What Can UK Glamping Sites Take From the US? - Steph Curtis-Raleigh
Today we’re joined by Steph Curtis-Raleigh, publisher of International Glamping Business magazine and organiser at Eco Resort Network.
We discuss wider industry trends, what the UK glamping industry can take from the American model and we dive into the regulations that site owners are probably not aware of.
We hope you enjoy.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 0:04
It is a business at the end of the day and you don’t want to be doing everything yourself. Otherwise, you won’t really have much of a lifestyle at the end of it. Think sympathetically about where you are, in your decor in what you offer. That also is really pleasing for the guests. Because you feel Yes, that this, this fits this is this is how it should be. It is absolutely possible. In fact, it’s one of the attractions of this industry is that you can get started and get going with a relatively small initial outlay.
Nick Purslow: 0:55
Hello, and welcome to the Glampitect podcast. Today, we’re joined by Stephanie Curtis-Raleigh, publisher of International Glamping Business Magazine. She’s an absolute expert on the glamping industry, with in-depth knowledge of industry trends, the hospitality sector as a whole, and the business side of glamping, which is of particular interest in today’s episode. As ever, we hope you find it useful. And don’t forget to give Glampitect a call if you need help in any area of setting up or running your glamping site. Hi, Steph, thank you for coming on.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 1:23
Hello, Nick. Great to be here.
Nick Purslow: 1:26
So how did you get into the glamping industry?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 1:28
Well, a little roundabout route in a way. I came by the holiday parks, I suppose because my background is actually in, in trade journalism. But in the amusement gaming sector was where I cut my teeth. And a colleague of mine who’s Peter Rusbridge behind the glamping show. He came to me with a with a magazine for the holiday park sector that needed a little bit of work doing to it. And that’s how I came to be writing about this side of the industry from holiday parks. We soon identified glamping as a growing sector that nobody was really covering. That’s about five years, five, six years ago now. And I was very keen to start my own magazine after working for as an editor and a freelancer. So I said yes, this industry needs a glamping trade magazine. And that’s that’s how we got started.
Nick Purslow: 2:33
And that’s International Glamping Business magazine.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 2:37
That’s right. Now the Americas one as well, we’ve just done our first publication dedicated solely for the States.
Nick Purslow: 2:46
And so for the benefit of the audience, what sort of things do you cover in that magazine?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 2:51
Well, it both magazines much the same thing. It’s looking at the industry from the eyes of somebody who’s operating or setting up or operating a glamping business. So it’s a lot of product based editorial, because people are looking for something or other whether it be a hot tub, or a new piece of accommodation, or some of the issues that they may face around planning or wastewater, all of those sorts of things that people are thinking about, and hopefully they might read something in the magazine that helps them on their journey to to successful operation.
Nick Purslow: 3:40
And do you cover also wider industry trends as part of that, as well?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 3:45
Totally, you know, we’re always talking to people and interested in what’s going on. I try to identify trends, and I think it helps that we are international. So what’s happening in different countries, it’s, it’s often with a slightly different flavour. So people come at it from different angles. So that makes it you know, quite interesting to see, for example, with the states, how they, immediately the people that we met over there, they they thought bigger, whereas in the UK, we identified that most of our readership and the people that attended the show, they probably were operating less than fewer than 10 units of accommodation, given the size of the UK, the cost of land and so on and so forth. In the States. They were immediately thinking about hundreds of units of accommodation or chains of operation so they were looking at multiple locations. So they were thinking bigger.
Nick Purslow: 5:07
Do you think it’d be possible to protect glamping’s unique sort of ethos with with large sites, let’s say hundreds of units, do you think that it would be possible to protect the sort of ethos of glamping? Which is, I don’t know, how would you define ethos of glamping?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 5:26
Quirkiness and that sort of thing? I think we are far more likely to preserve that. In the UK, where we have a far greater number of small, independent locations. We identified in our report, when we did it in 2019, that there were sort of just shy of 4000. 3700, something like that, glamping sites in the UK. I do think there’s more competition coming in and more projects that we will see being built over the next year or so. Due to the demand from staycations. I think that some of the bigger operators are now looking at the sector. So we will see more hotel resorts style glamping in the UK, as well as in other locations. You can’t stop that. But the guests will dictate what they want. And I think there will always be a demand for something that’s unique and quirky and fun. So if that’s the way you’re going, I think, you know, it’s a great idea to be individual, and you’ll be successful if you do well.
