Could Hipcamp – Airbnb, but for Campers – Make Kibbutzim Hip Again?

After Airbnb transformed the way tourists stay in cities, farmers started turning their fields into camping sites. Would the model popularized by Hipcamp also work in rural Israel?

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A camping site in the Galilee, northern Israel.
A camping site in the Galilee, northern Israel.Credit: Lior Aboulafia / Go Camping
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

What’s happening right now in the camping industry is very similar to what happened with Airbnb in major cities a decade ago.

Anyone can do it. Just as every person with a Tel Aviv apartment room suddenly became a hotel proprietor, so everyone with an empty lot or fallow field can become the proprietor of a camping site.

The leading website for outdoor stays is called Hipcamp. Based in San Francisco, its slogan is “Find Yourself Outside” and the basic pitch is simple: Do you own land outside of town? Do you have a farm or agricultural site in the country? Could an RV or tent be put there? Come and register for free on our platform, and millions of camping aficionados will be able to find you, reserve a place and stay there. We’ll help you set up a camping site and find customers with minimal effort.

WISH YOU WERE HERE? Camping at Kibbutz Dafna in northern Israel.Credit: Lior Aboulafia / Go Camping

Like many other things that originated in California, this also comes with a thorough explanation of how and why it is ecological, environmentally friendly and enables more people to enjoy the great outdoors.

Hipcamp has been operating for several years in the United States, Canada and Australia and is about to start operating in Britain. As of now, it has no plans to expand to other countries.

It essentially mediates between the places offering different types of outdoor stays, and the people looking for such accommodations. On the Hipcamp site, you can find plenty of information about commercial or government-run camping sites in or near nature reserves.

A man walks in Kibbutz Eyal, in central Israel.Credit: Eyal Toueg

However, the platform’s main innovation is in how it lets anyone turn any kind of outdoor area they have into a camping site.

For travelers, especially in popular areas where the established camping sites fill up quickly and have to be reserved long in advance, it is a very attractive option.

Hipcamp is not the only company to have realized what a hidden treasure this is. Similar platforms have emerged in recent years in several European countries. The best-known are Wildpoint, Campspace and HomeCamper. The principle is the same with all of them; the requirements are identical and the basic conditions vary only minimally.

The basic rules for those registering their facilities on these sites are straightforward: They must offer guests the possibility of pitching a tent or parking an RV, and provide for basic hygiene needs. Connections to running water, electricity, and providing fresh eggs or breakfast are optional extras. Hipcamp also provides insurance against being sued.

A campsite in northern Israel.Credit: Lior Aboulafia / Go Camping

The most interesting variable is the minimum size required. On Hipcamp, it is a relatively large 8 dunams (2 acres). Other platforms allow users to open a camping site with a smaller area.

Staffers from the different companies are hard at work in high-demand areas. They contact landowners and offer to help them set up a temporary or seasonal camping site. The logic behind it is that in areas close to popular nature reserves, lakes, rivers or hiking routes, the established camping sites fill up quickly and demand far exceeds supply.

Hipcamp was founded by Alyssa Ravasio in 2013. Its initial goal was to collect information on existing camping sites. Before long, Ravasio realized the inherent potential of giving anyone with a piece of land the opportunity to host travelers. Today, a half-million camping sites are listed on the website.

The basic price is the equivalent of 40 shekels ($11.50) a night for the chance to pitch a tent on someone’s land, though the property owner can set the price he/she wishes to charge. The platform takes 15 percent of the revenue for acting as mediator.

Camping in the yard of a farm in Virginia.Credit: From Flickr

Since its launch, Hipcamp has reportedly “liberated” 16,000 square kilometers (6,180 miles, or about three-quarters the size of Israel) for public use. These are private lands that previously were used for farming or other purposes, and now are also being used for tourism. Most of these areas are located in large farms in the United States and Australia. To date, 6 million nights of lodging have been reserved via Hipcamp.

Why not in Israel?

Is the same thing possible, or worthwhile, in Israel? To put it another way, why shouldn’t anyone with their own land on a kibbutz or moshav near the major streams in the north open their own camping site? The answer is more complicated than it might appear.

Nearly all the camping sites here belong to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. This is a government authority that essentially controls the industry since it owns about a third of the lands classified as nature reserves.

The INPA currently operates 120 camping sites that are free of charge, where it is permitted to sleep. However, most have no bathrooms or running water. The more built-up camping sites, with bathrooms, water and electricity, charge an admission fee. There are 19 of these sites, mainly in the south, and a few in the north.

