He was brought up on a holiday park in Woolacombe, North Devon; launched his first online business when he was nineteen; and spent a few years at lastminute.com in charge of mobile; so it was a no-brainer for Dan Yates to found his own holiday-booking company.

Dan Yates is the founder and Managing Director of Pitchup.com, an online platform and booking system for campsite or caravan holidays.

The company - based at The Light Box in Chiswick - has won Best UK Travel Website of the Year and ranks as the biggest outdoor accommodation site in the UK. He talked to us about running Pitchup, the challenges and trends in the industry and why being based at Workspace is a 'good fit' for the business. 

Pitch your business in a sentence

We provide outdoor holiday inspiration for people all over the world, helping them ‘make their great escape’ to more than 2,000 sites in 27 countries.

Over the last year we’ve sent nearly half a million customers from 99 countries on holiday.

Dan Yates, Pitchup.com

 

There’s a vast spectrum of outdoor accommodation now, from traditional caravans, pre-erected tents and pitches to timber pods, lodges, cottages and quirky glamping options. Over the last year we’ve sent nearly half a million customers from 99 countries on holiday.

Tempted by a Pitchup holiday?

 

Give us a potted history of Pitchup

After spending a few years at lastminute.com in business development, and training as a strategy consultant, I began building Pitchup.com in my spare time in 2009.  By summer 2010, the site was live and taking online bookings.

Within a year, annual traffic had surpassed one million visits and by 2012 we had signed up over 60 holiday park chains, as well as hundreds of independently-run campsites and glamping sites. At the end of 2012 we were lucky enough to win the Travel Journalists’ Award for the Best UK Travel Website of the Year at the British Travel Press Awards.

Smartphone bookings now account for 30% of our business and the proportion continues to grow each quarter.

Dan Yates, Pitchup.com

 

Having led mobile at lastminute.com a decade ago, I’d always expected smartphone bookings to take off at some point. But when? In 2013 we launched a mobile site and mobile apps, winning the ‘Travel/Leisure/Sports Mobile Strategy/Campaign’ category at the Marketing on Mobile Awards up against Hotels.com and Heathrow Airport, and since then bookings have exploded. Smartphone bookings now account for 30% of our business and the proportion continues to grow each quarter.

Just one of the options at Pitchup.com

 

International expansion has been another big focus, as the UK accounts for under 5% of the global market. The site has grown from featuring just 12 destination countries at the beginning of 2015 to 27 countries at present, and our translation team has recently started work on Greek and Polish.

Trading-wise, we have just experienced our best summer ever, with bookings and sales up 55% year-on-year. Next year is already looking strong, with advance bookings 248% ahead of where we were this time last year.

Pitchup.com now ranks as the biggest outdoor accommodation site in the UK by global page views according to Alexa.

Where do you see Pitchup in a year's time? In three years’ time? What's your growth strategy?

I see our growth continuing as we enter new territories and consolidate our position in existing markets, providing our users with the widest spectrum of outdoor accommodation all in one easy-to-search and book location.

Growth has come from capitalising on the latest technology - mobile and online marketing channels in particular - to ‘prime the pump’ in new markets and enhance our performance in existing countries.

Dan Yates, Pitchup.com

 

Growth has come from capitalising on the latest technology - mobile and online marketing channels in particular - to ‘prime the pump’ in new markets and enhance our performance in existing countries. Great feedback from customers has enabled us to achieve the highest ‘Gold trusted merchant’ Feefo award for our 98% satisfaction rating, and we’ve received more than 130 testimonials from campsite managers throughout Europe.

The team at the Light Box

 

Most importantly, our highly committed and resourceful team enable us to push the boundaries of the business further all the time.

What trends are you seeing in your industry?

Glamping continues to grow in popularity as people seek out more unique and unusual ideas - we named 2016 the ‘year of the yurt’, with bookings 89% up - and we’ve also seen a big rise in demand for camping pods and lodges. Traditional camping, touring and static caravans remain the bulk of the market, however, which can come as a surprise.

Another clear trend we are seeing is rising standards throughout the sector, from rustic camping sites to luxury lodge parks, influenced in part by customer reviews no doubt. The average rating left for a Pitchup.com campsite or holiday park is now around 8.5/10: our clients are clearly doing something right as this seems to compare very favourably with other sectors.

How are the habits of the British holidayer changing?

The long-term trend towards more short breaks, spent closer to home, continues. We’re also noticing that smartphones are encouraging not only last-minute bookings, but also bookings far in advance: the super-organised can now unlock availability much earlier than was traditional in this sector, and book it on their phone ‘in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea’ (as one of our reviewers put it).

The Light Box in Chiswick

 

You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of online booking systems. What trends are you seeing and what advice would you give to businesses looking to develop their own systems?

Research shows that accommodation owners without an online booking system, or at least an online travel agent, are fishing in an ever-reducing pool of customers. For domestic bookings, around four times more bookings are now taken online than ‘offline’.

When considering how to take bookings online, assess how well any third-party system integrates to online travel agents such as Pitchup.com to ensure you’re casting your net widely. While I'd always advocate having an online booking facility, it's also important when assessing the options to balance the cost and effort involved with the potential distraction from the core business: providing a great experience for your guests.

The Light Box is a dynamic environment which we felt was a good fit for our business.

Dan Yates, Pitchup.com

 

You’re based at The Light Box. Why did you choose that location? What are the advantages to being a Workspace customer?

The Light Box is a dynamic environment which we felt was a good fit for our business. We were also able to move into newly refurbished warehouse-style offices which was a definite plus - we want our team to enjoy their working environment whilst offering an attractive proposition for future employees.

Proximity to home for existing staff was also important, as well as flexibility given we’re nearly doubling in size each year.

Have you collaborated or done business with any other businesses based at Workspace? Can you tell us about how it came about?

So far we've only relieved some of our fellow tenants of some desks, but we're hoping the resurgence in 'urban camping' will draw a few start-ups in our sector to The Light Box. Our staff also enjoy the networking and social events.

What's your office luxury?

A proper coffee machine. Subsidised treatment for caffeine addiction has now leapt to the top of our team wish list...

The Light Box is a fantastic building home to a raft of New and Growing Companies in studios featuring high ceilings, exposed brickwork and wooden flooring – ideal for creative agencies, fashion brands and tech start-ups like Pitchup, to name but a few. If you’re thinking of setting up a business near Chiswick, click here to arrange a viewing of our available spaces.