Glampsites have the opportunity to tap into a growing community looking for outdoor adventure whatever the weather, writes Craig Wareham.
To maintain a sustainable source of income, open air accommodation needs to be attractive for longer than the summer season. Outdoor enthusiast Craig Wareham created an off-road navigation app to help others enjoy adventures and now he sees a huge opportunity for glamping sites and venues to widen their appeal and fill those off-peak slots.
Images of yurts and wood-fired hot tubs may look desirable on Instagram, but for those used to long warm evenings in France the novelty might wear off after a couple of days of drizzle in Dorset.
However, there is a significant and growing community that will happily take everything the elements can throw at them, and tapping into this market will ensure that the investment in outdoor living will provide returns over the longer term.
One of the obstacles to enjoying the outdoors is accessibility. I created an app inspired by the hand-drawn sketches and details of routes from a series of walking guides produced by Alfred Wainwright in the late 1950s. These guides made it possible for people to follow recommended routes, safe in the knowledge that they would have a great day out and not get lost!
We embedded this concept into a smartphone app, with the routes recommended by a vibrant community and supported by mapping, photographs and turn-by-turn directions. The app is now part of Outdooractive, Europe’s largest digital outdoor tourism platform. It is popular with hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers and wild swimmers among others, and the platform is used by destinations across Europe to promote their attractions to over 11 million people with a passion for open air adventures.
A growing community
The platform also provides insights into consumer behaviours. A survey of the top 250 most popular walks on the Outdooractive app during lockdown indicated that activity had more than doubled, reflecting a passion for walking that has also been seen with the increased popularity of programmes such as Kate Humble’s Coastal Britain, Coast (which ran to 10 series) and Claire Balding’s Ramblings.
There was a staggering 246% increase in downloads in the first six weeks of lockdown, and we have seen this trend continue as awareness of the benefits of walking – in lifting mood and increasing vitality and wellbeing – grows.
This usage extends beyond the summer months; autumn is a peak season for walking, and other peak periods include Easter and the break between Christmas and New Year. The increase in pop-up cafes at National Trust properties and other venues is encouraging people to wrap up and get outside. Building on this knowledge, by offering a country getaway that is cosy and close to some bracing walks, glamping accommodation providers would be able to tempt people back in the colder months.
The survey also showed that two-thirds of the routes were near water – be it sea, lakes, ponds or rivers. Other findings showed the importance of getting up on high to put problems in perspective, with hills or mountains the focal point in 15% of walks, and the value of trees with a further 13% centred on woodlands.
According to the survey, the average walk length was 2.6 miles and most took just over an hour (65 minutes). This suggests that owners could benefit from promoting their venues as being close to river trails, hill walks and woodland rambles.
Accommodation for walking festivals
Glampsites also have the opportunity to providing alternative, boutique accommodation for walking festivals and food events. Many of the walking festivals were forced to cancel in 2020, which was a great blow to the organisers (the majority volunteers), as well as to local businesses. As most don’t have the resources to ‘go virtual’, for 2021 we worked with a score of these festivals to create a presence on the Outdooractive website and app. This has enabled them to maintain their profile and for walkers to still visit the locations and enjoy self-guided routes suggested by the organisers.
We have also been promoting the festivals to our user base of outdoor enthusiasts, which is getting a good response. As the travel bans are lifted across Europe, we can see more people travelling to take part in walking and cycling holidays and all these visitors need somewhere to stay for a number of nights.
Create your own routes
Accommodation that is memorable, with good walks on the doorstep, will be popular all year round. Keen walkers and cyclists have been sharing their favourite routes for many years now, so it is easy for owners to select some near to their sites – or capture their own favourite and secret places, simply by recording the route in the app while they walk and uploading photographs and descriptions. They can also add points of interest, such as their glampsite, and bits of information about themselves. These routes are hosted on Outdooractive and made accessible to the international community.
It is also possible for a glampsite to embed the routes on their own website so that visitors can see what is on offer and plan their activities before their weekend away. This is particularly good if you have groups of friends or families staying – knowing if the routes are muddy or wheelchair friendly ahead of time can make a big difference to their enjoyment.
Working with tourism
Long-distance pathways are a distinctive feature of the UK and provide an attraction both for British and overseas visitors. Not many countries have the wealth of public footpaths and cycle routes that we enjoy in the UK, and these are all across the country. At the end of 2021, Natural England is set to announce that it has secured approval for all sections of the England Coast Path.
England’s 2,748 miles of coastline is one of the most varied and beautiful in the world, and many people are choosing to walk it in sections, something that is being supported and promoted by regional tourism authorities.
We have worked with the South West Coast Path Association, North York Moors National Park and Visit Suffolk, among others, to promote self-guided circular walks in areas featured in the TV series, Kate Humble’s Coastal Britain.
There is a strong drive to encourage people to get off the beaten track and explore beautiful countryside that is less well known.
Malcolm Hodgson, national trails officer at the North York Moors National Park, said: “It’s good that more people recognise the beauty of North Yorkshire after seeing it on TV – but there’s plenty else to discover on this coastline.
“By having the local routes on Outdooractive, we’re hoping visitors can discover some of our lesser-known trails, including hidden gems such as farm hideaways and other rural retreats.”
Tips for Extending the Season
Put your accommodation on the map
Select some of your favourite publicly accessible routes across your property or surrounding countryside, track them in the app and upload them with photographs showing your site as a suggested place to stay.
Team up with local walking festivals at the start and end of the season
Organisers are keen to support local businesses and need accommodation for their participants. This will provide profile and word of mouth recommendations.
Use keywords on your website
If you have a blog or similar consider including phrases like ‘good autumn walks near xxx’ or ‘best woodland walk in yyy’. Write about your walk and link to the route on Outdooractive so that people can follow it easily.
Consider wellness campaigns
Include outdoor activities within suggestions for feelgood weekends away, with recommendations for memorable places to eat with roaring fires. Make it easy for people to visualise to encourage them to risk a weekend in February.
Go beyond staycationners
As the travel bans lift, the market gets bigger. Overseas visitors tend to go to well-known places; being a point of interest on the Outdooractive platform will encourage keen walkers and cyclists to explore less well-known locations.
Create a content calendar with seasonal inspiration
Think about how your site will look through the seasons – autumn leaves, snowy hillsides, naturalised bulbs in the meadow. Take photographs throughout the year and promote your venue as a base for outdoor adventure.
About the Author
Craig Wareham, CEO of Outdooractive UK (www.outdooractive.com), developed the first app for off-road mapping and navigation. He wanted to make exploring the outdoors more accessible to those baffled by paper maps and to create a community for sharing adventures and recommended routes. The routes are available via a smartphone app to follow using GPS, and can easily be shared on a glampsite’s website using a widget (a bit of code). If you would like to contribute a walk from your location this will be shared with the over 11 million outdoor enthusiasts across Europe and the UK.