Nick Purslow: 6:59
From your experience of the US market, could you see anything that UK so owners could could glean from that that they could use to improve the site?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 7:08
Well, I think that thinking big and having an exit strategy, not just thinking about it as a lifestyle business. Ther’s nothing wrong with having a lifestyle business, that suits your design, the way you want to live your ethos, but it is a business at the end of the day, and you don’t want to be doing everything yourself, otherwise, you won’t really have much of a lifestyle at the end of it, because you’ll be too busy cleaning and taking bookings and doing everything. So I think that there is something to be said for thinking about it in a way that you can pass it on, or you can sell it and making sure that you you keep your records you you keep your reporting going for your occupancy rates, all of these things that will be valuable when it comes to passing the business on at some later stage because we’ve never know in life what life might throw at us.
Nick Purslow: 8:21
That’s interesting. Actually, we haven’t really discussed that so far. In Episode Three with Morag Sallabanks, who runs Braeview Glamping, we did discuss how you need to treat your site as a business as well as just a hobby, and you need to think carefully. Because glamping has grown so organically really. There is a sense that it’s different to any other business, but I imagine it as it as it matures, it will be seen as more of a cold hard investment decision as well. Is there anything in particular that you would recommend people do if they do want to set it up as a as an investment? And so at a later date, what sort of things would you recommend they do so that the business will be sellable eventually?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 9:05
Yes, what I would recommend for keeping a businesslike approach is probably if you’re choosing a site, maybe consider the glamping site not being in the grounds of your own home. Because obviously when you come to sell on, then you’re going to lose your own your own house, and it might not be somebody else’s ideal location, where is the business if it’s freestanding, if it is in its own setting and not reliant on a house, then that might be easier to pass on at the end of the day and easier also, to price up because you’re not really valuing the business for the property as well. But just more for the for the for the business itself. So and the other thing that I would consider if you’re renting, land off somebody else, obviously, that’s going to affect the value of the business and glamping is difficult enough to work out the value of that businesses without taking into consideration rental agreements, it’s not impossible. And if you do go down that path, just make sure that you’ve got proper contracts in place so that people can see that there is a future to taking this business forward.
Nick Purslow: 10:48
So obviously, you do cover wider industry trends in the course of your work, international glamping business, what trends are really exciting at the minute, and what do you think will become big in the next few years?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 11:06
Well, we know that we’ve been doing a number of summits, from June of last year, we started the Eco Hotel Summit. And it’s funny that people often think that that’s a separate subject to glamping. Whereas I think it’s just an extension of the same thing because glamping by its very nature, outdoor accommodation, often off grid or certainly eco friendly, and it’s in its scope. This aspect of glamping really excites me. And I think there’s a great opportunity for people to promote that aspect of what they do, and put it more front and centre. Because tlhat’s what guests are looking for. They’re looking to go away and feel good about their, their trip. There’s so much guilt around travel at the moment, which is such a shame, not just because of COVID but because of driving, flying all of those things that have a negative connotation because of the carbon footprints. So I think that if you can make your destination feel good destination, because of all of the things that you’re doing to help the guests offset their carbon footprint, and without being preachy, but just to show that you are a business with a conscience and that you are benefiting the environment around you not just the physical the land, but also the other businesses in your area so that you’re supporting local farmers that you’re supporting local suppliers. If you provide a breakfast basket that those items are locally homegrown grown their eggs from the local farm there, this that the other, this makes such a difference and it really does. I think this is a trend that this industry needs to embrace even more than it already does. Tell the guests that that’s what you’re doing.
