When the COVID-19 pandemic locked down the world and shut people inside, the desperate long-ing felt by many to get out was often satisfied by camping. Even as lockdowns have ended, experts say demand for campsites has only increased and public lands can’t support it.
Private landowners across the country, including farmers, are creating new opportunities and establishing a new revenue stream by working with camping search and booking sites.
“What’s happening right now in the [camping] space is just incredible,” says John Hayden, president of The Dyrt, one of the leading campsite review and booking sites. “You’ve got so many new people that are bringing new stories and new experiences to the camping industry. As a camper, you’ve got the broadest selection of outdoor experiences that has ever existed, so it’s super exciting.”
According to The Dyrt’s 2023 Camping Report, it was five times harder to find available campsites last year than it was pre-pandemic. Hayden says farmer-owned land is the fastest-growing category of non-traditional campgrounds on The Dyrt.
Unique Revenue Stream
John Boere, owner of Diamond Gulch cattle ranch in Groveland, California, started welcoming campers onto his 824 acres in the spring of 2021. His property is listed on multiple booking sites, including The Dyrt and Hipcamp, another leading campsite booking website.
“It’s a beautiful spot, and I just thought it would be good to share it with people,” he says.
With more than 100 reviews and a 98% recommendation rate on Hipcamp, Boere made over $16,000 in 2022 from camping bookings.
Boere says the extra in-come is helpful as he turned 70 this year and is looking to retire.
“The biggest thing we hear is that the revenue they earn from Hipcamp is really helping them,” says Sameer Dohadwala, Hipcamp’s head of global operations.
The hosts aren’t the only ones benefiting. Dohadwala says rural communities also see increased economic activity when farmers welcome campers. He says the average camper spends more than $300 in the community near the campsite.
“I can’t stress enough how easy it is to get started and how good of a fit it is for so many farms,” he says.
Where to Start
Listing a property is as easy as a few questions and clicks on a site like The Dyrt. The Dyrt and Hipcamp both have free support staff that can help along the way, and there is no charge to list a property on either site.
Lorena Williams, owner of Fourth Sister Farm, a 10-acre farm in Ignacio, Colorado, lists her property on both sites.
“The calendars link up, and they feed each other, [so] it doesn’t really matter which one it books,” she says.
One key difference for landowners to be aware of is Hipcamp charges a 10% commission fee for each booking through its site.
Hipcamp has been doing private camp-ground bookings longer than The Dyrt, which established booking through its site after creating a PRO membership for campers. Because of the PRO membership revenue, The Dyrt offers landowners a space to book properties for no commission charge.
Liability insurance is something else to consider. Hayden suggests checking what is or is not covered under your current policy and making adjustments as needed. Hipcamp covers the cost for landowners to have $1 million in liability insurance. Also, Boere recommends checking with your local governments about potential laws or tax requirements.
Setting up Camp
When asked to get started, one topic The Dyrt, Hipcamp, and farmers all mentioned was bathrooms.
Boere and Williams both have portable restrooms. Boere has his serviced while Williams’ empties into her septic tank. Making water available dramatically increases your bookings, Williams says. “Adding inexpensive additions like a grill and a washtub and solar lights that come on along the pathways…those are things above and beyond that make listings attractive to people and are really welcoming,” she adds.
Williams also says photos on the listing sites are “everything.” She enlisted help from a Hipcamp photographer, which only cost her a free stay on the farm for the pho-tographer while the shoot was underway.
A campsite can range from a piece of ground for a sleeping bag or tent to a glamping A-frame. However, Boere recommends keeping it simple and starting small, knowing more can always be added later.
“You don’t want to build the Taj Mahal because the Taj Mahal costs a lot of money to maintain,” he says.
Share Your Story
Hayden says the farmers he has talked to say it is important to hone in on your farm’s story and establish your brand.
“With a little bit more thought and storytelling, you can be a lot more successful,” he says.
Boere adds that defining the brand can help with things like picking a name for the farm on the site and guiding how to talk about the property.
Williams says as a camper, she would use The Dyrt and Hipcamp herself when traveling. “I always looked for rural places where I could get a taste for the community, see the landscape, and meet the people,” she says. “And I always thought that farm stays were about the best way to do that.”
As a produce farmer, Williams wants her campers to have the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from.
“For farmers interested in sharing the value of the work that they do with the general public, I think it’s a great opportunity to do that,” she says. “I also think it’s a moral imperative that as our society is increasingly urbanized and people no longer know where their food is coming from, we help open up the public’s eyes to what it actually looks like to be a farmer.”