Nicolas Dayot, President of the Fédération Nationale de l’Hôtellerie de Plein Air (French federation for campsites) and campsite operator in Brittany offers a broad panorama of the camping activity in France, a sector for which many opportunities remain to be seized.
In the longer term, have you made an initial assessment with all FNHPA members? How do they project themselves? How do they perhaps plan to change their offers, their website, their
communication, etc.? Are any of them already starting to react?
Finally, the source of concern for the future is above all about rescuing the upstream, i.e. our suppliers, because we invest a lot every year, it’s one of the sources of our attractiveness. You were talking earlier about water parks, playgrounds, restaurants, services that we can develop on the campsites and that we add each year to be obviously more attractive and more creative and to satisfy a clientele that always wants
new things. Our fear this year is that if the campsites stop their investments during the autumn-winter 2020-2021, the suppliers will not recover and we will lose some of the creativity that allows us to develop our offer. We encourage campgrounds to continue to invest this winter to better bounce back afterwards because we are quite optimistic. Obviously nobody knows if the Coronavirus will be present again for the year 2021, if in the meantime a vaccine will have been found or not or if it’s a phenomenon that will come back every year knowing that we will be more ready next year than this year of course but it’s all crystal ball.
But we think that the French and foreigners living close to us may have developed habits that will last for a
while, perhaps two, three years or even longer by going on holiday not far from home rather than to the other side of the world. In any case, if we draw a parallel with what the travel agencies imagine, it comforts us in this analysis, since the travel agencies say that part of the world’s population may find it difficult to
regain a rhythm of travel in the next two years. This means that people will go on holiday in France and will go on holiday in border countries.
For camping, 2021 and 2022 are going to be good years while keeping our fundamentals without necessarily transforming ourselves but continuing to build on what has been our recipe for success over the last few years, the last few decades. That is to say comfortable rental accommodation, a continued move upmarket, including tent, caravan and camping-car places that continue to perform very well.
Sometimes we hear that campsites are abandoning their places to focus more on rental accommodation, this is not true.
The use of accommodation is always very good, there are even new clients discovering them, even
if the new clients concentrate mainly on rental accommodation. Rental accommodation, i.e. mobile homes
and chalets, trailers, tree houses, etc. are welcoming more and more people every year. In the statistics that we have been able to study carefully over the last few weeks, we have noticed that reservations are concentrated almost exclusively on rented accommodation, i.e. mobile homes chalets and other types of accommodation, a little less on bare pitches than usual. This is normal since people will book a lot at the last
minute, they won’t ignore them, they will fill up anyway during the summer but it’s just that for the moment in the bookings, we don’t perceive it. What we are seeing in the rental accommodation bookings is that there is a significant proportion of new customers who have never done camping before in their lives and who
will discover it this summer 2020.
If we manage to be good, to capitalize on this particular situation, we can capture new customers, assuming we manage to seduce them this year. Through the discovery of nature, the available space, the great natural sites, “blue, white, red” holidays to paraphrase Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne (State Secretary to the Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs), and in which campsites are generally located, including in areas that are not usually frequented. It may be that the French enjoy rediscovering France, which is good because we are mostly in the French rural areas.
In concrete terms, how do you imagine the customer and campsite operator of tomorrow?
The campsite keeps changing. In fact, what has always been the secret of our profession, but especially for the last 30 years or so, is really to rely on this flexibility of operation that we try to defend like a treasure, some people don’t understand how great it is. Starting with an asset that was set up sometimes 80 years ago, 70 years ago, we are gradually moving from a field where there were only people who came with small tents, to different accommodations. The chalets I was talking about, but even the camping equipment, the tent, the caravan, the camper, the tents with wood, all the different items I was listing earlier, the tree house, the yurt, the floating tent, the tent hanging from a tree branch. We have been able to add in our area of operation aquatic spaces, tree climbing for a few years now, sometimes amusement parks, riding schools, a whole range of new equipment and services that we didn’t offer in the past, which have enabled us
to capture the additional clientele and now what we are seeing more and more, no doubt, is one of the remedies for the disappearance of the small campsites that we were talking about earlier, is to go a little further in the segmentation because there is perhaps too much standardisation of midscale campsites
and especially medium size campsites as well. Midscale and medium size campsites that can stand out from other models that work very well, especially the resorts you were talking about but also group campsites that have taken certain particular themes that appeal to a particular customer segment very
far. On the other hand, medium-sized campsites and small campsites will no doubt be able to bounce back even more by developing their products, their campsites, by choosing a strong theme specific to them and I am thinking in particular of very small campsites.
