By Anne & Mike Howard, @HoneyTrek
Thoughtfulness is the most luxurious amenity you can offer. We know this to be true after reviewing over 300 hotels for National Geographic, Honeymoons.com, Glamping.com, and, most recently, our new book Comfortably Wild: The Best Glamping Destinations in North America. To research this 256-page guide, we spent nearly three years scouring the continent for exceptional glamping properties. While “best” is subjective, we found that places with incredible heart, immersive experiences, and a knack to delight can beat out five-star resorts. Here are twelve easy ways you can impress your guests for next to nothing.
After a long day of travel, the last thing guests want to deal with is paperwork. They’ve made it to your glamping retreat—help them celebrate! At ANC Tiny Homes on Destiny Ridge Vineyard, the check-in process comes after a wine tasting. The all-inclusive Matakauri does away with check-in all together, and opts for a rolling appetizer feast overlooking Lake Wakatipu, before you are escorted to your room (paperwork be damned). Pour them a glass of wine or serve them your signature pastry, and tell them to take a load off. When they look nice and comfy, take a moment to chat and give them ideas to make the most of their stay.
If you have a family or local tradition, incorporating it into the guest experience helps make your property one of a kind. At Fronterra Farm, when you catch a fish in the nearby lakes, the owner Inge will teach you how to cure it using her Scandinavian mother’s recipe and technique. At Beniya Mukayu, a family-owned inn for three generations, they have kept up the timeless Japanese tradition of performing a tea ceremony to welcome each guest. At Bull Hill Ranch, if your hat falls off while on a trail ride you take a shot out of a bull’s horn. It could be silly or sentimental; either way, guests will feel they are a part of the club.
Digital detox can be a tough adjustment for our smart-phone addicted society. Help make it easy by giving them ideas for new ways to pass the time and express themselves. When we were staying at Hoshinoya Kyoto, there was a calligraphy set in our window nook. We didn’t know anything about painting Japanese characters but when given the opportunity to try it, we spent the afternoon working on our Kanji (i.e. 我喜歡露營). Plant the seed for creativity with a sketch pad, coloring book, yukule, even Mad Libs. You can have these in-room, on loan at the front desk, or tucked out in nature as a little surprise for your guests.
Forget the old-fashioned guest book where people fill in a grid with their name, hometown, and a five-word thank you note. Put a beautiful leather journal by their bed with a pen. At Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, the owner started our room’s journal with, “May your stay here be restful and full of joy. We hope you enjoy our creek and these majestic cypress trees as our family has for years.—The Beilharz Family” This warm welcome and blank pages prompted a series of poems, drawings, love stories, tips to future guests, and in the end...an homage to the Cypress Valley experience. As an added benefit, these entries behold a candid collection of blissful testimonials for your property.
Pick wildflowers, pine sprigs, or even a big singular leaf, and put it in a little vase by their bed. It brings the outdoors in, makes the room smell fresh, and acts as a little gift. Using what’s on your property is not only free, but another expression of place.
Even if you don’t serve meals, give them something simple to start their day. If guests want to have a lazy morning and enjoy their cozy bed and views from their deck, you don’t want them to rush it over needless hunger pangs. Nothing was better than waking up at Siwash Lake or The Depot Lodge and having hot coffee and fresh pastries delivered to our tent and enjoying the lake views with our robes on. And nothing was a bigger buzzkill than having to leave a dreamy treehouse to drive for bagels. Delivering a Thermos of hot-water in the morning for instant oatmeal and tea would be a cheap path to happiness, and even a few granola bars in the room is better than hangry guests.
You don’t need a hot-shot chef to create a meal that tickles the senses. Where and how you eat can be just a visceral. A great way to do this is to have multiple and diverse dining spaces. We stayed at Kinondo Kwetu on the Swahili Coast of Kenya, and they would surprise us each night with a new dinner location—a beached wood boat with new friends or atop their water tower for a private dinner. Make dining an adventure. At the Ranch at Rock Creek (featured in the Wild West Chapter of Comfortably Wild), you might horseback ride to a dutch oven cookout or snowshoe to a hot chocolate bar in the forest. Don’t have a chef? Offer fun ways for guests to cook for themselves, like organic sausages to roast on a stick or fondue pots. Pack picnic baskets with blankets and give guests ideas on where to dine in nature. Food tastes better when you have a story to tell.
As kids, most of us made a little clubhouse—be it a tree fort or nook under the stairs. It was out of plain view and felt like your little secret. Bring back that childlike delight by creating unexpected spaces in nature—a birding tower, a “kissing bench,” or a swing tucked in the forest. The Cozy Peach, featured in the “Cultivate” chapter, made a secret library on the far end of their 400-acre property. Tucked in a pine grove, it has shelves full of poetry, crocheted hammocks, and dream catchers strung from the branches. It gave us a reason to explore a different side of their farm and get excited about something as simple as kicking back with a book.
Make your guests feel like the room is theirs with a personalized card. Spend the time to come up with a thoughtful welcome note that can be used for all your guests. Write them in bulk on a stack of custom stationery (perhaps a watercolor or photo of your property), then look at your week’s reservations to add their names. When you know a little more about the guest (they’re celebrating a special occasion, are avid cyclists, etc), try to customize your note, even as a P.S. It shows you were expecting their arrival and that you’re happy to have them.
This seems obvious but we cannot tell you how many times properties come up dry on games. For the extremely low price point and small size, there is no reason not to have these diversions on hand. Go to Goodwill and buy a few used board games…retro is in! Get a bocce set, cornhole, horseshoes, and/or a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee. Sometimes old-school entertainment is all you need for guests to let loose and have an evening full of laughs.
We made a pact to stop using single-use plastic water bottles back in 2012 (we’ve now visited 56 countries without one) and hate to see how many “eco-friendly” places still offer them. Set the tone for sustainability with metal water bottles, customized with your logo. It’s a good way to get your branding out there and a nice thing to offer on loan or as a souvenir. Have refilling stations around the property or in the room so guests never go thirsty and reduce plastic waste.
Glampers inherently have a lot in common; create social opportunities to spark new friendships! A few evenings a week, encourage guests to meet for sundowners, watching the sky turn pink and raising a glass to the day. Even if you don’t serve alcohol, put out fun bottle openers, vintage steins, and a bluetooth speaker. Have a group campfire ring and light it each night and/or morning (with a pile of wood for guests to keep the fire going). Have a telescope and astronomy books out, and offer s’mores for free (you can’t compete with this joy-to-cost ratio).
Make it easy for your guests to fall in love with you, your property, and the magic you’ve created. Hotels that have a strong sense of identity and carry it through their choices (decor, cuisine, activities) are inherently more memorable; those that invite guests into their world, endear them to that place for life. Make choices that are expression of your unique destination and with your guests’ needs in mind…the rest will fall into place.