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Camping: New Mania Among Chinese Youth

Garrett_Li

Garrett_...

· 7月5日

The camping industry will maintain high growth in three to five years. But as more people get to know more about camping, camping will become a very common lifestyle option for people. This is what happened in Japan, South Korea and the West.

Image Source: Visual China

Image Source: Visual China

BEIJING, July 5 (TMTPOST) -- In late March, Guo Wei and his friends went for camping in the Daxianglu Island Natural Park in the suburbs of Beijing, celebrating the change of seasons.

“The camping site has everything, such as tents, picnic mats and cooking tools. The weather was very nice," said Guo.
Daxianglu Island Natural Park. Image Source: Guo Wei

Daxianglu Island Natural Park. Image Source: Guo Wei

People expect a relaxing experience from camping as it provides an opportunity for them to enjoy delicacies on the grass and the fresh air. During the Workers' Day holidays in May, many people headed outdoors for camping.

Purchases involving camping on online tourism platforms such as Ctrip and Feizhu have been increasing lately in China. Statistics from Ctrip show that camping-related orders during the Workers’ Day holidays surged by five times compared with that during the Qingming Festival. In April, daily searches containing camping increased by nearly 100% compared with that in March.

Camping is becoming a popular outdoor activity among young people. Its business and revenues have caught the attention of the businessmen.

A trendy outdoor activity

Camping as an outdoor activity originated in North America and Europe. The activity later also gained popularity in Japan and South Korea, developing into many types of camping. There are three types of camping—traditional camping, convenient camping and glamping.

Glamping, i.e. glamorous camping, is camping with amenities and comforts, such as beds, electricity, and access to indoor plumbing, which are not usually used for camping. The form of camping provides a young and customized experience to consumers. It is the most popular camping style among young people.
Image Source: Visual China

Image Source: Visual China

The popularity of camping is reflected by thousands of camping guides and reviews on Chinese social media Xiaohongshu. One would find 2.71 million notes on camping on Xiaohongshu when searching camping-related topics on the platform. The notes’ content varies from camping site selection, camping guides and attractive pictures about camping.
Image Source: Xiaohongshu

Image Source: Xiaohongshu

Camping enthusiast Ya Bin told TMTPost that camping can be very addictive if you fully participate in the activity. Camping is an enjoyable lifestyle for Ya since it provides him with the opportunity to plan a trip with his friends and families, build a tent together and have quality bonding time outdoor having a picnic.

“If you want to experience camping, then you would need to start with preparing your equipment and food. Then you would need to find a camping site,” Ya explained. “After you have made all the preparation and are already enjoying yourself in a tent listening to the raindrops falling outside, you would feel a sense of achievement.”

As more young people move to have their first camping experience, camping has become a robust market with great potentials.

Statistics from Qichacha show that as of March 28,there were over 41,000 camping-related companies in China. In 2020, 8,758 companies related to camping were incorporated, registering year-on-year growth of 227.52%. In 2021, 21,000 more were set up, showing a year-on-year growth of 139.5%.

The capital market started to become interested in the camping sector in the second half of 2021. Brands such as Hai King, Naturehike and ABC Camping Country all received financing last year.

Brands such as Dare (Darehuangye) and Hai King mainly provide one-stop camping service, meaning they cover everything from equipment to setting up service. Customers do not even need to bring anything to the camping site. On the other hand, brands like Naturehike and ABC Camping Country focus on providing outdoor equipment. Naturehike’s equipment is now sold in 86 countries and regions across the globe, including Japan, the United States, the UK and Russia.

Is camping a good business? Is there any subsector within the camping industry is worthy of extra attention?

Monetary prospects of the camping business

The increasing popularity of camping also stimulates the sales of camping equipment.

Statistics on Tmall show that the sales volume of camping equipment, including tents, foldable chairs and desks, grew by over two times year-on-year in the first three months of 2022. Since April, searches involving camping equipment on JD.com grew by 145% year-on-year. Searches made by users in Beijing grew by over seven times.

