The new Glamping Scheme from Visit England is the first independent accreditation of glamping industry standards in the UK.
As England’s national tourist board, VisitEngland provides accreditation for over 25,000 businesses, including 24,000 accommodation providers, in the leisure and tourism industries. Assessors visit premises, sometimes staying overnight, and grade them against a set of standards drawn up to represent best practice in all aspects of guest experience.
VisitEngland has a vital role in improving quality standards in UK tourism. Through its accreditation schemes it aims to drive up standards and help operators develop their product in line with what visitors want by benchmarking (eg. what is luxury?) and celebrating excellence by awarding accolades to outstanding businesses. The assessors also give advice on legislation, and a range of business support including how to improve and respond to online customer reviews.
VisitEngland set up an Alternative Accommodation scheme over six years ago. At this time the glamping sector was less well defined and a refresh of this scheme was needed to reflect the massive changes in the industry and the high standards being achieved by many operators. As a consequence the criteria for their assessment changed. So in 2015 the scheme was looked at again and amended to reflect the changes in a rapidly expanding market. Scoring was introduced, with an overall score of 60% required to be awarded the accreditation and, although no stars are awarded, those operating at the ‘top end’ can aspire to the new VisitEngland Gold Award.
The new Glamping Scheme was launched in March 2016 and a comprehensive Standards Book has been produced, which sets out the criteria for accreditation.
Glamping can be many things, and as such expectations from accommodation can vary enormously from one visitor to another. One person’s ‘vintage, upcycled, quirky romance’ is another person’s ‘roughing it without any mod cons.’ Some visitors will expect electric points and heated toilet facilities, whereas another might be disappointed if they aren’t totally back to nature using a composting toilet in the middle of the woods. In an industry with such scope, the Glamping Scheme asks providers to look at everything, starting with their online marketing to ensure the description of the site and the accommodation do not mislead or over-promise.
Assessors will look at websites to ascertain if the information given is clear and accurately reflects the experience on offer. They will also check that guests are fully informed of everything that could impact on their stay. For instance, are the logs for heating and cooking provided free? If not, how much will they cost? Will it be cold at night? Will guests need to bring wellies if it rains? Is the toilet far from the accommodation? What if they need to get up in the night? Is the nearest shop/pub within walking distance?
These sit alongside the more standard requirements in terms of key considerations of health and safety issues, public liability insurance, cancellation policies, etc.
What does an Assessment Involve?
To become accredited under the Glamping Scheme, providers are visited once a year by a professional assessor from Quality In Tourism. They start by reviewing online marketing material for the businesses and will then either pre-book or make an unannounced day visit.
They will conduct the assessment by scoring all key areas against a set of criteria including washing facilities. They will present a copy of the Pink Book, a VisitEngland advice guide on things like cancellation policies etc, and provide a written report after the visit with the score, summary and verbal feedback. Assessors will look carefully at a glampsite’s location, its accommodation and the standard of customer service. The assessment is objective and will take into account unique aspects of the business and score it in this context. The aim of the assessment is to provide feedback, share best practice and raise standards without taking away any of the character, style or uniqueness of the business.
If the site achieves a score of over 60% then VisitEngland accreditation will be awarded. There is also an opportunity for a Gold Standard accolade for sites offering top quality facilities and experiences. The assessor will also provide a full debrief and accompanied walk-round if requested.
About the Author
Pam Foden is the Head of Industry Development for Visit England, England’s national tourist board. Accommodation is accredited for Visit England by an independent assessment service, Quality In Tourism. Please visit www.qualityintourism.com or call 0845 300 6996 for a free guide on the glamping scheme, and hints and tips to help you get accredited.