Marketplaces Find A Niche With Off-The-Beaten-Path Campsites

Sharing Economy

When Olaf Dunn wanted to go camping with his kids last year, finding an available campsite on short notice wasn’t easy. “In Canada, you need to make sure to reserve your campsite four, five, six months in advance,” Dunn, founder of Pitched, told in an interview. He hadn’t planned that far ahead, so he was out of luck. Instead, the backyard became the family’s camping destination.

Coming originally from the United Kingdom, however, Dunn noted that finding a campsite was much easier back home where farms, orchards and vineyards are open to camping. That got him thinking: Is there an opportunity here? To find out if consumers in Canada were also looking for places to camp besides traditional campsites, he set up a couple of landing pages as an experiment –and a few hundred people pre-registered for the site.

Initially, Dunn set up the site as a marketplace for land owners and campers. The idea was to connect people looking for extra revenue from their unused spaces, such as farmers with lots of land, with people looking for a place to stay. Now, he is moving toward providing a camping experience, bundling a place to stay with, say, a canoeing or cycling trip.

And that booking journey begins with a search.

The Marketplace

To find a campsite, consumers can search for a location and availability for a particular day. They can also filter for features (i.e., is the site on the water or is it accessible for RVs). The properties are then shown on a map, and once visitors select a particular campsite, they can browse photos and reviews. Campers can make a reservation instantly and pay by credit card through Stripe; however, the camper and host can chat, and if it isn’t a good match, they can cancel the reservation. They can also reserve add-ons like firewood, food or a canoe.

Property owners can register and upload photos on the site. They can also indicate on a calendar when they are available, as well as the rate per night. For cancellation policies, property owners can choose to allow campers to cancel for free up to three days before the reservation or pay 50 percent of their reservation as a cancellation fee. In the process of listing, owners can also describe any rules for the property, such as prohibiting making noise after 11 p.m. or cutting down trees on the property. One rule, however, is universal on the site: Leave no trace. “We don’t want people leaving their garbage behind,” Dunn said.

Dunn has a variety of property owners on the site, including farmers with a lot of land, vineyard owners, small private campgrounds or people who just have free space on a lot. The advantage to renting out space for campgrounds, too, is that owners don’t have to vacate a cottage or cabin on the property. (By contrast, property owners might rent out a cabin or a cottage on a home share site like Airbnb.) And, by using marketplaces like Pitched, they gain a marketing channel. “We do all the marketing and communications for them,” Dunn said. “We handle all refunds and payments and customer support.”

By comparison to other camping websites, Pitched has carved out a niche by serving the Ontario camping market. By contrast, Hipcamp has 300,000 campsites and other properties, but Dunn said they are focused on the U.S. And Tentrr is focused more on the upscale “glamping” end of the market. That company’s experience comes with tents installed on a property, which Dunn said is not his site’s model. And Airbnb has campsites on its site, but it has a different focus. “Their platform is geared toward housing and apartments – not campsites,” Dunn said.

Beyond online platforms, Dunn noted it can be challenging for consumers to book a campsite, as many websites only contain listings and don’t have reservation and search functions. The old-school method of reaching someone on the phone can be a challenge, too, but Pitched and similar sites may reduce the friction in booking hidden treasures that might be hard for consumers to find anywhere else.