Hi Claire, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. First of all, tell us a bit about your glamping business and how it all began!
I have always had a passion for camping. I just loved the connection to the outdoors you get when there are no other distractions in the way. As a child it was the only type of holiday we knew and it was always an adventure. At night we would sit around a campfire with hot chocolate and gaze at the stars. As an adult I took my children camping and I refuse to have hookup so we could get the more secluded pitches often in woodland. Nature on your doorstep with no tv’s or comfy sofas to stop you from noticing it. Freedom!
I’ve had a dream to run a campsite so that others could enjoy what I loved. We lived in Kent and over one weekend we went from discussing my dream to putting in a transfer for my husband’s job to go to North Wales where I felt at home surrounded by the drastic scenery of the mountains and forests. Two weeks later we were house hunting in Wales! The house we went on to purchase had land although a bit exposed so we decided to go the glamping route. A year after moving in we were all set ready to open the site for guests! We loved the domes because of the panoramic windows, which still gave you a connection to the outdoors even if it was raining and they had such as spacious feel to them (plus they were aerodynamic for the strong winds we get here!)
Where did you get the idea of investing in a dome and how has it transformed your business for your guests?
We were doing a bit of research into glamping accommodation and stumbled upon geo domes. We instantly loved them and knew that was the route we wanted to take. We were thankful when we found TruDomes, a UK company that had started to manufacturer them. We wanted to support UK businesses and I believe we were one of their early customers which was exciting too. The domes are currently a unique selling point as not many people have experienced staying in one so they are an attraction themselves. The reactions I see from my guests is fantastic. They think they are wonderful and are in awe of the space and height.
Starting a business often seems like a mammoth task with so many things to consider, what advice would you give to people looking to set up a glamping business on their own land?
It is a difficult task but certainly not impossible. Firstly, you would need to explore with your local council whether planning permission is required and the likeliness of permission being granted. This would determine whether it is worth pursuing. Then I think research is key. Go to glamping shows, visit/stay on other sites, search local glampsites to discover what they are offering so you can see if there is niche market for a type of accommodation (you want something that stands out from the others to attract customers) and research what facilities you would need on site and would like to offer (toilet, shower, electric hookup). We reserved equity from our house sale to pay for setting up of the glampsite. We knew our limit so costing well within that budget is key. Do not budget right to your limit! There are so so many hidden costs or things you may not consider. Furnishing the glamping units can end up costing quite a bit and is often something you don’t fully appreciate the cost even down to the blankets, crockery and lighting. It all certainly adds up!!
Landscaping is probably another cost that isn’t taken into account but is also important to make a difference in the site. Don’t expect to turn large profits for the first few years. We’ve have reinvested money back into the site to develop and improve it over the past few years. Opening a glampsite is a learning curve and you may not get it completely right the first time or if you are like me, are always having new ideas to make it better!! My husband jokes that I treat my business more like a hobby! That said, it is hard work. During the season, if you choose not to open all year, it is full on 24/7 work especially if you do not employ anyone. It takes over your life and you are responsible for you guests the whole time they are on site come day or night. It is a worry and some guests are more demanding that others. Be prepared to put your head down and work hard. Everything has to be perfect so not to allow any negative feedback. So much is based on reviews.
We built the site ourselves. There was nothing but a water tap on the field. All the construction was done by ourselves and everything designed by ourselves. It was extremely hard work physically and mentally especially as we done it over a Welsh winter (snow and gale force winds!) but by doing it ourselves it kept the costs down and under control. There is also that satisfaction once it is complete (and once you’ve recovered!) you can stand back and admire your hard work and determination. Have a deadline to work towards and dig deep. You will achieve it!
The past year has been an ongoing struggle for many businesses due to the pandemic, especially people in the hospitality and tourism sector. How have you coped and what are your thoughts on the future for the industry?
The last year was certainly an unpredictable one. Thankfully we were given a grant from the local Council. I decided to use the money to reinvest in the site and we managed to complete two years worth of projects during lockdown. It would normally have taken the two years as we only have the winters to complete these projects. Having the opportunity to carry these out in the sun was amazing! It felt like a big risk investing the money but sometimes you have to look to further in the future and see how the investment should attract more custom. We are now opening a couple of camping pitches on the site.
When people are able to travel and stay over in accommodation again, what are your main concerns and what are you looking forward to most?
