Sponsored: Is camping still a viable diversification opportunity?

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Temporary campsites brought desperately needed revenue to farms and similar businesses negotiating the double whammy of a farming crisis and the aftermath of the pandemic.

Not only did they help financially, but farmers relished the chance to explain to a largely urban audience how food is produced, given recent controversies over meat and dairy, and to help resurrect a lost style of holiday:

“A lot of them took a great interest in the working farm, asking us about what we did and how, and learning more about it, which was great to see.” - Hundred Acre Farm, West Sussex

2021 was the year of the great camping boom. Some travel rules were still in place, people were cautious about indoor venues yet craved nature, and sustainability concerns were top of mind - perfect conditions for the revival of domestic outdoor holidays.

So what has happened to the market this year? Does camping still provide a profitable diversification opportunity?

While overall Google searches for “camping” are slightly (6%) lower than 2021’s ‘staycation summer’, the sector remains buoyant with several new records broken this season:

- A new record for the most bookings in a day - the previous record was set on 13th July 2021, with bookings on 9th August 2022 surpassing that by 12% (equivalent to over 21,000 people).

- A new record for the most bookings in a day by an individual site - a pop-up site with tent pitches and rental tents in the south-west of England took 95 bookings in a single day on 9th August.

- Its top seller, a campsite in Wales, earned £355,000, its top pop-up £96,000 and its top exempt site £135,000 over the last 12 months.

- A new record for bookings for the UK from customers abroad, which have grown by 53% compared to 2019 and 708% to 2021, with 34,000 arrivals this year so far.

- The Saturday of the Bank Holiday weekend, over 91,000 people will be holidaying with Pitchup on a site somewhere in the UK.

- The company has almost doubled in size in terms of revenue since 2019 (total transaction value is 92% up, and 116% up for destination UK). This equates to an additional 740,707 customers holidaying in the UK.

- Bookings in by 22nd August for September to December arrivals in the UK this year are 207% up compared to the same period in 2019. In fact, the last quarter of the year is seeing almost double the growth in bookings seen for the year as a whole.

What are the current planning rules?

In England, tent campsites can operate for 28 days per calendar year under permitted development rights, after the extension to 56 days expired in December 2021.

The Chief Planner has announced "a consultation on the introduction of a new permitted development right to support pop-up camping for Summer 2023" will be held in due course. In the meantime, she has encouraged planning authorities to "take a positive approach" to planning applications to operate for longer than 28 days, "to support tourism and hospitality services in local areas".

In Wales, tent campsites can operate for 28 days per calendar year under permitted development rights, after the extension to 56 days ended. However, the Welsh government is proposing to extend 56-day tent permitted development rights permanently, and recently undertook a consultation. According to a ministerial update in April a government response will be issued later in 2022.

Exempt organisations and planning permission are options for those looking to open longer or develop a fully-featured site.

The cost of living crisis, flight and ferry chaos, the new found love of camping fostered by the pandemic, and the push for more sustainable travel have meant that we are continuing to see people flock to this type of holiday.

If you are considering diversifying your land-based business, there has never been a better time.

Find out more about how to start a campsite