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The new face of the outdoor hospitality industry

As the summer season got off to a flying start for the French outdoor hospitality industry, flames burnt down emblematic campsites in the southwest of the country. These incidents did not prevent domestic and foreign tourists from pitching their tents in the thousands of campsites spread across France. This type of accommodation is constantly evolving and adapting to the new expectations of travellers. Seasoned campers now rub shoulders with neo-campers who want to experience new things as close to nature as possible without giving up comfort or technology.

Performance boosted by the health crisis

The French outdoor hotel industry had signed a more than satisfactory 2021 season even if the figures recorded did not reach those of 2019. A record year for the tourism sector as a whole. Between May and September 2021, campsites recorded 112.3 million overnight stays compared to 128.6 million in 2019 according to Insee. However, in the middle of the summer, campsites recorded almost the same number of overnight stays as in 2019, with 95.4 million compared to 96.2 million in 2019. The majority of the visitors were domestic, although the Dutch and Germans made a comeback during the last summer season.

The summer of 2022 looks even more promising, as the FNHPA announced in May at its traditional press conference at the start of the season. A season that started ahead of schedule with the Easter weekend which recorded occupancy rates well above normal. The return of foreign customers also seems to be confirmed this year, presaging high visitor rates throughout France. These forecasts are confirmed by Sequoiasoft's monthly barometer, with the booking rate at the end of June showing almost 38% growth compared to the end of June 2021. The volume of bookings is also up on the record level of 2019.

Homair confirms this positive trend with an exceptional performance during the Ascension Bridge, with 38% more bookings than during the same period in 2021. This upward trend continues during the summer holidays with an average occupancy rate of +11% for July and August compared to the same period in 2019 on a comparable basis. The Camping Qualité website recorded a 56% increase in booking volumes and a 36% increase in turnover for the period from October 2021 to 31 May 2022 compared to last year. Equally encouraging figures should soon be revealed following this summer season, which promises to be a record one.

In Spain, the summer is looking just as good. The Spanish Camping Federation (FEEC) says that this season will be "the best summer in its history". Spanish campsites are expected to welcome more than five million travellers this summer, generating a total of more than 23 million overnight stays. Although domestic campers will still account for a large proportion of the total number of visitors, foreign tourists will once again be present with the lifting of restrictions. However, the geopolitical and economic context should have an impact on the number of international campers. In Spain as a whole, campsites are expected to show occupancy rates of over 90%, and even 95% for campsites in the Mediterranean area. This means that booking rates are almost 11% higher than in 2019. Despite these encouraging figures, tourist spending at campsites is down by almost 40%. 

Occupancy during July and the forecast for August is extraordinary. The average stay of our customers remains the same, between 8 and 12 days, but we have noticed that due to the current high inflation and the economic uncertainty of the coming months, customers are spending less on restaurants, leisure, sports activities... They are trying to avoid the superfluous in order to stay as long as possible in the property. 

Ana Beriaín, President of the FEEC

Significant fund movements

In France, the vast majority of campsites are small sites with around sixty pitches managed by independent owners. However, the move upmarket in the outdoor hotel industry requires heavy investment and financial resources that small owners often lack. Groups and chains are therefore taking the lead and intensively developing their portfolio by buying up small or medium-sized campsites in order to grow organically.

The legal framework in France makes it difficult to build new campsites. Growth is therefore achieved through the acquisition of campsites or even the absorption of small campsite groups. The sector is also witnessing a massive influx of investors who want to diversify their business portfolios. Four of the eight main integrated groups are in the hands of investment funds. Other actors from the tourism industry are also increasingly interested in the outdoor hotel industry, such as Pierre & Vacances - Center Parcs through its maeva brand, which recently acquired a new campsite in the Ardèche, and VVF.

The open-air hotel industry is thus a booming sector that is experiencing numerous fundamental changes. The latest move is the takeover of Vacanceselect by European Camping Group, which should be effective by the end of the year, subject to approval by the Competition Authority. This acquisition would make European Camping Group the French number one and put it on the European podium. For its part, the Duval Group, owner of Odalys, has signed an exclusive agreement with Saur for the acquisition of 100% of the capital of Flower Campings, which operates 10 campsites, 4 motorhome parks and has a network of 116 franchised campsites. Siblu is also continuing its expansion with the acquisition of the Holding New Aire Group, which operates 7 campsites in France with 3,500 pitches.

Vnaya Village, a group based in Vendée, has received a new investment of €3.6 million from Epopée Gestion, an investment company with territorial impact. This transaction follows an initial investment of €4.4 million made in mid-November 2021 via the Epopée Transitions I development capital fund. While the first investment enabled the acquisition of two campsites, this new investment allows the group to acquire two new ones. These acquisitions have enabled Vnaya Village to strengthen its presence in the Vendée region and the group now aims to expand its footprint in other regions.

New actors are also appearing, such as the Mirabel Campings et Résidences group. This brand was created by the Leneveu family, specialists in the leisure sector, who wanted to bring their 8 campsites together under one banner. The various sites are all located in the west of France, from Brittany to Normandy, via the Pays de la Loire. Although the group does not currently have any major growth ambitions, it is nevertheless keeping an eye out for possible development opportunities.

Motorhomes and vans are in vogue

According to figures released by the Union of Recreational Vehicles (Univdl), the year 2021 was a record year for motorhome sales. More than 100,000 of these recreational vehicles were purchased during the year, of which more than 30,000 were new and more than 70,000 second-hand. The increase is +15.5% over the last 12 months, and +50.47% over the last 10 years. A craze shared by our German neighbours with the sale of more than 80,000 motor homes in 2021. The country has a total of nearly 1.6 million leisure vehicles, including motorhomes and caravans.