We are already have guests in our accommodation as the Welsh Government are allowing Welsh residents to stay in self contained accommodation. Guests from England can travel from 12th April. My initial concern was the influx of people but because we have only been able to offer it to Welsh residents, this has alleviated that concern. I have been looking forward to seeing my guests enjoy the change of scenery and the freedom from their homes! You can actually notice the change in them when they arrive. They are amazed by the scenery and the feel that they are miles from anywhere (although they are not). I love watching their reactions when they open the door to their accommodation both adults and kids. I must confess I feel saddened when they leave. It often feels like you are saying goodbye to friends you won’t see again for a long time.
When did you decide that you wanted to offer glamping and what were the challenges that you faced, as well as the triumphs?
We decided to offer glamping when we realised that our land was not quite suitable for camping and being an exposed site. It also meant that people could have a go at experiencing camping but with still having some of the luxuries they are use to and are not able to contemplate giving up!
Setting the site up in a high exposed site in winter was extremely hard and the manual labour involved was very physical. I had to keep reminding myself that it will keep me fit! (I still do when wheeling barrows of logs and supplies up the hills!) I think for most people, planning would be the most difficult stage depending on your council and all the hurdles it entails to tick all the boxes once you do finally have the permission. It also a big expense when you may not get permission and can take months of agonising wait for the decision. Employ a good consultant that has dealt we these applications/planners before and has been successful.
The triumphs are always the positive reviews! It makes it all worthwhile and saying goodbye to guests when they have thoroughly enjoyed their stay. Also standing back and seeing it all come to fruition from the vision you once had.
Having a successful glamping business is all about offering a unique situation, what is it that sets your location and your glamping dome apart?
I have found the customers have noticed and appreciate all the little things we have done and provided. They know that we have put a lot of thought and care into everything we have done. I tend to spend hours and hours on researching everything to get it right even down to the torches we provide or the cushions!
As campers, I think we appreciated what we could provide to make a guests stay better. We understood the things that can dampen a camping trip such as toilets and showers. One of the things I never like about camping is having to use shared facilities that were often left muddy and with other people’s hair down the plug hole or on the tiles!! Therefore I wanted to provide my guests with their own toilet next to the tent and a private (pumped and hot) shower. Additionally, after years of struggling with a make shift kitchen when camping, I wanted to make sure my guests have a kitchen area with dining table and everything they needed to prepare and cook a meal. We even include tea, coffee, sugar, cooking oil and salt/pepper. I know that I can say to my guests that all they need to bring is their clothes and toiletries. Not all guests believe me and bring everything but the kitchen sink to then realise it was not needed!
We also offer a private tour of our animals. We have pigs, chickens, sheep and alpacas. Guests tend to see this as an unexpected bonus of their stay.
I fear any negative feedback so always go above and beyond customers’ expectations. I make sure that I chat to them about their plans and help advise on the local area etc. I take interest in them and in doing so it forms a positive relationship with them beyond just being the owner. I also regularly check on them either face to face or by text message. This also makes it easier to resolve any problems that may arise as they find you more approachable so therefore they are not going home too scared to have said anything and complaining to everyone about their stay. They are also more likely to return to you too which I think would be most Glampsite owners preference.
Do you think that glamping as a trend will continue to be on the rise in future, especially in the wake of the pandemic?
I believe glamping is still a continuing trend and even more so because of the pandemic. People want that slice of freedom and connection to the outdoors. The little bit of adventure and buzz it gives them. Holiday patterns seem to be changing where families use to go on holidays abroad for two weeks a year, they are now maybe taking a one week holiday abroad and taking shorter breaks at other times of the year in the UK to escape the normality of work/home life. We do not provide electric hookup to the accommodation so we do offer a complete withdrawal from normal life. It forces some people to leave work behind and forget about it. They are very grateful for it and often do not wish to leave!
Lastly, what are your plans with the business for the future long term?
Personally, I do not wish our site to become too big that it becomes impersonal. Each guest needs to feel that they are special and important. That is part of their holiday/experience. We have the two domes, which take nearly 6 hours to complete a changeover on both units (everything needs to be perfect!!) We have opened a camping pitch (with its own toilet too) and will be opening another two this year once COVID-19 allows. Anything beyond this will take away that personal service and I would need to look at employing someone to help manage the site.