May 31, 2012 at 8:24 AM ET
When John Lee, a doctor from North Yorkshire, England, was looking for a place to holiday in Australia last December, he started by researching the sorts of properties he was used to: five-star hotels.
What he ended up in, though, was a tent. Not just any tent, but a spacious, wood-floored safari-style enclosure at Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef camp on the coast of Western Australia. While Lee was able to enjoy some of the same amenities he’d found on other vacations (chef-cooked meals, delicious wine, high-thread-count sheets and views of unspoiled beaches), he also found something new: a clear ecological conscience.
“I really hate the amount of waste that goes on in the modern hotel experience,” Lee says. At Sal Salis, where the setting in a remote World Heritage Area required using resources like water and electricity very sparingly, he felt “reassured that the property’s eco-credentials were more than just lip service.” Between this environmental consciousness — and the rare access it provided to wild creatures, like whale sharks, sea turtles, black-footed rock wallabies, kangaroos and birds — Sal Salis was, says Lee, “a dream destination.”
It’s a sentiment that Garry Raynor, the founder of U.K.-based online hub GoGlamping, understands. (The term “glamping” is traveler’s shorthand for “glamorous camping.”) Since starting his venture in 2009, Raynor says, he’s seen a huge increase in travelers looking for more alternative, ecologically sensitive kinds of accommodations — tents, yurts, teepees and the like. And though many of these properties now command the same sort of day rates as posh hotels, they offer certain benefits that aren’t possible at more traditional lodgings.
“I’ve heard what has now become a tired and tedious argument: ‘What’s the point of glamping? You may as well stay in a hotel,’ ” says Raynor. “Well, it’s all about the experience you won’t get in a hotel.”
That glamping experience, of course, is as varied as the properties themselves — and the landscapes they inhabit.
For Mariam Aref, who stayed at the Galapagos Safari Camp on the island of Santa Cruz this March, sleeping in a platform tent was the only way to properly pay respect to the Galapagos’s unique flora and fauna. Having a full-immersion experience in the landscape, she says, “was like a private viewing at a museum. Except nothing was on exhibition … everything was in its own element.”
To Holly Saydah, a recruiter for a San Francisco law firm, the appeal of glamping had more to do with feeling connected — comfortably — to nature. Of her February stay in an over-water tent at 4 Rivers Floating Lodge, in the remote Koh Kong province of Cambodia, Saydah says, “I had all the shelter and privacy I needed, but every view, no matter whether I was taking a shower or lying on the bed, was just of trees and a beautiful river.” The shower and the bed were especially welcome, she allows, in a region where the heat and insects might have seemed otherwise oppressive.
“It wasn’t so cushy that it felt insulated from nature,” Saydah said. “But it let us enjoy being in nature.”
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