Outdoor equipment PELLIOT’s market manager Le Tian told TMTPost that there are nine categories of camping equipment. The three main categories are equipment for making a camping space such as tents, equipment for sleeping and equipment for cooking. There is also equipment for mobile living room, mobile bedroom and mobile dining room, etc.

Tents are the core camping products. The high-end tent market has been dominated by foreign brands such as Hilleberg, Black Diamond, Stephenson's Warmlite and Nordis that generally sell very expensive tents. One tent from Nordis for instance could be selling for over 9,000 yuan.

As the market becomes more mainstream, Chinese consumers start to turn to Chinese camping brands with a higher value-price ratio. 

On Tmall, tents of popular Chinese brands such as Yuanshiren and Nanjiren are selling for around 100 and 300 yuan. Mobi Garden and Decathlon and other brands with monthly sales of over 6,000 units are selling their tents on average for around 300 yuan per unit.

“The quality of Chinese camping equipment is similar to that of international brands. What we are lacking is the premium from brand names,” Le told TMTPost. He believes that Chinese brands have great advantages because it is easier for domestic brands to reach their consumers and satisfy their demand and expand SKU. In comparison, international brands are pricy and time-consuming to buy, which translates into poor shopping experiences for consumers.

In fact, Chinese camping brands such as Mobi Garden and Naturehike have already become Chinese consumers’ top choice. They are also gaining popularity in overseas markets. “Consumers tend to shop top brands because they can get everything they need there for camping. That’s why brands like PELLIOT are developing products for all categories to satisfy the market needs,” Le told TMTPost.

Repurchase rate is a major challenge for camping equipment brands. There are two solutions to that, Le said. One solution is that companies can increase SKU and make their products more appealing. The other is that companies can promote their products through offline events, communities and new media channels.

There are still many problems within the camping equipment industry. The influx of brands on e-commerce platforms and price competition in the industry have negatively impacted the market. “The market is growing wildly, which means that some brands of bad quality will definitely be eliminated. Only companies that focus on all channels, research and development and consumers can survive,” Le said.

Besides the camping market, campsites are also a huge market. “In the entire camping industry chain, camping brands and camping sites support each other,” Le told TMTPost. “Brands provide the products and content while camping sites receive consumers.”

Dare Glamping (Darehuangye) for instance attracted attention from investors. Last November, the brand completed two rounds of financing, becoming an emerging player in the sector.

Dare Glamping collaborates with hotels and tourist resorts. It currently has over 20 campsites across China, including camps in Sanya, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Zhuhai. As of August last year, the brand already achieved revenues of over ten million yuan.

Similar to other brands in China, Dare Glamping also experienced the period of rapid growth.

“2018 and 2019 were a very important period. The way that young people receive information had changed at that time,” Shi Zhengnan, partner of Dare Glamping, told TMTPost. “In the past, people would look for recommendation on OTA platforms. But then people started to turn to content platforms such as Xiaohongshu, Bilibili and Zhihu. Companies that help clients acquire customers through these content platforms saw their opportunities.”

In late 2020, there were only around 20,000~50,000 entries about camping on Xiaohongshu, Shi recalled. Now there are over 2.7 million posts about camping on Xiaohongshu now. “Dare Glamping’s first stop was in Sanya. It was a one-stop experience. We invited two Xiaohongshu bloggers from Beijing and filmed a promotion video. Then orders just kept coming in,” Shi said.

Shi said that people who are interested in camping are generally young people who are interested in lifestyle and sharing, which match the user profile of Xiaohongshu users.

Xiaohongshu helped Dare Glamping made its first bucket of gold. The brand’s founder Zhu Xianzeng stated that nearly 70% of Dare Glamping’s customers came from Xiaohongshu.

The customer profile of consumers of camping has changed.

