We are thrilled to share this Q&A with Mike & Anne Howard, the duo who wrote the book on glamping. The Howards have been traveling full-time since 2012, chronicling their journey of The World’s Longest Honeymoon on HoneyTrek.com. They quickly fell in love with glamping and have reviewed over 250 properties along the way.
Their expertise on the topic and unique perspective as glampers was the foundation for their second book Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America. It earned them a Lowell Thomas Journalism Award and a spot on the American Glamping Association Board of Advisors.
Deeply passionate about glamping and helping those in the community, they created HoneyTrek Glamping Consulting for new camps and Glamping Creative Services where they use their marketing prowess and social media presence (385,000+ followers) to get camps the recognition they deserve.
Companies from budding glamp-grounds to established tent manufacturers have partnered with HoneyTrek for their skills as photographers, writers, influencers, and consultants to take their glamping businesses to the next level.
In this exclusive interview with Ekodomes, the Howards share their insights on the state of the glamping industry and how an incredible guest experience is at the heart of a successful business.
How many glamping properties have you stayed at and how have those experiences shaped your perspective on the industry?
We’ve stayed at over 250 glamping camps and eco-resorts around the world since we started our HoneyTrek in 2012. We first discovered glamping while in Patagonia looking for accommodations that were honeymoon-worthy, while still being connected to the raw beauty and boundless adventure of Torres del Paine National Park. We found EcoCamp with its geodesic dome suites, fine dining tent, and extensive adventure options, and knew this style of accommodation was for us.
We said goodbye to big-box hotels and have always sought boutique accommodations that have character, a sense of place, an ethos of sustainability, and make you feel a part of something greater. To us, glamping has always been about experiential travel. As this industry becomes more competitive, it’s more important than ever to offer an authentic experience that makes guests feel special.
Tell us more about your work with glamping businesses and how your expertise influenced their development.
We started our glamping consulting business in 2020 because there weren’t many experts to turn to in this emerging industry and none with a specialty in the guest experience. We wanted to take all we learned from a decade of glamping around the world and 1,000+ room nights in boutique properties across categories to pinpoint the elements of a fantastic stay.
When you can create an unforgettable experience, people talk about it for years to come, touching their lives and inspiring their social circle to support your business. We developed a robust course for new glamping camp owners to demystify this unique style of lodging and dive into topics from room design to dining to activities to the little details that make a difference.
Judging from our client testimonials and ongoing relationships with these businesses, our course has given them a tangible path to success.
What factors do take into consideration when looking for a glamping experience?
To start with the basics, location is key. It has to be a pretty area with natural or cultural interest. When it comes to the actual property, we check out their website and social media to get a vibe. It should feel inviting, fresh, romantic, relaxing, and cool.
Great photography can certainly help convey those, but we always dig deeper to find out who is behind this place and what experience they are offering. We go to a site’s About Us page (make sure you have one!) to read their vision and ethos.
The best camps are built by dreamers, stellar hosts, and people who care about the land. Then we dig into the offerings. We love creative and unique structures, though if a classic structure is stylishly decorated and does a good job connecting us with the natural surroundings, that’s a win too.
Even the most photogenic and coziest accommodations can only take a camp so far. We want to make sure there are inviting spaces beyond our unit and interesting things to do on-site (you can only look at each other lovingly and listen to the birds sing for so long!). More than just bocce ball, we love when a property has thoughtful things to do, like wild foraging with a naturalist or even self-guided forest yoga.
Glamping is largely about creating memorable experiences and a meaningful connection (be it with ourselves, the people we love, or nature) and a good property is thinking about ways to facilitate that.
How do different types of glamping structures impact your decision to visit? Are there specific structures that you find more appealing?
We love trying different structures and seeing glamping camps put their creative spin on existing units or create something outside of the box. We’ve stayed in bamboo treehouses, earthen structures, floating spheres, mirrored cubes…you name it. We’ve also stayed in wall tents and yurts that were memorable when the setting, decor, and experience were right.
Wall tents and bell tents are the most common structures because they have the lowest price point…though they tend not to have enough windows and have walls that flap in the wind. We love the look and openness of domes, but dislike when they are covered in white plastic! A good structure is elegant, sturdy, and unique, while still blending with nature.
