As the glamping industry gains momentum, specialist resorts are a logical progression – could you get in on the action? Kate Morel shares her experience and vision
If a friend said ‘we’ve just booked a resort holiday’, what image or thought would pop into your head? A glamorous hotel, spa and restaurant complex, or zipping to the pool first thing to stake your claim on a sun-lounger? Which, by the way, we can now pre-book via an app – yes folks, the mobile device has finally achieved its true destiny.
What do we really mean by ‘a resort holiday’, anyway? Currently, it usually means an ‘all in one’ destination where everything you could need is right there on site – accommodation, shops, restaurants, activities and entertainment. Today, a lot of resorts tend to be owned by large companies or corporations, or maybe even part of a chain. These purpose-built resort developments might, however, just have a few distant roots embedded in our eclectic, Victorian resort towns and holiday destinations. I often pass through them on my travels and it’s easy to see when a place enjoyed its era of prosperity, denoted by the predominant style of architecture. In places such as Aberystwyth, Llangollen and Buxton, surviving buildings, parks and statues remain as echoes of a thriving heyday. What they all had in common, and still do, is that they developed organically around a natural beauty spot or wellness feature; so in some respects, nothing has changed, except the feature is now more often manufactured.
A last Resort…
For as many of us that might shudder at being woken by Ruth Madoc chirping ‘Hi de Hi Campers’, there are as many who would love it. Depending on the time of year, we might also prefer the tranquillity of a quiet forest retreat, or aim for an action-packed activity break – who’s off to a ski resort this month? There’s something in the resort world to suit most of us and whatever we feel like doing. And, while there might be pockets of antiquated coloured jacket here and there, today’s resort landscape is moving on, and shaping up to be something far more tailored.
Like any other holiday accommodation type, the glamping industry is one of polarity and its resorts are no different. At one end, we have intimate, boutique offerings, like the exclusive eco-resorts that the likes of Indonesia and South Africa do so well – I might have mentioned it before but do check out ‘Sandat’ in Bali for scrumptious boutique inspiration. At the other, large resorts have been quick to diversify, and have added glamping of some description to their developments. In line with what their guest demographic would want and expect, some have even commissioned their own structures with integrated bathroom and kitchen facilities.
One might argue that this has influenced industry facility standards, as more guests staying at small sites are now complaining when bathrooms are not en-suite – even when they are clearly marketed as being separate. Other factors are probably contributing too, hyped-up articles by journalists and bloggers swooning over ‘toasty warm tents’ are creating high expectations. It’s also fair to say that the glamping industry is naturally developing, as manufacturers create new features and add-ons every year.
Leading by example
For glamping resorts, at the pure luxury end of the market, personally I don’t think it gets much better than ‘Paws Up’ in Montana, North America. They’ve got it all – a stunning location, gorgeous accommodations, absolutely ‘on the money’ activities; who wouldn’t want to: “Step aboard our old fashioned horse-drawn wagon and enjoy a unique ride to the Blackfoot River. Sit back, relax and take in the joy of watching Montana’s famous Big Sky play host to the rolling hills, gorgeous backdrop and local wildlife that call Paws Up Ranch home. This scenic ride ends at the banks of the Blackfoot River, where you’ll enjoy an authentic chuck wagon dinner. The finest offerings are prepared before your eyes.”
They’ve taken their Wild West history and woven it into a fantastic, one off experience for their guests, with themed accommodation and well thought out activities that will send guests home with unforgettable memories… Book me in!
Closer to home, catering to the family market, Love2Stay in Shropshire is an ambitious resort development, which includes 122 touring pitches, a restaurant, pizzeria, and safari tents with private hot tubs, fitted kitchens, roll top baths and underfloor heating, setting a new benchmark for glamping accommodation in the UK.
The site was previously laid to pasture, and while it had pleasant enough views, it wasn’t a place that visitors would flock to; in fact, unless they popped into the café, caravan or garden store, they’d drive straight past, usually heading for the Welsh coast. However, Salop Leisure created their own attractions by including a fitness suite, communal hot tubs, fishing lake, barefoot sensory walk, woodland hideout and den building, yoga, meditation classes, children’s nature play zone, and plant-powered natural swimming pool… among others! It opened in spring 2017 and has already welcomed over 22,000 guests; I think that figure rather speaks for itself.
A corporate domain?
