Duncan Moore sets out to discover why treehouses are many glampers’ dream, and how much you can stand to make by investing in one.
As the trend for all things retro continues, more and more people are taking it further and looking for ways they can relive their youth. As with all things retro, that youthfulness is often seen through rose-tinted glasses, which means camping has now become glamping. After all, who wants to recapture their childhood by sleeping in a damp tent in the middle of a muddy field?
In a similar vein, many people dreamed of having their own treehouse as a child, and a few may even have had one, even if it was basically just a couple of planks with a covering of blankets. However, like not wanting to sleep in a draughty tent, today’s tree dwellers expect a certain level of comfort.
When glamping first became a recognised phenomenon, accommodation varied from wagons to yurts. However, today’s glamping venues house all manner of lodgings, which can be as extreme as tabernacles with unique features such as stained glass windows and baths big enough for two. Now, in the face of such stiff competition glamping venues are turning to luxury treehouses to differentiate themselves and attract new business.
In order to discover more about what is driving the interest in treehouse glamping, and to learn what venues need to consider if they are going to exploit the potential, Open Air Business spoke to Tom Dixon of Sawday’s Canopy & Stars, Tree Tents International managing director, Max Marsden, and Mark Pollecutt and Andrew Delaney of Cheeky Monkey Treehouses.
Why the appeal?
Tom Dixon, who represents Sawday’s Canopy & Stars, which has more than 500 places to stay covering everything from treehouses to converted horse trucks, begins by outlining the appeal of treehouses for glampers compared to more conventional accommodation.
“It’s all about the beauty of treehouses and how they can fit into the landscape and make the most of woodland areas. There’s something very special about sleeping in the trees and waking up in the morning to the sounds of birdsong. One of the unique parts of staying in a treehouse is being part of nature without disrupting it.”
A similar theory to explain the rise in popularity of treehouses is put forward by Max Marsden of Tree Tents International. “Untapped wildernesses are becoming rare these days. The popularity of camping and glamping has grown so much lately and more people are looking for unique and different places they can inhabit for a bit. Open fields and bell tents just don’t quite meet the need for people to really immerse themselves in the outdoors, but simply getting up into the canopy and experiencing nature from a fresh perspective, from the shade of the sun and breeze in the tree tops, is a real pull. Humans evolved from these places so it’s in our DNA that we feel at home in the trees.”
Giving his thoughts on what is driving the increased interest in treehouses as glamping venues, Cheeky Monkey Treehouses’ Andrew Delaney says, “I think it’s mainly due to people looking for something a little bit more quirky and being more adventurous than just another weekend break in a hotel. It’s also quite fashionable as people are always looking for something different from the norm. I think this is what is driving the growth in the market and, like the way glamping has taken off, if you can offer a bit of luxury in the outdoors then people are willing to pay a premium for it.”
What, no trees?
So, which treetops should be used to house the various accommodation options and what happens if a venue simply does not have any suitable trees?
Mark Pollecutt of Cheeky Monkey Treehouses suggests, “Any healthy deciduous tree can be used and examples include oak, beech, maple, ash and cedar. Always check for tree preservation orders and make sure you get an expert or a tree surgeon’s opinion on the health of the tree before proceeding.
“Trees aren’t essential, but it’s always nice to build around or in between trees and even better if you can support some, if not all, of the structure from the tree. However, with this comes a lot more maintenance and expense.”
“Our suspended tree house structures typically need two good, old growth trees to span between. Old oaks, ash, or beech are great but we can adapt to most trees – pines are great and add some great dynamics to the feel of the structure,” says Tree Tents International’s Marsden. “Our lightweight structures also lend themselves well to man made supports and so they are great for sites with no trees or smaller growth and uneven, sloping ground.”
Dixon explains how Sawday’s Canopy & Stars incorporates its structures into the surroundings, “We have some really special places that are high up, making the most of the trees that are around them, but not suspended from the branches; structures such as Lime Treehouse, Bagthorpe Treehouse and The Treehouse at Deer Park.”
