Kate Morel explores the alluring landscape of high-end, luxury glamping. It’s a worldwide, growing and profitable sector of the industry, so pack your Panamas and parasols because we’ll be stopping off at a couple of exotic destinations along the way
With an increasing spectrum of structures, business models and price points out there, it’s an appropriate time to evaluate the potential for investing in the luxury sector. One interesting point to note is that this sector currently remains one of the least competitive because there are not that many truly luxury offerings in the market. And, while it requires a larger initial investment per unit, if a luxury offer has been well planned and carried out, the higher rental fees should continue to attract good occupancy rates and reap a healthy profit long after the initial investment is recouped.
Some would say that the luxury side of the market is also more ‘future proof’, meaning that it will continue to command high rental fees long after the boom has bust. Let’s put it this way, I’ll be surprised to see top quality, well run and well marketed glamping sites in discount voucher schemes at any point.
As a prospective owner, a few factors will influence whether this type of glamping has potential. Is the proposed site in the right location? Is there an existing business or feature, for example a special property, hotel, gastro pub, gardens/lakes, or an outstanding, exclusive rural setting? If not, are you confident that you can create something so superior that it will still attract enough guests willing to pay the high rental fees?
Our first thoughts about luxury glamping might turn to expensive tents, stylish furnishings and opulent baths – and whose wouldn’t: One dictionary defines luxury as:
“a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense
Synonym: opulence, luxuriousness, sumptuousness, richness, costliness, grandness, splendour, magnificent, lavishness”
The definition of luxury in this business, however, seems to be rather subjective. For some, it’s acceptable to describe a nice-looking canvas tent with a proper bed and a few accessories as ‘luxury’, and, in comparison to a regular camping tent I suppose it is. But as the standard of glamping continues to rise, the time will come when we need to take a squinty-eyed review of what luxury glamping should entail in terms of décor and facilities. At least, for this article, ‘luxury’ is going to be the same as any other self-catering rental, the key criteria being quality, style and taste.
High-end accommodation should always utilise quality furnishings and boast beautiful facilities, I don’t believe it’s possible to get around that. While some of us certainly have a knack of making inexpensive look great, these ensembles will only look good on photographs, they won’t feel luxurious in use. Discerning guests will, quite rightly, expect the experience to be one of genuine quality when paying top-dollar rental fees.
The style of a luxury glamping offering can be influenced by many things; the location, a property that it’s associated with – a historic country house, for example. They can also be a ‘stand-alone’ offer, where it becomes important to get the style and facilities right for the specified guest profile. It’s a bigger subject than I have time to explore here, but suffice it to say there are hundreds of design styles and ideas out there – and really, of all the decisions we make, this is one of the easiest.
One of the hardest, however, is because glamping differs from other holiday rentals in one respect – we usually start with an empty field. This means we create the accommodation structure(s) from scratch; I’m often told that people find this the most challenging decision. To be fair, choosing the right structure for the location/guest profile can require some skill, especially when we have planning permissions and other factors to consider. Fortunately, there is a wide range to choose from, and professional companies are pushing boundaries with innovative designs. Adria have brought a super boutique mobile tent into the market, as have Eco Living Australia, and the UK’s leading bespoke treehouse designers, Blue Forest, continue to trail blaze with innovative designs. I’m also delighted to keep finding small, craftsman-owned companies who are willing and able to design and build bespoke structures.
When it comes to buying the structure(s) do choose wisely, it can be a big investment and getting this right is crucial, not only in terms of appealing to guests, but the business’s long term success. Do note that occupancy rates and rental fees as suggested by some marketing brochures are not always achievable, so research ideas and potential results. Alternatively, seek objective advice from someone in the business (it doesn’t have to be me, just get as much sound advice as you can). It can be difficult to put things right with hindsight and, sadly, I’ve seen some costly mistakes.
First class international
Last year, one of the UK seminars I presented was ‘Inspiration from International Glamping’, which highlighted glamping and design features from around the world that caught my eye as outstanding. To be honest, I was on something of a mission because I wanted to inspire more of us in the UK to create mind blowing glamping offers akin to the places I was finding on other continents.
Internationally, manufacturers are responding to the demand for luxury glamping and new, stylish structure designs are launched every year, companies such as InTenta, Tentickle, Adria and Eco Structures Australia are among those leading the way. There are many others, and it is fascinating to see so many new concepts being created; I can barely keep up these days.
One company totally blew me away when I discovered them a few years ago. Luca and his team at ‘LuxuryFrontiers’ have created stunning designer developments in South Africa, Italy and Spain. The company ethos is commendable and their environmental qualifications are impressive. They tick all the boxes for me, and I would love to see them create more developments in Europe and particularly the UK. So, if you’re ambitious and like their work we need to talk.