There are some astoundingly massive developments planned for the UK which include glamping, running into millions and millions of pounds. Given the level of investment involved, most are owned and created by powerful corporations and companies, and fabulous they are too. However, as I said earlier, there’s something out there for everyone, or at least I believe there should be, and looking at other examples already up and running it’s easy to see how glamping can also deliver a smaller but perfectly formed resort style development.
For smaller companies and landowners who want to get into resort development, glamping could, strategically employed, be a way to do so simply by starting small, reinvesting, and developing over time. It goes without saying that the number of units we develop needs to be sufficient to support other site investments such as eateries and facilities, in line with our chosen business model and guest profile. As a rule, the bigger the investment, the more units are required, unless we’re creating something high end and exclusive where the high occupancy rates and rental fees will compensate.
We can take inspiration from all sorts of existing places and sources to create our own ‘beauty spot’ and unique selling point, maybe even take a look into our local history; where did the Victorians hang out, and why? We can also work any number of leisure movements and activities into the business model and unique selling point we employ. We might not have millions to invest, but we can always get creative. Sure, we might not end up with a 300 million-pound site, but if we keep abreast of the trends and competition and develop intelligently, in time we should have an immensely successful, profitable business. Not to mention something to be proud of, and maybe even pass onto our children.
Tally asked me a final question when writing this piece and it was: ‘in an ideal world, what would Kate Morel build?’ This really got me thinking. In an ideal world I would build a resort that resulted in the following mock review:
“We’d been driving for two and a half hours, the kids were getting cranky and my partner was tired, he didn’t finish work till later than expected and we were well behind schedule. Finally, we arrived, weary but excited and the kids were beside themselves, they’d been so looking forward to coming here, in fact we all had.
As we drove into the site, the reception was dead easy to find – clearly signposted and plenty of parking, thank goodness because the kids were now bouncing off the car roof! The check-in was quick and seamless, ‘Dan the Man’ was friendly and welcoming, really, nothing was too much trouble. And he was a hoot, the kids loved him immediately.
We were bursting with anticipation as we were shown down to the cabin, and what a drive, all those trees and lanterns, magical. But, you know, as lovely as your website photos are, nothing could have prepared us for the atmosphere in our cabin – the photo’s don’t do it justice. It was warm and welcoming, the fire was already lit, the pre-booked supper was in the oven, and more importantly the wine I’d booked for when the kids had gone to bed was in the fridge. Even the dog had his own little welcome basket of treats, so thoughtful.
Some of the furniture is just mad, where did you get it?! And that bathroom, so funny, I’ve never had the kids beg me to be sent off to clean their teeth!
Our next few days were nothing short of idyllic; the wild swimming was safe and exhilarating, the communal paella night was a great way to make friends (six of us have already booked to stay again for the next school break), the open air movie night was totally magical, and the restaurant was a welcome break from having to cook – great menu, local ingredients, and the specials were fabulous. The fancy dress evening in the clubhouse was a complete hoot, oh my goodness the photos! The ‘Silly Day’ was probably my personal favourite, I can’t remember the last time I stopped being a grown-up and engaged with the children like that, we all need to be silly sometimes – thank you for creating that space.
We found out things about our children that we didn’t know, we bonded as a family, and have come home happier and relaxed, we can’t wait to come back – but next time we’ve booked the Mad Hatter’s Cabin, our new-found friends showed us around last time. Many thanks for giving us and our children some treasured memories and our family an unforgettable time together, we’re telling everyone about you and our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages are full of your photos!”
This would all be part of a five-year reinvestment development plan. I work from the guest experience back, so my focus would be on what contribution would each investment, development and add-on make to the guest experience, and therefore deliver in terms of occupancy, return business, and rental value. Last, but by no means least, I’d also invest in my team, in terms of training, remuneration and profit share, and maybe some guerrilla marketing, because I hate the idea of being a complete slave to Google. After 10 years, I’d probably sell it, and run away to Barbados with a toy-boy.
I hope I’ve been able to inspire some thoughts and ideas about resorts. I work with all types of holiday accommodations, from glamping to country houses, so if you’d like to have a chat about your glamping plans, or how to develop your land or commercial accommodation, please get in touch.
Till next time, Kate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate is a freelance consultant, creating innovative glamping solutions, holiday properties, and boutique hotels. She works directly with land and business owners, as well as providing contract support to other companies and tourism bodies. 07849 514588 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.katemorel.com