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Camping Vision and Vacanceselect: a big opportunity to create a unique vacation platform

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The agreement for the acquisition of the historic Vacanceselect brand by European Camping Group – which controls, among others, Eurocamp and Homair – dates back to just one year ago. The agreement was then approved in the first months of this year by the French competition authority and the merger is now in full swing. One of the effects of this operation is that Vacanceselect will become part of the Camping Vision group. To explore the consequences of this strategic choice, Camping Business interviewed Ralf de Bruijn, Managing Director of Camping Vision.

Camping Business – How did this decision come about?
Ralf de Bruijn –
With the merger of the mobile home and tent fleets between Eurocamp, Homair and Vacanceselect, we saw the opportunity to refresh a brand that has always been very strong in our business. Even if it has changed over the years, looking at the heritage in Holland and Germany it has a great potential. As Camping Vision, we believe there is a big opportunity, basically for two reasons. One is because of the Vacanceselect strong history: it’s still a very prominent brand with awareness in some of our key markets like Holland and Germany, but also Poland and Italy. Secondly, the brand name itself is a very good name to create a wider holiday platform.

Today we have Allcamps and LuxCamp as our main brands, along with two brands in Denmark with a different name, Dansk Bilferie and Friferie. But Allcamps and LuxCamp are clearly very much linked to camping, because there’s the word “camp” in the brand name. Vacanceselect is much broader than camp. And with Camping Vision we have already experienced, over the past four years, that there is a quite a strong overlap in audiences, that are used to camping and holiday parks.

This is something we discovered during Covid, when we started to collaborate with a lot of holiday parks. We also noticed that even those holiday parks are being booked through Allcamps and LuxCamp today. So, our IT systems are totally ready to onboard many more holiday parks, but also family resorts for example or nice residencias in the areas where we also have a lot of campsites.

To wrap it up: it’s a clear brand name to extend our product offer that’s already well established in the camping world.

Camping Business – What does this mean in terms of broadening the markets where you work? It seems to me that you were focused mainly on the Nordic markets?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Yes and no. I mean, we have actually also accomplished quite a footprint in Italy and Spain as a distributor of camping holidays. Allcamps.es and Allcamps.it are growing really fast, together with Allcamps.fr. So, yes, our history and our biggest volumes are clearly in Germany, Denmark, Holland, and Poland but we’re also growing fast in the South and also UK, Ireland, Austria, and Switzerland. It’s across Europe: we cover 16 countries at the moment and are thus well in place to ‘stretch the season’ for campsites and support low season occupancies.

If the background of your question is “How do you deal with all these brands in every market?” The answer is that we are shifting a little bit to achieve a measured brand mix. We will end up with two main brands in Europe, except Denmark. In Europe these will be Vacanceselect and Allcamps: Vacanceselect for all types of holidays, Allcamps for all types of camping holidays, including pitches. Indeed, over the past two years we have also offered empty pitches for your own caravan and tent, and that’s growing really fast. Then maybe as of season 2025, so in one and a half years, we will reposition LuxCamp as a premium glamping platform. In The Netherlands, Poland and Germany we will retain LuxCamp.

So that means we are going to position the three brands slightly differently than they are today. If you look at brand mix by market, it means we will launch, as of season 2024, Vacanceselect in all our markets, including Eastern Europe, Hungary, Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia, and in some of those markets, Vacanceselect will replace LuxCamp. In some markets, we believe that the market itself is too small to manage two brands or more. But one consideration is leading, and that is that we want to offer all products in all of our markets.

Camping Business – And in Denmark will you remain with the brand of Dansk Bilferie and Friferie?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Yes. Friferie will be the equivalent of Vacanceselect, with the widest product offering, while in the future Dansk Bilferie will turn into the camping specialist like Allcamps. This means in terms of design, for example, we will become a bit more efficient. So, if you go to Friferie.dk in January, it will probably look very much the same as Vacanceselect.

Overall some significant changes. A very big project today is to develop the new Vacanceselect website with a new visual identity. We will relaunch and refresh the Vacanceselect brand, because it will be a much wider and bigger platform. Today it already offers a large camping product range with all the Vacanceselect and Tohapi partner campsites and some third-party business, but obviously we will add everything we already have within Camping Vision. So, all the accommodations from our tour operator partners – like Gustocamp, Venue Holidays, Kelair – but also all the partnerships with independent campsites and groups like Valamar, Human Company and Sandaya Group. In addition, we will offer all the holiday park partners, like Landal GreenParks, Europarcs and family resorts and hotels. So, it’s quite a big project.

Camping Business – And in this kind of project, what will be the destiny of the Camping Vision brand?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Like it is today. Camping Vision today is a business-to-business group name, a contracting partner for all our suppliers, so for all campsites and tour operators and all their partners. They make the contract with Camping Vision as they do today. Vacanceselect is basically an extra sales platform, an extra agent next to Allcamps, LuxCamp, Dansk Bilferie and Friferie.

Camping Business – What are your main markets today?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Germany is our biggest market, followed by the Netherlands and Denmark. Poland is growing extremely fast this year: we are doubling our turnovers there. These markets are followed by France, UK, and Ireland. In terms of destinations, we welcome most clients in Italy, France, Croatia, Spain, and The Netherlands.

