Out & About with Kate Morel

Updates on the glamping industry from consultant Kate Morel – how Airbnb is shaking things up and some lessons from this year’s early hospitality events

It was an offer no girl could refuse. From now on my Open Air Business contributions will (for the most part) share views of the industry in general, because editor, Tally, has given me a free rein to cover news, trends, inspiring operators and products (drop me a line if you’ve anything new and exciting). And sometimes maybe, a dip into my diary. Got a coffee to hand? Let’s dive in.

Mad March Hares and Those Who Dare
As spring gets underway, the UK glamping industry is picking up speed with new glampsite owners working hard to open in time. It can be a tough few months as they battle with mud and the elements (and as I type, snow, ice and frozen ground) to get infrastructure in, bases down, and accommodations in place. However, it’s worth the effort because it’s important to be photo-ready as soon as possible, even if we’re not opening for a few weeks.

While we might be able to sell some glamping breaks ‘off-plan’ using clever CGI, it can be beyond some budgets, and guests usually want to see what they are buying into before committing. So, if you’re setting up right now, stick with it and get those photos out there, you can do a re-shoot in May when the landscape is dressed in verdant greens and frothy blossom.

In the push for growth, be it more bed-stock or higher occupancy, it can sometimes be savvy to take a step back and review what we already have. This was the case for one client recently as we talked through the property portfolio, because although the properties in themselves were well put together, among other issues, revenue streams were not being capitalised on and seasonal pricing needed detailing. Overall, we worked out that we could add a few thousand pounds turnover to each cottage by making simple changes. Sometimes those irritating memes are right, and ‘work smarter not harder’ seems to one of them.

I attended two hospitality shows last month, one was new to the event scene, and both were new to me. In its fourth year, the ‘B&B and Glamping Show’ is an intimate and friendly trade show, run in three locations. Aimed at the independent hospitality sector, it has recently added a glamping element and as such I was asked to speak at the Bristol event. One exhibitor was of particular interest – a superfast wireless provider. Not all glamping locations have good Wi-Fi or even a mobile signal, and it’s a facility that is becoming more sought after, if not expected.

The other event is the new kid on the block, a roadshow called ‘Be My Guest’, being held in five locations throughout the UK, aimed at independent accommodation providers from castles to campsites. They’re a super team, with a genuine interest in hospitality and glamping – and lots of ideas. I was asked to speak at the Harrogate show and one seminar that caught my attention was by VisitEngland about future tourism trends. It gave insights into the development of creative marketing as well as prevailing trends. It also rather nicely endorsed my own philosophies and advice. The key points were:

> Travel like a local – being ‘a tourist’ isn’t cool any more; we want to experience destinations from a more intimate perspective and get off the beaten track

> No age limits – it’s becoming less relevant to think about visitors in terms of their age, and more in terms of their interests and what they want to experience

> In the moment – dominant motives for travel are relaxation and escape ‘with opportunities for products that introduce elements of switching off and re-focusing on the now’

> Educational leisure – one of the biggest trends, worldwide in fact, was in favour of learning new things while on vacation – classes, new skills and self-improvement

> Unique Experiences – ‘value’ will have more meaning than just the cost; travellers will be looking for as many unique experiences as possible.

New Glamping Event

A new trade event on the glamping landscape is the Global Glamping Summit in Denver, USA, the result of a collaboration between the UK Glamping Show and ‘Glamping Hub’. The States is a fast-growing glamping market – around a thousand new sites per month were entering the market in 2017 making this a well-timed event. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll be in Europe at the time (working, not sipping a Ricard on the Riviera, but one lives in hope), however if you are planning to attend the summit, try to catch these speakers:

Nicole Laframbois, founder and owner of Elements Outdoor Hotel, Ontario. Nicole’s drive and initiative leaves others in the dust. Astute and witty, her talk promises to be engaging and informative
Maja Dinmik, GLAMPro, passionate about her work, Maja and her colleagues create beautifully stylish, landscaped glamping resorts, I’m a huge admirer
Cameron Brown, a lot of people ‘talk the talk’ but this guy walks it. ‘In 2016, he sold or donated 99% of the things he used to own and embarked on a global quest to show first hand, that how we run our companies, live our lives and utilise our unique talents and strengths, determines our future’.

Big Changes for Airbnb
If you’re not already aware of Airbnb, it’s one of the biggest global travel accommodation marketplaces, with 4.5 million listings. At the end of February, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO Brian Cheskey introduced the new developments being phased in this year. Airbnb isn’t without its controversy, but here I’m focusing on these changes because they could influence online travel and hospitality, especially glamping, in the future.