“In the past, it was mainly Gen Z people that were doing camping. Now people that are around 50 years old are also doing camping,” Shi said. “Families living in first-tier cities are going out of the city more often. Camping has become a mainstream outdoor entertainment.”

Camping costs include labor cost and site rental cost.

Hi-King’s founder Cui Lianbo once revealed that a camping site with 20~30 tents (each tent costs around 12,000 yuan) would require an estimated cost of 600,000 yuan. Normally, the gross margin could reach 60%. The investors could expect to make the investment back in around six to eight months.

Camping lovers tend to enjoy going to camping sites that allow them to set up their own camp because DIY is generally better and it is cheaper.

Dare Camping has rented a camping site in Beijing, with the lease period of 20 years. The camping site’s phase 1 construction has been completed and is ready for use. The brand is also building several camping sites across the country. Shi said that Dare Camping opened two camping sites during the Labor Day holidays which were fully booked. “There were customers who canceled their orders due to the pandemic. But the vacancy was quickly filled,” Shi said.

The Cloud 516 Camp in Fangshan Beijing for instance charges customers 2,696 yuan for a tent for four people during national holidays. The services that the camp provides include bonfire and barbeque, etc. Most of the camp’s customers came from Beijing.
Dare Camping’s Cloud 516 Camp

Dare Camping’s Cloud 516 Camp

“I believe that the biggest costs of running a camp are the labor cost, equipment maintenance cost and utilities tax. Although the costs of running a campsite are very high, businesses are able to recover the investment very quickly during peak season, Le said.

However, campsite operation also faces the problem of repurchasing rate.

Shi told TMTPost that Dare Glamping will soon launch camping equipment rental service. Meanwhile, there are also famous brand that have crossover collaboration with camping equipment brands. “Customers with membership can rent equipment at our camping site. They only need to bring their own food to the camp,” Shi said. “You camp once, then you will camp again. We provide one-stop camping service for users to fall in love with camping. Then we offer them self-help camping services and products.”

He believes that there is strong connection between nature and outdoor lifestyle. Camping can be found in city parks, shopping malls, coffee shops and bars, etc. There are many ways to make money from camping. “Camping sites are one way to showcase outdoor lifestyles,” Shi said.

This means there are many possibilities with the camping business. Campsites can intergrade businesses such as study trips, commercial performances and sports. We will be able to see more diverse camping sites in the future.

However, the camping industry is also plagued with problems like homogeneous services and designs. Many campsites just look way too similar while providing very similar services. In this case, campsites only compete with each other on prices, which leads to a situation where everyone is racing to the bottom.

While there is growing market demand and lucrative prospect, camping businesses still need to think about how they can actually build a brand name and set themselves apart from the crowd.

Great potentials for camping in China

The camping culture has been popular in the West for almost a century. The West has a mature camping industry that is way bigger in size than that in China.

“Camping has high penetration rate in the West. Every year, there are millions of people going camping in Western countries. In China, we have around 2,000 camping sites. But in the United States alone, there are around 30,000 camping sites of even greater quality,” Shi said.

Information from Statista shows that campsites (including campsites for trailers) boasted revenues of US$7.92 billion (52 billion yuan) in 2019 in the United States. In comparison, the market scale of the camping sites in China was around 35.46 billion yuan in 2022.

Data show that the camping market in China still has massive room for growth.

Campsites in the West are run like resorts. A large number of national parks provide a great environment for the business to grow. For instance, the Richmond North / Kings Dominion KOA camping site in Doswell is only one kilometer away from Kings Dominion Amusement Park. As one of the top ten recommended camping sites in the United States, Richmond North / Kings Dominion KOA camping site also provides services such as outdoor swimming pool and barbeque equipment.
Richmond North / Kings Dominion KOA camping site. Image Source: Booking

Richmond North / Kings Dominion KOA camping site. Image Source: Booking

TMTPost learned that the 50-year-old camp is operated by American camping giant KOA. Statistics show that KOA’s camping sites can be found across North America. The company has over 500 camping sites, which makes it the biggest camping chain in North America.

