From Build to Bookings

Essential tips from Quality Unearthed’s Geno Cleal on letting your brand new glamping structure.

Glamping tent lit up at sunset

So, you’ve set up your glampsite – the location is set, structure type chosen, and you’ve pained through the trials and tribulations of the planning office. You’ve designed, dug, drilled, occasionally dozed and spent far too many late nights deliberating over whether to include a smart tech eco-toilet or just dig a great big hole in the ground.

After all the drama and hard work you’ve finally made it; your new money-making machine is ready. You stand there triumphantly admiring your indubitable masterpiece, waiting for the cha-ching of coins to start piling up in your pockets… But now what!?

How to get the money rolling in may not seem as straightforward as you first envisaged but luckily we’ve been through the mill a few times, so here are a few basic tips to get you started. Of course, you’ll have a few marketing options to consider, there are a few techy bits to get your head around, but ultimately you will need to start creating a brand or a theme that people can relate to.

The market

First up, market research – know your product. What’s new, what’s trending, what’s selling? You should at least have a rough idea already. The term ‘glamping’ is expanding and evolving extremely quickly. What’s cool and what’s relevant now may not be true in five or 10 years’ time. The discerning public are continually looking for new and interesting places to stay. There’s an ever-growing variety of unique and unusual holiday types, whether it’s a weird or funky structure, or a wild or crazy location.

As the market evolves it’s important to stay one step ahead of the trends. Study the competition, particularly in your area. This should give you a firm idea of what works and what doesn’t. Is your welcome pack up to standard? Are your basic facilities up to scratch? Where do you price your structure? There are so many things you can learn and incorporate to give you a competitive edge.

In terms of the facilities and extras you offer, the market shows that expectations are increasing. Customers commonly expect a higher level of service and a basic range of facilities. We tend to find the more extras you offer – fresh flowers and local produce in the welcome hamper, or a lit fire for guests on arrival – the more impact it will have on your success. Glampers are looking for a special or memorable experience, so whatever you can do to improve this experience will ultimately lead to more bookings. As a general rule of thumb, price your structure conservatively, with the aim to push the value up as your reputation and demand grows.

Table set up for dinner outside

Target audience

You need to consider what type of holiday you’re trying to create and who you’re trying to attract. Whether you’re catering for families, groups or couples, each demographic has a different kind of expectation. Again, it is important to know who is coming and why. What type of holiday are they looking for? Striking a balance between catering for different audiences and focussing your attention can be tricky. Catering for everyone increases your audience, but you may end up muddying the waters. With that in mind, it’s best to focus your marketing efforts towards one specific holiday type.

Just like any business, you’re trying to create a brand, and every good brand has an interesting theme or story to tell. Whether you’ve used local materials, incorporated historical features, or if you have a particular penchant for badgers, telling your story is important. It adds to the richness and clarity of your brand. It doesn’t matter if your theme is completely wacky as long as it offers some kind of intrigue or appeal. Choosing the right name is also important. A good name should be warm and welcoming, but also memorable and with a tie into your theme.

Unique Selling Point

This is what sets you apart from your competitors and is what makes paying guests want to come to your glamping site. Maybe you’ve got a great location by the sea, an outdoor bathtub with views over the valley, or perhaps you claim your land is home to the world’s largest wood pigeon? Whatever it is, utilise your Unique Selling Point (USP) in your marketing efforts. If you don’t have one, you need to start thinking; what can you do to make your place unique? If you’re run of the mill, or just trying to recreate what’s already been done, the gap in the market might already be gone.

Once you’ve perfected your theme you can start getting down to the nitty-gritty. Considering over 80 per cent of holidays are found on the internet, you need to start building an online presence. This is the window which connects you to your customers and is central to your success. If you’re unable or unsure whether you can do this yourself, get some help, there are plenty of professionals who can guide you through.

First things first, create a written copy of your story, which you can deploy in various forms on websites, listings, publications, and social media platforms. This is your chance to elaborate on your theme and USP, but also an opportunity to layout every additional selling point you may have. Remember to address your target audience, so visualise the type of experience they want to discover. Be romantic and expressive without diverging from the truth and try to create a real sense of experience. Make sure you tie in events, things to do, places of interest, restaurants, pubs, and anything which is remotely relevant to the holiday.

It’s also vitally important from a search engine optimisation (SEO) standpoint, because the more authoritative things you mention, the greater impact it will have on your Google search ranking. Incorporate as many keywords or search terms as possible, which will further enhance your SEO. What’s more, include transport links and directions, so customers know where and how to find you.

Dining table set outside

Photos

The next step is photography. This is arguably the most important factor in the whole process. Essentially, your photos will sell your property and as the competition increasingly hits higher standards, they must be good! The best photography captures something more than just an inanimate object, it captures the real essence of the experience. Night shots can also be a great addition, with a crackling fire or twinkling stars really exemplifying what glamping is all about.

