Greg Watt discusses the importance of ‘experience’ within the glamping mix.
Why do tourists choose the places they go to? What is it about a glamping site that appeals? What is the point of difference possessed by a site that grabs attention and pulls potential guests towards it? Surely, something about ‘going glamping’ makes it different from just being another form of accommodation? While glamping spaces provide a broad range of amenity and comfort, the costs to stay are generally higher than competing lodgings. They may be different from a B&B, cottage or hotel but may not in themselves be distinctive enough from these competing alternatives. Despite this, many glamping sites only dwell on their accommodation structures.
There are sites where the glamping space is exquisite, located in unique, beautiful environments, with panoramic outlooks that are spectacular and distinctive. However, these are few and far between, with most merely aspiring to this. Therefore, glamping sites must be more than a great space and offer more than just great hospitality; they must be tourism exemplars and provide ‘glamping experiences’.
Experiential tourism has gained momentum through tourists’ increasing desire to participate, learn, be entertained, and escape from normality. Moreover, tourists demand that such experiences should be authentic, original, flowing, and collectively holistic. Glamping has gained popularity because it provides a vehicle where these attributes can empathetically unfold during a stay. Further, glamping experiences are generally offered in more personal, intimate and meaningful manifestations than those available through conventional resorts and hotels.
By developing glamping experiences, glamping entrepreneurs extend their offerings and enhance their appeal to tourists. Further, the more that these are integrated seamlessly into the overall Gestalt, the more sites become a tourist destination instead of merely servicing tourism.
Luxury vs. experience
In the book ‘The Meaning of Luxury in Tourism, Hospitality and Events’ author John Swarbrooke suggests that it is the overall holistic encounter that is important, that is, the feeling of being transported away from all the intricacies of modern living. This does not imply that glamping involves passive relaxation, merely that glampers are able, for a time, to empty their head of the multitude of things that swirl around and instead take time out to dwell on the one activity or experience that is immediately in front of them. If that activity or experience is unusual or eclectic, then all the better; glampers become immersed and absorbed.
Swarbrook also says that glamping experiences are more consequential to a memorable tourist stay than glamping space. The implied notion of luxury is somewhat shapeless and relative rather than absolute. By this reckoning, glamping sites providing better than standard facilities and comfort, along with great glamping experiences, are likely to command favourable interest from prospective glampers. Swarbrook also suggests that exceptional luxury cannot substitute for extraordinary experiences.
Millennials and their parents
Demographics would suggest that millennials and their parents, the baby-boomers, make up the majority of glampers. By their nature, millennials place importance on experiences and living life by exploring and interacting with the world. For their part, baby-boomers seek to reconnect with nature and to do those things they were too busy to do in their younger years. Glamping experiences are aligned with the perspectives of both generations, ready packed to go, and require little or no supplementary outlay or planning.
While glampers have the option to take time out and unwind, many are “active-relaxers” wishing to explore the countryside and reconnect with rurality. Numerous glamping sites are positioned close to sought after leisure activities. This model has proved to be successful because it gives access to outdoor activities that are currently popular such as walking, cycling, yoga, cooking/dining outdoors, foraging/bushcraft and partaking a number of other outdoor pursuits. Because glamping sites can integrate them seamlessly into their operations, the energy and flow of any stay are organic and authentic.
Participation in outdoor activities in Europe follows regionally specific trends. In the UK, walking is the most popular outdoor activity, accounting for 76 per cent of all outdoor visits (Gordon, Chester, & Denton, 2015). Significantly for glamping, participants are most likely to hill-walk or ramble. As an experience, participants are equally captivated by the scenery as they are by the walk itself. Searching for and travelling to sites where interesting rambles are located becomes a part of the overall experience. While running, mountain biking, horse riding, sailing, canoeing, mountaineering all have a following, participation is considerably less. However, specific experiences such as gorge scrambling and niche cycling are increasing in popularity (Gordon et al., 2015).
Globally, reconnection with the land through trails and tracks allows participants to immerse themselves in the odyssey, learning or enhancing their skill and knowledge, gaining a sense of achievement. For many urbanites, any participation in rurality, from forays into nomadic lifestyles through to modern recreational pursuits, is a novel experience. Combining this rurality with luxurious accommodation at the end of each day enhances its memorability.
At first glance, capital outlay, occupancy rates, daily room rates, and return on investment appear to provide convincing evidence that glamping is a solid business model. More astute investigations reveal that carrying out financial appraisals through a hospitality lens is imprudent. It is clear that success in glamping depends on being able to answer “What is it that will draw people to come?”. On a hospitality-based approach, if the glamping space is not superior and the service not better than alternative accommodations, then the assumptions used in financial appraisals become suspect.
For a very few, the glamping space assures success, however, for most, sites prove successful because of the empathetic combination of spaces and experiences. Indeed, it is the experiences that glampers crave that makes the assumptions in any financial analysis valid.
This article is an abbreviated version. The original can be found at
Gordon, K., Chester, M., & Denton, A. (2015). Getting Active Outdoors – A Study of Demography, motivation, Participation and provision in Outdoor Sport and Recreation in England: Sport England.
Swarbrooke, J. (2018). The meaning of luxury in tourism, hospitality and events: Goodfellow Publishers.
About the Author
Greg Watt is currently a candidate for doctor of philosophy at Auckland University of Technology. An avid traveller and advocate for authenticity in travel, Greg’s research concerns a global study of glamping spaces and experiences. His interest stems from an association with small boutique and community tourism projects within Vanuatu and New Zealand. Both countries are blessed with beautiful landscapes, along with an outdoor presence. Greg also writes informative articles about topics, destinations and social entrepreneurship within tourism at https://watt.nz