Going on holidays isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Back in the old days, people used to book a week at a nice beachside resort, pick up a backpack and live it up in hostels, or get the kids into the caravan and go on a road trip around the country. Nowadays, travellers are looking for experiences that are both cheaper and more authentic.
A new Sydney startup called Homecamp is hoping to provide travellers with both by having them camp out in suburban backyards. Dubbed ‘Airbnb for camping’, the idea for Homecamp came to David Abitbol when he was roadtripping around Australia with co-founder Audrey Krukoff.
“We were constantly debating where we were going to park our campervan in order to sleep. We were searching for an alternative to traditional camping and to wild camping, which is often unauthorised. So we wondered if we could park our campervan in someone’s garden, and for the next few days we moved around the neighborhood asking if we could use someone’s backyard and everyone said yes,” Abitbol said.
Abitbol, who is originally from France, said the encouragement and positive comments he got from other travellers convinced him the idea had business potential. Like Airbnb, people with some extra space can list their backyards on Homecamp, where campers can then browse listings and book a yard. The platform is currently free to use, with plans in place to monetise by taking a percentage of the booking fee.
Homecamp has seen some interest from travellers already thanks to word of mouth and a couple of Facebook campaigns. However, Abitbol acknowledges that, with people opening up their homes to strangers, the platform needs to built trust with – and between – campers and hosts.
“We will need to reconsider and focus on direct marketing and talk to customers in person,” he said.
The comparison to Airbnb also brings up the question of problems with local councils and State governments – Australian lawmakers have been notoriously unhappy with Airbnb. According to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment, camping sites must be approved by local councils.
“We will have somehow to deal with the local councils. We haven’t checked every single council in Australia, but we’ve done a lot of research. Camping on private properties is allowed most of the time under certain conditions, often referring to the duration of the stay, and the use of the amenities,” Abitbol explained.
“Government and city councils will have to evolve with the new economy often called ‘the sharing economy’. They will, somehow, have to find solutions that will adapt to new concepts the internet brings without blocking innovation and, more importantly, entrepreneurship.”
A few dozen camping spots have been listed on the platform already, with listings along Australia’s east coast and around New Zealand ranging in price from $10 to $50.
Working out of Sydney’s Fishburners coworking space, Abitbol is positive about his experience in Australia and the opportunities he has found here.
“When I left Paris for Sydney, I really felt I was leaving the ‘new Silicon Valley’ of France. The French government has implemented a lot of initiatives to help the new generation of entrepreneurs innovate, and I can feel the same here in Australia,” he said.
“I think there is a fantastic opportunity here in Australia to make a difference. There is less competition and more support between startups, which makes it easier to turn an idea into a business. Compared to France, it’s quicker and easier to create a company here.”
Provided it can avoid problems with councils, Homecamp could prove successful. Airbnb has shown that travellers enjoy staying with locals outside city centres on the cheap, while hosts are willing to give up some of their space to make some extra cash. However, unlike Airbnb, which requires hosts to have an extra room or be away in order for a guest to stay, camping in the backyard means hosts and campers don’t have to share close quarters, and hosts don’t have to leave to have anyone stay. People who may shy away from Airbnb out of fear over sharing or leaving a house or apartment with a stranger may also find Homecamp an easier concept to get on board with.
Abitbol’s goals for Homecamp in 2015 are simple.
“We want to democratise camping, get people enjoying the Aussie outdoors, and have more home owners listing their property on Homecamp. Our aim in 2015 is for both the host and the property owner to have a safe and enjoyable experience using Homecamp.”