Given that the treehouses being discussed here are for glamping, and therefore a certain level of luxury is expected, it is important to know what facilities can be included. According to Marsden, “You can pretty much design what can be incorporated into a treehouse to your heart’s content, but remember while you’re there to experience the trees, so the structure should be simple, comfortable and facilitate that. Yes, put a TV and a toilet in if you want, but we think it’s better to design facilities like composting loos into the surrounding environment leaving the structure free for you to enjoy the space you’re in.”
An even higher level of luxury is available within the structures built by Cheeky Monkey Treehouses, as Delaney explains, “With a little bit of imagination and engineering anything is possible. We put air conditioning in a treehouse we built in the UAE.”
Design and build
Knowing it is possible to put almost anything into a treehouse, there may be a temptation to get too involved in the design and forget about other equally important considerations. Marsden has these words of warning for potential treehouse glamping operators: “Insurance is the main consideration that people need to look at once they have decided treehouses are the way forward for them, that and picking a treehouse maker with a reputable engineering background.
“Our designs are backed by some great design and engineering experts, which in turn means they are backed by insurance companies. Then it is a case of making sure the rest of the infrastructure, access, steps, ladders, and so on, are well built and safe. They’ve also got to put up with the rigours of use that a large footfall of guests will put upon the structure.”
When it comes to the actual build of the treehouses, Marsden has this to say: “For commercial projects always get a professional in. Building structures around living, moving structures, the trees, needs some good engineering knowledge. However, building structures from scratch in a forest environment is an expensive process. Fixed tree houses can start from as much as £70,000 plus if you want a liveable space. Ours get over that expense by using pre-built components that we assemble on site and rig between the trees so we don’t have to adapt each to suit the trees being used. That gets our structure and installation costs down and offers a great return on investment.”
While that price may seem high, there are lower cost alternatives. “The cost is completely dependent on the scale and complexity of what you are looking to achieve,” says Pollecutt. “For commercial use with planning and building regulations to completion, I would anticipate an average of six months from start to finish. Costings again are so varied but you would be looking at £40k upwards. However, that does take into account getting the right planning permission and making sure the designer and/or architect considered all aspects of building regulations, such as health and safety, disabled access, etc.”
It may be tempting to try and reduce costs by attempting a DIY build, but this is not a route recommended by Pollecutt. “You’d have to be very brave to try and do this kind of work yourself. For a commercial venture of more than one treehouse, I would advise employing a project manager to deal with the different contractors as not many tree house companies will be able to offer plumbing and drainage, electrics and all the planning and regulation requirements and these will require contractors to come in and work with each other.”
Return on investment
On the subject of build costs, Dixon says, “For anyone specifically interested in building a treehouse, we have Timber! a consultancy service specifically geared towards the design, build and realisation of cabins and treehouses. We offer a free initial consultation and from there consultancy costs from £350 per day, depending on what’s required. Following this, we work as agents on a commission basis. The cost of a complete treehouse build through Canopy & Stars Timber! partners starts from around £35,000.
“In terms of return, we estimate that a £70,000 treehouse in the right setting can achieve upwards of £40,000 in bookings per year, based on nightly rates of £140-£180, and a £40,000 cabin can expect to achieve upwards of £20,000 of bookings per year based on nightly rates of £95-£125.”
To back up these claims, Dixon cites two projects with which Canopy & Stars has been involved. “Tony and Beverly of the Old Mill, near Bath, Somerset, had no experience of running a B&B but had always wanted a treehouse. We helped them to plan the kind of experience they wanted and gave practical advice on having guests stay. As a result of that input, in its first year, Old Mill achieved occupancy of 95% with nightly rates from £140-£180.
“Also near Bath is the Treehouse at Harptree Court. The owners, Charles and Linda didn’t need persuading when we suggested a treehouse might be a way to grow their B&B business and to help maintain and support the family home. The idea of a treehouse set in their beautiful grounds immediately appealed. They were brave and bold in their ambition and in 2011, Canopy & Stars launched their first treehouse. The results have been overwhelming, achieving occupancy of over 90% since its launch with nightly rates of £180-£360.”
- Cheeky Monkey Treehouses 01403 732 452 / www.cheekymonkeytreehouses.com
- Sawday’s Canopy and Stars 0117 204 7830 / www.canopyandstars.co.uk
- Timber! 0117 204 7838 / www.canopyandstars.co.uk/timber
- Tree Tent International www.treetents.co.uk