Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, talks about the outdoor accommodation industry, and trends and issues it faces in 2018
One thing for sure is that the outdoor holiday accommodation sector is buoyant. It continues to perform well with statistics from VisitEngland* showing that caravanning and camping accounted for 28 million bednights and £950 million of spending by Brits so far this year. With domestic camping and caravanning up 11% and tourists from abroad 14%** this year, the sector has never looked so appealing.
We launched Pitchup.com in 2009 and the business has expanded to meet this demand, now enjoying over 14m annual visits. We currently list more than 3,000 accommodation options in over 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Africa and Australia. The bread and butter of the outdoor accommodation sector – the largest type of domestic holiday measured by bednights – remains traditional caravan or camping holidays, with tent and tourer pitches, static caravans and lodges the most popular categories. However, there are now only seven times more searches on Google UK for “camping” compared to “glamping”, according to Google Trends, versus 22 times more in 2012. Glamping is clearly on the rise, and particularly the ‘fixed’ types of accommodation such as pods and cabins.
Developing an understanding of the market and customer requirements always raises your chance of success and ultimately creates a more profitable business. For some years now, the travel industry has seen holidays get shorter, closer and later. Short breaks now dominate the traditional one- or two-week holiday, Brits have rediscovered destinations on their doorstep, and the huge choice available online via smartphone, tablet and desktop devices means customers rarely lack options, even at the last minute.
Critical to making a site work though is knowing what potential customers are looking for. There is growing domestic and international competition when it comes to glamping – and holiday accommodation generally – so it’s vital to ensure a location has all the elements for that perfect holiday. There is also the question of whether to specialise in a particular category, such as pods, yurts, tipis, lodges, static caravans or tents. Many may find that that a combination of traditional pitches and glamping units that appeal to a new audience works well, not least to reduce dependence on the weather.
While demand for traditional accommodation categories shows no sign of waning, glamping is beginning to make its mark. Indeed in the 12 months to November, glamping has seen huge growth, with Pitchup’s bookings for cabins up by 102%, microlodges up 114% and pods up 73%. Rent-a-tents were up 151%, bell tents 77%, safari tents 73%, yurts 52% and domes 26%. However don’t be fooled into thinking all types of glamping are on trend. Wigwams and tipis are much less popular, accounting for a much smaller proportion of bookings taken. Tipis have grown by just 4% while wigwams are down by 33%. The proportion of bookings by type of unit is shown in the chart: camping pods and lodges make up nearly 60% of glamping bookings.
With this in mind, anyone considering opening or expanding a current outdoor holiday business needs to choose their accommodation types carefully. According to VisitEngland, static caravans and lodges made up nearly half (46%) of domestic outdoor accommodation trips in 2015***. Fixed accommodation, whether that be statics, lodges, pods etc. has enjoyed tremendous innovation in recent years, with central heating, double glazing and hot tubs now commonplace. Camping pods, Pitchup’s most popular category, are appearing at hundreds of parks, and other types of glamping – from safari tents to yurts – are attracting media attention the world over. These developments have not only appealed to new, more affluent customers but also increased choice, making sites less dependent on the weather and a year-round season a reality. The government has recently updated planning policy to include a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which has supported these trends.
The considerations do not end there either. Many sites are now looking to better their basic offering. It may seem the easy option to erect a pod, cabin or lodge, for example, charge a relatively low fee and ask clients to bring all the ‘usual camping equipment’ with them. However, from our experience it’s the sites that go the extra mile that are really reaping the rewards of strong returns on their investment.
This could mean simply adding comfy beds and bedding to the accommodation, but to really be in with a piece of the action it’s the more luxury items that count and generate strong returns on investment accordingly. These could range from hot tubs and power showers to luxury coffee machines, widescreen TVs, woodburning stoves, turn-down services, pillow choices and even gastronomic treats such as breakfast hampers, barbecue foods or a complimentary bottle of wine. Some sites also offer experience-led extras including massages, yoga and skills-focused activities such as bushcraft, weaving, painting and even sports such as horse riding and tennis.
The key is choosing something that makes your accommodation stand out from the crowd. It’s always worth researching what local competitors offer and what some of the really innovative businesses are doing around the rest of the UK, or even the world.
Good ablutions facilities are, not surprisingly, high on the list for customer: shower and toilet facilities are most commented on in customer reviews. Given that reviews are so important these days, we recommend owners spend a little extra on high-quality, well-maintained facilities to reap the rewards of a high rating. Gone are the days of stone outbuildings with unreliable showers being acceptable. Customers are now looking for heated units with power showers, clean toilets, hot water in the sinks and extras such as hairdryers (or at the very least power points with mirrors), and a spacious area to shower and dress without getting their clothing wet.
Depending on the type of glamping offered, it may be that some sites can offer the shower facilities within each individual unit. Again, creativity is crucial here. We’ve seen some with private outdoor showers (although they may not be suitable for the British climate) and some with horseboxes or converted railway carriages that have been turned into private bathrooms for glamping units. It’s even becoming more common to find roll-top baths in some units, as opposed to a small shower.
Customers expect a reasonable level of tech too – namely, a good signal for their devices, as smartphones extend their tentacles into all aspects of our lives. Pitchup.com now receives 38% of bookings via smartphone, up from 31% last year. While some sites promote an ‘off-grid’ retreat, this is a small niche market and for the vast majority of customers, fast and stable Wi-Fi is a must. The most popular parks invest in antennae or cabled access, bringing the web to customers’ accommodation and pitches without compromising on signal quality.
Other popular searches include parks that welcome dogs or are family friendly It may however come as a surprise that our search data has seen a reduction in customers looking for traditional facilities such as a bar, club house or swimming pool. No doubt this will be music to the ears of park owners on a tight budget, and is perhaps evidence of holidaymakers putting more emphasis on being outdoors and more locally-distinctive activities. Alternatively, the lure of Netflix box sets may explain it! But we always recommend spending more on what people really want and offering those facilities to a high standard, rather than trying to offer everything on a budget.
Overall domestic tourism demand is likely to remain high with the weak pound and other global concerns such as terrorism, the ‘big’ earthquake experts are predicting in California or erupting volcanoes in Bali and Iceland, with many Brits choosing to take multiple breaks at home.
Income from abroad
With 2017 Britain’s busiest-ever summer for foreign tourism, owners shouldn’t overlook the chance to generate business from abroad. Our UK clients received up to 43% of their bookings from ‘inbound’ customers this year, and international customers are the fastest-growing part of our business, with 618% annual growth in November. If foreign languages are spoken at the campsite, this is certainly worth promoting; customers from Germany, The Netherlands, France and Ireland made most bookings for the UK.
We hope the above information is useful in devising the most appropriate features for your business. For more information on developing a park, visit www.pitchup.com/how-start-campsite-caravan-park
*January – July 2017, Great Britain Tourism Survey
**Overseas residents’ holidays to the UK from June – August 2017, International Passenger Survey
***Great Britain Tourism Survey (www.visitbritain.org/sites/default/files/vb-corporate/Documents-Library/documents/England-documents/gb_tourist_report_2015.pdf)
About The Author
Dan Yates, founder of Pitchup.com, has a long background in the outdoor accommodation sector, having grown up on a holiday park in Devon owned by his family. In 2002, when 50% the park’s bookings were coming through its website, he realised there was a gap in the market for an online one-stop platform for all types of outdoor accommodation, hence the birth of Pitchup.com.