Kate Morel has visited hundreds of glampsites in her role with agency Quality Unearthed. Here she shares her thoughts on how to make your site the best it can be.
Glamping… I love it. I love the lifestyle, the quirky structures and the amazing people I meet. It’s nothing short of fabulous. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in the industry (if that’s the right word) for a few years now, visiting many potential sites and advising landowners in the UK, Australia and more recently South America. Glamping has captured the imagination of people worldwide and ties in perfectly with holiday trends and the back-to-nature leisure movement. Like it or not, it is definitely here to stay, at least in some form or another.
Despite our less than predictable climate, glamping holidays are enjoying huge popularity in the UK, and demand increases every year. As the industry develops, several types of glamping ‘model’ are also evolving, such as rows of pods on campsites, corporate developments, private developments and individual boutique accommodation, among others. The same criteria for success applies to most of them; geographical location, nature of the site, quality and style of accommodation, facilities, design content and hospitality. In essence, setting up a glamping site isn’t too different from setting up any other holiday accommodation, although choosing the right structure can be tricky, and a lack of relevant data can make a projected return on investment difficult to pin down. However, there are a few things that will almost always influence the success of a glamping business.
It’s no surprise that the principal of ‘location, location, location’ doesn’t solely apply to domestic properties. Being in a popular tourist area close to an existing attraction, with good access routes and within two to three hours of a city, all contribute. Without these advantages we have to work harder to entice guests to visit, possibly offer lower rental fees, or offer something truly amazing. Look into who visits the area and what they are most likely to want – or be bold and create a demand yourself.
Site and structure
Stunning views or natural features are natural assets and do a lot of the work for us. Without them, keep it simple and charge accordingly, or offer outstanding accommodation or an unusual activity. Some places lend themselves to certain types of structure; for example, woodland settings are great for eco-pods, while lakes can host floating cabins. View the site objectively and appraise its potential. Decide whether it is likely to appeal to couples or families, choose which are the best spots and then find an appropriate structure.
Always check out the competition. Find out what is already on offer in the area, the target demographic, what facilities it provides and how much it costs to stay there. How well are they actually doing? This could reveal potential gaps in the market as well as pitfalls, whether your ideas might work, and how to give your accommodation the edge by making it more appealing.
A strong USP (unique selling point) is increasingly important and could be an amazing location, design, top quality facilities, services, natural features or activities. A strong USP will make a difference. It is already getting competitive out there and at some point having an unusual structure alone will not be enough.
If your chosen structure is something of a blank canvas (pun intended) such as a yurt and you’re installing a couple of units rather than rows of them, a good way to differentiate your site is by giving each an individual style. Admittedly this can require a degree of bravery as it means shunning safe options. However, it’s a great opportunity to use your imagination and you don’t have to play by the rules! Some of the best glamping sites have a great personal story behind them too, a vocation, hobby or story from the land or site has been woven into the character of the accommodation. In a commercially driven society where homogenised products prevail, originality or a unique story really stand out and glamping can easily deliver this.
Level of accommodation
Glamping comes in many forms, from rows of pods with shared facilities to one-off designer treehouses incorporating luxury facilities and hotel grade hospitality. If you’re thinking of going into glamping, you can either: set the bar high, because when the market starts to plateau there will be two ways of maintaining occupancy rates –offering something outstanding or reducing your prices; or install something that is adequate for now, and upgrade when necessary. Some accommodations such as safari tents are already upgrading their facilities to include private use kitchenettes, flushing toilets and private showers. Customer demand is already shifting and for some guests at least, shared facilities and composting loos are no longer acceptable.
Convenience and comfort
A genuine consideration for guests’ convenience and comfort makes such a difference, yet is sometimes totally overlooked. Thoughtful furnishings and facilities and a practical layout can be used to good effect so don’t shy away from them. A guest review that says ‘They thought of absolutely everything’ is the best compliment you can get.
