Getting accredited without losing your unique edge; Stephanie Currie explains Quality in Tourism’s new Unique Accommodation Assessment

For most of you, the yurts and tipis will be dissembled and packed away in a local farmer’s shed and you will be eagerly awaiting some photo opportunities of that perfect frosty morning, or better yet snowy morning, to keep your Instagram page alive through the depths of the winter. For those of you that are braving the winter, good on you! The quiet months will give you some time to reflect on the year – What could have been done better? What can we do next? Where do we need to invest? The list goes on.

Pic: Getty Images

The glamping industry has grown significantly over recent years, nothing new here, and now far exceeds just glamourous camping, with boats and train carriages, and even glass pods 400m up on a sheer cliff face being among the options for the adventurous traveller. Being a keen ‘glamper’ myself, I would not dare to say that the industry is becoming ‘mainstream’. However, the growth does mean that in some cases your uniqueness might not be enough for you to stand out from the crowd, and there is greater importance on ensuring you are up to date with current laws and legislation.

Your guests are putting their trust in you and it is fair to think that they will assume you are a legally compliant business. Ticking all the boxes won’t shield from unfortunate incidents. However, it should guarantee you are not found negligent should the worst happen. Seeking advice and, better yet, becoming affiliated by an official body such as Quality in Tourism will give you that seal of approval and show your guests you are taking extra steps to ensure their enjoyment and safety.

Online reviews are an excellent way to market your business and it is easy to encourage your guests to support you here. But why would you want to leave your business reputation solely to hearsay? Get an official accreditation or star rating and show your guests you really are committed to their safety as well as getting your qualities endorsed by a professional.

Quality in Tourism, or QiT as we are known in the industry, are one of the UK’s top industry experts for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors, offering support and guidance to hundreds of businesses. Having ran the VisitEngland star rating scheme for a number of years, and currently running schemes across destinations in the UK, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and South Africa, our team and assessors have gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge, and visit hundreds of properties a year making them a gold mine of knowledge.

The perception of the star rating may be a little old hat in the industry, with many businesses saying that they don’t see the value or they don’t need it, yet we still complain about the ‘big guys’ ruining our small businesses. Unfortunately they really are ticking all the boxes when it comes to consistency in quality, services and facilities, and that is, in part, because they are regularly assessed by independent bodies such as ourselves; we know it also helps to have millions in the bank.

Although you might not think that you are influenced by a star rating, research really does suggest that you are. The visual perception of an official ‘seal of approval’ is proven to be important to guests. Look at it this way, if you had two identical glamping businesses that ticked all your boxes and one of them had an official star rating with recent awards showing off their excellence and unique qualities, which one would you choose? It is very much a subconscious thing; you wouldn’t buy food from the supermarket if it wasn’t labelled, so why stay in a stranger’s house or on their land?

Research shows that consumers won’t be willing to pay more for highly ranked businesses, which is a sensible move as these scores are solely based on each guest’s experience, which will be different for everyone. An official star rating gives a true and professional benchmark of quality, facilities and service. For example, if a business has an official five star rating, expect to get something special, but it might come at a price. Equally, an officially rated three star property might have top reviews on TripAdvisor and still be a great place, but the official rating shows consumers that it probably has less facilities or the quality is more basic. It’s just about meeting your guests’ expectations.

The Unique Accommodation Scheme
Our recent rebranding has allowed us to adapt the more traditional star rating assessments to incorporate this growing sector. The assessments are very much focused on the business and highlight the quirks rather than criticising them. There is no dictating, no over prescriptive requirements, just honest, constructive feedback. The new Unique Accommodation Scheme was launched at this year’s Glamping Show in September. Developed in consultation with hospitality businesses, the assessment embraces the differences that make your property unique. Not only can it incorporate glamping businesses but any tourism accommodation provider with unique or less conventional aspects, such as a B&Bs, self-catering units or hotels, giving them a competitive edge.

Assessments will be carried out annually and memberships will be on a rolling basis to give more flexibility in comparison to the historical spring renewals! Prices start from £125 + VAT for a small business but our team will give you a bespoke quote that is based on the time it will take the assessor. Rest assured, our assessors are not ‘on the clock’ and we won’t send you a bill if we go over time, we still happily accept cups of coffee and homemade cake! We will also waive the joining fee for anyone signing up before the end of March 2018.

Pic: Getty Images
What we look for

1) Physical Quality
The assessor will be looking at the quality, condition and cleanliness in every area available to guests. For example, fittings, beds, bedding, lighting, heating, the list goes on. With the new scheme, alternative means of supplying things like lighting can be praised if done well but not conventionally.

High scores will be given for the superior quality and lower for more basic fittings and fixtures, for example. This will be done using the assessors’ professional knowledge and benchmarking against other similar businesses across the country.

2) Service
There are lots of ways you can show your assessor what you offer and they will take into account your online reputation. It is a good idea to get everything ready as you would for a new guest, to really give the assessor an idea of the genuine experience. You might want to light the fire or set up afternoon tea, or simply send them pre-arrival details as you would normally.

Don’t worry if you are literally booked out all season, that’s great, our trained assessors have a good eye and can see the difference between guests’ mess and longer term neglect. Sometimes your guests might even enjoy being part of your assessment, but we will always make sure you check with them first.

3) Marketing
We aren’t looking to see if you are using the latest digital mod cons or juggling every single social media platform, although we are happy to advise you here. Our assessors want to see that anywhere your business is advertised, it meets expectations. They will also help you to highlight your ‘best bits’ as well as the little things you can do to ensure guests choose you. For example, having information easily available for families, those with accessibility needs or perhaps guests that are concerned about their carbon footprint. Nowadays, your marketing will mostly be online, but anything you produce should be up-to-date and a true reflection of your business.

We do offer advisory assessments although the star rating assessment is best suited to a business that is ready to go or already established. Assessments can take place out of season also, so long as you can get the business reasonably ready. If you would just like a seal of approval, we can offer a Safe, Clean and Legal (SCL) assessment which will again give a seal of approval without going into detail with regards your level of quality.

Quality in Tourism has been assessing properties for over 15 years and is an expert in the field, offering advice, support and accreditation for tourism and hospitality businesses across the UK. The organisation is working in collaboration with the Glamping Association, a free membership organisation, in a drive to keep the glamping sector growing and improving without taking away the individuality of businesses and the creativity of owners and staff. It commits to bringing the industry together in order to promote best practice and ensure the safety and enjoyment of all glampers and glampsite owners.

About Open Air Business 1380 Articles
The voice of outdoor hospitality - in print and online. If you liked this article, subscribe to the printed magazine here. We produce industry e-news between issues - please sign up here