You might think when people are picking campsites, they’d be influenced by views or distance to bathrooms. And, if you asked them, that’s what they may say, too. However, a new study in the Journal of Environmental Management says the biggest factors in picking the perfect campsite are price and the availability of electricity.
Camping is in the midst of a renaissance, much of it due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the KOA’s 2021 North American Camping Report, 48 million households went camping once in 2020. That’s about 10 million households more than went camping in 2019. In addition, more than 50 percent of those 48 million say they’re going to camp more in 2021. Of course, this increase in interest also means greater demand on available outdoor resources. And that’s where the new study comes in.
The study is the work of Will Rice, an assistant professor of outdoor recreation and wild land management at the University of Montana, and Soyoung Park, an assistant professor of hospitality and tourism management at Florida Atlantic University. The researchers went through 23,000 reservations at the Watchman campground in Utah’s Zion National Park. Variables such the nearest dump station, number of neighboring campsites, and river access were used to sort campsites. In addition to electricity and price, proximity to Virgin River, and ease of access were also big motivators.
In an article on the University of Montana website, Rice says the data they gathered should be relatable to many Americans who camp. “For instance, anyone who has ever picked a campsite within a campground has certainly dealt with the dilemma of proximity to the restroom. I mean, we want to be close enough to make navigation easy in the middle of the night. But not so close that we’re smelling it and listening to the door open and close all night.”
Rice says what sets this study apart is the emphasis on revealed preferences (what people do). Previous research on recreation decision-making relied on stated preferences (what people say). According to Rice, a “big data” approach can help influence how outdoor resources are used in the future.
“Since the 1960s, park managers—in collaboration with researchers—have been trying to figure out how people make decisions when choosing campsites, trails, or any number of recreation facilities,” Rice says. “This information is vital for recreation planning, not only for improving visitor experiences, but also for ensuring the protection of ecological resources and fair allocation of recreation opportunities.”
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