There are not many opportunities for growth in the camping sector. The legislative and regulatory frameworks in place restrict organic growth for accommodation providers that are often greedy for more land and better locations. European Camping Group, which was already one of the European heavyweights, took the decision to grow externally by acquiring another giant, Vacanceselect.
Valued at €1 billion, Vacanceselect should be absorbed by European Camping Group by the end of 2022, subject to approval by the French Competition Authority. PAI Partners, which has owned European Camping Group since September 2021 following its acquisition from Montefiore, is thus buying out Permira, which had already indicated its intention to sell off this asset.
Bertrand Monier, a partner at PAI, said: “This transaction creates the number 3 in the outdoor hospitality industry in Europe and the number 1 in France, with a market share of around 10%, which makes it possible to envisage other external growth operations in the future. By offering excellent value-for-money holidays, the sector has proven its resilience, which is a strength in a volatile macro-economic environment.”
After numerous attempts, the deal was finally concluded on the night of 27-28 July according to French financial daily, Les Echos. This makes the European Camping Group the French number 1 and places the group on the European podium, given that the French market is, to date, the largest European outdoor hospitality market and the second largest in the world behind the United States.
The merger also makes it possible to capitalise on the complementary nature of the two fleets, one being stronger in Northern Europe (European Camping Group) and the second better positioned on the French domestic market.
Alain Calmé, Chairman of ECG, said: “The combination of ECG and Vacanceselect will create a French champion and a European leader in the outdoor hospitality industry, offering over 400 destinations to our customers. We are confident in the prospects of our industry which is driven by ever increasing demand. With the continuous improvement of our accommodation and water parks and, consequently, the customer experience, our combined offer will be even more attractive to European families.”
Many institutional investors are interested in the outdoor hospitality market, which is attracting many third-party investment specialists.
Pierre Dupuy Chaignaud, recently appointed to the management board of 123 Investment Managers, has been involved in the sector since the mid-2010s. He has confirmed his intention to continue investing in the outdoor hospitality industry as well as in related players in the sector such as mobile home manufacturers. Between them, ECG and Vacanceselect will market 45,000 mobile homes, operate more than 100 campsites and be present in more than 270 campsites in France, Italy, Spain and Croatia.
The group's footprint on the European continent does not end there, since through its tour operating activities it is also present in the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands to name some.
The brands of the future group are:
- Homair, Eurocamp, Roan on the tour operating side;
- Marvilla Parks and Tohapi on the direct operation side;
- Homair and Tohapi on the franchising and management side;
- Campingvision, Vacanceselect and Cavas Holidays on the distribution side;
- Gain on the procurement and purchasing side.
The group thus acquires genuine firepower and will be able to count on important synergies through the different lines of work and markets plied by the two parties.
Philippe de Trémiolles, Managing Director of ECG, commented: “This is the perfect time to accelerate our development. After this acquisition, we will continue to improve the quality, accessibility and, above all, the sustainability of our offer, given the extremely limited carbon footprint of campsites compared to other types of holidays.”
Other French players are also expanding their activities in the outdoor hospitality market, such as Odalys, whose investors, Groupe Duval, acquired Flower Campings at the end of June. The Pierre & Vacances - Center Parcs group, through its maeva brand, is also developing its presence all whilst accelerating its distribution.
Siblu also expanded in May with the simultaneous acquisition of the New Aire Holding group and Camping & Marina Meerwijck in Kropswolde.
Other players, such as Sunêlia, have adopted an approach targeted at independent campsites, while the Camping Paradis brand is relying on strong marketing and identity to establish itself with new campsites.
The sector is undergoing significant restructuring and its leaders are making a big splash. The gap between the giants and the owner-operators is widening, raising up and professionalising the outdoor hospitality industry.