The birth of glamping

Posted: 4th October 2017


By: Sharon Earp

The birth of glamping

Glamping is not a new phenomenon, but one influenced by the past. During the 1920’s African safari’s and expedition camps of the colonial era were widespread, early explorers carried with them brass chandeliers, old Indian campaign chests, rich leather and hardwood furniture and colourful textiles. Temporary and transient in atmosphere, camps offered a perfect blend of comfort and adventure, connecting with nature and surrounded by wildlife.

In 2005, some 100 years later, this sophisticated adventure arrived in the UK, known as glamping, brought to us by Borenbed, a company in the Netherlands and known as Feather Down Farms in the UK. Luite Moral was a partner, a Dutchman with a huge personality, and with a firm handshake many a deal was agreed over a cup of strong coffee or English tea in the farmhouse kitchen. Luite began selling the vision, encouraging and signing up farmers in England and Scotland, inviting them to share their land and lifestyle with holiday makers in his luxurious tents. In 2006 there were just five Feather Down Farms, risen now in 2017 to thirty-three. It was the introduction of Feather Down Farm Days highly successful marketing campaign, and glossy coffee-table brochure, in the era of online marketing, concentrating on London and the South, that significantly brought Glamping to the urban populous, making it a widespread dinner party conversation.

In the last ten years we have witnessed a proliferation of rural entrepreneurs and lifestyle farmers capitalising on the success and growing popularity of this burgeoning market. Its not exclusive to these groups though, Haven Holidays, a stalwart of the family holiday market introduced a variety of Glamping accommodation styles in 2012 to their holiday parks. And, Lanterns and Larks, part of the same company who own Rural Retreats, have introduced sites across the UK, a similar type of proposition to Feather Down Farms.

Why has glamping become so popular?

There are three significant areas of interest to those of us in the tourism industry;

Firstly, glamping is partly an experience, an atmosphere, the embracement of the immense beauty of the great outdoors, the countryside, the patchwork quilt of endless fields, the winding country lanes, the irresistible blend of delights and tranquillity. Its fresh air, a simplicity of outdoor life and nature, albeit in a luxury cocoon, being lulled to sleep by the sound of silence.

Glamping has evolved to mean a type of experience and thinking which is what differentiates it from a traditional holiday cottage or hotel, it continues to evolve and is not purely concentrated on the accommodation style. Purists would say that glamping should include an element of canvas, however the glossy marketers have cleverly conjured up evocative images which have broadened the mind to include an abundance of accommodation styles.

Secondly, the workcation, many holidays are becoming a blend of continued work and holiday. A report by Mintel in early 2016 highlighted our inability to switch off, the addiction to social media and our constant need for connectivity, this damaging inability to unplug, even though relaxation is the aspect we crave for. Glamping provides a gently imposed unplugging, in the main, due to the absence of Wi-Fi. In my experience, once guests settle in and adjust, after a day or so they become passionate advocates for unplugging. And at the end of a holiday, when you engage in conversation, guests become passionate ambassadors for a holiday-world, free from modern technological.

The final piece of the jigsaw is the much debated erosion of childhood partly due to modern technology and the recognised need to reconnect children with the natural world. The report Natural Childhood commissioned by the National Trust, highlights this area is great detail and is a fascinating read to anyone considering entering this evolving market. Glamping facilitates the environment to provide an area where children can roam freely, explore the outdoors and discover nature and enjoy natural play. Those perceptive glamping destinations have avoided the urban route of a constructed playground, with manufactured play equipment and have truly embraced what glamping represents, a discovery of the natural world, where children engage their imagination and discover play and the natural world.

The challenges looking forward…

Glamping continues to evolve, newcomers to the market need to research and establish what their wow factor is. Glamping has become not purely focused on the luxurious element of the accommodation but also the experience, this needs to be reflected in the proposition. The moderately short season, realistically just 30 weeks, needs to be considered, for most, the early giddy-days of exceptionally high occupancy have calmed. I always say, anyone can sell July and August but a business is not viable on 8 weeks!

Customer expectations are high, and its problematic trying to be all things to all people; families, couples, celebrations? Your proposition will depend upon location, and customer catchment area; most guests will not travel more than two hours for a short break, and Glamping remains, predominantly a short break business.

We end, by returning to the proposition and your own wow factor. Discounting in the industry has emerged and is on the rise, which can be an indicator of over supply or a weaker proposition. VisitEngland’s newly launched Glamping Accreditation scheme is a welcome introduction to the sector and is an indicator of the confidence from the tourism industry in the future of this sector.

Author: Sharon Earp