Camping-Car Park has studied the departure intentions of these numerous motorhome owners for the current summer season. Thus, 82% of them have chosen to travel around France during their next stay, compared to 98% last year. This change can be explained in particular by the lifting of health constraints. Spain remains the favourite foreign destination for motorhome owners, followed by Portugal and Italy. As for the podium of the most popular French regions, we find Brittany with 18.4% of intended stays, followed by New Aquitaine with 16.5% and finally Occitania with 14.7%.

However, the inflationary context is holding some back, with 82% saying that they prefer local tourism and also make fewer stops between parking areas. The study conducted by Camping-Car Park nevertheless forecasts 24.5 million overnight stays in motorhomes in France between June and September 2022. On average, these stays should last almost 4 weeks, mainly during the peak season, 65% in September and 64% in June. This is a way of avoiding the crowds during the peak of the summer season. This generates a turnover of almost 1.3 billion euros with an average basket of 56 euros per day for a couple of motorhome owners.

The popularity of vans has also increased in recent years, as evidenced by the expansion of the Moovecamp distribution network. The van rental specialist now has 29 rental agencies throughout France. Its fleet of vehicles has also grown exponentially, from 16 to 50 vans, and the objective is to reach a fleet of 80 vehicles by 2023. Moovecamp also benefits from a partnership with France Passion, which allows users of its vans to be invited to more than 2,100 hosts, including winegrowers, breeders and farmers, craftsmen and farm inns.

Major actors in the outdoor hospitality industry have noted the popularity of what is now called the "van life" and are trying to position themselves in this area. Flower Campings has entered into a partnership with the van and van rental company Van Away. Van Away customers will be able to take advantage of special rates and facilities at the chain's 120 campsites. These advantages enable Flower Campings to stand out from its competitors and attract a new type of customer, often younger.

The rise of glamping

Who hasn't dreamed of sleeping in a cabin, a luxury tent or a bubble? These are all categories of accommodation that belong to glamping, a new way of looking at camping. The Robert defines glamping as "a mode of tourist accommodation in the middle of nature, combining comfort with respect for the environment". More and more actors are capitalising on this trend, as it allows them to take advantage of under-used campsites. It is with this in mind that the Andalusian start-up Kampaoh has developed, specialising in glamping. It is aimed at customers looking for an open-air accommodation experience with all the comforts of a hotel. According to their figures, 90% of their customers were not originally camping enthusiasts.

In order to attract this new clientele, Kampaoh set up tents on under-used campsites. In 2018, two years after its launch, the startup had 12,500 customers and €1 million in sales. By 2021, the figures had risen to 50,000 users and €3.4 million in turnover. Today, Kampaoh is present in 50 campsites on the Iberian Peninsula with more than 1,000 tents of their own design and manufacture. The aim is now to strengthen its presence in inland and mountain destinations. The startup shares all the revenue generated with the campsites where it is installed according to the contract model they choose.

Actors in the traditional luxury hospitality industry are also taking an interest in the new glamping trend. A short-lived experience is being offered at the Fairmont St Andrews this summer for the 150th Open Championship. Due to unprecedented demand for accommodation in the run up to the event, Fairmont St Andrews has opened up its 'old school' glamping experiences for booking. From 15 to 18 July, gold enthusiasts had the opportunity to stay in a vintage caravan and 'bell tent'. This included access to all the property's amenities, restaurants and bars.

The year 2022 also marked the inauguration of Habitas' luxury camp in Mexico on Lake Bacalar. 35 cabins designed in natural materials offer privileged access to the lagoon and a unique glamping experience for guests. The site also features a restaurant and bar as well as a spa inspired by a small Mayan village. Guests are encouraged to immerse themselves in Mayan culture and nature through a variety of activities, both sporting and holistic.

Time to go digital

While the sector has undergone many changes in recent years, including a strong premiumisation, an evolution in the behaviour of campers is also palpable. While the historical clientele is still present in the campsites, a new type of camper has recently appeared. A clientele with new needs and somewhat different expectations, particularly in terms of digital services. Actors in the outdoor hospitality industry must therefore adapt to these new demands by developing their services.

A turn towards digital that would have started in 2015 according to Bertrand Sylvestre, co-founder and CEO of PayinTech. The wifi connection became commonplace that year, a great advance for many campsites. Contactless pathways, mobile applications and connected locks and services have also been introduced since then. This is a real revolution in the world of camping, but also a real challenge, as FNHPA President Nicolas Dayot points out, since 70% of French campsites are located in rural areas. The shift towards digitalization and innovation is thus being generated on the model of the traditional hotel industry. A trend that will be accelerated by the arrival of the health crisis.

Neo-campers are a younger, digitalized clientele with strong purchasing power who are used to using online distribution platforms to compare offers. According to a study by Campings.com, 62% of them carry out research on the internet before booking their stay, compared to 50% of traditional campers. According to the platform, this segment of the clientele is set for strong growth in the future, in line with demographic trends. This digitalization also allows campsite owners to reach a more international clientele and to delegate certain tasks. It is also a solution to the growing labour shortage thanks to cashless payment or the setting up of new 100% digital reception points.

Campings.com has also recently launched the Lab HPA, "a centre of expertise, ethics and innovation at the service of French campsites" according to its Managing Director Jérôme Mercier. It will allow the analysis of market trends to identify new uses and envisage new responses to be provided by the profession with a focus on digital. New concepts will thus be imagined and co-constructed by professionals from the sector, from independent campsites, attached to a franchise, a network or an integrated group. With a growing number of tourists interested in camping as a means of accommodation, it is interesting to have an observatory of trends and behaviours in order to develop an offer that is as close as possible to the expectations of customers.

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