This article studies the dynamics of the market, the growth drivers, the camping industry chain, and the future opportunities and challenges of China's camping business.
In particular, we will share with you insights learned from an interview with Anna, an industry expert with 8 years of experience in cross-border e-commerce. Anna is the Chairman of Guangdong Geertop Outdoor Gear Co., Ltd (Chinese: 广东吉拓户外用品有限公司) and a contracted instructor for Alibaba, China's leading e-commerce platform.
After three years of following strict rules and reducing travel as much as possible, Chinese consumers' desire for outdoor activities, social interactions, and new experiences has never been keener. These needs bolstered the flourishing camping business. Search volume for the term "camping" on the Chinese search engine Baidu has climbed to a higher level since May 2021, soared in May 2022, and remains higher than the four-year average level, according to statistics from Baidu Index. Will Chinese's consumer's interest in camping be just a short-lived fad, or will it create a long-term trend and continue to bring opportunities?
Camping makes a new fashion in China
Dating back to the early 20th century, camping as a recreational activity has long been popular in the west. In traditional, primitive camping trips, campers pack their tents, sleeping bags, and other equipment, go into the woods, and stay overnight in the natural area. Highlighting independence and self-reliance, primitive camping could be tough and sometimes appalling. Camping became easier as organized campsites and auto camping emerged and save campers the hassle of lugging all the equipment and setting them up. Glamorous camping (or "glamping"), requiring a minimum effort and offering comfortable experiences, began to gain momentum in the mid-2000s and is now more popular than ever. Campers arrive at a campsite to find accommodation ready and waiting, with comfortable beds and amenities such as electricity, running water, cellphone reception, and sometimes even heating facilities.
Camping took off in China in 2020 and continued to boom in 2022. Search volume for camping services buzzed up 75% year on year in March 2022 on Mafengwo, a platform that helps users develop self-guided travel plans. Camping trip bookings on Trip.com during China's National Day holiday (October 1 to October 7) increased more than tenfolds from the same period in 2021. Many might have seen camping as a short-lived fad when it became trendy in China in 2020, but camping's popularity is only increasing. Over 34000 new camping-related companies (with camping in their names or business scopes) were registered in 2022, as shown on Tianyancha, a Chinese business data platform.
A look into the thriving camping business
Camping became all the rage in China over the past three years thanks to the following drivers.
Firstly, Chinese people's need for outdoor activities clashed with strict COVID-19-related travel restrictions, translating into solid demand for camping. During the pandemic, cross-municipal and provincial trips and cross-border travel were inconvenient. Camping at local parks and nearby countryside allowed people to enjoy fresh air and closeness to nature and to meet up with friends and families while saving them the trouble of taking COVID tests and quarantine.
Secondly, in an interview with EqualOcean, Anna, Chairman of Guangdong Geertop Outdoor Gear Co., Ltd (Chinese: 广东吉拓户外用品有限公司), said that family camping is one of the main consumer scenarios for camping. The two-child policy launched in 2016, along with the three-child policy in 2021, pushed up demand in the childcare market. Parents, especially young couples, look for more recreational and educational family activities. "Demand for outdoor parent-child activities has grown significantly after the release of the two-child policy," Anna added.
Thirdly, the Chinese government's support contributed to the continued boom of the camping industry. Fourteen central departments jointly issued the "Guideline on Promoting the Development of Camping and Leisure Tourism" on November 21, 2022, encouraging parks, golf courses, village homestays, and holiday resorts to offer space for camping or offer related services. Soon after the release of the Guideline, the stock price of Chinese camping equipment provider Mobi Garden (Chinese: 牧高笛) surged to CNY 68.19 (USD 9.9). The company's revenue in the first three quarters of 2022 topped CNY 1158 million, an increase of 59.96% year over year.
