Luxury glamping near the south coast of Devon with a touch of farm life
Following careful research, Kate Tregoning and her family have created a luxury glamping offering on their farm. By enhancing the environment for the protected species found on site, planning permission was granted and the family welcomes guests to three safari tents, a Tabernacle and luxury cabin. Open Air Business speaks to Kate.
What’s your back story – your life before glamping?
I worked in London for over 20 years, running a finance then a legal recruitment business while juggling a young family. My husband Andrew still works in London during the week and travels down to Devon at the weekend.
What made you decide to start a glamping business?
My parents decided to retire and sell their family farm in Devon and we had enjoyed spending time there so much as a family that we decided to buy it. I still wanted to work but to spend more time with my children, and glamping seemed to be the perfect fit. We moved back to Devon in 2013 and I spent a year project managing the build for our new family home on the farm. In 2014, we applied for and got planning permission for the glampsite, and opened in the spring of 2015 with three safari tents and a tabernacle (similar to a shepherd’s hut).
How did you research the business before entering it?
I spoke to a well-known farm/glamping franchise, and they visited the site. They were very helpful and thought the location was perfect, but they wanted a very large percentage of the revenue, so I thought why not do it ourselves? The rest was a lot of online investigation and talking to glamping agencies. We also visited three safari tent glamping sites and took a course at Longlands with the wonderful Bella Given.
Ultimately, I built the kind of safari tents that I would have liked to stay in with my family, plus our romantic Tabernacle. This is what I would have liked to stay in with my husband if we could ever have found a babysitter for the weekend.
Tell us about your location and site
Having the right site, in the right location, offering the right accommodation has been the key to getting the initial bookings. We are in the South Hams in Devon, which is a huge advantage as it is a very well established holiday destination. We are very close to both Dartmoor and the sea, so can offer everything from hill walking to surfing. Our location itself is only 1.5 miles from the dual carriageway, which links to the M5 – so we are within three hours of London and are very accessible. We have a very private little valley with great views that feels very rural, but we are within 15 minutes of zoos, Totnes, the Dartmouth steam railway and countless other attractions.
We also have two outstanding village pubs within walking distance that accept dogs.
How did you tackle getting planning?
I engaged a planning consultant and we approached it as a farm diversification. I also knocked down a couple of dilapidated barns, so overall there was a planning gain. We found we were on a lesser horse shoe bat super highway (that was protected under European law), had a barn owl and were a breeding ground for cirl buntings (only 700 breeding pairs left in the UK).
Instead of being an obstacle, we embraced it and enhanced the environment for them; for example, the owls are now breeding as we have put up a nesting box and are managing the grassland to maximise their food source. The habitat changes have also helped the cirl buntings, who have now got multiple nests on the site, and we are very careful to have minimum light disturbance for the bats. All of this was in our planning document and seemed to be well received – as well as keeping it to a small scale.
What glamping accommodation do you offer and why did you choose it?
We have three safari tents (sleeping six in each), a Cornish tabernacle for couples and a cabin (sleeping four). The safari tents and tabernacle are entering their third season and we are about to launch our new Cabin. The mix has worked well for us because of how we were able to position them on site. Marketing to such different audiences is a challenge though, but we are able to open all year round while maximising the peak season.
How do you publicise yourself?
We have worked with glamping agencies initially to get bookings and now, in our third year, we are high up in Google rankings so we get a lot more direct customers as well as using some of the glamping websites.
How did you choose your interior decoration?
I decided not to try to appeal to everyone, but to do something that I really loved. It might put some people off, but most people that book really like it too, so I find that I have guests that I get along with. This makes it a pleasure to look after them rather than a job.
What challenges have you faced?
Building the platforms over a very wet winter on a hill was a challenge, and expensive as we had to sort out roads to them rather than mown paths. It has been worth it in the end as guests can drive to their tents to drop off children and luggage before returning to the car park.
If you look at the cost of the tents it seems like a relatively cheap option, but getting your site up to scratch and furnishing them to the right standard is very expensive if you want to appeal to the luxury glamping market and have customers return to you. Whatever your budget is, have 30 per cent in reserve because there can be a lot of unforeseen costs.
What are your plans for next season?
Having invested a lot in the last two years, I want a year off building and to grow the cash reserves before the next expansion.
What advice could you give to someone coming into the industry?
Location, location, location! If you are not in a recognised holiday destination, are you close to a major city and can you build something extraordinary to attract guests?
There has been a huge influx of new glamping sites in the last couple of years of varying quality. You will need to have a strong marketing plan to attract guests to your site, or be prepared to sacrifice money for an agency fee – better to have 75 per cent of something than 100 per cent of nothing when you first start out.
Be realistic about the earning potential in the first three years – we have been able to invest in and grow the business because we have had another income coming in.
Be realistic about how much time it takes to run and grow a business – particularly if you are trying to fit in looking after a family. You will be at your busiest during the school holidays, which works well with older children that can help out and earn some pocket money but doesn’t fit so well with pre-school children.
With five plus units you can’t do changeover by yourself – each of our tents takes five man hours to clean and prepare. Hire fantastic people and keep them happy and motivated! With our new Cabin opening we have a team of six of us now on changeover days, plus a carpenter, plumber and electrician on speed dial in case of emergencies.
Don’t do it unless you really enjoy talking to people and helping them to get the most out of their holiday. It is not like having holiday cottages; if you live on site you will see and hear them, so it is not a job for an introvert.
Kate is offering our readers a 10 per cent mid-week discount (outside of school holidays) and the chance to come and see for yourself three different types of accommodation.
Compton Holt, Marldon
Devon, TQ3 1TA