Target the family market with Kate Morel’s secret recipe for success
A glamping stay has become a favoured break for mums, dads and the children. Family glampsites enjoy good occupancy rates, and not just at weekends. Week or fortnight-long bookings are the norm during school holidays. Given the growing demand for nature-related leisure activities and staycations, it’s not surprising that more families are turning to glamping and back-to-nature holidays. It’s good news all round: good for rural businesses; good for family relationships; good for children and let’s hope it’s good for the land too. If future generations can engage more with nature and learn to respect it, hopefully they also will want to preserve it.
In response to this demand, the number of family glampsites and franchises offering a variety of accommodations and holiday experiences has increased over the last few years. Family glamping now includes the original, independent glamping sites, as well as regular campsites that have diversified, plus franchises and large resort developments that have added unusual accommodation. It will soon also include specifically designed and built glamping resorts.
As always, it’s quite difficult to cover every type of glamping site in these pieces, but I’ll at least cover the basics. A family glamping holiday which creates memorable experiences and makes guests want to return doesn’t usually happen by accident. Depending on the level of experience on offer, it can require a lot of thought around what we want to provide and how to create it.
If the proposed site doesn’t have obvious natural features to work with, it’s time to get creative, or maybe even simply take a fresh look at what’s right under our nose. For example, the farm-stay glamping holiday is particularly popular with families because it brings them into contact with a lifestyle they wouldn’t normally get to experience. Not only do they stay on the land of a working farm, but are sometimes shown around by hospitable hosts who are keen and happy to share their passions. They can also participate a little – children can feed the animals, or take care of their own little chicken ark and collect the eggs – and they absolutely love it! If, like me, you grew up amidst all this, you might not initially grasp the attraction. I, for one, used to find letting hens out and shooing the little darlings back to roost at night a bit of a chore. However, if it was a new experience and I only had to do it for a week, it would be quite a novelty.
Herein lies attractive USP potential, what else might we be taking for granted that would make a fun, unusual holiday for families needing a break from ‘life’?
Some customers are now starting to look for more than unusual structures to sleep in, they want entertainment and activities, especially during longer stays. In countries where the weather can be unpredictable, I’d add a covered area or play barn with games and activities to keep children occupied when some or all of the usual outdoor activities are less appealing. Families often make friends on holiday and team up, so a communal space or cover provides a great opportunity for evening socialising. All these cater perfectly to a family’s holiday needs and add to the guests’ experience.
You may have noticed that I use the word ‘experience’ quite often, both in my seminars and in my writing. I even gave a talk dedicated to ‘The Guest Experience’ at The Glamping Show and the Farm Business Innovation Shows two years ago. I might sound like a broken record by now (and I’m OK with that, because vinyl is making a comeback don’t you know?), but I am not alone any more. Even the hotel industry has started to recognise that it needs to up its game in terms of creating a better ‘experience’ – I wonder if glamping is exerting a wider influence than any of us give it credit for?
Old family recipe…
A great family glamping offer has a few key ingredients.
1) Appropriate accommodation and facilities
The accommodation structure depends on the level of glamping you want to offer, and there is plenty to choose from right now, from a bell tent to a luxury treehouse. A current popular choice for families is the safari tent: they’re spacious, have separate bedrooms and usually include integral cooking and bathroom facilities. Other family favourites are yurts, bell tents and pods. The smaller structures are a good option for compact land areas – apart from being bigger, safari tents tend to be more spaced out too. Some structures now have integral kitchenettes and bathrooms but, for those that don’t, facilities shouldn’t be too far away – and make sure there are enough of them if shared. It’s worth noting that in the mid to high price glamping market, more guests are starting to prefer private facilities.
NOTE: An eight-berth bell tent can generate similar rental fees to a six-berth safari tent (with similar occupancy rates) so ROIs vary enormously; in fact, depending on individual set up costs, ROIs can vary even on the same structure. Gather impartial advice and information, and create a thorough business plan, keeping personal preferences in check: it might appeal to your taste, but will it be profitable?
Even though some families want a simple back-to-nature holiday with streams, woodlands and old-fashioned play areas, activity-based holidays are a growth area and can be an effective USP. Depending on the site’s features, it could host activities such as a zip line, mountain bike track, canoeing, archery, foraging and bush-crafts. Or team up with local activity companies and cross-market your businesses. Choosing a theme and then building the activities around it gives your glamping a unique focus.
