Meeting the developing demands of customers and ensuring the business is on a firm footing must be priorities for those planning to enter the glamping market.
The glamping market evolved from pre-pitched tent sites by offering more options, including heating, a proper bed, power points, and a variety of other interior design features.
It appealed both to those who wanted to upgrade from tents and others who fancied an alternative to caravans or motorhomes.
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The early market was for canvas structures such as large bell tents, yurts or tepees.
But the market has shifted, responding to a demand for greater comfort and more weatherproof alternatives, to offer pods, log cabins, gypsy caravans and shepherd’s huts.
Dan Yates, managing director of camping and outdoor booking site Pitchup.com, explains that while demand for standard camping pitches remains the most common choice, glamping’s popularity is increasing.
In 2020, standard campsite pitches accounted for 10 times the number of glamping units and saw 1.3m bed nights booked.
However, glamping bookings were 117% higher than in the previous year.
Typically, the expansion has been on traditional camp grounds which offer a handful of glamping sites – often just two or three units. But some farms have diversified straight into glamping.
A big appeal for the prospective glamping business owner is the higher prices that can be charged compared to those for tent pitches.
While a tent site may typically charge a basic £25 for a night’s pitch, a log cabin or similar can achieve rates of up to 10 times that.
As well as the higher rates, the units are more weatherproof so can operate in the traditional spring and summer camping season during wet or cold periods.
Likewise, the insulation and heating provided by the more rigid structures can offer an extended season compared to traditional campsite ventures.
However, providing the right site and accommodation is crucial to achieve a sustainable income.
Although sites in honey-pot tourist areas and close to a natural attraction like a well-known beach will have a high footfall, many successful sites exist outside traditional holiday destinations.
In some instances being away from the conventional tourist trail can be a selling point because campers and glampers are looking for space and seclusion in the outdoors.
The site itself should offer privacy, but with solid footings, decent access, lighting and mud-free pathways.
Yurts or tepees offer comfort combined with the appeal of a night under canvas, but there are pitfalls to consider.
Canvas is less well insulated, so some of the benefit of extending the season with a more robust structure may be lost.
Canvas units also require more maintenance to keep them weatherproof and looking clean and smart, which is crucial for good reviews and repeat custom.
More solid structures can come with a higher initial investment cost, but they are easier to heat, clean and maintain.
Proximity to the main house on the farm and its connections to power, water and drainage is important.
Costs, disruption, and time taken for the project rise proportionately for each metre from the connection points.
Toilet and washing facilities should be provided according to a ratio. For 60 pitches, allow four toilets for women and two toilets and two urinals for men. Showers could be offered at two for women and two for men.
Building a new toilet and washblock with the groundwork, planning and services connected can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. Converting an outhouse or building on the farm will therefore be far less costly.
It is possible to hire portable toilets at about £100 each, but this is not a long-term solution and poor facilities may be reflected in poor site reviews.
However, a portable block can be useful to supplement facilities at peak times during the season.
Savills director and specialist in leisure and planning David Middleton warns prospective glamping site owners that the location must be carefully selected.
Avoiding any protected natural areas is a good starting point, suggests Mr Middleton.
Although a river can be an attractive feature, the proposed site must be away from areas where flooding is likely.
Protected areas such as green belt land also carry a national “presumption against” development in planning laws.
Likewise, a presumption against development exists in locations within areas of outstanding natural beauty, around sites of special scientific interest, and in Ramsar conservation zones.
Sites need to be in open countryside, but cannot be located in the middle of nowhere because there is also a national policy on sustainable transport which will form part of the planning assessment.
Planners will consider whether a proposed site is within walking distance of a public transport link – a bus stop or train station – or a cycle network or footpaths.
A counter to this when submitting a planning application can be made on the creation of employment. Proposals in areas where unemployment is a challenge may be looked on more favourably if details on job creation are included.
Highways and visual impact are further concerns for glamping developments.
The Highways Authority is extremely sensitive about developments near key routes and will look at risks from increased traffic and entry/exit points to the site, Mr Middleton says.
Planners might also call for:
- Visual impact survey
- Bat survey
- Arboriculture assessment
- Ecology report
- Drainage report on all sites larger than 1ha
A key tip then is to undertake a pre-application submission, rather than carry out any of these potentially costly exercises on spec.
A pre-application requires only a red-line marker of the site on a map, backed up with photographs and a statement on the proposals.
This will allow the site owner to speak to planners and gain an insight into how likely or challenging a full application will be.
The most significant advantage of this approach is cost. A pre-application submission will cost a few hundred pounds and will yield valuable information as to the likelihood of planning success.
By comparison a full planning application will cost in the region of £30,000 for a 30 to 40-pitch site.
Planning decisions are governed by a set timetable and usually take about two months.
Case study: Huntstile Organic Farm, Cornwall
- 182ha beef and sheep farm
- Recently converted to organic
- Land rented in two blocks
- Farmhouse converted to bed and breakfast
- 24ha campsite
- Log cabins, shepherd’s hut, gypsy caravan and bell tents
Lizzie and John Ridout diversified into leisure during a spell of low incomes from their beef and sheep enterprises. The business now includes a bed and breakfast, wedding venue, café, campsite and small glamping area.
They bought their first log cabin second-hand more than 10 years ago. The 5x4m unit was reconstructed, connected to the electricity supply and a small bathroom added on one side.
The total cost was about £9,000 when all groundwork, fittings, services, insulation and labour time were factored in, says Mrs Ridout.
The most expensive element was connecting the cabin to an electricity supply, she says.
The cable must be armoured and buried, and works must be certified to meet health and safety requirements.
A second cabin was bought for £8,000 and they have proved to be a solid investment.
Typically, each one takes about £1,000 a week, during peak occupancy in the summer.
After more than a decade, Mrs Ridout suggests keeping the units regularly maintained has been key. This helps them look fresh and clean, which is an important selling point for glampers.
Laying stone paths to the entrance has also paid dividends. It appeals to glampers who don’t like mud, she says.
Having solid, dry access also helps to keep the accommodation clean and cuts down on cleaning costs.
A smaller shepherd’s hut has also been added. This cost a total of £8,000, including all works.
It is extremely popular and is rented for £75 a night, yielding £500 a week.
Tips for glamping success
- Aim to get a solid core of repeat business
- Listen and respond to visitor comments
- Install electricity to charge phones and tablets
- Provide lighting across the site
- Ensure insulation is effective at keeping the cabin warm
- Avoid muddy areas and provide solid access
- Keep accommodation spotlessly clean
- Maintain structures regularly to prevent them looking worn
- Consult planners early