THE long-term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic may yet prove to be a shot in the arm for the camping industry.
After more than 12-months of restrictions hitting campsites in the pocket, it has been reported that some parts of the UK are experiencing an unprecedented number of enquiries, with many sites now booked up for the rest of 2021.
The sudden, but not unexpected surge in enthusiasm for camping and ‘staycations’ has also been felt on the shelves and in warehouses of outdoors stores where camping equipment is being snapped up before it can be restocked. Many supplies were hit with last month’s Suez Canal blockage while, in some cases, even a shortage of aluminium for poles has left several tent manufacturers scratching their heads.
Last week, accommodation finder Cool Camping said they had a huge rush on bookings in February, peaking on February 23 – the same day the government set out its roadmap out of lockdown.
According to the site, the busiest and most sought-after locations were the Lake District, Cornwall and the New Forest as families, desperate to get away, turn to UK breaks amid a period of uncertainty over foreign travel.
Home nation holidays
It’s this rediscovery of home nation holidays, coupled with an overwhelming desire to shake off the gruelling effects of a year of restricted movement, which experts say will deliver a huge boost for the outdoors economy.
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Projects and communications lead Clive Garrett of Oase Outdoors – the Denmark-based umbrella organisation of Robens, Outwell and Easy Camp – certainly thinks so.
“Outdoor markets have been enjoying sustainable growth for a few years now, but this has certainly been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic as people look at staycations to replace foreign travel and rediscover the physical and mental benefits of communing with nature to combat the effects of lockdown,” he said.
“This certainly brings welcome demand after the recent trials, but multiple global supply issues still exist that challenge the stock situation in many countries and these are something that all parties are working hard to address.”
His views were echoed by Petra Hilleberg, CEO of Swedish tentmaker Hilleberg, who said the 50-year-old manufacturer was striving to keep up with orders.
“Yes, there is a huge demand for our tents and for camping gear in general right now,” she said.
“In the outdoor sector you can see exceptionally high demand for everything from bikes to hiking shoes to tents.
“People are not traveling as much so going in to the outdoors is a great and relatively safe alternative this summer.”
German mountain specialists Vaude also expressed concern at the lack of stock, citing numerous reasons why shelves were emptying fast.
“Yes, Vaude certainly are experiencing a similar scenario,” Chris Davison of CDA Ltd – Vaude supplier to UK retailers.
“Vaude are pretty much sold out for 2022. Fortunately we have stock of key lines ordered for UK stock.
“The ramp in demand has coincided with a decline in production capacity due to Covid secure working practices, a shortage of raw materials (mainly aluminium for poles due to it all being made into bikes last year), also due to flat tent sales in the last few years there are fewer factories making tents.
“The shortage of supply means early ordering is vital, for example Vaude have just had to place first orders for SS23 season stock!”
The news of campsites reporting bookings being five times their usual demand will, according to Patrick Clarke of Camping Holiday Parks, come as no surprise to either industry insiders or anyone looking to make a booking.
A perfect storm
“A perfect storm of uncertainty over travel overseas, potential travel restrictions being re-introduced at very short notice, the threat or existence of border closures, hotels closed for several months to holidaymakers, airlines largely grounded and the UK public coming out of months of lockdown restrictions and craving for a holiday has sent demand for camping holidays and camping equipment soaring to previously unseen levels,” he said.
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“Indeed, some sites were reporting their summer weeks already being sold out weeks before last Christmas.”
Patrick also offered up some tips for campers who may be dismayed at not being able to find availability at sites in the popular locations.
“Demand is naturally high in the usual hotspots such as Devon and Cornwall, Norfolk, Suffolk and other coastal areas, the Lake District and Peak District so the best bet for anyone unable to book a stay outside of the peak summer weeks is to think about other beautiful areas such as the countryside of Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Shropshire where prices might be more reasonable and a wider choice of vacancies available,” he advised.
“Sites certainly need the business to make good losses arising from being unable to open during the first lockdown in 2020 and, hopefully, this year’s unprecedented levels of demand can make good those losses from last year.
“Many sites have been working hard to upgrade amenities so that their new customers hopefully return and that the increased demand for staycations endure in the years ahead when the usual alternative outlets for holidays hopefully become available again.”
In terms of stock shortages, David Scotland – owner of Wakefield-based retailer Outdoor World Direct – explained some lines were becoming repeatedly sold out.
“We’ve made some summer family tents available for pre-order earlier and they’re selling out before they’ve even arrived at our warehouse,” he told The Independent.
“If you need new equipment for this summer, I recommend looking sooner rather than later. There are many lines which are arriving later than expected or not coming at all – which has heightened a stock shortage within the industry.”