Naturally this is important to all holiday accommodations, but especially so to family glampsites. How guests are interacted with from the moment they get in touch to the day they drive away is a big part of the package. A genuine connection with guests and a concern for their experience is what can distinguish a lot of glamping holidays from any other sort of holidays. Also, families can be demanding – much more so than a couple who just want a weekend away from everyone. I hope that glamping will always be able deliver this no matter how big the development because, for me, it’s one aspect that sets it apart from any other type of holiday.
A big part of a glamping holiday’s appeal is its natural location and all the wonderful wild features that go with it. However, parents will also want to feel that their children are going to be safe. In effect, we are creating a place that retains its sense of freedom and excitement but still has all the necessary safety precautions. I am often asked about deep water features, ‘no go’ areas on farms, and, very often, the use of fire and candles. While answers can vary on occasion, I always refer to current legislative requirements. It’s too big a subject to go into here but a few minutes of ‘Googling’ will give you a good grounding. Also, an in-depth discussion with an insurance company that knows and understands the glamping industry will highlight matters which would increase your risks and therefore insurance fees. Glamping accommodation currently falls within existing self-catering holiday let and camping legislation, but I do wonder if it will be singled out at some point. In the meantime, I feel it’s important for the industry to set our own standards and for those standards to be as high as possible.
5) A sprinkle of magic
Now and then I walk onto a glamping site and it’s there… sometimes I can’t even see it, but it’s definitely there. That essence of atmosphere sets some places apart; all of a sudden, you feel totally relaxed. It can be as simple as the way the owner saunters over to say “hi”, or the history, the character, or the features and accessories used. Sometimes, to be honest, it’s just the little things that site owners create, think of, and do for their customers that are above and beyond. And I absolutely love glamping for that. I know this isn’t going to apply to every glampsite offer, but if you’re aiming to create something special, different and unique then this could be a way to do it – what might your ‘sprinkle of magic’ be?
Let’s move from magic to numbers or, hopefully, magic numbers! Optimise your glamping revenue by adding different streams of income via services, facilities, activities and products relevant to your glampsite.
- Service: This could be as simple as offering a laundry service, or babysitting (do check out child minding legislation).
- Facilities: If your site is big enough this could be an on-site café or, if not, maybe hold a weekly chargeable, communal pizza night or barbecue – parents might welcome a night off from cooking.
- Additional facilities: Whether worked into the holiday fee or charged as extras, aditional facilities will make a site more appealing and add revenue. Hot tubs are an obvious option here.
- Activities: Chargeable, organised activities could be provided by you or your staff, or bring in external companies on a commission basis. I’m not quite sure whether renting a chicken ark fits in here, but some places do charge an additional fee to have one put by the tent.
- Products: Maybe your site would suit a shop selling basic supplies, wood for log burners/campfires, outdoor games, or branded souvenirs? A friend of mine sells branded T-shirts, baseball caps and mugs on his campsite, which contribute very nicely to the annual turnover. The editor, Tally, and I absolutely love ‘Jolfi Bears’ – a little bear with a backpack that contains a journal in which children keep a diary of their adventures: now there’s a bit of magic right there. If they don’t suit your target market, maybe stock branded children’s notebooks and pens in the on-site shop.
Another, perhaps less obvious, way to optimise revenue is to create something super special that guests cannot get anywhere else – a mega, uber, super-duper USP. Sometimes all this requires, frankly, is imagination. To be fair, it can also require a degree of boldness, but there is no other holiday accommodation business that has the potential to generate as many ‘bucks for your bang’ as glamping, and no, I didn’t get that the wrong way around. By adding uniqueness, we add value, because in a world of homogenised products and services, originality has worth.
A great family glamping site does a lot of things, for both host and guest. For some site owners, it’s a need to diversify, for others it also allows them to share their passions and educate. For guests, it provides quality family time (their guest book comments are inspirational) and improves their children’s confidence and skills, showing them things that no classroom can teach. At its very simplest, it creates happy memories.
You might be thinking, “That’s all very nice Kate, but what about my profit?” and I hear you. However, I sometimes feel we can get so lost in number crunching, branding, marketing, SEO and website traffic that we might overlook the fact that glamping is about people, whether it be corporate or grass roots. People stay in different styles of accommodation for different reasons, so we need that business plan and marketing, but we also want our guests to have a great time. We want them to recommend us to their friends and families, post their holiday photos on social media and, ultimately, book again. In this type of hospitality, the most poignant measure of success is the amount of recommendations and percentage of repeat bookings which families, more than any other type of guest, are likely to do. And that, is the bottom line.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Glamping guru Kate Morel has spent years working closely with landowners and tourism organisations, visiting locations and providing advice and support. This, along with experience in marketing, property restoration, design, and hospitality, gives her a unique set of skills and perspective on creating glamping accommodation. Kate can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org