*As seen in The Logbook
Introduction from Donnie Rust. The Lost Executive.
Every year The Glamping Show gives land and site owners, suppliers and enthusiasts a great deal to think about, and an insight into the myriad of layers that this industry has. While Glamping as a term is new, it has been around for some time in different forms and has become to mean different things in different countries.
Regarding the industry as it stands today, we were fortunate enough to speak with strategic marketing consultant Emma Gavala of Gavala & Co, a glamping and alternative tourism consultancy.
Emma will be leading a seminar on ‘A Fresh Marketing Approach: Targeting your Glampers based on their Psychology & Behaviour’ at The Glamping Show on Friday 20th September. The Glamping Show runs from 19th – 21st September at NAEC Stoneleigh and tickets are free so book yours at www.theglampingshow.com.
The Lost Executive: What are the main issue facing the glamping industry as it stands today and what can be done by consultants such as yourself to solve them?
Emma: When we speak about the ‘Glamping Industry’, I think it is wise to specify in which geographic region we refer to. Throughout my work globally, I have noticed a distinction between the ‘booming’, ‘upcoming’ and ‘nascent’ glamping markets. At both a regional and national scale the maturity of each inevitably correlates with the struggles operators face. This in turn determines how we, glamping consultants, go about tackling them.
With this in mind, I would like to focus on the perspective of the nascent glamping markets, in which glamping is a promising travel niche which is still at early stages in terms of development.
A good example of this is the Mediterranean. My work with private operators across the region and policy-making entities in Greece, my home country, urges me to label the regional glamping Industry as still being at the early stages. Glamping is present of course, but it’s still the ‘new’ travel trend and is having much slower growth than what we see in places like the UK, USA and Australia. The main challenge here is the lack of a clear, precise, comprehensive, investor-incentivising and operator-friendly legislative and regulatory framework. Glamping cannot and will not kick-off unless planning issues are addressed at the most basic level. Take the planning process in the UK for example which may be tedious, lengthy and complex but it exists, it’s been tested, and is adjusted and enhanced on an ad hoc basis as more and more operators go through it.
Now, imagine trying to establish a Luxury Nature resort in a country that has no specific rules on where you are allowed to do it and under which circumstances. So, on top of the entrepreneurial risk of setting-up a new venture you have these added concerns dissuading you. Of course, shining exceptions exist but working with them on making it happen is akin to navigating truly uncharted waters.
Unless national governments and tourism ministries acknowledge glamping and outdoor hospitality as an industry in its own right, and accordingly incentivise it’s growth, even the most determined and ambitious glamping operator will go on facing bureaucratic and legal struggles to bring a venture into life. The Glamping is not Camping contention, which is of course taken for granted in many of our global industry gatherings, is not necessarily the case in other countries.
Our role as consultants, therefore, is not simply working on the side of the private operators but acting as the voice of their needs and awakening governments and industry bodies on the tangible potential of glamping to be a catalyst for tourism growth. We have more research and resources available than many would-be site owners who simply want to create their dream and welcome guests. It is a process that cannot be rushed however and always has to be done correctly.
The Lost Executive: So, with this in mind, what needs to be done for the industry to improve things over the next two years?
Emma: Continuing on my opinion about the nascent glamping markets, such as the ones of the South European countries, I think there are things that could be done.
Adding Glamping to a National Tourism Strategy: Once glamping receives the attention it deserves at government level, the ideal situation for the sector’s growth would be for each local market to build a Glamping Roadmap. This would include precisely how Glamping integrates within the wider national tourism strategy and would highlight opportunities for tourism income generation and growth.
Getting the locals on the Glamping side: It requires a joint effort from planning authorities and private operators to elicit the support of the local communities. It is my firm belief as a consultant, that local communities are co-creators of the holistic glamping experience. Hence, their contribution and enthusiasm is paramount. For this to happen, the challenge is to make it clear how they will benefit from the incoming glampers in the short-term and how glamping can be a long term catalyst for their local tourism sector.
Not going over the limits: For authorities, this means ensuring the incentivisation of the glamping Industry has not prompted the over exploitation of natural resources between others and uncontrollable development that cannot be thoroughly audited and regulated by the designated bodies. My research indicates that barriers to enter in the sector should be neither too high, as they are now, nor too low. We want to avoid congestion, which would make it harder for small scale operators to compete. It could also potentially provoke the dissatisfaction of other interest groups (such as local hotel owners and camping sites), while also putting further burden on authorities. The right balance should be struck at the regulation stage.
Change the focus from ‘Glamping Sites’ to ‘Glamping Experiences’: This is a global challenge of the sector, in my view; the challenge of creating a whole package of glamping which harmoniously combines both tangible and intangible elements.
From this perspective, glamping is not a form of accommodation but a form of vacation-making, an attitude, a habit. This goes way beyond luxury accommodation to actually building holistic experiences that resonate with each target audience. It is exactly this ‘strategic marketing’ perspective I am trying to enlighten my clients on. It is the ability to rightly forecast the needs of the specific segments you target, position your strategy around them and accordingly build a multi-layered service offering. I think it is this ‘strategic awareness’ that will push ahead some glamping operators who are attuned to building experiences and not just sites. This will also go a long way to further diversify the market into new areas of growth potential.
