Over the past two years, and after spending several months under some form of lockdown, people across Europe have discovered a renewed appetite for the great outdoors.
We spoke with Dan Yates, Founder and MD at Pitchup.com – the search and booking platform for camping, glamping, and caravanning – to learn how his business survived the pandemic and the trends currently shaping the industry.
Building back a seasonal business
According to Dan, online activity surged during the pandemic. “We’ve seen a massive uptick in bookings, including a vast number of people taking this form of holiday for the first time. As a result, we’ve had to double the size of our team to keep up with demand.
We’re proud of the part we’ve been able to play in supporting rural business recovery and consumer demand, allowing thousands to get away who otherwise wouldn’t have. Our strong underlying environmental credentials, in addition to promoting more sustainable holidays, have enabled us to attract a steady stream of candidates drawn to our purpose as a company.”
He adds, “The job market is undoubtedly feeling the squeeze. Many companies had to contract during periods of near-zero demand, only to need more capacity than ever as markets started roaring back. This challenge is acute for seasonal businesses like ours with limited time to recover.”
Lifting restrictions in the nick of time
Initially, Dan admits, “The impact [of restrictions] was calamitous, with revenue down 98% in April 2020 compared to 2019. Thankfully, the UK government relaxed rules in time for the second half of the camping season. Bookings for outdoor holidays boomed, with the UK market performing exceptionally well.
Changing the rules in July 2020 enabled us to capitalise on the second half of the season. This year, while campsites still couldn’t open for at least two of the bank holidays in the spring, the bulk of the season was unaffected.”
The listing of new UK sites reached record numbers – almost 1,500 – to meet domestic demand. He continues, “These included many brand-new sites opening for peak summer season under ‘Permitted Development Rights’, partly due to a successful campaign Pitchup.com launched to extend regulatory concessions.”
And while Pitchup.com began life as a remote-first company, since March 2020 its entire operation, across more than 10 countries, became completely remote with no fixed in-office time.
Dan says, “Our use of cloud-based services, such as Xero’s cloud accounting software, has been absolutely fundamental to that. Xero ensures that all of our operations can handle peaks of activity, as well as eliminating unnecessary paperwork and providing instant, real-time access to any staff that need it, wherever they are in the world.”
Now, with sales of camping kits and motorhomes through the roof, Dan hopes that “many more will rediscover the national parks, heritage coasts, and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty on their doorsteps and continue camping in years to come.”
The local market
“Like millions of our customers, we developed a renewed appreciation for the domestic market during the pandemic,” Dan says.
“There’s something for everyone, as the fastest-growing segments of the market – glamping and pop-up sites – clearly demonstrate. Pitchup.com has a unique opportunity to showcase thousands of properties that might have no web presence at all, with booking taking only a few minutes.
Campsites draw in significant footfall to some of the most remote parts of the countryside, helping mitigate the loss of agricultural subsidies and support local services for the whole community’s benefit.”
Lessons from the pandemic
The resilience of the company has amazed Dan over the past two years.
“At times we couldn’t predict a few days ahead with an entire season at risk, yet we pulled together as a team and pressed forward. We discovered reserves of grit we didn’t know we had, giving us the confidence to raise our ambitions on a global scale.
The pandemic was a perfect storm and undoubtedly helped build crisis management muscle. I believe that our experiences during the pandemic will lead to more enlightened management in future for the benefit of all,” Dan explains.
And a final word of advice: ”Nothing is ever certain. No one’s 2020 business plan anticipated a global pandemic. It’s shown the value of the nimbleness that allowed small businesses to out-manoeuvre much larger organisations around the world.”