It’s important to not misrepresent or ‘oversell’, but your first pic or ‘hero shot’, should make you go ‘wow’. Prospective guests will often be skimming through a bunch of thumbnails (small pictures), so you only have one shot to draw them in. If their initial response is ‘meh’, they will browse right on by. A great hero shot can double or even triple your click through rate (CTR), vastly increasing the number of visitors to your page.

Websites

Once your content is ready it’s time to create a shop window and start showcasing. A good first step would be to build a website. If you’re tech-savvy you can do this on your own, especially with the variety of ‘do it yourself’ options available, but make sure you have a firm idea of the style and design you want to achieve.

It is also worth noting that over half of holidays searched online use a mobile phone, so make sure it’s compatible across all devices. What’s more, make sure your website loads within two seconds. If it’s above this threshold it will have a negative impact on your Google search rating. In addition, choose a booking and calendar system that uses iCal. This will allow you to link it together with other major calendar systems and help automate the booking process.

Once you have an established website, you can start driving traffic using Google advertising or pay per click (PPC). In a nutshell, you will bid on keywords or search terms relevant to your target audience, so you appear at the top of the first Google page for that search. Effective PPC also has an important timing element. For example, more people book glamping holidays on a Sunday or during bouts of good weather. You can also tie in key holiday periods such as Valentines or the summer holidays, which could also improve your conversion rate.

Raised wooden glamping hut

Agencies

Even if you have a brilliant website, you might still require additional help, particularly if you’re starting up. You may want to enlist the help of a specialised glamping agency. Agencies can help with everything from copywriting, photography and creating a theme, to your marketing approach and promotional capabilities. They already have a dedicated shop window for showcasing similar types of properties, so offer an excellent starting point for new sites.

As well as agencies you can use large online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Booking.com or Airbnb. These well-established global companies have excellent marketing reach and a large customer base. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly, you will be required to do a lot of the work yourself – photography, copywriting and booking management for example – and there can be hidden fees or additional costs to the customer, such as a cleaning or service fee. The other thing to bear in mind is that these companies have a very large number of properties in their portfolio, so you can get lost in the mire of endless holiday possibilities. It is also important to note that one bad review can be extremely damaging. Generally, poorly rated properties will find themselves stuck at the bottom of search pages, so not only do they receive very few visitors, they can get trapped in a negative cycle.

Media

Social media can also be a great way to engage and generate new customers. Facebook and Instagram, for example, are very image and video friendly so really lend themselves towards strong visual representation. However, try and keep your standards as high as the rest of your online brand. Just because your Facebook feed is filled with cats marooned in slices of bread, doesn’t mean it’s OK to post any old rubbish. Try and keep your content a little bit softer rather than taking an outright sales approach. It’s important to focus on the experience as much as the product itself.

Photos and videos that capture the moment tend to receive a lot more engagement. Also, try to like, share and participate in as many relevant posts as possible. This will inspire other users and businesses to engage more with your activity and help further increase your reach.

Another strong promotional tool is, of course, the media. Many agencies work closely with PR companies to gain online and printed exposure for their properties. However, you can gain exposure yourself by networking and speaking to media outlets and PR companies. They’re always on the lookout for good content, so they’ll be more than happy to hear from you. Offering free stays to journalists is a good way of enticing them in and is almost a prerequisite for mainstream publications. However, don’t disregard smaller or local news outlets too, since they’re likely to have a genuine interest in your project.

Hamper full of food and drinks

Feedback and reviews

Before you’re ready to let, there’s one last snippet of information to consider; feedback and reviews. We’ve touched on the negative potential of reviews in OTAs, so it’s of utmost importance to strike a positive dialogue with your guests. Make sure every angle of your guest experience has been carefully thought out before you start. You’ll have plenty of operational processes to work out – how will you manage changeovers? How much interaction with guests should you offer? What information booklets or advice will guests need to settle in?

It might be a good idea to offer a few free stays to friends or family, just so you can formalise the process. This should stop you from making any glaring mistakes!
Finally, if you want to get the ball rolling, why not offer discounted stays to tempt a few early birds? Maybe you could create a ‘like’ competition on social media to win a free holiday? If you can excite the senses (especially with your fabulous photos and copy!) then there’s every chance it could go viral. Once you have a few dates in the calendar, plus a few reviews in the system, confidence will start to grow, and fingers crossed the bookings will start tumbling in.

 


Geno Cleal

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Geno Cleal is a glamping expert at Quality Unearthed – a specialised glamping agency in Pembrokeshire. Showcasing a range of unique and unusual holiday structures from safari tents to treehouses, Quality Unearthed helps develop, market and promote glamping sites across the UK and France. www.qualityunearthed.co.uk

 

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