We take a look at the camping industry chain in China and present some of the major players in the following chart. Upstream companies in the camping industry are raw materials (e.g. functional textile, plastic composites) providers, including Taihua New Material (Chinese: 台华新材, SH603055) and Huasheng Flex (Chinese: 华生科技, SH605180). Midstream players are camping supplies manufacturers such as Mobi Garden (Chinese: 牧高笛, SH603908), Me Nature (Chinese: 浙江自然, SH605080), and Yotrio Group (Chinese: 浙江永强, SZ002489). Downstream companies are the campsite operating firms and camping event organizers, including DARE (Chinese: 大热荒野), Hi!King (Chinese: 嗨KING野奢营地), ABC Camping Country, and the camping equipment brands, such as Beijing Sanfo Outdoor Products (Chinese: 三夫户外), TOREAD (Chinese: 探路者), and Naturehike (Chinese: 挪客).
Camping to be a long-term trend in China
We believe that the camping trend is here to stay as China's economy keeps growing, the government supports the camping industry, and room for growth remains in the domestic market.
To begin with, China's economic development and urbanization have fueled and will continue to pump up Chinese consumers' demand for recreational products and services. China's GDP per capita reached CNY 71,800 in 2020 and CNY 81,000 in 2021, and the disposable personal income reached CNY 36,883 in 2022, a nominal increase of 5.0% over the previous year, and 2.9% in real terms. China's urban population, the main consumer group for camping, reached 92.71 million as of the end of 2022, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. As economic growth brings raising living standards, consumers will have stronger needs for recreational activities such as camping, and their spending power and willingness to spend on related products and services will also increase.
Besides, the government supports the development of the camping industry and market players will benefit from related policies. CPC Central Committee and the State Council issued "Outline of Strategic Planning for Expanding Domestic Demand (2022-2035)". It highlights promoting cultural and tourism consumption and encourages the development of diversified, customized tourism products and services. Eight departments, including the General Administration of Sports and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, formulated the "Outdoor Sports Industry Development Plan (2022-2025)". The Plan stated that the government will continue to stimulate consumption of outdoor sports and it expects the total size of the outdoor sports industry to exceed CNY 3 trillion by 2025. It specified to improve the supply of camping products, accelerate the construction of camping infrastructure, and promote the development of campsite-supporting facilities.
Moreover, China's domestic camping market size is still small compared to those of other countries and it will certainly grow bigger in the coming years. Around 3% of the Chinese population goes camping each year, while in the US, the figure is 10%, according to Daxue Consulting, a Chinese market research and consulting firm. Besides, according to research firm iiMedia Research, the market size of camping equipment and campground in China reached CNY 74.75 billion in 2021, up 62.5 percent year-on-year. It predicts that the market will grow to CNY 248.3 billion by 2025. This shows that there is significant room for the development of the Chinese camping industry in terms of both demand and supply.
Future opportunities and challenges
The 2022 Tmall & Taobao Camping Industry Trends White Paper shows that there are more than 52,000 campground-related companies in China. Among them, 8,800 registered in 2020, an increase of 228% year-on-year, and another 21,000 joined the game in 2021. Competition is increasingly fierce. Although the camping market will continue to increase in size, the growth rate will slow. To survive the stiff competition in the coming years, companies will need to invest in innovation to win over consumers with distinctive products, or in supply chain management to outperform competitors in lowering costs and improving efficiency.
In the future, diversification will be key to the growth of the camping industry. A variety of themes could be introduced into camping activities. Networking camping events that bring together strangers, outdoor sports camping that involves paddleboarding, yoga, or frisbee, and education-themed camping activities where knowledge about wildlife, astronomy, and farming is shared, to name a few. Cultural activities like book reading events, live music performances, and movies could be arranged at campsites.
In addition, camping businesses could target consumers from various age ranges and launch parent-child and elderly camping services. Tapping into consumers' interest in traveling, companies could work with travel agents and tourist attraction operators. Innovation in business models will also bring new growth opportunities. For example, campground operators could set up memberships.
Global expansion is another path to growth. Camping as a leisure activity has been popular in Europe, the UK, and the US for over a century. Camping demand in these markets is still on the rise. Take the US market, about 20% of Americans went camping in 2021, with more than 8 million of them doing it for the first time, according to a study by campground search and review app The Dyrt. Products of Chinese camping companies are price competitive and businesses could tap into overseas demand through exporting.
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