When evaluating a glamping camp’s website what are some red flags that might keep you from booking?
If they don’t have an About Us page or give a sense of who is behind this property, this raises a red flag. This human element and personal touch is largely why we choose glamping over corporate hotels! We are turned off by places that feel pretentious and use fluffy, vague language. We also look at the camp layout and are skeptical if they don’t show overall property photos.
We want to make sure it is actually in nature and that there aren’t a ton of units squished together (sound travels further when you’re glamping!). We want to see that there is enough to do on-site and that at least a few activities are included in the stay–no one wants to feel like they are being nickeled and dimed.
What are three pieces of advice you would give someone considering entering the glamping business?
- Do it for the love of glamping and hospitality. If you are in it for the right reasons, the money and joy will follow.
- Choose your land (location and size) wisely. You want to maximize your property’s natural surroundings and potential for retaining that privacy and serenity. This means having enough land to give guests that wilderness experience and also protect your property from encroaching development. If it’s not possible to buy dozens of acres, consider building near protected natural areas that can’t be built on and also give your guests access to wilderness.
- Don’t bite off too much at once. Start with a few units and amenities, determine what works (for your guests, and you as the camp owner), then expand in the direction everyone is enjoying the most.
What are some common glamping mistakes you've observed and how can these be avoided or rectified?
Skimping on bathrooms! Not having an en-suite (or at the very least, private) bathroom is one of the biggest hurdles for traditional hotel-goers to get on board with glamping. Having a few units with en-suite bathrooms will bring you more guests and money. According to the KOA Glamping Report, 61% of people said they would pay more for a bathroom! If you can’t do en-suite bathrooms, consider offering private bathrooms or at least a very nice communal bathhouse to assuage those city folks’ fears!
Another area that needs attention is curating the guest arrival and check-in process. Guests have been dreaming about this vacation and traveled a fair distance to get here, you want to make them feel like they are in the right place. They should see a nice sign, follow a smooth and clearly marked road, and feel wowed at the first glimpse of your property.
Whether someone physically checks them in or it’s self-administered, guests should feel like you were anticipating their arrival and are happy to see them, be it with a welcome drink, handwritten note, wildflowers by the bed, or other thoughtful touches.
If you were to start your own glamping business, what would be the initial steps you'd take to ensure its success?
It’s important to understand the origins of your land. What was the original flora and fauna, who were the native people of the area, who were the previous owners, and who are your neighbors? Take those factors into consideration before you go on a building spree.
Know your local ordinances and get to know the authorities and powers that be. Anything you can do in person, and with a smile, goes a long way. Befriend your neighbors; demystify your plans and show you care about them and the wellbeing of the land. Aim to be an asset to the area and think of incentives and offerings to get locals to support your vision.
Start building your social media today. It doesn’t matter what stage you are in (shopping for land, building platforms, or already hosting guests), today is the day to start formulating compelling content to elevate your glamping brand.
As glamping becomes more popular, how do you see the market evolving, and what challenges and opportunities do you anticipate for both new and established businesses?
Given the popularity and low cost of entry, there will be more glamping camps in your region next year. Figure out how to differentiate from your competitors and provide a better service. It’s important to be creative but even more important to be authentic.
No one else can do “you”. Offer the best version of yourself and your region in thoughtful touches and the way you treat people. We always say, “Thoughtfulness is the new luxury” and making someone feel special is way more memorable than 1,000 thread-count sheets. Great reviews and word of mouth (particularly on social media) are still the best marketing strategy.
How do you assess the role of sustainability and eco-friendliness in the success of a glamping business?
Connecting with nature and building in harmony with it are key principles of glamping and the future of travel. A recent survey by Virtuoso found that 78% of luxury travelers prefer companies with strong sustainability policies and that 75% of travelers would pay more for eco-friendly options. And if it’s that important to luxury travelers, you know someone who wants to vacation in the woods cares even more about the environment!
Be eco-conscious in all your choices, from your building materials, electricity plan, water usage, waste reduction & removal, design, and offering overall. On your website tell guests what you are doing to make a difference for the environment, and how they can be a part of the solution.
Can you share an example of a unique glamping amenity that left a lasting impression on you?
