While transport secretary Grant Shapps might not be planning a summer break given his declaration that “people shouldn’t be booking holidays right now”, it seems that many others are. Bookings for glamping and camping places have surged to record levels, a rise matched by the rapid growth in new sites.
“We’ve had the busiest January and February yet in terms of bookings,” says James Warner Smith, founder of Cool Camping.
“But there’s also been a huge increase in numbers of new sites wanting to advertise.”
Mike Bevens, MD at glamping specialist Canopy and Stars, agrees. “We’re up 200% on bookings from last year and have around 100 new sites coming online for this summer.”
The rise is partly due to a relaxation of planning laws in England and Wales, allowing tented campsites to operate without planning permission for up to 56 days, doubling the previous limit. This has led many to try their hand at running a campsite: farmers worried about subsidy payments, estate owners and even a transport company owner, Derry Green, who found himself trying to entertain his children by building a deck beside his house. “They were watching Love Island at the time, so I put up a pod with a fire pit and lights, inspired by the programme. Then people started asking if they could come and stay. I put it on Airbnb and it sold out for two years in advance in five days.”
When his Facebook views passed five million, he realised he had to act and now six more units are under construction in four acres of woodland. “I’m loving it,” he says, “And it’s proving good for the local economy.”
Visitors who stay overnight make an enormous contribution to the economy. Green’s Secret Garden Glamping is in Lancashire, a county where the 12% of overnight visitors account for more than half of all spending.
Dan Yates, founder of the Pitchup.com booking site, is a believer in the transformative power of camping. “It’s perfect for the situation we are in,” he says. “Campsites can appear quickly in a way that cottages and hotels can’t. And they tend to benefit other businesses around them.”
Mojo and Kizzy Fell got into glamping by necessity. They were running a successful business, renting Airstream caravans to film locations and festivals when everything came to a halt. “Our income just disappeared,” says Mojo. “We had to diversify, so we put five Airstreams on our 40-acre farm and called it The Wells Glamping.”
The caravans sold out immediately and now they have applied to increase the number to 12, hoping to be ready for bookings by the end of April. Luxurious vans that used to accommodate stars such as Will Ferrell and Kenneth Branagh will be repurposed for family holidays – and create up to 20 new jobs at the same time.
In the New Forest, Jesse Sheriff started Harry’s Meadow campsite in 2020 as a pop-up. “It proved a big success,” he says. “So we’ve turned it into a permanent site with room for 80 tents.” Located on the Hale Park estate, the meadow is flanked by the River Avon, a major draw for wild swimming enthusiasts – although the presence of a beer truck from the Downton Brewery may also help. Bookings are up, he says, but there is still availability.
Pitchup took on 250 new campsites last summer and are expecting an even bigger surge this year. Dan Yates has been plotting campsite bookings against numbers of vaccinations since January. “The two lines are just following each other upwards,” he says. “There’s no doubt in my mind: 2021 will be the year of the pop-up campsite.”