Duncan Moore looks at why hot tubs are the next ‘must have’ for glampsites, and how to choose and maintain them
As glampsite users become more spoilt owing to the availability of glampsites on offer, owners are looking for new opportunities to set themselves apart. When a tipi is no longer enough of a novelty to attract glampers, what can a site add to increase its custom? One additional facility that is rapidly becoming a de facto choice is an outdoor hot tub or spa.
The British and Irish Spa and Hot Tub Association has reported that the market for hot tubs is booming. It cites the results of its 2015 Wet Leisure Survey, undertaken in conjunction with Golden Coast Limited, which reports that sales in the spa category have far exceeded the six other wet leisure categories – a 20% improvement on the 2014 figures.
Evidence of this increased interest in hot tubs comes from Jason Smith, sales director at RotoSpa, who told Open Air Business that: “Holiday industry research suggests that the provision of a hot tub to any form of holiday accommodation can mean that revenue from single bookings can rise by up to 25% and occupancy, particularly in the quieter months, can rise by up to 40%.
“Hot tubs have become a commercial necessity for those looking to profit from the massive increase in bookings for UK holiday accommodation as customers become more discerning. In fact, ‘hot tub’ is currently the most popular search term on a number of industry leading search websites for those looking to book a UK holiday for their family,” concludes Smith.
‘Hot ticket’ for glampers
Given that hot tubs are the hot ticket for glampers, what are the options for site owners? Essentially, there are four types of heating and two construction methods. The heating options are electric, gas, wood-fired or dual fuel, while construction is usually wood or composite moulding.
Electrically powered hot tubs will, of course, need a supply and that is usually a 13 amp feed, the same as that used for domestic appliances. However, this limits the location in which the hot tub can be placed and could dramatically increase installation costs if an electrical contractor needs to be employed to route an appropriate power point. The situation is very similar with gas-fired hot tubs that need a fixed supply. There is also the added complication that not all glamping sites have a mains gas supply due to their sometimes remote locations.
Gareth Edwards, owner of Naked Flame Eco-Tubs, suggests that: “Wood-fired hot tubs have become increasingly popular within the glamping industry due to the totally off-grid availability. Tubs can not only be placed wherever the owner requires, but the general look and feel of wood-fired tubs also fits in with the vision that many owners have for their site. Needing only a solid base to sit on, tubs are easily installed and instantly create the ‘wow’ factor whether sat next to a pod, a yurt, a shepherd’s hut or a lake.
“Our Eco-Tubs fit perfectly within the glamping industry; a sustainable, low cost option that works extremely well – and customers love them. Our tubs are extremely efficient, meaning ultra-fast heat up times (only one hour for our LuvTub two-person option) and minimum wood is needed (one bag of logs). This is extremely important to the site owners when budgeting for running costs throughout the season.
“We work closely with our glamping site customers and our larger glamping partners such as Quality Unearthed, Wigwam and Canopy & Stars to provide the perfect package for their needs. The rustic wooden option creates a stunning add on to any site and the returns and bookings certainly make this option hard to ignore.
“The LuvTub fits perfectly into the couples or romantic retreats sector and the various sizes of the Eco-Tub can accommodate between four and eight users for families and larger groups. We have found the customers actually enjoy getting involved in the heat up of the tubs, which adds to the whole experience of their stay.”
Performance and extras
The heating time before a hot tub is usable is something that site owners will have to take into account. If it takes too long customers won’t want to wait, but if a site owner starts heating the hot tub on a speculative basis it could quickly become an expensive novelty if it doesn’t get used.
“Many options are now available, but performance and efficiency vary dramatically. Heat up times can vary from between one and six hours plus, so caution should be taken choosing the correct option for your site,” says Edwards. He goes on to suggest that site owners should: “Beware of cheap imports. Many of these only include a basic set-up without all of the necessary extras, such as steps, seats, lids, drinks holders, flue protectors and aluminium heaters rather than the stainless steel quality needed. Once these are added, a cheap version can soon turn into an expensive one, especially after shipping costs. A warranty or guarantee is also essential should any problems arise after delivery.”
The hot tubs offered by Naked Flame Eco-Tubs range from units designed specifically with couples in mind, such as the £2,000 1.6m LuvTub, through to the 2m Western Red Cedar, which can seat eight to nine adults and retails at £5,740. The complete range offered by Naked Flame includes different wood used in the construction such as Spruce, Larch, Red Western Cedar and ThermoWood, which is said to be extremely durable, doesn’t shrink, swell or warp excessively and is resistant to decay, severe winters and hot summers. This durability is claimed to give the hot tubs it is used for a service life of 20 plus years without needing any additional wood protection.
Across the range, all Naked Flame hot tubs are supplied complete with matching steps, seats and lid, drinks holder, and external stainless steel heater and flue protector. The inclusion of these necessary extras makes it easier for site owners to calculate the cost and potential revenue generation for each hot tub.
For glamping site operators who are interested in providing hot tubs as an additional service but are wary of the initial set-up costs of buying and installing the units, RotoSpa – the UK’s only manufacturer of portable spas – has tax efficient, flexible lease packages available on many of its products. In addition to this, the company is able to advise on what electrical services are needed to facilitate their installation.
