The award-winning Pityaha Glamping Retreat is a well-known glamping destination in Cabo Rojo that’s endorsed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. It is situated in Puerto Rico, a beautiful tropical, Caribbean island that is popular for its natural and cultural tourist attractions. Our travels take us to a place that incorporates the mystical Pitahaya Region with the luxury of a glamping business service in a gorgeous glampsite owned and developed by Manolo Ramos.
Manolo is a startup weekend champion with a vision of creating a glampsite in the beautiful paradise of Pityaha. Equipped with business know-how and a great team, he managed to make his dreams into reality. Previously a freelancer, Manolo opened the glampsite with the hopes of having a more stable income, which he could build around his family.
He is also a member of The Inspired Courses VIP Lounge and started his business using The Ultimate Glamping Business Start-Up Guide. Since then he has taken impressive action to set up an amazingly popular award-winning business.
Recently we interviewed Manolo about his success and asked him for his own Pitayaha Glamping business startup advice. Read on and be inspired by his glamping business startup journey, why he did what he did and what he recommends to others aiming to do the same.
Why did you want to set up a glamping business?
I have both personal and professional reasons for doing it. I was working as a freelance commercial director. Being freelance, there was little consistency on my job and I couldn’t rely on it fully. When I became a father, I had to reinvent myself to have a more stable livelihood. I also wanted to do something that I feel really connected to, and I chose glamping since I also do conventional camping when I can.
What are the sources of inspiration for your business?
I did my research by looking at photos of glampsites online. My main inspiration for the style and layout was Glampotel in the United Kingdom. My own experiences and camping adventures helped me decide on most of the aspects in the design such as the classic glamping tent style.
My inspiration is a combination of many things because I wanted to offer commodities that I would look for in a glampsite. The most important out of all of this is that we have designed Pitahaya Glamping around the area and my respect for the place is what shapes our ecological ethics.
The Pitahaya Region is a magical and special place in the town of Cabo Rojo, Southwest of Puerto Rice. I have known this place for years and it’s the best area overall in Puerto Rico because of all the activities that can be done around here. Hiking, mountain bike, road bike, stargazing, bird watching, access to some of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico and natural reserves are just a few of the exciting things available for visitors.
What have been your key successes so far?
In 2015, I participated in a Startup Weekend and the Pitahaya Glamping concept won first place. To make the idea into a reality was definitely something else! Pitahaya Glamping is the first official glampsite in Puerto Rico; it is very satisfyingly endorsed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, and it is the first to accomplish and receive the Ecotouristic Installation Certificate from them.
We have been featured on Lonely Planet, numerous local papers, TV programs, local tourism Instagram and Facebook pages. Soon we’ll be featured in Nexos, a magazine directed for Latino travellers in American Airlines, and in a PBS program.
What achievements are you most proud of so far?
I’m very proud that I could lead a group of talented people in achieving this project with a limited budget, being flexible in many aspects while keeping the core ones intact and to have demonstrated that this concept is something that locals wanted and it’s starting to attract international tourism towards this location.
Since the opening last summer, almost all weekends are fully-booked. We have also reached over 30 thousand likes and followers in less than 8 months, which is very satisfying.
Acquiring a loan from Cabo Rojo Coop and Kiva is also considered a great achievement. I had to effectively present the project to them because I had insufficient funds to finish it. This was after hurricane Maria hit us, the project was halfway done and it was in limbo for months! My family also helped out, mainly my mother, who at first had her doubts but later believed, and now, she fully supports the project.
Knowing what you know now, what would you say to someone starting the same business journey?
For this kind of business venture, it was helpful that I practised camping and I wanted to communicate how I felt when I did that so I could incorporate those feelings into the project. Also, you should be prepared to do everything, unless you have a lot of money and a good day job. Everything means administrative functions and maintenance such as cleaning of tents, bathrooms, and glampsite. I do have a reservation agency that also attends calls and assist in any situation so I can concentrate on the other daily things.
Design your glampsite around the land and affect it the least you can. Watch the air and water currents when it rains, the animals that live there, the seasons, the direction of the sun, the trees and their shadows.