Upper Galilee council head Giora Zaltz, left. Dreams of establishing the world's largest campsite alongside 60 kilometers of streams.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Each offers shared bathrooms, showers, lighting and running water. For example, the Yehiam campsite in northern Israel offers a kitchen, bathrooms and showers near the ancient fortress. The price is usually 55 shekels per person. At the major water sites (Horshat Tal, Achziv, Gan Hashlosha, Ma’ayan Harod), the price is higher: 65 shekels per person, meaning a family will pay around 250 shekels a night on average. In the summer, these campsites fill up quickly. It’s also hard to find a place at Tel Ashkelon, a nice southern campsite by the beach.

Besides the INPA campsites, there are a few dozen private campsites where one can pitch a tent or rent a tent that is provided. One such site is the Banias campsite at Moshav Sha’ar Yashuv, in the Upper Galilee. It’s a short walk from the campsite to the stream. The location is excellent and the space is large and pleasant.

Aboulafia: “Israelis have discovered camping both because of the price and because of the desire to enjoy the outdoors. It’s a strong trend.”

The proprietors of the Banias campsite are skeptical about a Hipcamp-style approach working in Israel. “At our place, the basic camping experience includes big lawns, bathrooms, showers, closeness to nature and tourist attractions, the option to do your own cooking outdoors, a snack bar and more. We also place an emphasis on arts and crafts,” they say. “We mainly appeal to families, and we keep the number of families limited in order to maintain a good atmosphere. It’s true that demand is growing and new types of accommodations have been opening, but it’s hard to see how private camping in someone’s yard could be profitable. In any case, it doesn’t provide the social experience you get with families camping together.”

Three regional councils in the north – Mevo’ot Hermon, Hof Hacarmel and Upper Galilee, which consists of 29 kibbutzim – are concerned about the issue of outdoor lodgings. The Upper Galilee council area includes 60 kilometers of riverbanks that attract millions of visitors, especially in the summer. Cleaning and maintenance of the nature sites in its jurisdiction is a heavy burden for an area of just 21,000 residents. Figures show that the amount of garbage went up by 30 percent last year. Tent encampments along the banks have also sprung up at several sites, and these pose a big challenge for the authorities.

Upper Galilee council head Giora Zaltz says there’s a real need for more organized camping sites that charge a fee, calling the issue “very significant.” He says that such sites offer a relatively high standard of accommodation, at a reasonable price. “It allows people to stay in one place for three or four nights and to travel around the area. We encourage this kind of camping. We’re currently building a new camping site near one of the streams, because we know the demand is huge,” he says.

A campsite in Gilboa, northern Israel.Credit: Lior Aboulafia / Go Camping

Who’s to blame for the current situation?

“The accusations that were made in the past about the travelers did them an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with the people. If there are no bathrooms and other services, you can’t expect them not to make a mess. You can’t only be constantly saying what’s not allowed. You have to say what is allowed – and to do that you need to build new camping sites.

“We’re trying to create a situation where it will be possible to have a proper place to stay, for a low cost, along the 60 kilometers of riverbanks. It will create one of the largest camping sites in the world. The goal is to have a proper campsite, with paid admission and showers and bathrooms every few kilometers. The expectation is that these sites will turn a profit, and with this surplus the council will be able to invest a much greater effort into keeping the nature sites clean.”

Could a camping site be set up on a kibbutz?

“On some kibbutzim, like Dafna and Amir, they have set up small sites. When it’s done within the area of the kibbutz, it can be complicated because there can be noise and friction between the guests and the people who live there. The proximity is too great. But there are still some places where it’s possible. We’re working on it and putting thought and money into it. The basic infrastructure – water, sewage, electricity – is the key. The rest is simple and cheaper. It also needs to be operated and maintained by someone professional. The new site we’re building will serve as a model for the ones that follow.”

Should private individuals be permitted to open their own camping sites?

“That’s more problematic.”

Lior Aboulafia edits the Israeli website gocamping. His site provides information on campsites in Israel by region. He says the whole industry is booming. “Israelis have discovered camping both because of the price and because of the desire to enjoy the outdoors. It’s a strong trend. The thinking right now is that if you set up a tent in the backyard in a place like Beit Hillel, you could get reservations through October 2025. In the last couple of months, three new sites with various levels of accommodations have opened near the Dead Sea, and they’re all filling up quickly.”

Could something like Hipcamp work in Israel?

“What’s nice about them is the way it works as a social platform. In Israel, there are several examples of private farms that let guests put up tents. Location is very important. If you’re coming with a tent, you’re looking for an attractive setting, maybe close to the sea. It’s hard to see this kind of activity yielding significant profits. Investment has to be made in infrastructure and you have to offer bathrooms and showers. It might be more suitable for tourists overseas.”

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