Using Market Research to Define Outdoor Hospitality

Outdoor hospitality is a rapidly evolving sector that blends traditional hospitality with the allure of nature. This white paper explores the role of market research in defining and enhancing the outdoor hospitality experience, based on comprehensive research involving 2,900 participants. The goal is to understand the components and experiences that define outdoor hospitality, the human elements involved, and how it differentiates from other hospitality forms.


In hospitality, the industry is typically viewed as including businesses that serve four different sectors: Food & Beverage, Recreation, Lodging, and Travel & Tourism. Based on these four sectors, outdoor hospitality includes businesses or services that fit within each of the four sectors, including:

  • Food and Beverages
    • On-site at campgrounds and outdoor resorts
    • Attending an outdoor barbeque offered by a restaurant, guide service, and/or catererDinner at a farm offering farm-to-table meals
  • Lodging
    • Camping at a privately owned and operated campground
    • Staying at an outdoor resort
    • Staying at a hunting or fishing lodge
  • Recreation
    • Access and proximity to outdoor rec
    • On-site activities
    • Off-site activities
    • Nature viewing and experiences
    • Hunting & fishing
    • Motorized activities
  • Travel and tourism
    • Guided trips and activities
    • Sightseeing
    • All-in-one packages


The definition of outdoor hospitality was developed through a multi-stage survey process. Participants screened for their involvement in outdoor activities were asked to evaluate their attitudes and behaviors related to outdoor recreation. The survey aimed to identify the key components that participants associate with outdoor hospitality.


Key Components of Outdoor Hospitality

The research identified eight key components that collectively reach 94% of outdoor hospitality participants:

  1. Accommodations: Includes camping at privately owned campgrounds, staying at outdoor resorts, and hunting or fishing lodges.
  2. Self-Guided Activities: Such as renting canoes, kayaks, or boats, and skiing or snowboarding.
  3. Guided Trips: Including guided hunting or fishing trips, whitewater rafting, and backcountry snowmobile or ATV trips.
  4. Outdoor Food Services: Features like outdoor barbecues and farm-to-table dinners.
  5. Human Elements: The presence of staff for assistance and guidance, as well as interactions with other guests.
  6. Outdoor Recreation: Access to on-site or nearby recreational activities.
  7. Outdoor Features: Fire pits and communal outdoor seating areas.
  8. Time Spent Outdoors: Emphasis on spending the majority of time outside.



What belongs in outdoor hospitality?

Participants were asked to identify which components they believe should be part of the definition of outdoor hospitality. The majority included accommodations, self-guided and guided activities, and outdoor food services in their definitions.



Human Elements in Outdoor Hospitality

An essential aspect of outdoor hospitality is the human element. The survey revealed that:

  • 55% believe staff should be available when needed but not necessarily actively involved.
  • 41% value staff who are actively involved, offering assistance and guidance.
  • 27% appreciate the involvement of other guests in the experience.
  • Overall, 87% of participants feel some type of human element is necessary, even if it is minimal.


Findings - Human Elements in Outdoor Hospitality


Differentiation from Other Hospitality Forms

Outdoor hospitality is distinct from traditional hospitality in several ways:

  • Nature-Based Experiences: Emphasis on nature and outdoor activities.
  • Informal Interactions: Guests value more personal and informal interactions compared to the formal service often found in hotels and resorts.
  • Activity-Focused: Activities like guided trips and self-guided adventures are central to the experience.


“I guess it’s more activity-based and pretty much the same at each place. Like at  a hotel it would be a concierge telling you things to do and times things are happening.”
Michelle, new RVer

“I think the motivation is different. We do go to resorts and the resort is all about their own version of hospitality. outdoor hospitality might be something as simple as you charter a kayaking trip with someone and the guy treats you to a shore lunch. That would be great hospitality on such a small, small level.”
— Robert, experienced RVer

“More nature based, like trails maybe. Where the focus is staying outside rather than being stuck inside.”
— Steven, tent camper

Guest Preferences for 2024

Looking ahead, the research identified trends in guest preferences for outdoor hospitality experiences:

  • Glamping: Staying at outdoor resorts designed for glamping is popular among higher-income guests.
  • Full-Service Campgrounds: Guests also seek campgrounds offering a full array of services and amenities.
  • Minimal Facilities: A smaller segment prefers campgrounds with minimal facilities or dispersed camping for a more rugged experience.


Findings - Guest Preferences for 2024


What components have the greatest reach in determining outdoor hospitality?

These 8 items reach 94% of outdoor hospitality participants: 

  1. Camping at a privately owned and operated campground or outdoor resort
  2. Staff and/or guides who are actively involved by offering assistance, guidance, information, etc.
  3. Staff and/or guides who are available when needed but do not need to be actively involved
  4. Other guests involved in the experience
  5. Close proximity to or inclusive of outdoor recreation
  6. Spending the majority of your time outdoors
  7. Accommodations typically associated with the outdoors and camping
  8. Includes an outdoor area such as a fire pit and an outdoor area to sit


Findings - What components have the greatest reach in determining outdoor hospitality


The Definition

Outdoor hospitality is distinguished by its accommodations (e.g., tents, RVs, cabins, or glamping structures), venue types (e.g., campgrounds and outdoor resorts), proximity to outdoor recreation, and an emphasis on facilitating guest interaction and outdoor experiences (e.g., by providing communal fireside seating). What unifies these elements is the incorporation of staff, guides, or experts who are, at the very least, available for assistance and guidance or actively engaged in delivering support, information, instruction, and guidance.



Market research plays a crucial role in defining outdoor hospitality by identifying the components and experiences valued by guests. The combination of accommodations, activities, human elements, and nature-based experiences sets outdoor hospitality apart from traditional hospitality sectors. By understanding these preferences, outdoor hospitality providers can tailor their offerings to meet the needs and expectations of their guests, ensuring a unique and satisfying experience.



Based on the findings, outdoor hospitality providers should consider the following strategies:

  1. Enhance Accommodations: Offer a variety of lodging options, from traditional camping to luxurious glamping.
  2. Expand Activity Offerings: Provide a mix of guided and self-guided activities to cater to different interests and skill levels.
  3. Focus on Human Elements: Ensure staff are available and well-trained to assist guests, enhancing the overall experience.
  4. Promote Nature-Based Features: Emphasize the natural surroundings and outdoor amenities to attract guests seeking a connection with nature.
  5. Stay Informed: Continuously conduct market research to stay updated on changing guest preferences and emerging trends in outdoor hospitality.

Get Started with Cairn Consulting Group

Ready to take your outdoor hospitality business to the next level? Contact Cairn Consulting Group today to learn more about our services and how we can help you achieve your goals. With our unparalleled expertise in outdoor research, data collection, and data measurement, you can trust us to provide the insights and strategies you need to thrive in this competitive industry.

Cairn Consulting Group is the expert in outdoor hospitality, and we are here to guide you every step of the way. Discover the difference our expertise can make for your business and join the ranks of successful outdoor hospitality providers who have benefited from our comprehensive services.

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