We were expecting last week's RVX show to host the debut of a concept travel trailer, motorhome or two. We weren't expecting to see an entire series of concept campgrounds. But Kampgrounds of America (KOA) rocketed ahead to the year 2030, showing a futuristic vision of tent, RV and cabin camping. Much more than just campground-wide Wi-Fi, solar panels and electric vehicle charging, its "Campground of the Future" project looks to bring people closer to nature than ever, in ways that mimic some of today's most stunning architecture.
The future begins now
The current outlook is quite encouraging for the future of camping, as outlined in KOA's annual North American Camping Report, which served as the basis of the Campground of the Future project. The latest findings will be issued in the 2019 report next month, but the 2018 report showed American camping experiencing participation growth of 6 million households since 2014 and a more diverse set of participants pursuing the activity — half of all new campers in 2017 were non-white, with Asians the fastest-growing participant group.
Millennials, the largest generational group in the US, may be best recognized as the digital generation, but they've also been driving a camping and RVing renaissance. In fact, contrary to the idea that technology keeps people behind closed doors, KOA's research suggests that digital tools like social media have helped to attract new visitors to its campgrounds.
That's all very good news for companies with bottom lines that depend on camping enthusiasts, including KOA, a franchising network of independently owned, publicly available campgrounds. It doesn't mean that those companies can simply rest on their laurels, however. With demographic growth and change comes changing preferences and demands.
On the RV side, we've seen camping vehicles getting smaller and more efficient to reflect the preferences of younger participants. Even companies with decades of experience designing massive Class A motorhomes and fifth-wheel toy haulers are expanding their horizons with teardrop trailer and Class B motorhome (camper van) offerings. On the campground side, new technologies and amenities have found their way into once-spartan destinations as campground managers seek to create camping experiences that attract younger campers and keep them coming back.
KOA's Campground of the Future looks at how its member campgrounds could mold current trends and preferences into future camping experiences. The project is currently just a series of rough renderings and virtual reality presentations, but it does include some interesting ideas that extend far beyond Wi-Fi routers, vehicle charging stations or indoor lounges. Those types of additions combine with more dramatic new designs as KOA rethinks exactly what a campground is and how it can evolve to attract new users without losing established ones.
"With the increase in camping popularity comes a greater need to ensure the longevity of camping through smart design and preservation of nature," says newly-named KOA CEO Toby O'Rourke. "We believe that thoughtful use of technology and devotion to sustainably growing camping offerings will meet the increased expectations of campers while further enhancing that connection with nature that camping provides."
KOA breaks its futuristic campground down into a series of distinctive designs specific to the places people tend to camp — forests, mountains, deserts and coastlines — and one that many campers probably overlook — the city. Each design capitalizes on the distinctive resources available in its individual environment, becoming an extension of its surroundings.
Some of the themes interwoven through two or more of the individual campground experiences hinge on technology, including solar power, automated check-in procedures, and voice-activated services like firewood delivery. But many involve enhancing the traditional outdoor experiences of each environment through smart, focused campground design. KOA integrates popular recreational activities, like hiking and water sports, into the campgrounds themselves, creates more community gathering spaces for social activities, and immerses campers in nature with new and stunning accommodations and amenities.
Unique campgrounds for unique environments
KOA's forest campground of the future pulls visitors up into the surrounding trees, offering both accommodations and activities in the canopy. Elevated boardwalks twist through leaves and needles, while treehouses let campers climb high above ground before settling in for a cozy night's sleep.
Instead of simply enjoying a view of the mountains from a distance, why not camp on the side of one? Like today's spectacular cliffside houses, cantilevered campsites jut out from sheer rock in KOA's futuristic mountain camps, accessed via cliff-hugging switchback roads. Spectacular views are afforded to tent, vehicle and cabin campers, alike, and even community gaming and gathering areas hover high above the valley floor.
KOA imagines capitalizing on water in ways usually reserved for expensive resorts and theme parks. Rather than merely plopping campers at water's edge, the futuristic coastal campground drops them into the water with undersurface cabins that look out into the subaquatic environment. Campers would also recreate and sleep atop the water on purpose-built causeways.
When there's no water to be found in arid surroundings, KOA brings its own ... and not simply with the pump across from your campsite. Its desert concept campground tames the hot, unshaded sun with manmade pools built to mimic natural lakes and pavilions topped with solar panels. Fixtures are built in such a way as to afford magnificent views of the sun-soaked landscape.
KOA's urban campground vision repurposes city space into open space. Whether in a city park, atop a building or a vast combination of both, this style of campground delivers a quick natural escape for the harried city masses. Natural starlight may be largely devoured by urban light pollution, but tents stacked on building-top platforms offer sweeping views of towering buildings and glimmering city lights.
Pie in the sky or on the way?
Those campgrounds may seem unfathomable to backpackers, primitive campers and others who much prefer fully unplugging and enjoying the quiet, serene experience of bare nature. But KOA's network of privately owned campgrounds and resorts already includes modern amenities like cabins, playgrounds, Wi-Fi, swimming pools and game rooms, so these futuristic layouts aren't such a stretch within that framework. In fact, some of the ideas presented are already being implemented today.
"We have a massive solar parasol structure that covers two acres of RV sites at our Tucson/Lazydays KOA Resort in Arizona," explains O'Rourke. "That structure supplies more than enough power for the campground while providing partial cooling shade for the RVs parked beneath it."
We don't see any evidence that KOA counts underwater cabins or lodges built into cliffs among its reservable sites, but its campground network does include locations with treehouses, teepees and yurts. The company even has special "unique lodging" search tools.
Jump to the gallery for a fuller look at KOA's ideas, and let us know what you think in the comments. Will this style of campground resonate with current and would-be campers, or will camping take a different turn, perhaps no turn at all?
If a virtual reality tour is more your style, you'll find it on the "Camp the Future" website linked below.
Source: KOA Camp the Future
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