Don’t cut a tree just to cut it. It’s important to observe all of nature, so you know where the tents will be located. My personal view is not focusing on mass production; although I understand that you have to make money so that you can have loans and other utilities paid on time.
Watch entrepreneurial videos online and have positive examples to follow. My choices are Walt Disney, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk.
Prepare to take risks. You must direct. The final decisions are yours and your responsibility.
It’s good to be ambitious but within ecological parameters or you will betray your beliefs and the place that can give you a good way of life and to other beings. You must also have a good relationship with locals and include them in the workforce on whatever area because is the fair thing to do.
6. What are your top 5 recommendations for anyone wanting a head-start at getting their dream business launched?
1. Research, research, research. Buckle up on that seat and do the research. The research helped me to better visualize what I wanted, and it helped me foresee any potential problem. Include a survey in your research so you can establish that your business is viable, and you can also take any related course of business or tourism.
The Ultimate Glamping Business Start-Up Course was the first course I took and It helped me a lot and later on I took an Ecotouristic Facilities class at a local university with architect Fernando Abruña who is the Sustainable Ecological Green Architect here in Puerto Rico.
2. Participate in a Startup Weekend. It’s a great way to present your idea to other unbiased people and it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose. Also, go to entrepreneurial talks or activities to see what’s going on even if they’re not directly related to glamping.
3. Assemble a team. Find good partners that can help you resolve problems and make good decisions. They don’t necessarily have to be on the contract. I have the fortune of having people I trust and all of them are very creative in many aspects. For me it’s very important to name them, they are Jose Raúl Centeno for design and construction, Armando Casillas for construction, and Mimi Velez for advertising and social media. Without them, this would not have been possible. We make a great team so, assemble one!
Aim to at least start with the Minimum Viable Product or MVP
4. Aim to at least start with the Minimum Viable Product or MVP. In my case, I wanted to begin with Safari Tents and then went to Lotus Belle Tents. I really began with 4 doorbell tents which are beautiful and great! The budget took me there but this was a first, totally new in Puerto Rico, and I wanted to begin with at least 5 tents. Also, I wanted this to be run with solar energy but it was too expensive so It went with “normal” electricity. Slowly you’ll add new things and clients will appreciate them. The MVP is the most crucial among all my Pitayaha glamping business startup advice so far.
5. Have plans for the future. Whether is to have more tents or change them to another type, improve the facilities or bring positive developments to the area. This will keep you working!
What do you wish you had known before you started your glamping business?
Although I’m very happy with the success of local tourism, I see that I have limited control on how to bring international tourism to Puerto Rico. This area has everything but needs to be known more outside. I do have excellent support from our Tourism Company and they are promoting Pitahaya Glamping. What I mean from this is that you must be sure on how the local area promotes itself for the tourists (local and international) and what part you should do to attract them since both are important.
One management aspect is that at first I permitted the 5 tents to be rented by a group of friends/family and it did not work because it was difficult to control. Most of the time, people in groups that rent everything exclusively behave like the place is private and it was hard to control them. What I do now is limit the tents to two maximum per group or family. I only permit everything to be rented by interviewing them and If their intentions are to look for a place to relax. I do allow groups for yoga/spiritual retreats or nature conservation oriented ones.
This depends on your vision and mine is that Pitahaya Glamping is a place to relax, enjoy nature and to promote all the outdoor activities you can do around here.
Another aspect is that if you choose canvas tents as beautiful as they are, they get mould and it could be very fast and is difficult to clean. I would choose the tents again since that is the glamping style that I like and relate but would like to have been prepared with more information about this and how to treat it and prevent it the most I can. It did get very bad and this could affect the sales since this a very aesthetic oriented business.
To find out more about Manolo and to book a stay in his delightful luxury camping glamping business in Puerto Rico, you can check out his Facebook Page Pitayaha Glamping for more information.
Comment below if you have any inspirations, tips or questions about starting a new luxury camping or glamping business in your part of the world and don’t forget to share this interview with others if you think they will find it useful.