying pans for breakfast, and they must meet a list of other criteria related to safety, hygiene and planning codes. Many of them will operate under the UK’s 28-day planning exemption, which allows landowners to use their land for business activities for up to 28 days a year. Private hosts will be eligible for Hipcamp liability insurance, which protects them up to £1 million.
Hipcamp founder and CEO Alyssa Ravasio, which launched the company in the US in 2013, said its goal is to make it easier for more people to get outside. “I realized that because of how crowded our public camps were, the only way to accomplish this mission was to create new places, which we started on private land,” she said. “We’re taking advantage of the data to understand the specific destinations you’re likely to book in the coming months, and then get to the landowners in that area.”
Since its launch, Hipcamp has “unlocked” approximately 1,618,000 hectares of private land, ranging from a blueberry farm in Canada to the stately ranch of an Australian farm. It has booked over six million guest nights, seen a 460% increase in bookings since 2019 and acquired Australian camping platform Youcamp in 2020. Funding campaigns have raised tens of millions of dollars, including investment from musician venture capital firm Jay Z Marcy Venture Partners.
Meanwhile, Cool Camping bookings increased 340% over the same period, thanks in part to the coronavirus-related boom in staycationing. Jonathan Knight, founder and former managing director of Cool Camping, said he wasn’t looking to sell when he approached Hipcamp, but he was “shocked by the similarities between the two brands. It’s not just the kinds of places we’re offering—small standalone camping sites and luxury camping sites that contain on something special about her – but also our philosophies. It’s only natural that we put it all together.”
Knight said allowing private British landowners, farmers, carpenters and others to create new sources of income through camping would help conserve the land and keep it wild, while bringing an economic boost to rural communities.
He switched Cool Camping from a guidebook publisher to a booking platform in 2015, phasing out guidebooks a few years ago. He will remain director of Hipcamp in the UK.
Hipcamp is not the first to offer camping on private land in the UK. Wildpoint.com, launched in 2021, makes camping easier for people’s parks and outdoor spaces, as does Campspace.com and HomeCamper.com, while Wild With Consent lists locations for campers and mobile drivers.
In addition to attracting private hosts, Hipcamp will continue to add business camp sites to its UK portfolio, launching an app for Brits to browse and book stays. There are no plans to expand to other countries at present.
“As far as we know, camping originated as a recreational pastime in the UK. As a result, the camping market here is the most developed in the world,” said Ravasio. “This country is leading the way globally in its thinking about agritourism – specifically, camping and camping can support not only the preservation of local culture and economies, but also the reconfiguration of critical habitats.
She said: “For too long, demand for unique, private and affordable overseas stays has outstripped supply in the UK. So we see a real opportunity for Hipcamp to help solve this problem.”