With $40 million in funding and a new international expansion, Hipcamp, the Airbnb of camping, is set to capitalize on consumers' desire to get outside during the pandemic

  • On Thursday, Hipcamp announced its first international expansion with the acquisition of Australian private land booking platform Youcamp.
  • Hipcamp was created by Alyssa Ravasio in 2013 as a way to aggregate booking information for campsites on public lands into a single site and expanded into bookings on private land in 2016.
  • National parks and private campgrounds have seen an increase in demand during COVID-19 as many tourists have turned to camping for the first time.
  • Ravasio said that Hipcamp has seen "an explosion in bookings" as states lifted lockdown measures.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

If you've tried to go camping during the time of COVID you've likely faced a fair share of frustrations. Hipcamp, often called the Airbnb of the outdoors, aims to alleviate the process, which often goes like this:

First, a cursory search for campsites at national parks leaves you empty-handed; public parks, which are routinely busy during the summer months, have seen an increase in demand during COVID-19. If you manage to nab a cabin somewhere, you might excitedly decide it's time to purchase a canoe or a bike to use during your outdoorsy summer. Well, unfortunately, those are in short supply, too. And if you actually manage to book your site, get your gear, and get your family to the nearest national park, you might be dismayed when you roll up to the entrance only to find yourself in a traffic jam of people — the very thing you were attempting to escape. Trail closures and increased traffic have meant long lines for many parks this season.

Here's where Hipcamp, a campsite booking platform, comes in. The startup enables private landowners to become campsite hosts and connects them with hopeful campers.

Alyssa Ravasio, the founder and CEO of Hipcamp, created the platform in 2013 after teaching herself to code with the original intention of aggregating booking information for campsites on public lands. The idea stemmed from her own frustrations with navigating the fragmented booking and planning process across websites that were not user-friendly. She wanted to help people spend more nights outside. But she quickly found out that public campsites were so popular that her app, while informative, wasn't getting more people outdoors.

"People kept saying the same thing: 'it's a cool product but everything is booked up,'" Ravasio told Business Insider in an interview. "Eventually we looked to private landowners as the only way to fulfill our mission."

Hipcamp began partnering with private landowners in 2016 so that they could list their properties as campsites, and have now helped campers spend more than 2.5 million nights outside.

Today, Hipcamp announces another milestone: international expansion with the acquisition of Youcamp, an Australian campsite booking platform that operates very similarly to Hipcamp. The Youcamp team will continue to operate its 50,000 campsite listings, which will be bookable via Hipcamp.

"It's like we found a sibling," Ravasio said, noting how the two company's visions for the role of private lands in recreation align. "It's a really natural fit."

Ravasio felt like the country, known for its rugged outback and biodiversity, was a perfect place for the company's first foray into international expansion. "It's a country full of people who love the outdoors."

Hipcamp is additionally expanding into Canada, announcing that Canadian campsites are bookable on their site as of today.

To date, Hipcamp has received $40 million in funding by well-known VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz. With the expansion and Youcamp acquisition, Hipcamp now hosts over 420,000 campsite listings that range from tiny houses, yurts, and glamping experiences to small backyard patches and no-frills remote wilderness sites — and everything in between. This means that hopefully, more campers can continue to find spaces in which they can relax outdoors without needing to elbow their way into already-strapped national parks.

Ravasio has seen firsthand that Americans are craving escapes from their homes. Hipcamp initially recorded lots of cancellations when lockdowns were first put in place in March. But reservations picked back up as soon as lockdowns were lifted and states moved into less restrictive phases.

Often the same day that a state government would announce restriction liftings, Hipcamp would see "an explosion in bookings," Ravasio said. "That has really only picked up in terms of pace." 

Ravasio said that bookings through Hipcamp are now sending three times as much money to hosts as they were this time last year — a bright spot for rural tourism entrepreneurs during the pandemic, and further proof that the camping boom is substantial. Ravasio doesn't see the accelerated naturelust slowing down, either. Beyond the pandemic's influence on people's interest in camping, Ravasio also sees the need for nature as connected to the foregrounding of major social issues that are leaving American citizens weary.

"So many people are just fighting so hard right now for change," Ravasio said. "You can't fight all the time, you need to rest. And so I think providing a place for rest and relaxation, a place for people to heal and connect with themselves and their friends and family feels really powerful and important."

Some Americans, including Ravasio, have sought out more permanently rural situations, moving out of cities in favor of suburbs and small towns during the pandemic. With the rise of remote work, there's a chance that workers who would otherwise live in cities could be positively impacted by their increased contact to nature, and nudged towards caring more about the environment.

Ravasio believes in a concept called "biophilia," a theory that humanity has an innate love for the natural world, developed by biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson. Ravasio loosely explains the concept as, "when you spend time in the outdoors and with nature, you awaken this inherent love for the rest of life."

Only time will tell if this moment in history gives way to a larger trend towards environmental stewardship and a long-term turn towards rural spaces, but in the meantime, Hipcamp will continue to try and get as many people outdoors as possible.

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