Another example of exceptional international glamping is Richard Branson’s ‘Kasbah Tamadot’ in Morocco, and ‘Mahali Mzuri’ in Kenya, which combine stunning locations with world class accommodation. If you’re looking for inspiration you will find it here, they are nothing short of breathtaking and, naturally, appropriately priced.
It’s fair to say that we have a couple of challenges when it comes to creating glamping developments in the UK. Firstly, the climate limits the rental season for some structures, secondly, our planning regulations are more restrictive than elsewhere. However, these needn’t limit our imagination when it comes to luxury and design, and whilst speaking to interested UK landowners, I’ve recently been encouraged to hear that more are interested in creating something exclusive.
Outside of the USA, I have a sneaky suspicion that the UK is one of the leading countries in creating new glampsites each year, but don’t let that deter you because as I said earlier there are still profitable opportunities to create something in the high-end sector. The UK has more heritage, character and elegance than you can shake a stick at and there is no reason at all why UK glamping can’t compete on the international field.
Unique by design
At this level, it is 100 per cent about giving guests an experience they can’t find elsewhere, and facilities they’d never have at home. Luxurious interior design schemes, and opulent touches that guests wouldn’t think of putting in their own homes, add to the exclusivity. Showers and baths can never be ‘over the top’ as far as I’m concerned – and I love the imaginative, elegant bathroom furnishings at Canonici Sanmarco near Venice. In fact, grab a coffee and bask in true Italian gorgeousness, it’s totally inspiring.
At the luxury level of glamping, we’d be remiss to overlook the use of outside space, and a dedicated area with generous, comfortable garden furniture sets the scene nicely. I’m excited to share a recent discovery with you – a company called Rivelin who create fantastic outdoor spaces using super stylish furniture. They also supply the most impressive Sheffield-made, gas powered fire pits, and when I say impressive, I mean it. For those of us who prefer a real crackling fire, or an environmentally sustainable option, then a heavy-duty, log burning fire-bowl is in order. This is luxury glamping remember, so why not go one step further and commission your own design from the Firepit Company, their hand cut fire globes add a dash of blazing magic to starry night time glamping. They’d make a great centrepiece for weddings and events too.
If you can provide the appropriate privacy, open air showers and baths are fun additional options, and we all know by now that hot tubs are perennially popular. I recently spotted a new product, a wood fired sauna, that might give hot tubs some competition… ironically it was on Naked Flame Eco Tubs’ website. Which reminds me – I try to keep a look out for new, innovative structures and products, but I do have a life outside glamping you know (no comments, thank you), so if you’re launching an exciting new product please let me know.
Movers and shakers
Luxury glamping is about to lift off in the UK, on both small and large scales. I visited a luxury development last week, the size of which raised even my eyebrows. In contrast, another was a small, three unit, boutique set up curving around a newly created natural swimming pool. More often these days I drive home inspired by the quality and diversity of glamping that I see being created here, it’s such an exciting time to be in this business.
One such glampsite has just been launched – ‘StarBed Hideaways’ is a little gem, possessing all the elements that raise a glamping offer beyond the ordinary into that five star, luxury experience. Located in Devon, it comprises two quality cabins on the Buckland Abbey National Trust Estate. Designer interiors, stylish furnishings and roll-top baths are only part of the package – a visiting spa, falconry and hot air balloon rides are just a few of the activities that can be enjoyed by guests. Bryony and Bertie have paid scrupulous attention to detail and possess a clear willingness to make their guests’ experience unforgettable.
The website presents the accommodation and experience with clarity and elegance, and the quality is evident from the moment a potential guest lands on a page. If you would like to experience StarBed Hideaways for yourself, Bryony and Bertie have kindly created a limited, exclusive offer to readers of Open Air Business, I believe details can be found in the ‘News’ section (pages 6-7).
When rental fees rise above a certain price point, guest expectations are high, so if we are going to offer luxury breaks, and charge accordingly, it’s vital that we ‘deliver’. It’s also important to remember that when some guests book an expensive, luxury break, it’s for a special occasion of some sort – a proposal, honeymoon, anniversary or birthday – they may even have saved up for it. As always, the key here is to put ourselves in our guests’ shoes and provide what we would expect. I am sure we would all want to relish the experience, the exclusivity, richness and sheer extravagance, to feel spoiled, special and pampered.
I hope our little canter through luxury glamping has inspired you. If you are considering adding a glamping development to your land, and would like to talk through your ideas, do get in touch. There are so many other factors I would have liked to cover, and have a plethora of ideas to share, but alas, Tally says she has other things to fit into Open Air Business as well!
Until next time, Kate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Morel provides an objective and impartial advice service to individuals, estates and companies interested in creating a successful glamping business.
www.katemorel.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / 07849 514588.