Safety: “It is absolutely a biological truism that outdoor environments are much less [of a] risk than indoor environments,” as the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer put it last year. It’s therefore unsurprising that people are continuing to turn to outdoor accommodations for their vacations. In fact our advance bookings are currently up 200% on the same period last year.
As part of my series about “developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Yates.
In 2009, Dan Yates founded Pitchup.com, a rapidly growing online travel agency (OTA) for outdoor accommodations, which lists over 5,000 campgrounds, glamping sites and RV parks in over 50 countries. An avid outdoorsman and former manager at LastMinute.com, Dan has years of experience in the tourism industry — he even grew up on a campground in the U.K. run by his parents.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born and brought up on a campground in Devon in southwest England, so it was probably inevitable I wouldn’t stray far! Each of us helped out in different areas of the business and when the internet began to take off in the late 90s, I jumped at the chance to create the company’s first website. Working with local web designers and skipping lectures at university to work on the project, I knew there was an opportunity for something bigger after we achieved number-one rankings on Google U.K. and received half of our bookings online by 2002.
After the business was sold, I kept wondering why such a large part of the travel market, and the biggest type of domestic holiday by nights in the U.K., was still so neglected online. High-profile online travel agents targeting all the other categories of accommodation were growing fast while campgrounds were losing out as customers moved online to book their holidays. Arguably campgrounds were in the greatest need of all as the market is so fragmented and campgrounds have limited or non-existent marketing and technology budgets.
It was only a matter of time before someone else spotted the opportunity. By 2008, I was working at lastminute.com and, witnessing the new world of online travel at first hand, realised that failing to act would be something I’d regret.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Last year, one of our customers was supposed to go to Barbados and stopped at a local campground instead due to travel restrictions. They enjoyed it so much that they spent another holiday at the same campground this year!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When we entered the U.S. market, we targeted the larger chains to gain a foothold as quickly as possible. One of our first business leads was keen to hear more and explained he had 700 campsites, making him one of the biggest chains in the U.S. We thought we’d struck gold, until we realised what we Brits call “pitches” are known as campsites in the U.S. — the individual plots of land where campers set up their tent or RV. Whereas we thought the prospective client had hundreds of different campgrounds throughout the country, we learnt the meaning of campground in American English very soon afterwards!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
We are obviously huge advocates of getting out into nature to unwind and recharge, so I would say that the best remedy for burn out is going camping or glamping regularly! Especially after living through lockdown restrictions during pandemic, getting outdoors is great for our mental and physical health, plus it brings a new perspective to our day-to-day struggles.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My parents acquired a campground in the west of England in 1975 and developed it into a sizable business of over 600 sites over the next 30 years that won multiple awards. The experience inspired me to leave a well-paying job at Travelocity/lastminute.com and take the plunge to set up my own business in the sector. My parents have been there every step of the way to offer support and advice, though I’ve never been under any illusions about the sustained hard work required. In the words of my dad, “The first 30 years are the worst!”
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
We’ve just partnered with Cloudreach, a global leader in cloud services, to migrate our technology to Google Cloud, which will improve and optimise Pitchup.com’s infrastructure for enhanced agility, efficiency and scalability. Most importantly, the migration will also make a significant impact in reducing our carbon footprint, meaning that customers booking through the platform are making more sustainable travel choices from the moment they book.
We also have a new mobile website coming soon that will make it even easier for holidaymakers to find their perfect campground, glamping site or holiday park, with new features, faster load speeds and improved functionality.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
In what was such a fragmented sector, it has always been our aim to take the hassle out of the process of finding and booking an outdoor vacation. Our new best-in-class technology will go even further to help users easily unearth suitable accommodation options and book their next outdoor escape in just a few clicks.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We aim for the new website to broaden access to the outdoors and provide the widest possible choice to campers and potential campers. Many rely on similar services in other aspects of their lives, from online banking to restaurant reservations. Marketplaces such as Pitchup help users discover outdoor hidden gems and allow smaller businesses to hold their own against chains with large online marketing budgets.
As you know, COVID19 changed the world as we know it. Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers will prefer to travel?
- Agility: With growing acceptance that COVID-19 will become endemic, the pandemic has forced businesses to become more nimble.
- Sustainability: The pandemic has seen sustainability leap up the agenda and more and more customers are looking for less carbon intensive holiday options, like camping.
- Safety: “It is absolutely a biological truism that outdoor environments are much less [of a] risk than indoor environments,” as the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer put it last year. It’s therefore unsurprising that people are continuing to turn to outdoor accommodations for their vacations. In fact our advance bookings are currently up 200% on the same period last year.
- Domestic opportunity: With their usual international vacation off limits, millions have discovered a haven in their backyards and will keep exploring their home countries for years to come.
- Certainty: Over the pandemic we have seen a trend to book everything instantly, from restaurants and events to trips, due to the fear of missing out and low availability. This also stems from a desire to use COVID-safe payment methods and to comply with any pre-arrival requirements, plus the need for certainty.
You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?
South Africa is one of my favourite destinations. I headed to Cape Town in September 2019 to unwind after a hectic summer. I can think of few other places where you actually get multiple trips rolled into one: one of the world’s most spectacularly-located cities, cradled beneath Table Mountain; the pristine beaches and vibrant nightlife of Camps Bay; the expansive horizons of a road trip along the Garden Route and beyond; the marine “Big 5” and the game reserve equivalent; and wallet-friendly gastronomy in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek to rival the best of Europe and America. Compared to which, South Africa is a chance to savour a culture with a captivating energy that feels a world away. “The fairest cape in all the world,” in the words of Sir Francis Drake, South Africa feels like it’s on a mission.
Travel is not always about escaping, but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness driven experience? We’d love to hear about it.
Nature is inherently beneficial for our mental health and wellbeing, and we believe everyone deserves to enjoy it. That’s why we are working to increase supply, making sure there are enough campsites, RV sites and glamping options to go around, and at price points that suit every budget.
Can you share with our readers how you have used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In the U.K., following land-use deregulation, we have helped nearly 900 farmers and landowners set up temporary campgrounds and recoup some of the revenue lost due to the pandemic. This has in turn helped to support the rural communities that surround them. In fact, in the last 12 months, Pitchup has generated £9.8m in pitch fees, £2.9m in extras like firewood and fresh produce and £12.3m in off-site spend for local pubs, restaurants and newsagents — a total of £25m for the rural economy. We plan to expand this project internationally, helping landowners across the world to diversify in this way.
We also send out the Countryside Code with every booking, reminding our customers to “leave no trace” when they are out enjoying nature.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Access to the outdoors is far from universal, with seniors over 65, ethnic minority groups and those living in poverty missing out the most. The impact is felt not only in terms of people’s physical health but also their mental health and general wellbeing. Clinicians in the U.K. have already begun conducting trials for “Green Social Prescribing,” which provides patients access to nature-based activities, such as walking, community gardening and food-growing projects, to improve their health.
The pandemic has reminded us of what’s available at our doorstep and accessible with minimal environmental harm. We should take this chance to encourage a renaissance in providing access to nature by re-evaluating land-use rules and communicating the benefits of the outdoors to the widest audience possible.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!