Out & About with Kate Morel

This month’s rundown of the goings on in the world of glamping from our friendly expert Kate 

Kate MorelWhat a month; winter stormed out, and back in again! The verdant greens and frothy blossoms that I mentioned in last month’s column have been reluctant to emerge, or at least that’s the case here in Somerset where pockets of drifted snow clung to the landscape long outstaying their welcome.

Easter was notably early this year, so much so that some existing glamping sites decided to give it a miss, and will not open until late April. For some new sites this month sees continued preparations to get infrastructure finished and accommodation structures sited. Tents especially, because for most tent sites it’s a short season and a marked case of making hay while the summer sun shines. Looking up through my rain-spattered Velux window today, that seems a long way off.

The last three weeks saw me sourcing themed furnishings and fittings for a bespoke project, and then spending four (absolutely freezing!) days on site, along with plumbers, electricians and carpenters – all of us trying to get our respective piece of the jigsaw in place for an open day. It was a full-on, involved project, more like a property construction, but don’t let that deter you because glamping installations are usually easier and what I would call ‘plug and play’. By this, I mean that units are shipped pre-constructed with pre-installed facilities/utilities, so it’s just a case of installing infrastructure, adding the accommodation, hooking up, furnishing, and away we go.

Bespoke builds take longer and usually cost more but create uniqueness; modular installs are fast, usually cost less, and usually rely on something else to create the USP. Which one you go for depends on the type of glamping you want to offer and what you want from it in terms of ROI vs assets.

The ultimate in bespoke design is, arguably, a treehouse, which leads me onto a new project we started this month. After walking the site and checking out possible locations, the landowner, a treehouse builder and myself sat around a table and started to shape the experience. We all threw wild ideas into the mix and I’m not exaggerating when I say the atmosphere was electric; it was one of the most exciting site meetings I’ve attended. I have no doubt that the resulting treehouses will be both impressive, and successful. The take-away? This kind of mind-hive innovation can truly differentiate a glamping development, future proof it, and make it profitable. After all, it is getting a little repetitive out there, even at treehouse level (pun very much intended).

The team responsible for the new ‘Be My Guest’ hospitality show are enjoying such an amazing response that they have added three additional destinations – Skegness, Bournemouth and Torquay. With over 50% of their attendees looking for glamping advice, I’ll be talking at Bournemouth and Torquay about set-up costs and profits – do say hello if you come along, it’s always great to meet Open Air Business readers (www.bemyguest.live).

The Camping and Caravan Club’s own glamping offshoot, ‘Ready Camp’, is expanding yet again this year by adding six new sites to its portfolio. It already has 38 locations around the UK, breaking the one million pound turnover mark in 2017. The new sites will be in Bude, Cornwall, Lyton and California Cross, Devon, Clent Hills, West Midlands, Crowden, Derbyshire, and Normans Bay, East Sussex, bringing Ready Camp’s pre-pitched tent total to over 200. Note that Ready Camp tents do not have en-suite bathroom facilities, which rather bucks the trend, yet obviously isn’t detrimental to this particular business model. And therein lies the beauty of glamping – the possibility of being an exception to the rule is an ever-achievable aspiration.

Extension plans for Alton Towers’ ‘Enchanted Wood’ holiday village are under way with a planning application recently submitted for 102 new glamping pods. The new pods will add smaller, simpler structures adjacent to the village, offering an alternative type of accommodation to the existing hobbit-inspired lodges. Architects, Manser Practice, explain that “the pods have a relatively small footprint compared with the existing lodges on the adjacent site. They will provide space to sleep, with basic power, heating and a small window”. The new pods will diversify the accommodation mix and appeal to a different demographic, increasing the number of visitors who spend more time on site.

With ABTA figures showing that the UK ‘staycation’ is set to continue this year, and with 66% of people planning UK breaks, it’s no surprise that glamping, especially in resorts, continues to expand.

Movers & Shakers

A couple of impressive new cabins by Smart Eco Glamping have just hit the market. Utilising the principles of parent company, Smart Eco Living, the cabins are built in the UK to high standards using sustainable materials and renewable technologies. They are also particularly stylish. A key driver for the UK build ethic was “employing young people, enabling them to gain valuable skills. For every one job in modular manufacturing, three others are created in the supply chain”.

This gets my vote. Director, Paul Scholey, really knows his onions, in fact I’ve been so impressed with this company that I’m going to be working with them in the future to develop other glamping focused designs for some of my clients.

Committed to getting more of us to enjoy the great outdoors in different ways, Yurts for Life has branched out to offer a different yurt experience. “The Silk Road – a Culinary Adventure” is their pop-up restaurant enterprise, being held at Sparkford Hall, Yeovil, on the 27-28 April. A menu inspired by the countries along the ancient Silk Road route will be served banquet-style in their candle-lit 33ft yurt. Can you imagine it? It will have all the magic of a wedding banquet but we’ll be spared the speeches.

I’m a sucker for a candle-lit dinner, and I love yurts, so myself and few glamping industry friends have booked in for Saturday. If you’d like to join us, or just check it out with a view to hosting a pop-up yurt event at your venue, ticket details can be found on the Yurts For Life Facebook page and Eventbrite. Maybe see you there – mine’s a G&T, but you probably know that already!

… to this company’s glamping, because I love everything about what they have created – from their inspired USP (they don’t tell you where you are going) to the laid bare congruency of the whole package. The name, accommodation and furnishings could not be more unassuming, and the website copy and photos are as minimal as the accommodation. It’s searingly fresh. After several years in the industry I have to say this made a refreshing discovery and, for me at least, encompasses the essential DNA of glamping. Checkout Getaway – East America (www.getaway.house).

Delegation isn’t always the art of management

Question: How do you achieve what one glamping site did, and increase your profits by 20% without adding more units, creating ancillary revenues, or increasing prices?

Answer: Take control of your bookings. Enrol on an IT course, get busy on social media, create your own sizzling SEO’d website with blog, booking calendar, and payment gateway, and take bookings direct rather than paying third party commissions or annual directory fees (or both). To be fair, these companies do earn their fees, after all it’s a time-consuming job and some have PR contacts that you could only dream of.

This wouldn’t suit everyone, or every site, but it’s worth considering if:

1. Your site has a strong enough USP to ‘go it alone’

2. You’ve got the acumen and patience to deal with IT

3. You’ve got time and patience to manage the admin and extra workload.

A bit of news of my own. I’ve been in talks with a manufacturer to develop an earth-shelter structure that could be used for either a contemporary or hobbit style holiday accommodation. We’re currently looking for a pilot site, so if this kind of development is something you’re interested in for your holiday business, please get in touch.

My next glamping business workshop is on 22 July with Jenna at Jubilee Barns in Northamptonshire. Details and a link to Eventbrite are on my website under ‘Workshops’. I must admit, I’m really looking forward to this one, especially the evening where we get to share supper and chat about business in an informal setting. Fire away if you have any questions!

Till next time, Kate.

Kate Morel is a leading freelance consultant, creating innovative glamping and hospitality accommodations. She works directly with land and business owners, as well as providing contract support to related companies and tourism bodies. 07849 514588 / info@katemorel.com / www.katemorel.com. Join Kate’s Facebook Group: ‘Glamping Business Link.’

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