Edward Busby shares his approach to creating a glampsite from the bare earth up
When in the early fledgeling stage of setting up a glamping site on your land it is a good idea to take a step-by-step, methodical approach. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming starting out on projects, so if you can break it down into a six-point process you will have somewhere to start and, most importantly, somewhere to finish. However, don’t get bogged down; a new venture is exciting and fun, and so is the business.
If I were to list that process, it would be in this order:
- Appraising a piece of land
- Establishing a philosophy and design
- The planning and funding process
- Landscaping, earthworks and services
- The build/commission of accommodation
- Use of media and marketing
1. Appraising a piece of land
When you are appraising a piece of land the first step is to identify its best features or unique selling points. What does it have? Beautiful views, water, veteran trees, grazing livestock and so on. If you can locate a point that can encompass all of these elements, you may have found your ideal spot. If you have more than one site in mind then create a list of the pros and cons, then you can analyse each site and make a decision. You can then establish an access route and if it is feasible for a build or not. Try and picture your guests’ arrival at this stage; is it too far to walk? Is it safe and practical?
2. Establishing a philosophy and design
Next, you can begin to visualise how you can create the environment and experience you want to deliver. What sort of structure will work on this site and what had you envisioned creating? The founding themes of glamping are back to nature, the great outdoors and luxury camping. How are you going to truly integrate your site or structure within its setting and the great outdoors? In order to do this, you need to have a clear picture in your head of who your target market is and what the customers are buying into when they book a stay. What type of structures suit this type of customer? How many people will you be accommodating in it?
Once you have gone through this process and picked your ideal structure, whatever it may be, you can then commission designs and get the ball rolling. At this stage make sure your structure suits its purpose. If you intend to run this site up to 12 Building wooden glamping units months a year then be sure it is capable of doing so. For instance, when intending to run a site all year round then you may rule out canvas dwellings and so on.
3. The planning and funding process
You should now be at the point where you have a clear vision of what you intend to create, where, and with your designs in hand. This is now an ideal time to put a business plan together; this will play a crucial role when applying for planning permission and/or funding.
Once you have a plan in place you can set up some initial meetings with the relevant people, such as the local traffic and highways officer and a planning consultant (if needed). If your land is in an LPD (land protected designation) zone then you will need to set up a meeting with the environment agency. If in a national park then contact your local national park office and establish a dialogue with them. The above is all pre-application work and to be done before you meet your planning officer and proceed with an application.
If you are going for grant funding or intending on drawing in outside investment, then there are some key points below that you will need to include in the financial section of your business plan.
Occupancy rates and projected profits: When projecting your occupancy rates for a business plan, it is crucial to remain conservative and realistic. You can get a good idea of occupancy rates for different site styles by visiting glamping agency websites and seeing how similar retreats to the ones you intend to build are performing. This way you can create a set of projected figures.
Glamping agencies will typically look to charge around 25% of turnover plus VAT. These occupancy rates play a large part in the financial projections for your business, so it is important to get the best information you can.
If you are looking to expand your business, rather than starting out, then you should have good access to figures and therefore a good platform to build on.
Payback schedule and annual net profit: In order to create your investment payback schedule, you will need to work out the projected or actual net profit. This is achieved by working out initially how much you intend to charge per stay and combining it with your occupancy rates to come up with a monthly or seasonal figure. Amounts vary depending on structures, but £80-£140 per night for two to four people is common.
Seeking advice from someone in the industry is the best source of information as they can draw on their own experience. Failing that, you can go about costing this yourself, however, be careful to think about everything from agency fees to toilet paper as these costs will add up and eventually create your bottom line.
It may be wise to seek professional help from an industry specialist if you feel less confident with the topics above, however, you can also do background and market research yourself in order to get a good idea of the business potential.
4. Landscaping, earthworks and services
With a structured design in mind, you can now picture its orientation and position on your site. If you need to run services in then now is the time – pre-build.
Working on level ground can save a lot of time so creating a level platform for your structure to sit on is a good place to start. This can be done accurately with an excavator, a decent operator and a laser level finder.
