While fantasy-style accommodation may be increasingly popular with guests, owners need to be cautious when marketing their offerings, writes Tally Wade.
Fantasy-style living has undergone a surge in popularity since Hollywood recreated JRR Tolkien’s novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Staying true to Tolkien’s original 1930s illustrations, director Peter Jackson recreated the idyllic surroundings of The Shire, home to the Hobbits, in Matamata, New Zealand. The set was built using permanent materials and is now a popular tourist spot.
The fantasy dwellings on offer to glampers go by many names (houses, burrows, pods, lodges, etc), but most hark back to Tolkien’s original concept – a single storey dwelling with an arched roof and circular doors and windows, created using plenty of timber to give a naturalistic feel and helping them to blend in with the landscape. The most true to the original concept will be earth covered and set into the side of a bank or hill.
The style of accommodation on offer has become a major factor in glampers’ choice of destination for short break. More and more diverse structures are appearing to cater for this trend and many of the most successful glampsites offer a range of accommodation options. Fantasy-style structures are increasingly being added into the mix and there are now more than a handful of hut, lodge and pod manufacturers offering products for this market, many insulated and suitable for year round occupancy.
A word of warning
Although it may be tempting to make the most of the fun and the financial reward of offering fantasy dwellings, glampsite operators need to be aware of certain terms when marketing their accommodation. The term ‘Hobbit’ is trademarked by Middle-earth Enterprises (a trading name for a division of The Saul Zaentz Company), formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises. The Tolkien Estate (comprising the family of JRR Tolkien) sold the exclusive, worldwide rights to certain elements of the author’s two most famous literary works, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, in the 1960s. These rights include the names of places, objects and events within the books. Unfortunately the word ‘Hobbit’ is among those protected, along with ‘Middle-earth’ and ‘Shire’. The Tolkien family is believed to have retained a small percentage interest and are active in protecting the terms JRR Tolkien created within his stories. Since the making of Peter Jackson’s films of the same names, Warner Bros also now has an interest.
In the last year, two companies in the UK have been threatened with legal action for using the name Hobbit, including one glamping provider, West Stowe Pods in Suffolk.
“We wanted to add to our glamping accommodation by creating a true to the book ‘Hobbit House’ and went to Middle-earth Enterprises with our plans wanting to purchase a license,” says Jan Lengyel. “We were actually five days into a Kickstarter campaign and had raised £24,000 of our £65,000 budget through crowdfunding, but Warner Bros Studios got involved and our campaign was pulled.
“We also received a 12 page document from the Tolkien Estate telling us to cease and desist. We tried tweaking the name of the accommodation to a ‘Poddit Hole’ located in ‘Centre-earth’ (not Middle-earth), but received communication from the Tolkien Estate to say that these terms were still too close to those used in JRR Tolkien’s works and to find a title that didn’t rhyme with the word Hobbit. Needless to say we have had to abandon the project.”
Manufacturers of accommodation units should also be cautious about the use of the terms ‘Hobbit’, ‘Hobbit Hole’, ‘Middle-earth’ and ‘Shire’. The only provider currently licensed to produce accommodation using the term Hobbit is Wooden Wonders in Maine in the US.
Open Air Business contacted Middle-earth Enterprises for clarification on the issue. The response was as follows: “Hobbit and Shire are trademarks owned by our parent company and are therefore reserved by law for our legitimate licensees. Unless projects are made or operated by our authorized licensees they should not be marketed as Hobbit-style or Shire-style accommodations.
“At this time our sole licensee for wooden Hobbit-style structures is Wooden Wonders in Maine. We do not have any glamping licensees. Trademark law is very specific and we as trademark owners do our best to comply in order to protect those marks associated with the Tolkien lore. We understand that most illegal uses of our marks are made by individuals who, like us, love the property. Nevertheless, the unauthorized use of our marks can cause harm.”
CASE STUDY: North Shire
Carol Hopkinson talks about her fantasy accommodation.
What made you decide to offer accommodation inspired by The Lord of the Rings?
We are huge fantasy fans and love The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. We bought a farm that needed lots of TLC and thought, what better place to bring up our five children than a shire? We live by the rule ‘do what you love and love what you do,’ so slowly started converting the property so we could offer fantastical accommodation. It has taken a lot of time, money and perseverance, but we now have a beautiful fantasy house as well as ‘Storybook Cottage,’ shepherd huts and gypsy bow top caravans that we also hire out to festivals and events.
We opened just over a year ago and by February we were already at full occupancy. The house is a year round rental. It is basically a proper house with a luxury bathroom with roll top bath, Harrison Spinks organic cotton, hand stitched mattresses and a full selection of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films.
We have had to be careful what we call our accommodation so not to be in breach of copyright by using terms such as Hobbit, but so far we have had no problems. We have just had to come up with other ways of describing our offering in our marketing materials.
How did you create it?
We designed the house ourselves and believe it is as close as you can get in the world to those featured in the film The Hobbit. It was built by James Potts, a guest we got to know while he was staying on site for another building job nearby. He did such a good job that we named it after him – Potts Corner.
We have just got the go ahead to build Hagrid’s hut from the Harry Potter films next. It will be the only one made from stone. JK Rowling has one but hers is made from timber.
What do your guests love about it, and what do they say?
I think the appeal is the same appeal that draws people to the films. It is true fantasy, escapism and magic. We obviously got something right as within six months we had made it into The Times top 50 places to stay in the UK.
We have exceptionally high scores on TripAdvisor and our Facebook page too. Guests report that they have never slept so well and that they love the relaxed feel we have created.
What are your plans for the future?
We have a holiday let we are converting into the Weasley’s kitchen, and we are opening our Green Dragon kitchen next year too. We are also adding a magical wedding venue and are holding a Fairy Festival in August.
One of the most exciting developments is our fantasy pod. We will be installing five here next year, but have a worldwide copyright and will start to market them. They are a true plug and play dwelling that can be covered in earth. Made in the UK, they are strong enough to drive a car over and feature two bedrooms or a bedroom and a bathroom. They will be on sale soon!
Middle-earth Enterprises – www.middleearth.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
Tolkien Estate – www.tolkienestate.com
Warner Bros – email@example.com
Pennine Pods 0333 0147778 / www.penninepods.co.uk
The Little Hut Company 07763 055151 / www.thelittlehutcompany.co.uk