Nick Purslow: 13:41
Yeah, it’s got a two fold benefit. Obviously, you know, you’re doing you’re doing good, you’re doing good. But also it’s a good marketing tool as well because if you as you say if you can talk about it and it gives you a good content it gives you a good name and so yeah, moral and financial benefits to that and also marries itself well with the whole back to nature element of glamping which is which is key. And I’ve discussed with a few people about how the definition of luxury is changing and is going away from traditional definitions of luxury within say the hotel industry to nature itself is a luxury.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 14:31
Totally, totally agree with you and one interview I did last year and I was a bit nervous when I did it was with Sonu Shivdasani of Soneva. He’s got a number of resorts out in the Maldives. And he said that luxury is something that you don’t get every day, something out of the ordinary, that luxury used to be about a restaurant named after a famous chef or flashy things and said, but you know, that’s actually quite easy to get. So luxury should be something that you don’t find every day. And so for him, he has no shoes policy on in his resorts, and people that go to his resorts, they might be heads of finance, or very wealthy people. And they have to give up their shoes when they arrive. And they walk barefoot all week. And they experience things that they wouldn’t normally experience. And that is the absolute height of luxury. And I’m currently here in London. And I haven’t eaten anything home grown, I buy everything from the supermarket, I’ve not been able to go out for a really good walk, or I’ve not seen other people thronging the parts. I’m desperate to get outside and go somewhere where I can look around and there’s not another soul around and I’ve got the whole of the vista to myself to that, to me would be the absolute utmost of luxury and I think a lot of people feeel the same way.
Nick Purslow: 16:26
Yeah I like that a lot. So luxury is this, this is different, it’s about being different. And it’s about offering something that people don’t get at home, I think that’s a good lesson for the audience, actually. I know at NC500 Pods, the site that our founders set up, even just something as basic as Amazon Alexa and Smart Lighting, if people don’t have them at home, it’s like, Oh, that’s nice. And it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to go away raving about how it’s, you know, the most amazing place I’ve ever stayed in, it might well be, but just something that you can’t get home, I think that you’ll get a good response from it your site, whatever it is.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 17:08
Totally, totally and and whether that’s something that you’ve created like a jar of homemade jam, or I once stayed somewhere where they had someinsect repellent that was was made sort of their themselves with with lemon grass, and which was really a lovely thing. And something like that, that you you wouldn’t normally find. It’s a bit different. And it’s unique to your area your offering, and I think that’s what luxury should be.
Nick Purslow: 17:40
And it shows you don’t have to invest heavily, you don’t have to get a world famous interior designer, you can just do something little like that costs barely anything, but can really add value to your site.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 17:56
Yes, absolutely. It’s the thoughtfulness, it’s the authenticity, it’s if you’re somewhere near the sea, then obviously staying somewhere where you’ve got maybe, you know, driftwood, or shells or things like that is a great thing. But if you are in the middle of a city, you wouldn’t expect to find those things there. So to think sympathetically about where you are in your deck or in what you offer, that also is really pleasing for the guests. Because you feel Yes, that this this fits this is this is how it should be. And it’s it’s unique. It’s not mass produced, it’s something special. And I think that glamping offers that opportunity with its quirkiness to do that sort of sympathetic theming. And not you know, a mass produced, as you would expect in a hotel to see the same print in every room or this sort of thing. So I think luxury doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be simplicity but it’s got to be sympathetic with its surroundings.
