Throughout my career, I’ve had a number of opportunities to start-up new businesses and like most entrepreneurs, my history has some succees and some failures. I had the good fortune of turning GradSchools.com from a quirky start-up to a market leader only to follow that up with an online guide to wine called ClassicWines.com that was a dud. Timing has a lot to do with being successful and sometimes you are just plain lucky.
In March of 2017, a postcard for a start-up business called Tentrr came to my mailbox. Tentrr was looking for properties in the Pocono Mountains to become campsite hosts and their offer sounded too good to refuse. Their pitch was simple: they will bring a standard rig of a platform, nice sized tent, comfortable and durable furniture and turn your unused property into a money-making enterprise. It was “glamping” as campers did not need to bring a tent or bedding, didn’t have to scavenge for wood or wrangle with campsite set-up, they just needed to bring a cooler stocked with food and drinks – any pay prices that in most cases exceeded that of a hotel!
I immediately contacted the company, a scout soon came to our house, helped us identify a great site, then took some pictures and completed our application indicating that we should be able to get started by the next month. April came and went, then May and despite calls and messages to the company, we waited. I finally got a notice saying that the company didn’t think my site was a good fit. For those that know me, that was the wrong answer. I knew we had a great site, we were close to attractions like Blue Mountain Ski Resort, Beltzville Lake and the Lehigh River so no “dear applicant” form letter was going to stop me!
Hey Google – Who competes with Tentrr? Answer: HipCamp.com
I raced out and bought a few picnic tables, some pop-up canopies and cleared a nice path to the exact spot that the Tentrr scout identified, took a few pictures and got listed with Hipcamp. A week later a Hipcamp scout became the first camper, gave me some additional tips and things took off. In 2018 we built a 12 x 20 platform so that campers can be off the ground when it rains and set the site up for a nice 3-season side business. Our Blue Mountain Private Campsite has become a fun little venture for me as it requires only a few hours each week and brings a few hundred dollars a weekend. Things really took off in 2020, we were booked 100% of weekends and about 60% of weeknights.
We have kept true to the mission of Hipcamp: to get people to enjoy the outdoors and it’s been a great little venture. Here are a few lessons learned that may benefit you if you’d like to turn your undeveloped land into a small camping business:
- Privacy matters – Unlike traditional campgrounds that are very social places, we stumbled across a travel segment of people wanting to get away from it all. For us, the concept of a private camping was hugely popular and that resulting in above average prices for our site.
- Group size matters – With dashboard controls that allow you to limit group size, you can position your site to a niche. For us, it was often families and real small groups. We encountered some resistance from our township that required we only allow one tent, which helped us focus on that niche.
- Being “Away from it All” matters – We have found that people just want to be outside and have found Hipcamp as a unique way to experience the outdoors. The attraction to our site came from a theme of escaping from daily life and we put our spot in a secluded section of our property, away from neighbors and away from the property line.
- Photos matter – Hipcamp allows for campers to post photos of their experience. Unlike VRBO which only shows photos from hosts, these shots of campers, their dogs, the sunset all enhanced the listing and helped draw additional bookings. Include lots of photos in your listing and have them reinforce your camp site theme.
- Reviews matter – We do no advertising, everything comes through Hipcamp. They encourage visitors to leave reviews and that helps our listing stand on its own on Google. Google likes reviews which helped us do well with relevant keywords which is why we named of our enterprise search-friendly “Blue Mountain Private Camping”
- Welcome your guests with lots of information – After we receive a booking, we supply the guest with a digital guide, a kind of welcome packet that explains our layout, its highlights and limitations, and a bit about the area (where there is a grocery store, where there is a hospital, where they can shower and recreational activities). Putting this out before they arrive helps keep guests from needing to ask questions, which in turn frees you to do other things.
The team at HipCamp has been great when we needed them, and to be honest, that is not too often. It is as close to plug-and-play as you can get, easy to get started and super easy to get paid. We maintain the campsite, they maintain the bookings and engage the customers. I see other Tentrr sites out there, so they much be doing OK and if you don’t want to go route of developing a site, there are services like Outdoor Access, Basecamp Leasing and HLRBO which allow you to just rent or lease your land.