The Lost Executive: The industry is growing fast, how is your business future-proofing itself to stay relevant and continue meeting these challenges?
Emma: As consultants to the glamping sector, we should be committed to thinking globally and acting locally. We should see across each local glamping market and detect the best practices and adapt them to what is feasible and optimal for the region we operate in.
Concurrently, we should be strategic advisors not only to our private clients but also to the designated authorities and policy-makers that regulate glamping. Collectively, we should voice our client’s concerns and through concrete recommendations act as catalysts for national and regional growth. In our client-facing capacity, I don’t think our role should be restricted to resolving barriers but to represent the ‘big picture’ and enhance their spectrum of possibilities.
We are the ones that put together all the varying pieces of the glamping investment and strategy journey after all. We should be able to adopt a multiple-stakeholder approach, think as policy-makers, strategists, marketers and ultimately as the end traveller and consumer of the glamping experience.
The Lost Executive: Glamping is an industry that includes international partnerships. How would Brexit affect your business?
Emma: The effects of Brexit will not leave the glamping industry untouched. On the contrary, I think they will have a major impact on it. In order to be able to foreshadow the extent of this impact, I would like to split the forces into two categories: the macroeconomic forces that will affect the UK Tourism Industry all together and the consumer forces specifically geared towards the glamping holiday-making decision.
Overall, my contention is that the positive effect will either cancel out or dominate the negative, provided the industry turns the Brexit risk into an opportunity.
The gloomy scenarios about the effect of Brexit on UK domestic glamping operators are sadly justified. These uncertainties include fears about the economy affecting or altogether postponing the glamping investment decision, shrinking of the UK’s disposable income and loss of confidence reducing entrepreneurial appetite. Then there are concerns about international cooperation with global suppliers getting harder and more expensive, UK target audiences potentially delaying or cancelling the holiday-making decision in the face of uncertainty, topped by all the logistical difficulties regarding international travel that will adversely affect tourism, and thus UK glamping.
However, I want to turn your attention to those forces that may render the glamping industry pretty well insulated against these risks. Firstly, operators should ask themselves how dependent they are realistically on imported supplies and ask themselves Who are our main suppliers? The UK Glamping market as a whole seems pretty self-sufficient, probably one of the few UK industries that is truly domestic.
To put it simply, if an operator wishes to do so, they can source pretty much all of their glamping-relevant supplies domestically, from advisory services to glamping structures. Just look at the Glamping Show, in which the majority are UK-based exhibitors with great variety and quality to cover operator needs. Now, the effect on the suppliers themselves is a different question. Export-oriented suppliers might find it way more complex to internationalise and reach out to overseas glamping clients. However, with the exchange rate falling, their products might get more competitive and hence also more affordable.
The direction of the exchange rate will play a major role in the glamping consumer decision-making journey too. A big chunk of the UK tourism industry is export-focused, with travel and hospitality products being primarily consumed by international travellers. Nonetheless, the UK glamping market is a very staycation-focused one.
Operators should consider, What is my primary customer segment and who are my main glampers? With regards to international visitors to the UK market a weaker pound does make it attractive to go glamping there, even for those who could not afford it before. The tight correlation between a weaker currency and the rise of incoming travel is well documented in countries like Turkey. The higher purchasing power of international travellers vacationing in Turkey overrode even the uncertainty around their domestic socio-political crisis. Affecting in its passage even surrounding countries such as Greece which saw a decline in inbound travel when the Turkish lira plummeted.
Let’s turn to Brits now. Brexit might make the UK holiday-makers life harder, but these barriers could push them to substitute international travel with staycations. Here is where the opportunity lies for the UK glamping sector: being ready to accommodate and lure in these segments with adequate holiday packages, tailored to their newly emerging needs. Local operators should be positioned to ‘pull’ the new-staycationers on their side by providing them with an equally attractive alternative to international travel.
Without wishing to undermine the wider (and my own) grave concerns about the effect of Brexit on our industry, I do feel we are better positioned to face it compared to even other travel niches within UK tourism. Nonetheless, such a considerably more optimistic approach necessitates a change of mindset on the UK Glamping operators’ side.
Paradoxically, even economic forces against the UK economy as a whole, might constitute opportunities for the glamping sector. Could it be that Brexit will be the occasion to leverage the industry’s potential as a catalyst of growth for UK national tourism? It will all depend on the extent of the aforementioned parameters and, most importantly, the willingness and readiness of operators to attract the new glampers, who would not be glamping in the UK if it wasn’t for Brexit!
Emma is a Strategic Marketing Consultant for Glamping & Alternative Tourism operators, while holding experience in Glamping policy-making with governmental and industry-level entities. She is an Economist & Marketer, ex-Googler & graduate of The London School of Economics, where she completed the first academic study on Glamping Consumer Behaviour globally. She is London-based, awarded for her Glamping work in the Mediterranenan (Tourism Awards 2019, Greece), helping the niche’s growth in Europe, Australia & LATAM. (www.glamping.expert)