Camping Business – Are you thinking to expand your presence across more countries?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Croatia is on the roadmap, but not for 2024.

Camping Business – And when do you think you will be ready for the relaunch of the Vacanceselect?
Ralf de Bruijn –
October 1st. It will be a totally new website but the way of working for all our partner campsites will remain the same. There will be the same contract manager, the same sales and customer care organization behind it, the same back-office department. We are fully integrating this new brand into our current setup of Camping Vision.

Camping Business – How many people are today involved compared to the past for the integration of Vacanceselect?
Ralf de Bruijn –
We are of course taking over some employees from Vacanceselect, but not that many, because some of them will for example move to Eurocamp, depending on their role. We are hiring a lot of new resource in our customer contact centers, marketing, and e-commerce. I think by October 1st we will be around 100 people.

Camping Business – And in terms of technology, there is something that can be brought on board from Vacanceselect, or the platform will remain that of Camping Vision?
Ralf de Bruijn –
We will have a new platform, but this is being built on our technical platform, in-house by our development team in Copenhagen.

Camping Business – Will there be complications for your customers in the transition to the new platform or will it be a transparent migration?
Ralf de Bruijn –
There will be no complications. We are at the same time migrating obviously all the bookings from Vacanceselect from the last three years so all the Vacanceselect clients can still reach out to us, and we have the booking history of that client.

Camping Business – There are today two different visions about how the market will evolve in the future. One is that the bookability is important to be made by a platform like Camping Vision, while other think that the campsite itself must manage the booking and not using an external partner. I can imagine your point of view, but can you go deeper and explain it to us?
Ralf de Bruijn –
I think it goes hand in hand, they exist next to each other, which is fine. I believe many campsites could use a little support to be distributed in markets where it’s difficult for them to do marketing directly, to speak the language of the clients, to adapt to local regulations and guarantees and to adapt to local payment methods. That’s where we add value for the client, to make sure that attracts clients from basically any other markets than its domestic. And even sometimes for its domestic market, we can come up with incremental sales.

But at the same time, a campsite can still book many clients directly. I think in the end it’s about finding the perfect balance between direct and indirect sales. We have ongoing discussions with many of our partners about this balance, because we’re not a machine that is constantly grabbing shares everywhere. That’s basically also why we say we are a strategic sales partner- we are not a meta platform scraping content and onboarding thousands of campsites, it’s a tailor-made approach that we have with a very personal touch. That’s our way of working and therefore I also say it goes hand in hand for campsites.

Camping Business – In practical terms, do the campsites reserve a part of their availability for you or is there work done in real time using the availability coming from the IT systems?
Ralf de Bruijn –
It depends on the connection between systems and their level of integration. Some campsites have channel managers where they indeed reserve a certain amount of units and allotments. Some are giving us the same access to the stock that they have with their own websites. It depends really on the partnership. And the system. So, it’s both. Some technical, some strategic.

Camping Business – It seems that the market is very enthusiastic about the first seasonal results and the expectations are very high. Do you think that we are going really to have a new record year?
Ralf de Bruijn
We are facing another record-breaking year, but at the same time we’re receiving different signals. In some regions the business is not as great as last season. The period March-April was a bit softer than the year before, but today we are still seeing very high volumes and big demand. We have a slightly different trend than in 2022, with a stronger last-minute pick up like it used to be before Covid. So yes, it’s going to be a good year, but you can see that price has a bigger impact than last year, which means the last-minute period is also heavily dependent on the revenue management skills of a campsite or tour operator. And of course, the strength of your distribution mix in Europe.

Camping Business – You mentioned before the empty pitches as a possible development. How are they important today and how do you think they can grow in the next years?
Ralf de Bruijn –
They are very important. I think with Allcamps we have lots of organic traffic on our websites that includes many clients that are actually looking for empty pitches, so we have always seen this opportunity, but since IT has become so important, both for us and for the campsite, we also noticed that it was actually quite easy to include empty pitches in these XML feeds that we have with campsites. We have the knowledge of the regions and the campsites in our customer contact center, so, for us, it was actually quite a good opportunity to start offering those empty pitches. This is where we see a huge growth potential, because we have this wide distribution network and we can also support campsites in low season with empty pitches, like we are also doing with mobile homes and other rental accommodations.

Camping Business – And what about the glamping? Is it still a growing part of the market?
Ralf de Bruijn –
Yes, it is. Glamping has always been linked to luxurious safari tents and large tents, but you can obviously also include some of the extremely luxury mobile homes with lots of facilities and a large terrace and a lounge deck. Those mobile homes are extremely popular. But for each product type there is a market: glamping is for sure very popular, but it’s not the only way to go. I think we should still, as an industry, make sure that we also accommodate clients that have maybe a bit less to spend, because let’s be honest, glamping is quite expensive. I think it’s important that campsites will always be able to attract these different target groups. In the end, what we try to do in our platforms is manage expectations: if your price is matching, your quality and your photos and descriptions are also very much aligned with the actual products that you sell and that you offer, there’s also still a very big business for the more standardized mobile homes.

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