Why now might be the perfect time to spend some money on your site, says Kate Morel.
‘UK in staycation boom’ – ‘glamping more popular than ever’ – ‘OTAs report record bookings’.
My newsfeeds and email inbox have been full of similar headlines over the last few months and although I don’t doubt their validity, they evoke mixed feelings, because this type of news needs to be kept within context. Although we’ve had higher booking levels and rental revenues for staycation breaks since lockdown, when international travel returns to normal the demand for holidays abroad will impact on the current boom in domestic tourism numbers.
Whilst nobody knows when this will be, I don’t believe it will rock the glamping sector as a whole but it could affect sites and accommodations that haven’t been updated for a while, or didn’t nail down an effective ‘unique selling point’.
Given the current low-interest lending on offer, this could be a good time to think about reinvesting in a glamping site, especially if it’s been operating for a while or, for operators such as holiday parks and hotels, a good time to diversify their accommodation.
I’ve also been receiving more enquiries from landowners and investment companies who have never operated in hospitality, let alone glamping, and ‘don’t know where to start’. So, for this piece, I thought it would be useful to run through five factors that can contribute to a successful glamping development.
As always, it’s not the easiest task trying to cover a wide variety of possible business types in a relatively short space, but I’ll give it a shot. So here they are – pick out and research whatever you feel applies to you and your business, existing or potential.
1. Stay true to the land
If you’ve got wetland, pools, steep slopes, cliffs or dense scrub, work with it rather than indiscriminately clearing or filling. Very often these natural features can be worked with to create a great selling point and are unique in themselves. It’s possible to create a glamping accommodation for every and any location, sometimes it’s just a case of taking a different approach. If you don’t believe me, check out the Skylodge pods at Urubamba in Peru (sorry if they make you feel queasy!). Work with nature rather than trying to dominate – the wildlife, your guests and your bank balance will all benefit.
2. Follow your own values, passions and ideas
This is particularly relevant to smaller or independent glamping sites and treehouses, which tend to be more obviously influenced by the owner’s values, a hobby, vocation or something else that inspires them. For example, we’re working on a project at the moment which is totally off-grid in a feral landscape which is being completely driven by the owner’s need and ideas for a genuine retreat from a highly stressful job. All we are doing is channelling and interpreting those ideas into the site, accommodation designs and interiors, to create a sustainable and profitable business for the client. In the indie sector especially, it’s all about authenticity. If you are not personally invested or interested in the business it will show, somewhere.
3. Push the envelope
I know I sound like a broken record here because I’ve been saying this for 10 years but it really does pay, literally, to be different. Think of original ways to offer guests something they could never experience at home, or anywhere else for that matter. The more unique and authentic the experience is, the better. It’s not only more difficult for other sites to copy but can better futureproof the business. Actually, this point is a whole article in itself and as I’ve already shared a lot of ideas in previous issues of OAB I won’t repeat myself too much here but a couple of ways to do this could be:
There’s a lot of repetition out there so commissioning a bespoke structure is a sure-fire USP. It might cost more but pays back in spades. Plus, it’s fun and creative; you can put your own stamp on a design and create something truly unique. Check out Hudnalls Hideout treehouse in the Wye Valley (yup, blatant plug!).
* Share a story
Some history or connection to the place or people can make a very engaging storyline for any business. Stories are a great way to create a unique business model or selling point, and can be drawn from many references. What used to happen on the land or farm? Is there a local feature/historic place to take inspiration from? Is there something of your own past that would be relevant?
A new client of mine runs a safari tent site, but it wasn’t until we were well into my initial visit that I found out the family once lived in South Africa. There’s no mention of this on the website, no family photos or hint of this African connection anywhere. Now, I’m not suggesting we do a ‘Disney’ style African theme make over, but it’s a great little backstory to the business as a whole, and another layer in the authenticity of the experience being offered.
4. Genuine connection
As the glamping industry has grown, here and there its core values have been eroded or just forgotten, and one of them is a genuine connection to the natural world. Sometimes it’s the interiors that have no reference to natural materials or colours, sometimes it’s the surrounding land or the space itself. I clearly remember composing some website copy nine years ago where I wrote ‘glamping reconnects us to nature, and each other’, and while such phrases are now commonly used, perhaps even something of a cliché, this connection isn’t actually always present in a glamping development. I’d really like to see this change.
In my ideal world, anything described as glamping should be fostering or creating this connection. Again, this could be a whole article in itself (and I can feel a soapbox moment coming on…) but in essence it’s about creating a sense of the untamed – even if it’s simply planting meadow wildflowers and not mowing all the grass down.
The glamping sector and experiential tourism is still developing and every year new sites and accommodations enter the market. Current staycation boom aside, it is still important to keep an eye on the industry as a whole, as well as what’s coming into the market locally.
When starting a new development, an ongoing development strategy allows room to improve and add new features as the market moves on. I’ve seen sites add on activities, new outdoor cooking facilities, social gathering spaces, cafes, shops, events, different types of accommodation and upgrade old accommodations. In nature, the best survivors are those that can adapt and it’s the same in business.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate is a leading specialist in glamping and experiential accommodations. Using first-hand experience in business development, holiday property rental and seven years running a leading glamping agency, Kate works on new developments and diversification projects that involve more unusual types of accommodation. Because of her own lifestyle and interests, Kate’s business advice and design work focus on creating successful businesses for her clients and meaningful experiences for guests.
Kate is a regular contributor to Open Air Business and a popular presenter on the professional event circuit, presenting innovative keynote seminars and sharing knowledge on expert Q&A panels. www.morelcompany.co.uk / www.linkedin.com/in/katemorel24