The RotoSpa range includes tubs that will hold two to three people, like the £2,750 DuoSpa, up to the QuatroSpa, which can hold five or six people and costs £3,395. It is also a triple winner of the prestigious WhatSpa? Best Buy under £5,000. The company is able to offer trade pricing on multiple purchases too.
Every model in the RotoSpa line-up is made of Duralon, which is a semi-rigid, polythene-based, thermal plastic resin with special additives that generate an aerated plastic foam (APF) core during the moulding process. This construction method means that the hot tubs are about half the weight of equivalent acrylic and fibreglass spas, yet have excellent heat and noise insulation qualities.
For those glamping site owners who want to set themselves apart, there is one hot tub that looks unlike any other. The £3,995 Tub-Tub, available from Topstak, looks like a giant tea cup. It is made from double skinned polyester and is heated by an external stainless steel coil of tubes filled with wood and burnt. This means the Tub-Tub can be used off-grid, making it extremely useful for glamping venues. The other advantage of the design is that it is lightweight (just 90kg), which means it can be easily moved around on-site to different locations, a situation helped by the self-contained heating arrangement.
The stainless steel coil at the side of the Tub-Tub, which holds the burning wood, uses a thermo syphon effect; as the fire in the middle of it burns the coil, it heats the water passing through the pipe. Cold water feeds in from the bottom through the booster connection that connects to a garden hose and starts to expand due to the heat. As it gets hotter it rises up the coil into the tub, which creates a circulating effect so the water stays hot so long as the fire burns. The booster connection also means the tub can be drained through a hose, which makes routine maintenance and cleaning an easy process.
Should the cost of buying one or more hot tubs initially be too high for a site owner who is interested in adding an outdoor spa, there are companies in the UK that offer a hot tub hire service. However, due to the size of the average hot tub and the issue of transporting them to the location of the hirer, the businesses that offer this service are usually regional, catering for the county in which they are located, and prices and availability vary accordingly. The starting price for most of the businesses that operate hire schemes is around £250 per tub per week. However, many of them will happily negotiate on that price if the hire term is over an extended period or more if multiple tubs are required.
Health and safety
Having looked at the various options available and the costs involved, glamping site owners will also need to consider the issues relating to having a hot tub or tubs when they are used for commercial purposes. Chief among these is the health and safety of the clientele using them.
According to Jason Smith of RotoSpa: “There are few laws that are specifically applicable to hot tubs, but there are a number of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approved codes of practice designed to ensure that you comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act and establish best practice for looking after hot tubs and shared pools.
“This advice is currently being looked at with a view to amendments being made. However, the current advice is that site operators need to carry out a risk assessment. The water in the spas should be tested three times a day for pH and sanitiser and the results recorded (records of cleaning of the filters should also be kept). Regular microbiological results for Pseudomonas or Legionella should also be checked.
“All records need to be kept for five years under UK law. Not only should hot tub water be changed between rentals, but hot tubs in holiday homes need to have a continuous chemical feeder to treat them with disinfectant. Site owners are responsible for the weekly cleaning of filters, drain down and refilling between rentals, and the filters should be chemically cleaned and allowed to dry on a fortnightly basis. Finally, all hot tubs should have a secure insulated cover and a circulation pump fitted.”
While all of the above is best practice for spa type hot tubs, the Naked Fame Eco-Tubs do not use pumps and their filters do not need chemical treatments. According to Gareth Edwards: “We work with the vast majority of glamping sites on a three day system. On a Friday the tub is filled with fresh water, then on the Saturday morning a small quantity of chlorine granules are added to the water. This is done again on the Sunday morning, the final day of the cycle. Then before the next use the tub is drained and once empty it is sprayed with an antibacterial solution and wiped down ready to be used for the next three day cycle.”
The final point that needs to be addressed is the fuel supply needed to heat a hot tub. A gas fired unit, using natural gas, will need to be in a fixed location due to the need for a mains supply connection. While electric powered units can offer slightly more movability, again they need to be tethered to a fixed supply.
For the greatest degree of flexibility in locating a hot tub and the freedom to go off grid, wood-fired is the ideal option. One business that provides fuel is Dalby Firewood, which not only offers a national wood delivery service for wood-fired hot tubs, but it can also be used for outdoor pizza ovens and other wood burning applications. Dalby Firewood’s credentials as a specialist supplier are also enhanced by the knowledge that it is an authorised dealer of Naked Flame Eco-Tubs.
Alternative fuel sources are now beginning to become available too. RotoSpa is actively promoting tubs that are powered by biomass or liquid propane gas, which opens up even more opportunities, especially for any sites that are aiming to operate off-grid whenever possible, or who want the flexibility to move the tubs around on site.
Dalby Firewood (distributor of Naked Flame Eco-Tubs) – 01653 668177 / www.dalbyfirewood.com
Naked Flame Eco-Tub – 01484 766233 / www.nakedtubs.com
RotoSpa – 0121 354 3428 / www.rotospa.co.uk
Topstak (distributors of Tub-Tub) – 01446 771567 / www.topstak.co.uk