Americans love camping. That statement is backed by a report by the Outdoor Foundation, which listed camping as the fourth most popular outdoor activity in 2016. Campsites all over the United States average an earning of around $24 billion annually, and according to the Outdoor Industry Association, the camping industry generates around $167 billion a year. However, Michael D’Agostino, a former investment banker who grew up camping, believes the industry is broken and is aiming to change the way Americans camp.
A few years ago, while D’Agostino was working in finance in New York, he wanted to get away for a relaxing weekend with his wife. He packed his car and drove to a state campground in New Jersey, expecting a quiet night under the stars. As he recalls, that wasn’t the case: “[…] we were across the car track from 40 or more people who were having a Wiccan party on the night of the full moon.” He found himself “directly across from a campsite of 40 people at a Wiccan convention: robes and UFO spotters and streaking and all. It was kind of like camping in Times Square.”
After that rough night, they packed up to head back home. “But on the way there, we saw a beautiful farm, and I said to my wife, ‘Man, if only we could go camping there.’ And then it hit me like a lightning bolt, what if we could go camping there?” And after that comment, an idea was born. His company, Tentrr, a free app which allows people to instantly find and reserve entirely private and equipped campsites on privately owned farms, all near major cities.
To offer the best camping experience to its users, all Tentrr camping sites are designed by D’Agostino himself and follow a standardized footprint: hand sewn canvas expedition tents which sit on an elevated deck. Users will also find sun showers, fire pits, grills, cookware and picnic tables. A good night’s sleep is practically guaranteed with featherbed toppers instead of sleeping bags. The average nightly fee for a campsite is $127, and campers just need to bring their own food and entertainment.
D’Agostino wants to make sure that while all Tentrr camping sites are fully equipped, it’s not glamping. “My mother told me I should never use the word ‘hate,’ but I hate the word ‘glamping,’” D’Agostino said. “It implies a certain bourgeois quality where a butler shows up with a silver tray of croissants. Camping is supposed to be a rustic experience.” That doesn’t mean he doesn’t want you to experience luxury, just a different idea of it. Luxury for D’Agostino means having acres and acres of land to yourself, and actually taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature. “We want you to go home to your city apartment with a real sense of accomplishment … maybe even feeling a little like Bear Grylls.”
Tentrr aims to have a diverse customer base, and their campsites have received interest from radically different traveler types, from stock market analysts to hipsters to honeymooners. “If you want to have a very posh weekend in the woods, you can do that,” D’Agostino says. “Or if you want to fish for your dinner and cook it over a campfire, you can do that. We’ll give you the tools and the setting to do whatever will make you relax and recharge and reconnect.”
For any users that want to be active while on holiday, Tentrr also connects campers with local activities. When a user selects a campsite, they have the option to screen for locations with access to wineries, skeet shooting or swimming holes, amongst other activities. D’Agostino is also working with local vendors to offer an application programming interface so that they can sell these types of services directly to Tentrr users.
When Tentrr launched last summer, it had only 50 campsites in New York State, but they are adding two campsites a week, and it’s moving past its beta phase, adding around 250 campsites spread across the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. By next year, D’Agostino plans to add the “San Francisco-Yosemite corridor, the American Southwest, and counterclockwise around the perimeter of the U.S., all within a few hours of main metropolitan cities, until all of the country’s top-50 hubs are served.”
Tentrr is benefiting rural economies, as it is attracting a lot of visitors to areas that are often overlooked when thinking of vacation spots. Carol Wingert, town supervisor for Tungsten, New York, says “I think it’s an awesome idea. It’s not bringing hundreds of people to one spot, so it’s environmentally sound.”
D’Agostino thinks that “the outdoors is pretty horribly represented online. Right now, you can Google until you’re blue in the face and you still won’t find the best places to go mountain biking, or canoeing, or fly-fishing, or hiking. You just can’t find those local goodies online.”
“We want to be like a Yelp for the outdoors,” D’Agostino says.