Glamping is an attractive and potentially lucrative way of earning a decent return on your land provided you plan everything in advance. Bill Lumley talks to Pop-up Campsites managing director Elizabeth Cartwright.
Pop-up Campsites in Sussex service most levels of the events industry including a number of high-end boutique hotels. It has three campsites across Sussex and the Southeast catering for self-pitching, bell tents and teepees. It also offers exclusive land for parties, weddings and corporate events, and for the past six years it has provided bell tents for temporary luxury accommodation for Pop-Up Hotel during the Glastonbury Festival.
The company works with Luxmode Glamping Service, which owns high-end equipment from safari suites to junior tents to the mogul suite.
Managing director Elizabeth Cartwright says: “With Luxmode we have set up a number of Somerset, Dorset and Sussex campsites that carry larger equipment. If for instance you wanted to offer a week’s camping outside Rye or Camber Sands we can accommodate that. If you wanted an exclusive section of your field with toilet facilities, we could also build that for you.”
If you are thinking of deploying luxury tent facilities, the first consideration is to establish where the land on which the proposed luxury camping actually lies: whether it is within the curtilage of the hotel or B&B, and whether it is classed as agricultural land. If so, then the law dictates you can only operate a campsite for 28 days continuously from the day you are set up or 28 days at any given point, she says.
There are other considerations such as ease of access and the kind of water available, which will dictate what facilities can go in and how many can be supported.
“The next stage we would discuss with them how much the long-term hire was and conveying the responsibilities that they must face having to look after the tents once they were in,” she says.
Waste and other practicalities
It is important before at the planning to determine how you would have your toilets spaced out. “It depends on the volume and scale of what you are doing,” says Elizabeth. “If you are just going to operate for 28 days and shower water can be seen as ‘grey’, as would washing-up water – non-contaminant. You want to avoid having PCP free shampoo and washing up liquid so when it goes back into the environment it is not affected by it.”
If you were running for a short time you wouldn’t have to worry about building large quantities of infrastructure, so the shower or washing up water could be deemed as grey. Toilets are a different matter, however, she explains. “One of our clients was discussing composting toilets which are great depending on the entry level on which you want to operate. If you want to operate boutique higher end, then you would have to have something like propel air toilets of the kind you get on yachts that resemble flushing toilets.”
If you are operating on the 28-day model you want to get your maximum return. You may routinely be returning at least 2 rooms away or some people have guests staying for four to six days. “It is really difficult to know what people’s marketplace is,” she says. “It comes down to whether it is short or long term stays because facilities need to fit accordingly. It’s not just a five-minute conversation: you have to make sure the facilities they are booking in would bend and flex accordingly.”
For example, the horse boxes that Popup Campsites converted into toilets and showers are fitted with portaloo chambers that can be cleaned out for £10 each on any given weekend and they have a large capacity servicing 25 people.
per portaloo over a 2-day period. “They would certainly accommodate large quantities of bell tents and do cheaper, shorter stays,” she says.
Much also depends on the buyer’s marketplace. “If you are looking for just weekend stays, and your demographic is high say Oxfordshire they pay a large amount of money for the rooms anyway perhaps near Haymarket, then you would get away with safari suites and high-end bell tents. For the high-end wealthy guest, you absolutely need the safari suites that the Popup Hotel has,” she says.
Luxmode Safari suites owned by Johnny Townsend for instance have toilets and showers at the back, the sleeping area in the middle and the living area towards the front with the balcony, and they come as part of the package.
Modest scale land-use
A B&B owner may have an acre of land on which to develop a lucrative high-end camping facility to extend the number of guests they can accommodate. Elizabeth says the owners must first establish what they need in terms of the number of beds and on what level, for example four higher-end suites and 10 mid-budget range suites. “We would take a look at the land and how we would put that infrastructure in place then come and then come out for a site visit to give a costing and pricing. Then as we approach the point where they know exactly what they want, we drill down better on pricing.
“It comes down to what it is they need us to provide. We can provide structure and facilities including the things that go inside those structures,” she says.
Low end budget challenges
One of the dangers is people turning up on site having booked what you yourself class comparatively as a budget room that gives them very little. The same issues arise where they have been advised to bring their own bedding, and they have not heeded the advice and turned up with nothing as they believe they have booked expensive package. “It can go hideously wrong on a budget level,” says Elizabeth. “People say, ‘I want that one!’ but they don’t want to pay for it, so instead pay for the lowest priced one without even considering where the disconnect happens.”
High end budget challenges
They may absolutely lose it because there isn’t an espresso machine, or they have brought their hair dryers and straighteners and haven’t worked out they can’t operate these inside their tent, which would normally only give them enough power to charge mobile devices, she says.
There are ways around it, but they cost. “We have brought in things like mini generators to boost power to a particular tent. Some hotels offer wellington boots, but some don’t. Some automatically offer toothbrushes – the list is endless,” she says.
The over-riding message here is planning. Determine the precise size of the land you propose to erect your temporary luxury camping facilities, establish who owns the land and whether it is agricultural land. Ensure you call in an expert firm to carry out a comprehensive site visit, and listen to every piece of advice you get from that visit – and be sure to convey it to your guests. That way they will have the time of their life, and you will be remunerated satisfyingly for land you may not otherwise be putting to any practical use.
You’d need to service those rooms whatever the weather, and Elizabeth suggests using either a quad bike or a 4×4. “When you are trying to transport clean linen in a muddy field you need to think outside the box. First of all, what we encourage our clients to do is think about rollout packway/trackway like you’d find on golf courses. That comes in as bolt on packages – we deliver, and they can be rolled and pinned down.”
Essentially you need a frame of mind that expects challenges, she says. “Think of your worst-case scenario where it is raining and windy. You need firstly to have people who understand the tents and are not afraid to go out and check on them when it is pouring and howling gale, and secondly you have to have people capable of chambermaiding that experience.”
You cannot take on something like these tents if you are not able to think in anyway about an outdoor experience, she says. “The moment you think of trying to do something inside you have to consider how your user experience is going to be. Guests are going to find it that much harder because they aren’t going to have the luxury of being in the hotel and just being able to wander down to the bar. Therefore, you need to work out what things you are going to need to provide those guests. It could be something simple like lit walkways or giving them walkie talkies,” she suggests.
If it is a proper high-end client, they will want to have some kind of concierge service on hand in the event they need something, and they don’t want to leave the tent, she adds.