Friday, October 2, 2015

Glamping: ecotourism or fetishizing rural life?

In recent years people have become more interested in rural life, from the idealized blue skies, natural weather, and the air free of pollutants. This has led to a rise in rural gentrification as urban dwellers move into the rural wilderness, with the negative effects of forcing lower income residents out. This interest has also encouraged ecotourism and with it, glamorous camping, or "glamping."

Glamping is defined as the pairing of luxury travel and the intimacy of camping. Glampers will make travel arrangements and expect to have some idealized camping experience with all the creature comforts of home. In the link cited above a mother bemoans the notion of body heat warming a tent at night, while praising the intimacy of sitting around a campfire with her child. The ecotourism effort begins to sound more like a sideshow and less appreciation of the outdoors, while spreading waste and rubbish in the outdoors, bringing in the urbanization to the wilderness. is one such place where one can arrange their very own glamping excursion. The site promises game drives in Africa, Mongolian yurts in Mongolia, or beachside lodgings in Australia. The traveller will of course be safely ensconced in luxury throughout their trip. 

Glamping is a reflection of the overarching trend of gentrifying rural areas and fetishizing the rural life. Glampers buy from REI, Columbia Sportswear, and other companies that proclaim themselves to be outdoor ready and fashionable. God forbid one walk a mountain trail without keeping in the best of duds. In one article it's pitched as ideal for Baby Boomers who are going soft and no longer want to put up with the pains that come with camping. 

In New York City some hotels have introduced outdoor suites. These suites bring out tents, marshmellows, and promises the wonders of camping, while snuggled in the safety of a five star hotel in the middle of New York City. This reflects the fetish that rurality has become, a fantasy that can be played out in the middle of the city. 

From a land use and ecotourist perspective glamping has the potential to help rural communities by supplying an influx of money. The issue is that this doesn't help train the rural community and there is very little indication that glamping is run by locals and not big city companies. In a study on Costa Rica and their ecotourism program we can see that ecotourism and the activity that comes with it generates more income for those engaged in the tourist industry. 

In the instance of Costa Rica researchers looked through the data that had been generated and found that ecotourism may generate jobs, access to better education, and possibly reduce economic disparities. Virtually everything in the Osa Peninsula is dependent on ecotourism. The direct and indirect economic activity generated by ecotourism is critical, for instance, for local shop owners, farmers, fishermen, and road workers. As one interviewee put it, “without tourism, no one would have money to spend in my store”. (P. 14)

So what then is the purpose of glamping? A Google search unveils hundreds of glamping opportunities across the world. Name a state or a country and there is an opportunity to glamp. Many websites promise tourists will discover the outdoors. There is profit to be made from the tourists which can benefit the ones who put together the glamping packages. But as mentioned above there is primarily an increase in service jobs, not a reduction in poverty or lack of education. The tourists come, see the sights, and leave. But the benefits, as seen with Costa Rica is that all participants, local and tourist, favor protecting ecological resources, preventing hunting and deforestation to protect biodiversity. 

In the end glamorous camping may highlight the good parts of rural areas, with its majestic views and unique experiences for middle class and wealthy tourists. It may reinforce tourists' believing in preserving national and state parks. But there is no indication that tourists become aware of the harsh realities that rural residents deal with on a day to day basis, such as crushing poverty, lack of clean water, sewage, or good roads. In that sense glamping may very well continue the tradition of rural gentrification, where impoverished residents are minimized.

Related blog articles on gentrifictation and ecotourism can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here


Taylor Call said...

I absolutely had to comment on this post. I find it hilarious and off-putting at the same time. It would not be that surprising if the ones making the money off of this trend were urban companies. However, it seems just as plausible that rural people would be attracted to this opportunity as well. The barrier to entry in this type of business seems fairly low and would be fairly easy to set up (assuming you live in a location that is attractive to glampers). Even though I think glamping is silly, it still can provide an opportunity to rural communities that have little to offer in the way of jobs.

I could not help but think how someone that is used to camping, backpacking, and actually "roughing it" would react to a glamper. I think they would have to bite their tongue a lot. I would bet that everyone in the local bar would know everything about the glampers too.

I can't believe there is glamping in NYC. Do people really think that is camping? Even when I set up a tent in the back yard as a kid, I knew it wasn't "camping." Oh well, if people want to spend a lot of money to glamp, there will always be a person there to take their money.

Daniel Quinley said...

More than anything, glamping seems to be symptomatic of a trend in society to fence off the outdoors, rather than experience them. With the galloping experiences, particularly those described in New York City, there is a massive element of fetishization. Urban elites essentially co-opt "the best" parts of a rural experience and divorce them from context. I think we can endlessly argue the wisdom of this, but ultimately, I think making s'mores in the middle of NYC is pretty harmless.

What is more disturbing is when such experiences invade the rural, and where ecotourism becomes the sole economy generator for a region. But, as with mining, agriculture, and other single industries in rural towns without economies of scale, if the whims of the urban elites change, the town is up a creek without a paddle. Furthermore, when glamping in nature, I can only wonder what John Muir would have thought. The rural is a unique experience, and by importing urban comforts, I have to wonder at the level of dilution that occurs. It's funny to me that both the urban elites and rural folk will wear the same equipment (for example, LL Bean waterproof shoes). But the difference may be in the use--the urban elite discard their equipment after a season, whereas I have clear memories of sewing and re-Scotchguarding my pair of LL Bean shoes.

Glamping provides an access point to nature, no doubt about that. But I wonder if it is useful--like Yosemite valley. Does it merely provide a day's diversion? Or does it open the urban elite eyes to nature, rurality, and the complexities of life outside the city?