Kerry Roy gives on how to ‘know your market’ and become a skilled undercover researcher.
Having created many diversification spin offs from what was originally planned as a small glamping site, I now juggle ownership of glamping accommodation across two countries as well as a wedding venue, VW festival and, new for 2020, wellness retreats and workshops! It helps that one of my underlying passions is research and finding gaps in markets. Here I hope to share some of the learnings I have picked up along the way.
I entered the glamping market in 2012, opening Camp Katur, a glampsite and wedding venue, in 2013. It took almost two years of planning, researching and plotting before I found the perfect location to create a mixed-level glamping village.
Having previously worked as a product trainer and marketing assistant for an international baby car seat brand, I travelled the length and breadth of the UK and Northern Island. During these travels I took the opportunity to mix my employed work with researching various glamping and unique accommodation businesses. While most colleagues booked the usual big chain hotels, I relished finding alternative accommodation within budget to sleep, test and research my next move into the market.
Sleeping with the competition
In any business it’s vital to know your competition, not just those on your doorstep but also further afield. Everyone has something different to offer, whether it be service, style, location, activities or marketing, there is something to be learned from them all. Booking a night or two at similar venues gives you the time to see what’s good about their offering and what you could do differently or better.
Before any development my team and I undertook, I would spend time looking at what infrastructure other sites had in place and created a portfolio of photos to bank for future reference for ideas, especially as the whole technical side of things was quite new territory for me. I gained a lot of knowledge in photos and then researched online or asked technical friends and my partner how each aspect could work before looking into costings.
It is worth spending time reading through welcome packs, leaflets and what other things a site may advertise in the local area. What other additional activities do they offer? Test the menu if they offer food and check out the website/social media following while also making time to try and just relax, soak up the atmosphere and live the experience, to understand what ‘real’ guests would feel like.
Pros and cons
Often during my research I’ll create a pros and cons list of the top five to 10 competitors that I regularly follow. Those that are closer in proximity I will track the most, followed by those who offer a similar experience but in other parts of the country. Having a pros and cons list allows me to see what I am missing or what maybe just doesn’t fit in with our ethos but is a great offering for that of the competition.
I am also a believer in trying to share the load, so if Joe Bloggs up the road is offering pony rides then maybe it’s better that we offer something different to attract another audience rather than step on one another’s toes. This way you can work in harmony, reach a new audience and specialise in something different.
Having a pros and cons list enables you to gain inspiration, picking out the best bits to incorporate into your own business plan. By spotting the cons you can reduce early days mistakes. But never fear mistakes, we all make them, and we can all learn from them!
Most research can be conducted online by trawling through websites and social media platforms to gauge prices, services, marketing consistency, new developments and new opportunities. It is always good to try and also track booking patterns and occupancy, and many booking sites will show dates for availability and bookings. Often we are in the same boat that off-peak midweek days are quieter. If you see that some sites have a surge of full occupancy levels during these periods, look at the area they are in – are they close to a business area or a city? Or are there events happening nearby? If so, look at what promotional offers the site may be offering.
We have a list of the main venues, wedding suppliers, VW festivals and wellness retreat venues that we admire and follow regularly throughout the year. Reading through customer reviews is also a good way to gain knowledge of what guests like, or not. I have found that the most loved, highlighted comments are those about the little things – an arrival gift, umbrellas, fairy lights, campfires, doggy treats and, of course, friendly staff.
Trade shows and forums
When starting out, one of the best ways to seek new information, understand market trends, any changes in laws/regulations, and to find business and planning advice is at key trade shows and networking events. These events focus on what’s happening in the industry with marketing professionals, suppliers and expert consultants in travel and tourism offering a fountain of knowledge. You’ll walk away freshly inspired plus all the more knowledgeable. But remember, the biggest knowledge comes from that of experience so don’t be afraid if you are totally new to the accommodation industry; I was too and back in 2012 there were no glamping trade shows to attend.
Know your worth
One thing I have never liked is aggressive competition, the type where one business feels the need to destroy another for the sake of greed. We’ve all seen it in other industries when one company massively reduces their prices forcing others to follow suit. When it comes to pricing, we’ve always tried to maintain similar levels to what our competitors offer at the same standard, that way guests will choose their stay based on what mak
es a business stand out to them, what each of us offers differently in terms of activities or location and not price alone.
Research the businesses with similar offerings to your own, look at their star rating and reviews and the area/audience you are trying to attract in order to help define your price points.
Make friends not enemies
All businesses have competition eventually and glamping has boomed in the past five years, particularly in the UK, and for many of us this is scary. However, competition is also an advantage and is often needed to keep us on our toes, stopping us from slipping into comfort zone ‘stale’ mode. It is what drives us to create a better service and add new developments.
It’s good to talk to your competition, share pains, customer stories and industry news as well as to recommend them when you are fully booked (and hope they will do the same for you).
Having recently opened a second glamping retreat in Italy, there are two other smaller sites within an hour and a half radius who also happen to be run by Brits! Although we all have beautiful surroundings, we all offer something that’s distinct from one another too. As the newcomer, rather than make my neighbours feel uneasy I am planning to create a bed hopping glamping trail where new visitors to the region can get discounted stays by moving from one glampsite to another. Guests get to experience varied offerings in various areas of the region and we glamping owners get to share the market and work in harmony.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Roy is the owner of two glamping sites, Camp Katur (UK) and Cerchio Del Desiderio (Italy). She also founded annual VW Festival ‘Dubs In’t Dales’ and is about to launch a new Wellness Festival. www.campkatur.co.uk / www.dubsintdales.co.uk