If you are undertaking earthworks on-site then try to work with the existing contours to obtain a natural finish. If your site is overly exposed or looked upon by neighbouring ground you can create earth barriers or plant up natural screens to create privacy.
We find the best time of year for groundworks is in the winter, even if a little damp and muddy. Obviously, you have to pick the right time to work but in the winter you can see where the water runs, collects and pools. This will give you a good idea of where you need drainage. If you undertake this work pre-spring then your ground will recover quickly when the temperature picks up and plants begin to grow.
5. The build
Countryside trees and field areaWe find when building a site it is best to do 90% of the work in the workshops, especially if you are going for a custom structure, rather than an ‘off the shelf’ unit. This is the most efficient way to build and this work can go on while the other initial site work is happening. Again, the winter is a great time for this, ready for a spring installation and a summer run. Be mindful in this process of the final installation and how it will take place as you will still need to transport your build.
When building platforms, boardwalks and creating pathways, think about your guests’ safety and the usability of the areas, do they have enough space, and have you taken care of any potential hazards? Is the site livestock proof and fit for purpose?
6. Use of media and marketing
Sometimes the best way to get your site out there, especially if you need to draw some immediate money back, is to sign it up to a glamping agency. It is good to do your homework here; most agencies charge a similar commission rate but they all have slightly different target markets. Find one that suits your ideal customer, site and philosophy. Read the small print in these contracts as this will define how you can operate with guests from your agency, repeat customers and guests you have drawn in yourself. Some agencies with exclusive rights written into the contract will try and cap the number of owner bookings per year, so clarity is the key here.
In the last few years, sites like Airbnb have really come on; now you can book some amazing places worldwide, and if you have an exciting place to stay you can now ask a reasonable rate. Unlike the general glamping/holiday agencies, Airbnb takes a commission of 5% but how does this compare to other agency occupancy and rental rates? It is now worth doing these calculations, and a bit more competition out there for the agencies can only be a good thing for owners.
If you already have a farm website or social media set up then you can launch and market your new build. These can become handy tools for you to promote your own site through select pictures, experiences and offers.
Whatever way you plan to market and sell your site professional photography is key. You can really undersell yourself by not capturing your site and its surroundings well, and make sure you have that number one photo up first.
If you are an estate or large farm and intend to set up a glamping business on a larger scale, such as an outdoor hotel or club, then other marketing options become more viable. At this point, you can employ a marketing firm to create your brand, website and booking engine. These firms also tend to offer long term deals on an annual or monthly basis for a fee based on target occupancy rates. They will then send customers to your website and offer high occupancy rates. The difference between these firms and an agency is that these firms charge a lump sum each month rather than a 30% share of your turnover. This, when applied to a site with 10 or more retreat spaces, can create significant savings.
On a more local level, linking up with tourism-based businesses around you can be a very good way to source your own customers. Mutually beneficial relationships can be struck up with established companies that can feed you, clients. This can be very positive for both parties as the addition of your accommodation can enhance and expand their client experiences and therefore increase the potential for business.
All in all, this is a fantastic business to be involved in. People are beginning to revalue our beautiful country and nature. We are falling back in love with our countryside, and glamping and outdoor hospitality deliver this experience to people best. You can experience nature from the warmth of a bed or bathtub in all its glory. This industry is a win-win for landowners and guests. The tide has turned and now the preservation of our countryside has a new value that outweighs its destruction.
About the Author
Edward Busby grew up in rural Herefordshire where he developed a passion for nature and the great outdoors. After travelling and experiencing other countries and cultures he built his first unique home on wheels, closely followed by his first yurt. This was his introduction to the world of outdoor living spaces. After gathering knowledge and experience building, he then teamed up with two like-minded friends and craftsmen, and together they set up Crown & Canopy.
As well as running their own retreats, the Crown and Canopy team specialises in designing and building complete glamping sites and bespoke spaces. It also provides a comprehensive consultancy and design service to farms and estates, providing feedback reports and full appraisals based on the potential of their land.