“Glamping” or “glamorous camping” is, or was, going to be the next big thing in camping.
Ideal for people who enjoy the great outdoors, but don’t really like camping, pitching a tent or the cost of buying kit of their own, “glamping” was projected, in the early part of the millennium, to revolutionise camping and campsites. It would, it was said, be a major growth activity that would ride the crest of the resurgent camping wave, bringing new converts to outdoor holiday living and persuading existing campers to leave their own kit at home. And why wouldn’t they? They’d all be looking to “upgrade” to new ways of camping and getting back to nature.
Why then, when so many of us camp or caravan every year, did market researcher Mintel find in 2013 that only three per cent of the UK population had “glamped” in the last three years?
The answer certainly is not through lack of opportunity. Would-be glampers have choice aplenty when it comes to alternative camping experiences. From bell tents, yurts and tepees, to shepherds’ huts, pods and a variety of sheds and vintage vehicles on wheels and off, all can be found on campsites large and “bijou” throughout the land.
Why then have the hoards not swarmed to this new and unique pleasure? It would be easy to assume that “it’s the economy, stupid”. Certainly the global financial crisis has dropped its fallout on all sorts of industries and activities, doubtless glamping is one. But there may also be other forces at work, and possibly an even bigger glitch in the glamping business model. And don’t forget, that’s what glamping is, a business. However cutesy, fluffy or green it’s dressed up to be, someone’s selling and someone’s buying. The big questions are who and why?
This is possibly where the root of glamping’s failure to launch lies and why, if it stays airborne at all, it is likely to remain low-flying.
The key to it all may be in the notion that people who don’t like camping will like it more if there are a few home comforts and a bit of chintz thrown in. Somehow, a proper bed and a bedside table will make sleeping under canvas in afield less like sleeping under canvas in a field and more like sleeping at home.
At this point alarm bells should ring, quite loudly.
For most people who love camping, the whole thing about it is that it’s not like sleeping at home. It’s that whole connecting with nature and the world we live in thing or it’s an affordable holiday away from home. For many, it’s a taste developed early from childhood experiences with our families or from the first freedom of youth where nights under canvas deliver the independence we don’t have at Mum and Dad’s or student digs.
For most, the camping bug bites early or not at all. You either love it, or hate it. Those who love it tend to get their own kit and aim to look after it. Those who hate it avoid camping like the plague and only find their way back under canvas when there’s no other option and even then only under duress!
This can be a problem for music fans of either persuasion as standard accommodation at all the big festivals is camping. If you love camping, you’re not going to want to take your own precious kit and risk it getting trashed or swiped. And if you hate camping, where else can you sleep?
Behold, the two route festival solution. Either buy a very cheap “throw away” tent that you don’t mind losing. Or let someone else carry the cost and risk of putting up an expensive tent for you and then walk away at the end of the weekend. From such mass participation events spring two distinct markets, one for cheap and slightly rubbish tents. The other for “posh” tents delivered, pitched and furnished to make an enforced camping experience as little like camping as possible for “glampers”!
For the most part, cheaper tents is no bad thing. They don’t last long, even if you want them to, but they do give everyone the chance to try camping whatever their budget. All that’s left for the people who buy them is the issue of disposal - assuming they don’t leave them on the ground trashed or puked on as another festival casualty.
Festival glamping tents however, present a different set of issues. The people who’ve bought them, having raked in the revenue renting them to the festival crowd, now have to clean them and store them until the next bit of a bash. Unless, of course, they can persuade someone to rent them out in the meantime…which they are doubtless keen to do as otherwise their investment is sitting doing (and earning) nothing.
For these investors, buoyed by the number of people willing to part with their cash to glamp at a festival, it seems a reasonable assumption that the same people, or ones just like them, will also part with their cash to glamp elsewhere.
Some most certainly will, but the evidence suggests that they may be a smaller band than the glamping “pioneers” may have led many to believe. And when you think about it, it’s not that difficult to see why.
There are two groups of people the whole glamping thing needs to be pitched at. The people who are going to use the tents and the people whose land they will be on.
For the would-be glampers, glamping is just one of a number of possible holiday options open to them and for the prices they’re going to have to pay, they will be looking for something quite special to tempt them away from the non-camping holidays they would normally pursue. They’ll expect real comforts, a degree of seclusion and probably an exclusive and beautiful location. This will mean more than a patch among other campers and a long drop bog. The privations they are willing to accept as part of the whole “festival experience”, they’re not going to take on their main holiday or weekends away. After all, if it was camping they wanted to try, they could do that for less by buying their own cheap kit.
Site owners too are likely to think that buying their own gear to rent out to glampers makes more sense than hiring from somebody else. And if they decide to dip a toe in the water, to avoid the hassles of pitching tents designed when the army used muskets, they will probably opt to put in some “pods” of their own rather than rent bell tents or yurts from anyone else.
Pods may be more appealing to the glampers too as they’re more likely to keep their pampered toenails dry, should the weather turn inclement.
But that’s only part of the issue for the site owner. Whether you put up bell tents or pods, you are still going to need to provide the sort of showering and toilet facilities that campers who don’t like camping are going to want. For temporary operators on small or large scale sites, this is tricky. Small scale operators won’t see the revenue needed to cover the costs of half decent showers and toilets, while large scale temporary operations, for reasons of cost and convenience, inevitably rely on portable facilities or long drops.
Ultimately, the longer and more closely you analyse the issues, the more it becomes clear that making glamping work is like making a prawn salad for people who are allergic to seafood and don’t like lettuce!
You can’t make use of the main ingredients, so if it’s still going to be an enjoyable eat, it’s going to need loads of creativity and only ever likely to work well in a small number of cases.
Location is always going to be key. Customers might be willing to pay over the odds to sleep in a bell tent inside an historic castle as a one off, but are unlikely to do so to be surrounded by partying students and to poop through a plank!
If all the other facilities are in place and of good standard then bagging a pod on a well-organised park as a step up from a tent but still short of a caravan might appeal to some.
But beyond that, the offer to those who have already glamped or those who might be tempted to glamp in future is likely to need to be truly exceptional and more than a way of getting extended use and revenue out of somebody else’s festival investment.
To keep or extend their current three per cent in three years market, glampsites large or small will need to find ways that pull campers from their tents or pull non-campers from B&Bs, hotels and holiday cottages.
Either will be a delicate extraction, but of the two the latter would seem the more likely. If you actually enjoy camping, then if you want to camp with bells and whistles, you’ll find your own way to do it with your own kit. The challenge for the glampsites might therefore be not how to offer camping that isn’t like camping, but how to offer quality hotel and self-catering accommodation that isn’t like a B&B or hotel and isn’t in a caravan…not so much a question of making camping glamorous, more like making luxury accommodation more like camping - scenic, fresh, clean and alfresco.
Making glamping work is like making a prawn salad for people who are allergic to seafood and don’t like lettuce!..."
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