Let’s face it, a camping trip in the backcountry could be the perfect company off-site—If it weren’t for the down-to-earth discomfort, food that isn’t exactly fancy fare and just plain hard work. After all, who wants to rough it during a rough week of work?
No one, frankly. And that’s why “glamping” (glamorous camping) is replacing camping as an alluring option for rustic group retreats. You’ve still got the fresh air, the team bonding and the natural surroundings, but now hot dogs have been replaced with haute cuisine, sleeping bags with silk sheets and roughing it with regal relaxation. Of course, if you’re looking to instill some group unity, team-building activities are available at most glamping locales, and the outdoorsy equivalent of your typical meeting rooms are also offered in many instances.
The forerunner and perhaps the epitome of luxury camping can be found at The Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Mont., on about 37,000 gorgeous acres not far from Missoula. While the resort’s luxury lodging features your typically exquisite five-star accommodations, it’s the glamping facilities that have really taken off for this trendsetter.
“The Resort at Paws Up actually feels responsible for setting this trend,” says John Romfo, director of marketing. “Glamping is all the rage these days among guests nostalgic for that earthy boy/girl scout adventure yet unwilling to negotiate on any of life's little comforts.”
At first glance, visitors to one of Paws Up's three glamping venues—including its first site, Tent City—might be under-whelmed by the normalcy of the numerous tents on display. But pull aside the canvas entrance flaps and the ambience is more similar to a room at the Ritz than anything Lewis and Clark ever experienced. A fluffy feather bed is adorned with fine linens; artwork graces the wall; a small library of books offers reading choices; and there’s no need for staggering around in the dark with a flashlight, as electricity awaits as well.
Nearby, attendees can enjoy their private bathhouse bathroom, a dining pavilion with top-notch cuisine and even a spa tent for a pampering massage. Should you need help with anything—from baiting a hook to uncorking a bottle of fine wine—a camping butler is at your beck and call. And if meetings, team-building and group activities are your priority, Paws Up succeeds along those lines as well.
“We offer quite a large menu of team-building activities, particularly for the smaller groups of 30 people or less,” says Romfo, who mentions scavenger hunts and paintball among the more than 20 choices.
Perhaps most surprising of all is the array of meeting room venues—including an executive board room for 10 with breathtaking views, a handsome bunkhouse (hosting 40), a luxury “skybox” complete with full bar overlooking a rodeo area, and an auditorium-barn with capacity for 200 attendees. A rustic 8,000-square-foot conference center is also on the way, anticipated to launch next year or in 2010.
Another example of the new trend is Clayoquot Wilderness Resort in Tofino, B.C. Remotely situated on a Vancouver Island fjord, the site provides the expected breathtaking woods, fantastic fishing and horseback-riding adventures. What will surprise first-timers are tents adorned with Persian rugs, down quilts and electricity, which adjoin a sauna and hot tubs. And planners will appreciate the meeting tents and facilities that include state-of-the-art A/V equipment and ultra-fast Internet connectivity.
On the slightly more rustic side, El Capitan Canyon—just north of Santa Barbara, Calif. by the Los Padres National Forest—offers 26 white-canvas safari tents to augment their 108 cedar cabins. Built on raised wooden decks with comfortable bedding, the tents lack some of the “luxuries” you’ll find at other glampsites, such as electricity, but are still a good choice for those deterred by the hardships of serious camping. Plus, the cost is far more in line with mid-level hotel rates than the rates at Paws Up or Clayoquot.
So, while planning any new type of group retreat is a journey into the unknown, planners coordinating a glamping trip can be ensured of three certainties for attendees: fresh air, comfort and an “in-tents” experience.
Clayoquot Wilderness Resort
El Capitan Canyon
The Resort at Paws Up