When staying at Kinondo Kwetu on the beaches of Kenya, dinner was never in the same place twice and it was always a surprise. We would just pick a dining time, then someone would lead us to our table. One evening it was on a beached dhow boat decorated with colorful pillows and bunting, and another night we climbed a spiral staircase to the top of a water tower, lit with votive candles and the most lavish picnic. People are obsessed with food and if you can offer them a way to savor that, the surroundings, and each other, they’ll never forget it.
When advising glamping businesses, how do you balance offering luxurious amenities and maintaining a connection with nature?
You can’t control nature…so do your best to mitigate discomfort and manage expectations for the rest. The good news is, that glampers are a self-selecting group of nature lovers, but even the heartiest aren’t comfortable in extreme temps. If you’re going to be open in the harsher months, you need a plan for climate control. If it gets particularly buggy, ensure your screens are up to par and offer complimentary bug spray and citronella candles in every room.
And if you have predictably extreme conditions and no reasonable way to address them, consider closing for those months rather than fight them (a little extra money is not worth the negative guest experience and reviews!)
Whatever the case, manage expectations and paint the picture for prospective guests of what their experience will be like on your property…the good and not-so-good. Give them a packing list, to help them prepare. Gently remind guests they have chosen the wonders of nature over a sterile hotel environment, and it’s well worth it!
How should camps cater to different target demographics and ensure inclusivity?
Creating a welcoming and safe space for all guests is so important. Set the tone for respecting fellow glampers and add little nods like adding the “Everyone is Welcome Here” logo/flag to the footer of your about us page and show a diversity of people (race, relationships, age, etc) in your site photography. Understand that glampers come from different backgrounds and levels of outdoor experiences.
Make camping easy for them (ie. don’t assume they know how to light a fire.) Create a detailed room guide that sets the tone for your inclusive space and gives handy tips to help them maximize their experience. Glamping should allow guests to thrive outdoors, no matter where they grew up or how many times they’ve gone camping.
What role do community and cultural elements play in the appeal of a glamping retreat, and how can businesses authentically integrate these aspects into their offerings?
We love community-based tourism and when camps can connect us with local experiences. (We’re actually writing all about this presently for our column at Glamping Business Americas Magazine).
Most regions have rich cultural elements and resources worth exploring. To execute this authentically, don’t pretend to be the expert or misappropriate cultural traditions, look to the seasoned locals and collaborate to make something special for your guests.
What type of clients does HoneyTrek help, and how does your glamping consulting business work?
We love helping people fulfill their glamping dreams! Many clients come to us for guidance during the early phases of development, be it soon after acquiring land or in their first year of operation and looking to improve their guest experience and marketing strategy. Before each session, we send a questionnaire so we can tailor our course to their specific situation/budget/timeline/location/staffing/skills/etc.
Our course is structured with 25 chapters and conducted over 4-5 hours, as a one-on-one workshop designed to be an engaging learning environment and open dialogue. We consider ourselves to be a part of every client’s team, so even when the course is over we are available for email follow-up and phone sessions. For more information, see www.HoneyTrek.com/glamping-experts and connect up on social media @HoneyTrek
Ekodome's Exciting Collaboration with HoneyTrek
Embarking on an exciting collaboration, Ekodome is proud to announce its partnership with the glamping experts at HoneyTrek. Together, these trailblazing entities are ushering in a new era of glamping to take the glamping experience to new heights!
Imagine your guests surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of nature, cocooned within the lavish embrace of meticulously designed, eco-friendly geodesic domes—all made accessible to you through this powerful alliance. With HoneyTrek’s expertise, we’re turning dreams of unparalleled glamping experiences into reality.
Together, HoneyTrek and Ekodome will offer a range of services, including:
- Cutting-edge geodesic domes that harmonize with nature
- Guest Experience Workshops & Glamping Consulting
- Social Media & Marketing Courses for Glamping Businesses
- Professional Photography & Social Media Storytelling
- Expert guidance from Ekodome and HoneyTrek to create your ultimate glamping haven
To celebrate our collaboration, we are excited to unveil special promotions, discounted courses, and the opportunity to win signed copies of HoneyTrek’s award-winning glamping book, “Comfortably Wild!”
Join us on this transformative journey as we combine our expertise and passion to set your own standards for unforgettable glamping experiences. Stay tuned!