By Janene Carey
As COVID-19 restrictions shrink our travel horizons, glamping is undergoing a boom in popularity.
Bellingen-based Stylish Camping Co began as an online store in 2014, selling upmarket canvas bell tents to people who prefer their back-to-nature experiences to be as luxurious as possible.
Featuring a tall centre pole that provides plenty of head clearance inside, the tents are easy to erect, sturdy, waterproof and versatile.
They also look beautiful, which makes them an appealing choice for stylish outdoor events.
A year after starting the business, owner Louisa Fallon expanded into the full-service hire space, supplying and installing not only the tents but also the complete set of homely touches, including beds, linen, soft furnishings, mats, lamps and even fairy lights.
“Prior to COVID, I was primarily doing weddings, retreats, festivals and birthdays,” Louisa said. “Once COVID happened, all of the hire bookings ground to a bit of a halt.”
But there’s a silver lining – sales of the elegant, specially-designed tents went through the roof.
“I have the tents made overseas and I normally put in an order for new stock once or twice a year,” Louisa said. “When we went into the lockdown last September/October, I got a new delivery and I sold out of all my tents within three weeks.”
The buyers fell into a few different categories. Some were staying at home, in isolation or on a staycation, wanting extra living space in their garden. Some were staying close to home, planning drive-and-camp holidays in nearby national parks or state forests.
And some buyers were making a business investment to provide glamping on their rural properties via sites like Hipcamp, seeing a pandemic-fuelled demand for nature-focused experiences that let you get away from other people.
Louisa has also sold tents to people whose property doesn’t yet have a house on it, so they temporarily stay or live in a bell tent on their land.
“It’s such a diverse customer base,” she said. “Because the tents are so diverse in their use.
“They’re not just camping tents, they can be used for communal lounge space, as a home-schooling space, an extra room for when extra people come and stay, and off-grid living.”
Asked what motivates people to buy an old-fashioned canvas bell tent rather than a modern polyester one costing half as much, Louisa has a long list of reasons.
“What people seem to like is the style of them, the aesthetics. They also are a very sturdy tent, particularly in extreme weather conditions. I’ve been in camp sites when huge winds come through and the bell tent will be the only one left standing the next morning.
“They’re also very easy to set up, it takes less than 15 minutes. They’re suitable for all seasons. They can be really warm in winter, and in summer you can unzip and roll up the side walls to let the breeze through the flyscreens. There’s also the headroom, they are tall tents. You don’t have to lie down to put your pants on!”