Michelle Hohlier is originally from Northern Michigan, where a love for the outdoors was instilled in her from an early age. This, combined with her degree in tourism management and 13 years of experience in the hospitality industry, makes it seem almost inevitable that she would one day be operating her own glamping tent business. Now based in Norman, OK, Michelle runs Glamp Odyssey for pop-up glamping accommodations – that is, when she’s not busy managing a commercial sales team for fiber services! When she’s not working, Michelle spends days with her six-year-old son, two dogs and cat finding new areas to explore and going on adventures. We spoke with Michelle about her experience starting Glamp Odyssey and turning a canvas glamping tent into a side hustle, from how she decided on the kind of accommodation to offer to how she markets and makes money from the business.
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Glamp Odyssey: The Fundamentals of the BusinessGlamp Odyssey currently offers one tent as a popup accommodation, with a team of four people to help with set up and tear down before and after guest stays. Michelle and her team use a White Duck Outdoors glamping tent, specifically the Regatta bell tent, and she’s found it to be the perfect luxury tent for her glamping setup. Glamp Odyssey offers popup accommodation within a 50-mile radius of Norman and they also set up the tent for events, like birthdays or weddings.
What to Know Before Starting Your OperationBefore starting your glamping operation, it’s essential to evaluate how much time you’ll have available to dedicate to the initiative, especially if this is a part-time or secondary business, which makes it more challenging to juggle all your priorities. The equipment that you invest in for the business is, of course, a crucial consideration. The high end tent you opt for should be equipped with all the functionality you need for your guests, like a stove jack, windows, bug mesh, electrical outlet and pockets. It also needs to be affordable, easy to set up and take down, and easy to transport. Beyond the glamping tent, though, you also need to think about how you’re going to set it up in terms of bedding, furniture, lighting and so on. What some folks might overlook is insurance, even though this could be extremely important to the smooth functioning of your business. This could be insurance for all your gear, or even offering trip insurance in case of inclement weather and you need to take down your setup unexpectedly. It’s also a good idea to do some research before getting going, and this could be on Google or other search engines, or getting inspiration from social media and other glamping sites. Michelle, though, is a go-getter and prefers to test the waters and optimize as she learns. She told us:
“I am very much a trial and error kind of person and I dive in head first to just figure it out. I have made several mistakes, but that is how we learn and get better.”
Services and Amenities at Glamp OdysseyIn terms of experiences, Glamp Odyssey offers hikes around the areas they set up their canvas glamping tent. Since Michelle is an outdoors person and explorer herself, they often have beautiful hikes planned for guests. Wine tastings is another option for guests looking for calmer experience. In addition to this, Michelle and her team also offer a slightly more unconventional experience: leadership training for companies and teams. The outdoors faciliate fruitful discussions and conversations and a hike after the training is a great way to round off the day. When you’ve booked a stay with Glamp Odyssey, you can expect linens and pillows inside the tent, as well as a firepit to enjoy when it starts to get a little cooler in the evenings. Ultimately, the amenities you offer with your glamping tent rentals depends on how far you want to go on the glamping spectrum. If the options are available, you could even go so far as to provide hot showers, electricity and WiFi. If you offer a popup accommodation though, it’s unlikely these will be viable amenities.
Financing and Accommodation for Your Glamping OperationWhen it comes to starting up your glamping tent operation, there are probably a few options available to you by way of securing finances to get going. According to Michelle, taking out a loan wasn’t a viable in the long term so instead, she opted to save and budget accordingly. “I had a savings account and budgeted what I would need for equipment, marketing and time. I did not take out a loan as I am trying to continue my business debt free. I would like to acquire another tent this year to add to our inventory, so I am saving for that now.” When it comes to allocating her savings towards the accommodation for her business, Michelle decided to start out with a canvas glamping tent because of the unique experience they offer.
“I believe the bell tents are aesthetically pleasing, they are different and offer a unique and cozy experience. Most people don’t have these tents and they offer a special ambiance.”
Marketing the Glamping Tent Experience to Attract GuestsA big challenge for any glamping operation is figuring out how to get their name out there and attract guests. Social media and word-of-mouth marketing tend to be lucrative avenues, as long as you’re offering a memorable experience that’s worth sharing with friends and family. When it comes to deciding on a nightly price, Michelle told us that “The time, duration and the distance of the site are all factors that we consider. There is a two night minimum stay and we do offer a discount for a third night and longer, it’s a case by case basis.”
Final Thoughts and TakeawaysLike starting any other business, launching your own glamping operation isn’t something you can do half-heartedly.
“It’s hard work. It’s sweaty and fast paced. I need an operations manager and realize that I for sure can’t do this business alone. You’ll need a team and a vehicle that can haul your equipment.”That, however, shouldn’t prevent you from giving it a try. The benefit of starting with a canvas glamping tent is that it’s a much smaller investment than something like building a cabin. At the end of the day, if you find that it’s not for you, you can use it to create your own glamping experiences on adventures you take on.