Tom Critchley, MD of Caboose & Co, shares his advice for event organisers looking to offer glamping either as part of an event or instead of!
Now more than ever, businesses need to diversify and be ready to adapt. Staycations were already seeing a rise in popularity before Covid-19 was even a tiny blip on our radar, but current circumstances have really accelerated national demand for holidays in scenic spots.
With all but a handful of festivals and live events cancelled this year, forward thinking organisers have pivoted to find a way of delivering an experience to their audiences, keeping some revenue flowing and supporting their valued suppliers. Already featured in Open Air Business is a great example from the team at Kambe Events who used the venue for Shambala to launch Carry on Kelmarsh – a series of glamping weekends at the Kelmarsh Estate. Vision Nine, organisers of Boardmasters, also took the initiative and ran Cloud Nine in the ground of St Giles House in Dorset throughout August.
No one really knows what 2021 will look like for live events and it will be an immense struggle for the industry to get back on its feet. That said, people will want to reconnect with real life experiences and, despite Covid measures (distancing, face coverings, sanitiser etc.) re-engage with the event scene. Indeed, despite such restrictions, the events that did take place this summer – see Wild Fields, Gisburne Park Pop-up, Medicine Festival – reported great feedback.
One way organisers can strive to recoup revenues and offer more of the experiences consumers are demanding in this day and age is to add some form of accommodation into the mix. Especially as post-Covid events are likely to see attendee numbers capped for health and safety. For existing venues with events licenses it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to go down the route of offering glamping holiday weekends as ‘events’. Where there is no events license you should look into the 26 day rule (extended to 56 days in 2020) for permitted development, to include tent camping and portable buildings.
With more than 10 years’ experience running large sporting and corporate events around the world, I know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to glamping and camping at events. I started Caboose & Co. after noticing the distinct lack of quality accommodation for festivalgoers and staff. Many organisers thought it was easier to allocate basic camping or to avoid accommodation altogether; they didn’t want to fine tune their approach.
We took a look at what was already being done and decided to refine and improve it. I’ve gone through everything I’ve learned and can now share with you my lessons, which are applicable at every scale. So, if you are thinking about either adding glamping/camping to your event or pivoting entirely and starting a pop-up summer site at a venue, here are my six essential considerations.
1) Think about your attendees
Over 10 years ago I ran my first campsite and since 2016 I’ve looked after the camping village for The Open Championship. One year saw a youth initiative launched with free camping for 16-24 year olds to encourage young people and families to attend the golfing spectacle. Starting with two rugby pitches and tents, we now cover 25 acres and have a capacity of nearly 2,000 campers each year in pre-pitched tents with a campers’ clubhouse.
This shows that there is always an opportunity to scale up. To start with, work out what type of customer you want to attract right now. Think about budget, what they’re willing to spend and what they expect from a stay. Younger people don’t really spend much money and from an economic and budget point of view glamping wouldn’t work. We tweaked the site at The Open slightly to make sure that families came which created a relaxed vibe. The key to growth and the success of your event is about balancing budgets with an enhanced hospitality experience.
Know your customer, work out who you want on site and then target them. But also be ready to adapt and change as your location dictates. Glamping is about making camping more accessible for people who are less hardy; they want to be around nature but not in the thick of it. They want an economical holiday but they also want to have ice in their gin and tonic at the end of the day! The Hoxton hotel group pitched things just right with their pop-up Camp Hox at Eynsham Hall in August. Campers had 24/7 hosts, a white port and tonic bar and even someone to do the washing up…
2) A warm welcome and added value
You know the saying – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Before attendees even arrive on-site you need to have pre-arrival info sorted.
We work on the principle that less than half of the people coming to the campsite will have read their documentation before they come, so we pick out the most important bits and put it in an email. Include check-in time and instructions, direct driving directions; anything that’s vital for bringing them to you, stress-free. After all, it’s not like a hotel with a check-in desk and porters, and if the customer is new to glamping they may not know what to expect. Other info can go into a PDF attached to the email to keep your first correspondence simple and concise.