Nick Purslow: 19:16
Yeah, that’s exactly what Eden said in Episode Five. I asked him the question that I’ll be asking you at the end, actually, if he could give one tip to prospective or existing glamping site owners, what would it be? And he said, look at the location, look at what it offers and adapt yourself to that rather than just trying to force yourself into that location with a sort of bog standard offering. Yeah, that’s a good point. So you mentioned earlier that used to help publish a holiday park magazine. Do you see the Holiday Park industry as being in competition with the glamping industry or do you see them as being in tandem?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 19:57
I see them as being in tandem. I think that in some ways, they are. They’re quite quite different. Holiday parks, they are designed by their very nature to accommodate larger numbers of people. They usually have an infrastructure where they’ve got leisure facilities, restaurants, all that sort of thing tied in and their little village is really they are. They provide a tiny microcosm of society. And what I noticed when I, when I was running the magazine was that there were some really exciting developments in the Holiday Park sector where the kind of knobbly knees Butlins style image couldn’t be further from the truth. And they’re producing some seriously stylish aspirational, Holiday Park accommodation, and lodges and so on and so forth. And, of course, starting to offer glamping as well. But it was tended to be as an add on to their existing offer, really. And it would probably be, in most cases, still fairly generic kind of glamping. So they might put in 10, Safari tents, or whatever. But the safari tents would still have roughly the same kind of decor, in line with what else they were offering. So it’s not the same as somebody setting up the glamping site that’s uniquely a glamping site. It’s it comes from a different place, I feel anyway, that that’s my impression of it. So I wouldn’t say there’s competition, because I think that the person that would book a treehouse stay in an independent glamping site would not necessarily choose to go in a holiday park setting. And there are various different offers that blur the lines. I mean, I think when centre parks first the first centre parks, They were neither fish nor fowl, they were not really the traditional holiday park. And they offered something slightly different. But even that has to be reinvented over the years. And I stayed in a in a lodge in one of the centre parks recently in the last couple of years. And that was very much an upmarket glamping style offer. But it’s, again, it was it was a bit odd, really, because when you arrived, you were filtered off and taken away from the rest of the people, you’re in a much more secluded area, but you could access all of their restaurants and the other facilities. So it never quite feels as authentic as a standalone glamping site where you can really lose yourself in nature. So I don’t know, I think it’s, it’s all good because it means people understand the concept of glamping a bit more. But people are discerning. And they, they might want to try that because they’ve got younger children, and they want a swimming pool option as well. Or they they might be people who say no, I just really want to lose myself in nature. And I’d rather be away from any of that kind of commerce.
Nick Purslow: 24:02
Would you say that there’s anything that the glamping industry could take from the Holiday Park industry? Or do you think it has to it has to stay in its own unique way, because if it takes too many elements from the Holiday Park industry, it will become a bit too generic.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 24:18
Well, I think that I would like to see some more glamping sites offering aspects of what holiday parks offer in the sense of some more social hubs, maybe some more service in terms of food and beverage, that kind of thing. I think that there are opportunities above and beyond the accommodation, to make money for the business and also as a guest you don’t necessarily always want to be preparing your own food. I went stay in a site, it was the October half term. And it was dark by sort of, you know, six 7pm. And the last thing I wanted to do was try to cook something outdoors in the cold and dark. So they Luckily, they had a sort of restaurant hub, which was brilliant, because you could go in you could be warm. You could, they did pizza, making evenings. And we could have a bottle of wine, so much nicer than being stuck in your accommodation in the dark, trying to make a fire. So for people to think that way, they can extend their season, they can also provide an opportunity for people to socialise. And if they want more, I think this is this is all good. And this is sort of blurring the line with the holiday park a little bit I suppose so. So why not? I think we can all learn from each other. But each site is is unique and individual and what works on one site might not work on another.