Consider how the accommodation will function when fully occupied; even in small structures there should still be room / storage for luggage and personal effects. Even if you believe you have thought of every comfort, pack a bag (invite friends to maximum capacity if necessary) and stay in your accommodation for a couple of nights. Cook a meal, use all the facilities and make yourselves at home. Is there anything that would make your guests’ stay easier and more comfortable?
Different guest groups such as families and couples have different requirements, so whichever you are catering for ensure that the facilities and accommodation meet them. You also need to take this into account when considering where to site the structures, as couples prefer privacy, whereas families don’t mind having neighbours so much.
Making guests feel welcome is an easy and inexpensive way to add value to your accommodation; a beaming smile and a bit of effort costs nothing. Add vases of hedgerow flowers, a treat or two and a ‘welcome to…’ note and you’ve already created a more cordial atmosphere for very little outlay. Whatever standard of glamping you offer, find a way to set your hospitality above the rest. Additional services, even if you make a small charge for them, will add to your guests’ experience and make their stay more comfortable and memorable. Perhaps you could provide a laundry service, hampers from a local farm shop, your own produce or therapies, for example?
If you know that guests are staying for a honeymoon, proposal, anniversary or birthday, a thoughtful gesture, however simple, will blow them away. It’s also great PR when guests share a photo or update on social media about their holiday because word of mouth and personal recommendations are some of the most effective types of advertising we can get. If you enjoy making people genuinely happy, you could spend less time and money on marketing too.
I’m sure most of us have done this at some point. A waiter asks ‘Is everything alright?’ and we nod enthusiastically, but as soon as they are out of earshot we vow never to return (much to the embarrassment of my dining companions I am rarely guilty of this!). The same applies to some holiday guests who will happily let an agency know what wasn’t right, but to the owner they say ‘Everything is great, we’ll be back!’ It is therefore important that you meet, and preferably exceed, expectations because we can’t always rely on guest feedback. Some common sense (but amazingly not common) considerations are:
Impeccable cleanliness. The accommodation is your guests’ home for the duration of their stay and quite rightly they don’t like to be reminded of any previous occupants. This a common complaint issue in the accommodation industry and I can’t understand why because it’s the easiest thing to get right. Even if guests don’t complain it’s the number one reason that they will not return or recommend the accommodation and you might get a bad online review to boot, which is hard to gloss over. Cleanliness is a crucial contributor to good reviews, recommendations, reputation and repeat bookings. In short, you can’t take any chances in this department. If you’re outsourcing your cleaning, good change over staff are worth their weight in gold – find them and keep them!
A good night’s rest. Create amazing sleeping spaces, because a bad night’s sleep on a noisy or uncomfortable bed is also up there on the guest complaint list. Choose beds carefully and use good mattresses; cheap ones are a false economy as they directly affect your guests’ experience. I can ID a cheap mattress by running a hand over the sheet. If money is running out cut back on something else.
Delivering promises. Advertised features and facilities need to be available. If they are not guests can get cross about it, especially if it influenced their buying decision. They will understandably be frustrated and most will expect to be compensated somehow. If for some unavoidable reason something is not available as advertised, notify your guests in advance and always offer to compensate in some way before being asked.
So, there you have it, in brief anyway! I hope I have given you some idea of the things that give a glamping site, or indeed any holiday accommodation, the best chance of success. Over the years, I’ve found that each location has to be taken on its own merit. Often it’s only when walking around a place that ideas start to flow about what type of structures will work, where to place them and how to furnish them, which is really the key to getting it all right. The glamping holiday accommodation landscape is changing and developing every year, but well put together holidays with good customer service and hospitality never go out of date!
About the Author
Kate Morel represents Quality Unearthed, one of the few dedicated glamping holiday agencies in the UK. Known as the ‘Glamping Guru’ she has spent years working closely with landowner and tourism organisations, visiting locations and providing consultancy advice and support. This, along with her previous experience in sales and marketing, property restoration, design and hospitality, gives her a unique set of skills and perspective on setting up a glamping business. 01348 830922 / www.qualityunearthed.co.uk