This is its road map to making Airbnb ‘for everyone’:

1. Investing in accommodation hosts
It is increasing the benefits they offer to its ‘Superhosts’ (hosts most highly rated by guests, with zero cancellations) by adding an additional 14 benefits, three examples given were:

  • Custom URLs for the accommodation’s listing
  • Enhanced visibility and exposure in Airbnb searches
  • Exclusive offers from third party suppliers.

A custom URL makes it easier for hosts to share their Airbnb listing information, and for guests to find them. Enhanced visibility offers a better choice to guests and encourages hosts to improve, or face slipping down the search results, especially in high volume locations.

Samuel Etienne

2. Rewarding their best guests
A pilot ‘Superguest’ membership program starts this spring, offering its best guests discounts and services, and free or exclusive experiences. It’s a loyalty incentive system, but a clever one; customers don’t just pick up a few points per shop or go into a draw to win a free weekend, they get useful perks and offers with real value.

3. New categories and collections
Airbnb had three accommodation categories: ‘shared room’, ‘private room’, and ‘entire home’, but the volume and type of listings has far outgrown them and it’s difficult for guests to find the right accommodation, especially in cities with thousands of listings. To address this, they’ve added new categories, search options and collections.

The four new categories are:

  • ‘Vacation Home’ – dedicated holiday rental properties
  • ‘B&B’ – the traditional British bed and breakfast offer
  • ‘Boutique’ – professional hospitality with a unique style or theme
  • ‘Unique’ – islands, campers, caves, treehouses, domes, boats, airstreams, yurts. Airbnb has over 120,000 of them.

As you can see the ‘Unique’ category includes a lot of glamping, and out of 4.5 million places, a simple hand-built treehouse is the most wish-listed space on Airbnb.

More specific search options:
The new categories are just the tip of the iceberg, because under each one is another layer of search criteria going even deeper, with thousands of detailed search options including design styles such as ‘rustic’, architectural features such as ‘a balcony’, facilities such as ‘chef’s kitchen’, or attractions such as ‘near a zoo’.

The ‘Unique’ category sub-section for types of structure is missing quite a few typical glamping structures, but I’m sure they’ll be added in time. Even so, if you list your accommodation on Airbnb it could now be easier for potential customers to find you. So, get into that dashboard, and under ‘listings’ > ‘listing details’ > ‘room and guests’ > ‘the space’, find the best fit for your accommodation. I’d be interested to know if the new category/accommodation type has a positive impact on your bookings.

New collections:
These bring together places that suit specific types of trips – ‘Family’, and ‘Work Travel’ are already available, with the following collections being phased in throughout 2018: Dinner Party, Wedding, One of a Kind, Accessible, Honeymoon, Group Getaways, Social Stays. More collections will follow. Creating collections is a commonly used way to organise a product portfolio making it easier for customers to quickly find what they want.

If all of this works, no matter what type, style, feature, property or place we seek, or what attraction or activity we want to do, very soon we’ll be able to find it all in one place – on Airbnb. The implications of this are food for thought.

4. Airbnb Plus
This is a new section exclusively for the very best of Airbnb’s hosts and accommodations that comply with the following criteria:

Beautiful homes – personality with thoughtful design
Exceptional hosts – hosts that go the extra, extra mile

Woodland glamping tent

Verified for quality – personally checked by a member of the Airbnb team.

These will be merchandised using professional photography and have premium listing. Hosts will be offered services and support that are usually the preserve of professional, dedicated agencies. For guests, it offers vetted properties, vetted hosts, stylish accommodation, comfort and consistency. Airbnb really is upping its game, but it doesn’t end there…

5. Airbnb beyond
Finally, Cheskey asked how Airbnb could go beyond Plus, and looked to its acquisition of Luxury Retreats last year: “What if we brought together high-end hospitality with one of the largest travel communities in the world. How could we deliver the trip of a lifetime? It starts with the finest homes, and we have thousands of them”. This development is a dimension apart, with a product range specialising in:

  • World class hospitality
  • Exceptional homes
  • Unique Experiences.

“Homes are just the beginning, to go beyond we must have magical experiences.”

All of these developments are designed to curate better quality accommodations, drive higher levels of hospitality, improve access by search functionality, and create diverse experiences to meet new, global, guest expectations. They really have done their homework and shaped the data into a ground-breaking, modern travel platform. It might be called ‘air’ bnb but there’s nothing light and flighty about these developments.

With thanks to Tally for the opportunity to share a little of my day-to-day work life with you. Till next time, Kate.

About Kate
Kate Morel is a freelance consultant, creating innovative solutions for glamping and hospitality properties. 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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