There has been an increased interest in farm-based camping, accelerated during the pandemic, from both farmers and campers. For farmers and ranchers, offering camping can be a low-barrier, low-impact way to diversify income and start or expand an agritourism enterprise. Campers can avoid overcrowded parks and connect with an area's agricultural heritage.
Many farmers and ranchers partner with a booking platform, such as Hipcamp or Harvest Hosts to connect with customers. I reached out to Hipcamp's Government and Community Relations Manager, Cassandra Prenn-Vasilakis, to get her perspective on trends and opportunities for farm-based camping and to learn more about partnering with a hosting platform like Hipcamp. Read my Q & A with Cassandra below, then check-out THIS webinar from the 2023 CA Small Farm Conference that provides an overview of how to get started with agritourism and features a presentation from Cassandra along with a panel discussion with California agritourism operators, including those that are currently offering camping.
Q & A with Hipcamp's Cassandra Prenn-Vasilakis
Q: Tell us a little about Hipcamp and how Hipcamp works with farmers and ranchers.
A: Hipcamp is the world's leading provider of outdoor stays. We partner with tens of thousands of private landowners across the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom to create new places to get outside, opening opportunities for outdoor recreation and overnight stays on properties ranging from two-acre blueberry farms to 80,000-acre cattle ranches.
Landowners sign up with Hipcamp as “Hosts” and create an online listing that shows the area available to campers. Hipcamp Hosts can list anything from an A-frame cabin or tiny house to a tent, RV site, yurt, or glamping tent! Our community of campers will then search by location and book the stay via Hipcamp's website and mobile app. Hosts set their own pricing, availability, and rules, keep 90% of what they earn (the remaining 10% goes towards liability insurance, property protection, marketing, and 24/7 support) and are paid weekly.
More than half of the landowners who partner with Hipcamp welcome guests to working lands: farms, ranches, vineyards. Hosting campers with Hipcamp is a low-barrier and sustainable way for farmers and ranchers to diversify revenue, and the act of welcoming campers to agricultural lands provides an opportunity for education and connection with local food systems and agricultural heritage.
Q: Why farm-based camping? What are the benefits to the farmers and to the campers?
A: Camping-based agritourism is already a critical source of revenue for landowners across the country (and the world!) and became particularly important for farmers and ranchers in 2020; with wineries unable to host visitors and farms hurt by the closure of restaurants, people with working land turned to Hipcamp to make money.
We heard from many that hosting campers became their most reliable source of income during the pandemic, and many of the landowners we partner with still rely on this income to maintain or improve their properties and to offset the rising costs associated with land ownership and agricultural inputs. Fully 40% of Hipcamp Hosts use the income they earn from hosting to pay their mortgage or property taxes! Diversifying income through Hosting enables farmers and ranchers to avoid selloff and keep the majority of their property in agricultural production.
As a camper myself, I had never considered camping on a working farm or ranch before I discovered Hipcamp. And now it's my favorite kind of campsite! I've camped on vineyards along California's Central Coast and at ranches near Yosemite National Park and have found that when you visit working lands, you have an opportunity to gain an education, to get engaged with what a working landscape is, to connect with local food systems and our country's agricultural heritage. At Hipcamp, we really believe that people will be inspired to protect the places that they've experienced and feel a connection to.
We're excited to be exposing people to agricultural lands and lifestyles with the goal of inspiring the next generation of land stewards.
Q: What trends are you seeing in farm-based camping around the country and in California?
A: We are seeing more and more landowners express interest in getting started with a platform like Hipcamp and we've seen demand for camping on private land grow by 600 percent since 2019. People are looking for new and unique places to stay, camp, and get outside, and farmers and ranchers are increasingly turning to diversification opportunities like camping to keep their operations economically viable.
We've also heard from Hipcampers that being able to buy products grown and made on the property (meat, veggies, yarn, eggs) can be the difference between a good experience and an unforgettable one.
