In light of a recent headline-worthy glamping fire, Rob Farrow explains why it is time the industry undertakes to regulate itself
Glamping has seen a meteoric rise in both desirability and awareness over the last decade. An industry born from the financial crisis, it was perfectly timed offering affordable holidays while maintaining luxury standards when money was tight; coupled with the stability of holidaying in your own country it is no surprise that the number of sites providing glamping continue to grow.
As time has passed the variations and types of glamping accommodation have multiplied while the choice of sites has exploded, offering guests everything from pink hen party tents to family holidays on farms or in the woods.
Many of us read with horror and concern recently about a log burner that caught fire in a glamping pod. Ironically the accident occurred days after I had given a seminar in which I had to reiterate the problems of fire and CO2 poisoning inside glamping accommodation. Something that hit the camping industry back in 2013 when a couple pulled their dying barbecue into their own tent to keep warm, sadly with tragic consequences.
For those of us that have been in the industry since the early days, whilst shocking and sad news, it unfortunately came as no surprise. For the last 10 years the glamping industry has been like the Wild West; plenty of opportunity but little in the way of regulation and standards. This is not because glamping site operators are cutting corners on safety; far from it, most sites owners go out of their way to provide the best experiences possible right down to the smallest detail such as chocolates on the pillows.
The issue we have is not negligence but lack of knowledge. The glamping industry can largely be divided into four sectors: 1) Diversifiers/new entrants – those who have added accommodations to their land with little or no previous experience; 2) Glamping on existing private camping and caravan sites; 3) Commercial glamping sites; and 4) Large commercial holiday parks. The majority of glamping sites fall into categories 1 and 2, and as such some gaps in knowledge have occurred.
In an enthusiastic rush to get involved, the industry was saturated with well meaning providers entering the market with little or no hospitality experience. I salute their enthusiasm and their focus on the guest experience, which has to be a driving force in seeing the industry blossom. However, it can be said that somewhere along the line the glamping industry has suffered a ‘myopia’ such as Theodore Levitt famously described; “The rail road industry in America failed because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business”. Many sites forgot or were unaware that we are in the hospitality industry and that we are businesses.
The industry is so friendly and so customer focused that some sites have been lulled into a false sense of security forgetting that the laws and standards required for letting accommodation are completely different to the laws on your own personal use of accommodation. It is one thing to put up a tent for your own personal use and learn as you go, it is a whole different kettle of fish to welcome paying guests.
Because we are businesses, as soon as we receive payment for welcoming guests we are bound by the same laws as a commercial hotel. For this reason we must think like a hotel, not like a friend is staying in the spare room. Glamping sites need to be aware of the myriad of legislation for the hospitality industry in order to protect guests and avoid accidentally falling foul of the law or having liability if the worst does happen.
There are many examples of how our colleagues have accidentally gone ahead without appropriate measures in place. One couple I spoke to had set up yurts in their field oblivious of the fact that they needed planning permission. A decade ago, when I first asked a holiday park insurance broker to provide Public Liability insurance for a log burner in a tent, they laughed at me down the phone and said no one would provide cover. 10 years on I now know of only two that provide such cover, yet during that time there have been thousands of bell tents with log burners in them. Others have spent thousands refurbishing the decor of vintage caravans and inadvertently omitting to replace the gas and electricity systems in order to conform to modern standards so they are legal to let. Some are enthusiastic to build accommodation themselves from scratch, unwittingly neglecting to consult with Buildings Regulation for approval or check safety legislation.
As an industry we have grown rapidly. Our dissenters think we are a fad, a fleeting trend and that accidents like a fire will kill us off. However, after a decade of providing glamping accommodation the market is not yet slowing. So now we must show we can keep our house in order, that we are more than just pretty units in quaint settings; that as an industry we can stand united, maintaining our friendly character that defines the industry, and we can take responsibility.
The Industry’s Association
To prove ourselves it is now time for the industry to replace the short trousers of youth and don the formal attire and professionalism of maturity. Thankfully, like a favourite teacher looking after the new comer in the playground, the industry’s association is here to support and nurture us.
Little known until now, the Glamping Association was founded some years ago. A Not For Profit organisation, it’s committee members are all experts and experienced in the industry, volunteering their time for the betterment of us all.
The association itself is free for glamping site operators to join and provides a range of services without charge such as a free online listing of your site, free booking enquiries, a code of conduct and industry representation, as well as free glamping job adverts.
To ensure glamping providers do not unwittingly fall foul of the law, association members agree to abide by the code of conduct. This is specifically designed as an introductory ‘how to’ guide of the basic legal standards required and highlights some of the surprising activities that are legislated, such as the licences required to play music, to give your guests a lift in the car or the responsibility to display certain notices to protect sites against insurance claims.
Possibly most important for public confidence is that members can display the Glamping Association logo, thus proving to the public that they meet the industry standards. This shows potential guests that they can stay at a glamping site safe in the knowledge that members abide by the code of conduct.
Right now we have an opportunity as an industry to prove that we are responsible and can self regulate. Like Aesop’s Fables of the bundle of sticks, glamping sites have a choice stand alone and fail or find strength in unity. We need to act now and come together, pledging our commitment to our industry association and the standards it represents. Only by embracing the association’s code of conduct will the industry keep the public’s faith in glamping as a safe and enjoyable holiday option, and the government’s acceptance that it does not need to use oppressive legislation as a means to enforce standards on us. By uniting together under one representative body the glamping industry will be able to progress for a prosperous future.
Glamping sites can join the association by simply visiting www.glampingassociation.co.uk and submitting their details.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rob Farrow’s family has operated holiday parks for over half a century. Working his way up in the business, he focused on glamping in 2010 providing sited holidays, then delivery to other parks, glamping consultancy, seminars and advice columns. Today he operates glamping sites throughout the South West. Having welcomed thousands of guests, and with experience of almost every type of glamping accommodation, Rob is recognised as one of the foremost glamping experts. www.cghe.co.uk / 01225 290924.
The Glamping Association
The Glamping Association is a not for profit organisation designed to champion and further the causes of the industry. The committee members are all experienced industry professionals, each an expert in their field, allowing members the latest updates and guidance. Membership is free to site owners. Please visit www.glampingassociation.co.uk to register.