When Ken Baird spent more than 10 years living in Australia; he came to appreciate the great outdoors and getting away from the stressful 9 to 5 slog.
“Coming back to Ireland and to Cork with my partner, Orla, we bought a camper van and re-acquainted ourselves with the beauty of the Irish countryside,” says Ken, now in his early 40s.
“We were blown away by the magnificent scenery and by the friendliness of people when we rocked up into a rural village.”
Ken saw the wood for the trees.
“And we thought camping in the beautiful Irish countryside should be made accessible to everyone, especially now with the current uncertain climate due to the pandemic. The mental and physical benefits of the great outdoors have been well documented, including lessening the instances of anxiety and depression.”
Ken Baird is one of nine entrepreneurs who took part in this year’s latest social enterprise incubator run by the Irish Social Business Campus.
Their aim is to make a difference to people’s lives and for most of the entrepreneurs, making money is secondary to making a social impact.
Ken is the founder of AltCamp.
“AltCamp is a socially positive online platform that connects people who want to camp with landowners who want to rent camping spaces,” says Ken.
Ken, who is a graphic designer, has two objectives for his business.
“The first is to introduce more people to the health benefits of being outdoors and to get more of an insight of what the Irish countryside has to offer.
“Creating an income stream for small rural communities off the main tourist track is the other objective.”
Escaping from our reliance on tedious infrastructure to adventure seems like a good way to go.
“Absolutely,” says Ken.
“The lockdown proved claustrophobic for many people looking at the four walls. There was nothing to look forward to.” Heading off for pastures new seems like a great idea we can look forward to.
“The demand for campsites seems to be much more than the supply,” says Ken.
“So I figured out a way to supply more campsites. AltCamp is perfectly positioned to get more people out camping.”
AltCamp is a win-win situation for the landowner who can supplement his/her income, get to meet people, and show off the locality, and for the camper who wants to escape the confinement of four walls to somewhere beautiful.
“There are only 100 official campsites in the whole of Ireland,” says Ken.
“That makes it difficult for more Irish people to go camping.
“85% of private land in Ireland gives ample opportunity to open up the country to everyone.”
The surge of fine weather saw camp-sites over-crowded.
“They all tend to get very crowded; the opposite reason why you want to go camping,” says Ken.
“At festivals, etc, the campsites are inundated and get very cramped.
In the recent spate of fine weather, all the beaches were packed and the roads leading to them backed-up with traffic.
Getting away from it all to quieter parts of the country away from the hustle and bustle for a bit of a break is great therapy. Landowners are very friendly and they love sharing knowledge of their locality and showing it off.”
Ken envisages AltCamp working like Airbnb.
“Campers can look up locations offering scenery, sea views, forest walks, nearby amenities, and pet-friendly campsites, for instance,” say Ken.
“The online platform is easy to use.”
AltCamp promotes camp responsibility in line with Leave No Trace, the outdoor education body in Ireland, giving tips on outdoor ethics via tips and videos.
“Individual landowners will determine the rents,” says Ken.
“Rates are likely to start from about €10 a night for a basic pitch.
“People can filter their choices going by location or whether or not they need gear supplied.
“AltCamp also covers pitches for camper vans and sites that offer different types of camping experiences like glamping.”
Camping in the green green grass of home has a lot to offer and it has a lot of pluses.
“The fresh air, exercise, less stress, and socialisation are all pluses says Ken.
“Camping is to be encouraged and the scenery around Ireland is so beautiful that it should be enjoyed by more people.
AltCamp is offering a camping alternative to get more people out camping.”
Camping is the greenest, cheapest thing to do. It is something different to do.
“It is a wonderful experience,” says Ken.
“Orla is from Skull and we camped there during the regatta and at other West Cork festivals. It is a most beautiful part of the world with the friendliest people.”
Starting up his new business, Ken wants to promote rural tourism and introduce more people to the benefits of the great outdoors in the Emerald Isle.
“We want to promote rural tourism and give people living in more remote areas the opportunity to earn money from renting space to campers.”
How will the business generate money?
“The business will make its money by charging a booking fee which will be shared by the guest and the host. Right now I am in the process of building the company’s website, intending on spending the winter months refining the product,” says Ken.
“AltCamp will go live in the Spring of 2021. Building a community showing off the ‘real’ Ireland will be championed by AltCamp hosts.”
Ken’s next step is to secure investment of up to 100,000 euro to take things to the next stage and to fund add-ons such as an app version of the online platform.
Ken knows that nature and the great outdoors has a powerful effect on the human spirit.
“Camping a unique experience and it is for everyone,” says Ken.
“Now it will be accessible to everyone.”