Hipcamp has a tool that we call “extras'' that enables landowners to list items and experiences for campers to add to their bookings. Campers may choose to purchase goods while they are physically on the property, but booking and paying ahead of time can make it easier for folks. Our most popular “extras” are farm fresh eggs, and one of the best selling experiences offered in recent years was a class called “Beekeeping 101.” I think people really appreciate being able to learn about and connect with the place they're staying.
Q: What do you think accounts for this trend?
A: This trend isn't entirely surprising! Camping-based agritourism enables farmers and ranchers to diversify revenue while taking pressure off of our public lands and creating new places for people to stay, camp, and get outside. It also has a lower barrier to entry than some other agritourism activities or visitor accommodations; you don't need much infrastructure to get started, and you can always invest in and grow your offerings depending on the needs of your business at different times.
On the camper side, we've seen demand for the outdoors really take off over the past few years and trend reports show that overcrowding is really impacting peoples' ability to experience and enjoy outdoor recreation. Camping on a farm offers a new way to get outside and enjoy an area, away from the crowds. It also offers campers an opportunity to support a farmer or rancher, buy locally grown produce, and spend their money in a way that aligns with their values.
Q: What are the opportunities and challenges that you see for farmers and ranchers that are offering farm-based camping or interested in doing so?
A: I think camping-based agritourism is an exciting opportunity for farmers and ranchers who are looking for a low-impact way to diversify while keeping the majority of their land in agricultural production. Agritourism also helps get the word out about a farm, increasing on-site sales by bringing in more visitors who purchase goods directly from the farm and giving farmers and ranchers the opportunity to educate the public about what's happening on their land and the importance of getting to know and support your local farmer.
While camping-based agritourism is an exciting option for farmers and ranchers, it's important to consider how hospitality fits into the responsibilities you already have on your farm and what your capacity is to take more on. It's also important to do your research and ensure you understand what regulations and permitting requirements may apply to your hosting and agritourism activities before you get started.
Q: What benefits does partnering with a platform like Hipcamp provide to farmers? To the campers?
Hipcamp offers calendar management tools, liability insurance, and property protection. We help Hosts collect the appropriate taxes, offer 24/7 support, and share the properties listed on our platform with a global community of outdoor enthusiasts who are looking for new and unique places to stay, camp, and get outside. We also offer safety tools like weather alerts powered by the National Weather Service and have a fire ban tool that Hosts can use to share safety information with their campers.
For campers, Hipcamp connects them with properties that they might not otherwise have known about or been able to stay at. We make it easy to find the experience you're looking for all in one place, whether you're looking to book a glampsite, pitch your tent on a working farm, find an RV site at a commercial campground, or learn more about your local state park. There's something for everyone on Hipcamp! We also make information and data available to our campers for free that can make it easier for them to decide where to go: whether you want to know if you'll have cell service, are looking to camp in a dark sky community, or want to stay just outside of your favorite National Park, that information is all available on Hipcamp.
Q: What is your advice for farmers and ranchers hosting campers?
- Start small! You don't have to have a fancy set up to be a successful Hipcamp Host and you can always invest in and grow your offerings as you go.
- Do your research to ensure your hosting activities are compliant with local and state laws. We recommend thinking about where your property is located and how it's zoned, as well as what you're interested in doing on your property (tent and RV sites might be regulated differently than a cabin, for example).
- Be a good neighbor. Consider who might be impacted by your hosting people on your property before you welcome your first guest. This might be someone you share a private road with or someone who can see your property from their kitchen window.
- Set expectations. More information is always better and campers will appreciate knowing what to expect before they arrive. Think about what they'll see and hear from their campsite, for example. Do you have a rooster that crows early in the morning? A livestock guardian dog that keeps the farm safe at night? Use your Hipcamp listing to let them know what camping on a farm is like, what products they might be able to buy on site, whether you'll be available to show them around, etc.
- Have fun!
Thank you to Cassandra Prenn-Vasilakis for participating in the Q&A. This interview is informational, not an endorsement of Hipcamp. All images courtesy of Hipcamp
Webinar: How to get started with Agritourism (from the 2023 CA Small Farm Conference)
Author - Statewide Agritourism Coordinator