Glamping appeals to city slickers seeking a little refuge without foregoing any of life’s luxuries. At each KOA camp, there are tents, log cabins, cable TVs, bike for rent, bonfire, mini-golfing and Wi-Fi services.

KOA also hires security guards to patrol around the perimeter of its camps. The camping sites are also circled around with fences to prevent wild animals from entering the site and causing damage.

Visitors only need to pay 24 dollars a year to enjoy KOA’s membership service. KOA also provides trailer rental service and offer discounts from time to time. KOA also has its own online community, which allows its members to exchange camping information and engage in discussion.

In addition, KOA also increases the number of camps through franchising. The company has a camping site reservation system Kamp Sight, which allows KOA to manage its franchise sites.

The accessibility of camping sites and quality services make KOA stand out from the crowd and become an industry leader.

Of course, simply copying KOA’s business model would not really work in China. In 2015, there were over 8.5 million trailers in the United States, which means one out of every ten families with cars owned a trailer. It is quite normal for Americans to drive their trailers to camping sites and enjoy camping at a KOA camping site. However, trailer is still quite rare in China. It is actually difficult to own a trailer in the country due to many administrative inconveniences.

The good thing is that China is rich in tourism resources. People can drive their own cars to attractions nearby their cities. Some travel agencies also provide road trip and camping services. Resorts and tourist sites in China can also provide their own camping sites for visitors who come to visit with their own cars.

Shi told TMTPost that the camping industry has different development paths in China and overseas due to their unique market circumstances.

“For instance, people in the West are educated to be close to the nature. They participate in camping activities to practice their skills in surviving in the wilderness. But in Asia, we do glamping,” Shi explained.

Chinese camping businesses can learn more from their counterparts in South Korea and Japan.

Japanese brand Snow Peak for instance extends camping to lifestyle, selling not only lifestyle-related products but also managing several campsites of its own. The company also provides luxurious camping services, lifestyle resorts, business consulting and even engages in real estate development.

DOD, a Japanese camping brand from Osaka, focuses on fashion and affordability. The brand’s tents are easy to fold and deconstruct, allowing users to better enjoy camping. DOD is also dedicated to developing tents for different purposes and winning recognition from young consumers.
Image Source: DOD

Image Source: DOD

China’s camping equipment brands are trying to become a lifestyle brand as well to expand their business operation. What they lack right now is technological accumulation and a brand name.

China is rolling out policies aimed to help the outdoor sports and camping industry. It is foreseeable that there will be more ground rules for camping businesses in the future.

In June 2021, the Ministry of Commerce and 16 other government departments jointly issued the guidance that more support will be given to the development of homestay businesses, road trip camps, cabin site and camping site, etc. Basic necessity and infrastructure should be provided accordingly.

“Tourism and the cultural industry are highly compatible with the camping industry. From what I know, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and other relevant departments are actively promoting the development of the camping industry,” Shi told TMTPost.

It is worth noting that homestay business owners are shifting to camping as well after camping becomes popular in China. Homestay businesses are setting up their own camps at their houses to attract customers and increase income. Shi said that people come to camps not to just actually live in the tents but rather be closer to the nature. Homestays and hotels are places where people get accommodation. Camps are spaces where people enjoy building something, socializing and interacting with people and get closer to the nature. Hotels and camps are not in competition with each other but rather complement each other.

However, it remains unknown how long the camping industry could go after the hype cools down. Most camping business owners are aiming to build a long-term business.

“I believe that the camping industry will maintain high growth in three to five years. But as more people get to know more about camping, camping will become a very common lifestyle option for people. This is what happened in Japan, South Korea and the West,” Shi said, expressing his optimism in the camping industry

(The article is translated and edited with authorization from the author @柳牧宗, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce. The original article can be found here.)

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