Nick Purslow: 26:23
Yeah, it’s interesting I am. I think we will start seeing that sort of thing as the industry matures, because we tend to forget that glamping is such a young industry, whereas the Holiday Park industry has been around for decades and decades. So we are still at the very forefront of it really aren’t we and it’ll be interesting to see how it develops and whether it does take elements from the from the bigger and more traditional industries.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 26:47
I think there’s also a word of warning really in that as well. In sense that we have grown up we’ve sprung up around sort of quirky pieces of accommodation very small businesses in the UK. And we are not we don’t have that established background like holiday parks, that be the BMB industry. And I suspect that a number of glamping site operators are not even fully aware of the local bylaws that govern hospitality businesses. And often when I’ve chatted to people shows, I get the impression that when they are receiving guests, it’s almost as though they are having houseguests people coming to stay with them as personal friends. And there are a number of things that you can’t do, you’re legally not really supposed to do. For example, offering alcohol to guests, you know, without a licence, picking up guests from the station sounds like a pretty innocuous thing to do, but that actually as a business owner, contravenes the bylaws for taxi cabs. And we had Kurt Jansen from the Tourism Alliance speak at one of our shows. And he put out a quiz of 10 questions. And nobody pretty much that answered these. Got them. All right. And so I think as we become we will become slightly victims of our own success. As we grow as an industry as we become more prominent. Then, understandably, the b&b industry, the hotel industry, the Holiday Park industry is going to say, hang on a minute, you guys, you’re riding roughshod over a number of rules and regulations that we have to that we are fully aware of, and that we abide by, and you have better like, you know, get to it, and start to start to follow the rules. And so I think that along with success will come tighter regulation somewhere along the line, and that will be that’ll be a nasty shock to a number of people.
Nick Purslow: 29:31
Moving on to your role as the organiser of eco resort network. Just for the audience, can you give us a rundown of what they do and whether there’s been any particular particularly interesting discussions at those events that might be of value to prospective and existing site owners?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 29:52
Certainly, well, a lot of names here I warn you, we started eco resort network. And the idea behind eco resort network was to bring people together in the industry who could help each other. Because it was really when I was working on the Holiday Park side of things. And I was reading about a number of new projects where people had flown all around the world to find out about swimming pools without chemicals, or how to create off grid, floating cabins or the technology and the experience, it wasn’t readily available to people. So perversely, people who were trying to set up eco friendly projects, were burning these carbon miles going all around the world, looking to find people to help them understand more. So we were going to do a physical event in Slovenia in 2020, to bring some people together. And it was going to be just like a convening, really, and a big big networking session. Lots of fun, hopefully some nice meals out. And then COVID came and so we took it online. We joined up forces with a guy in Portugal called J. Mendez. And when I say we that’s myself and Maja Dimnick of World of glamping. So she’s based in Slovenia, me in London, and J in Portugal. And we were on our third, we’re starting our fourth summit now. And the first one was ridiculous. Five days, 90 speakers, were really kicked off. We were like kids in a sweetshop because with everybody in lockdown, we got access to speakers that we could never have hoped to attract for a first event, because everybody was available. So that’s when I interviewed Sonu Shivdasani As I mentioned before, we had Bill Bensley, who is just like a rock star of eco hotel design. So yes, we we, we had five days of that. And that got us that got us underway. But our most recent one was the investment summit. And that was really, really interesting. And because money is a big subject, and it’s a tricky subject, and for a lot of these projects to ever get anywhere, they need investment and how to get investment. It’s such a difficult thing. And I think it’s even more difficult for us in Britain, because we’re brought up not to ask things like money or discuss money. Whereas in the States, I think they’re much more open about talking about money and asking for things. And we’re a bit polite about it or so we asked for pitches , we asked people who were looking for investment to submit their pitches to us. We weren’t expecting 60 odd pitches that came in from all over the world from projects in Antarctica and the Galapagos, and God knows where and it was absolutely fascinating. So I think, for me, what I learned from that, all of that was that a you need to know your you need to really show how you’re going to make money. Now it’s something that sounds like a really basic thing. But so many of us start businesses without really having a proper business plan about how we’re going to make it profitable. And so I think that that was what I took from it. Do that show how you’re going to make money. If you’re going to go and ask somebody else for money, be yourself just go in there and tell other people why you’re passionate about what you do. And be prepared for lots of rejection along the way, but you’ll get there so so yeah, that was a very interesting particularly interesting event. And I think we will continue with our, with our online summits. We’ll do the next one will be our restart summit. And we will incorporate an investment area to it because I felt that the was a particular interest. And it wasn’t just that people were thinking, Oh, that might be something that’s quite curious to listen to the people that took part. It was that their dreams that they were trying to get off the ground. So they there was an intensity to it. And they were supporting each other, they were listening to each other’s pitches as well and say, Wow, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s really, really good. And we’re in the process now of contacting the investors that were there, to try and find out if they’ll tell us which of the pitches they heard during the event that they want to take forward. And we will probably, as I say, incorporate that investment aspect in future events, too.