Advise people that they should bring towels, flip flops, warm clothing and bobble hats. It’s so important for people to bring a torch and extra layers/bedding in case a cold night isn’t what they’re used to!
You’ve done your bit to make sure they don’t arrive stressed – they have all the info they need. Chances are, they might be flustered for reasons outside of your control. Make their check-in seamless. This is your first face-to-face contact, and here at Caboose & Co. we put people at ease when they arrive, making sure it’s clear where to go and what to do. You don’t want people arriving to find you overloaded with check-ins at peak times, so make sure you’re following on from the email with visible signs and no congestion.
What embellishments can you give customers to enhance their experience? You don’t want to be selling a box in a field. Find simple ways to upgrade what they experience so that they feel relaxed and pampered. The key thing here though is to keep it simple. Find the easy wins and celebrate those. You’re selling a stay, an experience, not just a bed in a tent. At Carry on Kelmash glampers could choose to stay in vintage tents and upgrade to a package which included memory foam mattresses, sheepskin rugs, fairy lights, cushions and even a faux plant!
3) Consider the local community
With regards to the local community, you’ll encounter a lot of interest when you start out. The community, as well as your glampers, want peace of mind so you have to be ready to engage with them. Most glamping sites are deep in the country with beautiful scenic views and walks. If you’re repurposing a green field event site then this could work well but you need to be considerate of everyone.
Think about security and land boundaries. If people are coming onto the land via footpaths it spoils the escapism experience for the private glampers, but if you set up a glamping site in the middle of a beauty spot (even if you own the land or are a rights owner) you’re interrupting the public and community. It’s a tricky one to work out so just have that in mind. Hiring security facilities will help them (and their property) feel safe, and obviously your own infrastructure needs to be protected and maintained.
4) Health and safety matters
It’s always your responsibility to be aware of health and safety measures. I recommend finding a good consultant to guide you in compiling all documentation for fire safety and risk assessments. Once you’ve done that, go through scenarios and think about what could go wrong. Fire is obvious but don’t forget about adverse weather, flooding etc.
If something is too much for a guest then they may choose to leave. That’s okay as long as you have done all you can to mitigate any inconvenience. Have a contingency plan as some attendees may not have the option to go home, so having a Plan B for accommodating them in case that sort of scenario crops up is a must. If you’ve thought about it beforehand and you’ve you prepped yourself and all of your team, then you know you’re ready for it. Touch wood I’ve been lucky so far, and we haven’t had any major problems – hopefully you won’t either!
5) Food and beverage
Think carefully about your food and beverage. Everyone needs to eat, and having a drink is a great way to relax (and a must on holiday). Most of the time people are self-sufficient but entirely self-catered glamping doesn’t really work because people want to enjoy their time away and have the ability to switch off completely.
Where can they get a cup of tea and a croissant in the morning? Think about some basic dry goods that are available to anyone who comes so that they can at least feed themselves – this will allow people who are less prepared to enjoy themselves. To make it extra special bring in food and drink vendors to sell hot food like tacos, pizzas or exciting world cuisine. Cocktails are always a crowd pleaser and using caterers that would have usually serviced an event helps them out with business during this difficult time.
6) Resources at the ready
People don’t comprehend the manpower and organisation required to ensure an efficient changeover – totally stripping and cleaning each tent and facilites. This is even more important in light of Covid, where deep cleans are a high priority. You’ve got the location, a lovely set-up and amazing pods/tents/units but then come the hidden costs and effort that goes into cleaning and preparing the site for the next arrivals. This lesson is actually the most important part in my opinion. You need to get everything right so that the next guest experience starts from when that glamping room is ready.
Make sure you have enough resources in the first few weeks. Have extra hands available to deliver a seamless changeover process as it will take a little time to get into the rhythm.
When you think you have your glamping operation sorted, unforeseen problems can still arise so it’s good to start small and build up slowly. Have some test weekends with friends, family and neighbours so you can get their feedback and get your team up to speed before you have paying customers on your hands.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Critchley is the managing director of Caboose & Co. who’s glamping pods offer solutions for camping and glamping sites, outdoor venues and live event organisers wanting to expand their accommodation offerings. www.cabooseandco.com