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Here’s what the campground of the future could look like

Automation, robots, and solar power in 2030

rendering of campground All renderings courtesy of Kampgrounds of America (KOA)

At last week’s RV trade show (RVX) in Salt Lake City, there were a few campers and trailers—like this one from SylvanSport and this one from Winnebago—that impressed with their design and innovation. But for the most part, while the RV Industry Association (RVIA) put on a forward-thinking trade show, many of the exhibitors and manufacturers were stuck in the past. Love campers and trailers? Come join our community group.

Rows of copy-cat travel trailers, behemoth Class As, and ho-hum design left us wondering: Who is thinking about what the future of RVs and camping will look like? An answer came from an unexpected source—the Kampgrounds of America, better known as KOA.

KOA is working to shed its decidedly stodgy reputation by envisioning what camping will look like in the future. As the world’s largest system of open-to-the-public campgrounds, KOA consists of more than 500 campgrounds in almost every state and in many Canadian provinces. At RVX, we took a tour of its vision for camping in 2030, a whimsical and elaborate dream for KOAs in five different ecosystems: forest, coastal, desert, mountain, and urban.

The result? A fantastical and fresh take that some RV journalists like Chuck Woodbury are calling “unrealistic and economically impossible.” It’s true that many of these ideas might be expensive to implement and maintain in 2019. But in a connected world that’s innovating faster than ever before, there’s no harm in applying a Jetsons-like thought experiment to a North American RV industry that, at times, looks unimaginative.

Below, the seven most compelling visions for what the campground of tomorrow might look like.

In the coastal KOA, a self-driving RV sits on a solar-powered pad to charge and run the RV’s systems.

Increasing automation

It’s taken years for campsites to be booked online, and KOA believes that by 2030 this technology will go even farther. Not only will you be able to book campsites through apps and kiosks onsite, but campers should also expect more virtual reality (VR). How helpful would it be to see the views and amenities of a campsite in VR before you book it?

KOA thinks that geofencing could work well at campsites as well. RVs would drive in and be automatically checked in and directed to the appropriate site via lighted signs.

Zero-entry, lake-like pools are one of the amenities in future desert campgrounds.

More recreational activities

KOAs have long been known for family-forward amenities in their 57-year history, and the campground of the future would have even more of that. You can expect more hiking trails, pocket parks, pools, dog parks, and a focus on games like bocce ball and tennis.

In coastal campgrounds, campers will be so close to the water that it’s easier to enjoy beachside amenities and swimming. In the desert, KOA envisions cooling, lake-like pools integrated into the landscape, some with water slides.

Delivery robots

Large-scale companies like Amazon and FedEx are already testing delivery robots for their businesses, so it makes sense that robots and drones might also be part of the future campground. Delivery bots could provide firewood, packages, or whatever food you might need for your vacation, and all of these items could be preordered and transported to your site.

Huge solar arrays provide shade and power at the desert KOA.

A focus on solar power and sustainability

When we spoke to KOA president and CEO Toby O’Rourke at RVX she emphasized that tomorrow’s campgrounds need to “focus on sustainability and lower their carbon footprint.” In their plans, campsites in nearly every locale embrace solar to power the campsites—and your RVs. Instead of plugging in, KOA thinks you’ll drive onto a giant, solar-powered pad—kind of like a wireless cell phone charger—to charge and power your rig.

Especially in sunny desert climates, solar panels will be crucial for power and also to provide shade. “We have a massive Solar Parasol structure that covers two acres of RV sites at our Tucson/Lazydays KOA Resort in Arizona,” O’Rourke added. “That structure supplies more than enough power for the campground, while providing partial cooling shade for the RVs parked beneath it.”

The KOA envisions over-water camping on causeways to get adventurers closer to the water.

Better integration into the environment

Tour many KOAs today and they can seem removed from the environment you’re trying to enjoy. Mountains may rise around you, while the camping sites are in a valley far below. In 2030, KOA envisions campgrounds that nestle into the cliffs, sites that extend out onto cantilevered overhangs, and coastal sites that let you camp over water on “camping causeways.”

O’Rourke also emphasized that 2030 KOAs want to get people off the ground, camping on platforms, enjoying smokeless campfires above the trees, and walking on elevated forest walks at canopy level. “Getting people off of the ground offers a different perspective on nature,” she says. “There’s something about what happens when you get up and have a view; it changes you.”

Glamping tent sites appeal to Millennial campers.

Embrace glamping

Younger generations have flocked to glamping, a buzzy term for amenity-packed camping in tents, yurts, and other structures. According to KOA’s research, “32 percent of Gen-Xers and 29 percent of millennials say they would like to experience more unique lodging experiences like safari tents.” KOA wants to embrace this movement and foresees the campgrounds of tomorrow including luxury tents, lofty treehouses, and underwater cabins.

These structures would also look a lot different from the cabins of yesterday. Opaque walls, retractable roofs, and lots of windows would enhance people’s connection with nature. In urban areas, KOA believes that tent towers on tops of buildings could provide a new take on affordable glamping.

Voice command technology

Forget Alexa, in 2030 you could walk onto a campgrounds and say, “Hey KOA, get me some firewood.” And with voice-command tech from companies like Winnebago and Airstream already being integrated into new RVs, it’s highly likely that your entire RV and camping experience will be voice activated. Asking things like, “Airstream, roll out the awning,” and “Hey Mercedes, what are my water levels,” will be standard.