We have 3,000 campsites with less than 60 pitches in France, these are the ones that generally disappear.
Some are beginning to transform them into small, very cosy properties in the spirit of bed and breakfast in the heart of the countryside, and the SPC+ in particular is very pleased with this.
Often they go for the unusual, and these are establishments that have a real future provided we work much
more on marketing. Other types of accommodation in the campaign have disappeared because they are blocked because of accessibility, security and other standards. Since we are in a natural area, very flexible to operate, these small campsites that dot the French countryside could find a new future.
This is also the case for establishments that have a hundred or so pitches, 120 places, 150 places, and which today are a little bit common to each other. It’s starting to tremble for these 2/3 of the offer, it can allow us to go much further in terms of attendance. To put it simply, even if it is not confirmed, it is still an
approximate forecast, with the tourist beds that we have since, as you know,
we have by far the largest quantity of commercial tourist beds in France. We have 2.7 million tourist beds, which is double the entire hotel industry. We are very complementary. To put it simply, if we succeed in
revitalising a large part of the existing properties, we can achieve an additional 1 billion in turnover and 50 million additional overnight stays. I will give you an example, I was in the Loir-et-Cher a few weeks ago, in a municipal campsite that had a turnover of 20,000 euros just 5 years ago, 34 pitches, so a very small campsite. Today it has a turnover of 450,000euros, still with 34 pitches.
For how many thousands of euros invested in the campsite?
About 800,000 euros. So knowing that it is a municipal campsite, there was no need to buy the land. For a private operator if it was necessary to buy the land, it would have been much more complicated, but this is a municipal campsite managed by the municipality. An upscale product but that’s a good thing because the SPC+ tend to look for small campsites, sometimes without any entertainment but very cosy, very bucolic and we are on high prices, 100-150 euros per night. There are hundreds of examples like this: we have 3,000 campsites with less than 60 pitches that are just waiting to develop their business.
There is one thing we haven’t discussed together, and that’s camping at its destination. You were talking earlier about product differentiation but perhaps there can be a link for destinations as rich as you entioned the Gers or the Périgord, there are hundreds of others in France. How do you see this place that can be taken, this role that can also be played for a tourist destination?
You are pointing out a conviction that we have. France has a particularity; we are the European country with the most campsites, and we are the second country in the world after the United States with a territorial network that no one else has in the world. The United States has twice as many campsites as we do, 16,000 with a country that is 15 times larger than France - a very different density. We alone have 1/3 of
the capacity of the European continent, to give you an idea, Spain has only 8% of the capacity, Italy is number 2 in Europe with 15%, we have 33% of the continent.
We are the country of camping. Most of the campsites, including those that do not have economic activity but are just waiting to be repositioned, are mainly located in areas where tourist traffic is not the highest in the country.
It is true that we have a conviction on this particular crisis and while France is in the process of adopting a tourism development strategy through the sector contract that is being put in place. The European recovery plan that will be partly focused on tourism is a perfect opportunity to showcase and promote tourism in a great diversity of French territories that do not have tourist activities and that are only asking to have one. Tourist accommodation already exists in all these territories, especially campsites with their large capacity,
since in collective accommodation we have 48% of the total capacity of France. Some of them do not have any economic activity objectively, they could be boosted if the territory would put itself on stage to attract tourists because we know that for tourism to develop, it certainly needs reception capacities, leisure and cultural activities, catering and a development of tourism in the territory.
I hope that this year 2020 will be an opportunity to raise national awareness so that domestic tourism can be
identified as a national objective, the same for European tourism in France. This is in addition to international tourism from outside Europe, which must be preserved because it is obviously very important. All the activity that lives thanks to Americans, Chinese and Koreans must be maintained. But let’s not forget that 2/3 of the tourists who visit France are French.
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