Nick Purslow: 35:52
Yes, the whole investment thing is, it is a good topic to raise really, because in the UK, there isn’t really a culture of, as you say, of asking for money, but also just the whole startup culture, its massive in the US. But in the UK, it’s not really a thing It seems to be business seems to be tend to be more either bootstrapped or just go for go to a bank to get a loan or something like that. Whereas there are a lot more options to get funding, whether that’s getting investment, whether it’s getting a loan, whether it’s, you know, even just for hire purchasing and financing for glamping pods and things like that there are all sorts of options out there. You don’t have to be a rich landowner to get going, obviously, you need some capital, because it’s difficult to get absolutely everything funded elsewhere.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 36:40
Totally, you know, you put your finger on it, I think that what, what came out of this, for me was the different stages of a business, if you you know, if you’ve got very little money yourself, and you want to get into glamping, it, it is absolutely possible. In fact, it’s one of the attractions of this industry is that you can get started and get going with a relatively small outlay, initial outlay.You know, at the moment, you can, you can put a few tents up in, in a field for, you know, 52 days, I believe, and then you can, you know, without even having to have any, any form of planning permission, for example, and run a small pop up business. So, it is, but the stages really are, you know, start off with your own money as much as possible or that have friends and family or whoever can support you. And once you prove that you can do it, and that it is profitable, then you’re in a position to go and either bring in angel investors or bank or that there are all sorts of new, brilliant ways. crowdfunding, for example, that if you put the time and effort to research, it can bring you an even greater rewards. And I mean, I, when I started the magazine, for example, I went down a crowd crowdfunding route myself, because the bank, were not offering me what I wanted. And I think, certainly, I found the whole experience, really, really so much more satisfying than going down the traditional bank loan route. So I strongly recommend people as you say, you can get financed on your accommodation, often from suppliers as well. So consider that is probably going to cost more than you think. When you first, everybody says that, you know, that, despite your best efforts, it will always cost more than you expect. But, but there are a number of ways in which you can make it affordable.
Nick Purslow: 39:14
For the final section, if you could give one tip to anyone thinking of setting up a glamping site or anyone who owns a camping site that wants to take it to the next level. What would that be?
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 39:28
Oh, that’s a big one, isn’t it really, I would say, Look, do the most with what you’ve got before you stretch yourself out even further. So it’s tempting. If you’ve got a small site, you’re doing reasonably well to say well, I would expand that and get a bigger site. For example, buy more pieces of accommodation and make that bigger investment. But as I mentioned earlier on, are there other ways in which you can make more money out of what you’ve already got? So could you create a wellness aspect to your business, for example, and wellness spending is increasing at twice the rate of any other form of tourism spending. So I don’t know whether that means we’re all sicker or feeling more stressed, or whatever it is. But I think that a lot of the attraction of glamping is that if distressing and getting away from our addiction to technology, for example. So wellness is a really good add on for any glamping business. And it doesn’t necessarily require a huge amount of investment, you could make an agreement with a local spa, or a local beautician to come and do massage and treatments at the tent, or create your own area for it, or yoga, all these things. But you could really, I think, instead of expanding straight off the bat, look at what you can do what you can bring in to, to make your glamping site more profitable in itself. And then when you go to expand, you’ve got all this extra expertise and revenue that you can bring to a bigger scale operation. So so that will be my advice. I think.
Nick Purslow: 41:56
That’s brilliant. And before we go, how can people get in touch with you if they want to ask you more.
Steph Curtis-Raleigh: 42:02
Oh, well, by whatever means they want really. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, I find LinkedIn really, really useful. Otherwise, by by email, or give me a call. My details should be on the glampingbusiness.com website. So it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. So thank you very much.
Nick Purslow: 42:30
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of the Glampitect podcast. Don’t forget to leave a rating and review and we look forward to seeing you next week.
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