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Roughing it is not what it used to be

Jennifer Collins Jul 28, 2009

Roughing it is not what it used to be

Jennifer Collins Jul 28, 2009


Steve Chiotakis: Summer vacation is in full swing. But it seems that in the middle of a recession, Americans are foregoing a stay at the Four Seasons and opting instead to check out a little more rustic scene. The National Parks Service reports Yellowstone visitation is up 12 percent this year and other parks are seeing similar increases. National campground chain KOA reports the percentage of first-time campers is at an 18-year high.
Marketplace’s Jennifer Collins has more.

Jennifer Collins: Corie Querubin says it wasn’t too hard for her friends to coax her into her first camping trip.

Corie Querubin: They were telling me about it and I said, really? We’re going to have a pool where we camp?

There’s also wifi in this wilderness. And a general store. And an ice cream social every Saturday.

Welcome to the recessionista vacation, a KOA spot about 40 miles from Los Angeles. Manager Rose Jones says people may not have the money to stay in a hotel suite, but they don’t want to leave behind the kitchen sink — and by that I actually mean the kitchen sink. This KOA brings in portable stations with basins and faucets.

Rose Jones: ‘Cause if they’re here for the whole weekend or several days, they don’t want to leave sticky dishes.

Jones says sites have been in such demand, she’s had to add a new wing to the campground. She says campers are also starting to bring the “good life” with them — like a propane camp oven.

Jones: So they can have their morning muffins.

Goodies like that are driving business at outfitters like REI, where family tent sales are up 17 percent. Rick Meade is a camping product manager there:

Rick Meade: What we do see is sales is definitely sales around really luxury products. Sales in these three and a half inch thick self inflating pads are really off the charts. So it’s kind of like comfort food for camping, if you will.

Now a luxury item for a camper — a propane oven, for example — costs a couple hundred dollars. Compare that to a night at the Bellaggio. That can run you into thousands.

Still, Meade says tents are getting more and more like Vegas hotels — with multiple rooms and screened-in dining areas. Corie Querubin bought her tent the day before her trip.

Querubin: I’m glad we got this tent because we saw one that was smaller and I’m saying you’ll need room for all your stuff. So this is a good size for two people.

The tent is neatly packed with chairs, a comforter, even an air mattress. The only problem: there’s no electricity to blow up that mattress. Ah, the great outdoors.

I’m Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

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