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Gianfranco Vitali − FAITA Emilia-Romagna

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At the end of this contradictory 2020 season, at SUN Beach&Outdoor Style we met Gianfranco Vitali, regional president of FAITA for Emilia-Romagna, as well as Italian vice president. We talked with him about the results achieved by the sector in his region.

Camping Business: We’ve been through a season that started horribly but ended sustainably. It’s correct?

Gianfranco Vitali: If we talk about the campsites in Emilia-Romagna, the result was better than expected, also because the conditions for this season were not to open. Then we managed to close it with a revenue drop between 15 and 30 percent, depending on the areas and campsites. Considering that opening later we also had a cost drop, the final result should be satisfactory.

Camping Business: Now what do you expect from the 2021 season?

Gianfranco Vitali: First we will ask the government to re-establish the ‘holiday bonus’, which has been a very useful tool for us. First, because it has allowed a large segment of the market to go on vacation again this year. Many families have approached for the first time the world of camping, since in Emilia-Romagna we have accepted the bonus massively. It was a good promotion, because probably some of these families will come back to us, given the service we offered.

The second advantage is that the holiday bonus has often been used to extend the stay or to purchase additional services, such as restaurant or beach services… The third advantage is that thanks to this tool we have not made any discounts this year, and this it allowed us to maintain margins. Therefore, the holiday bonus, of which Emilia-Romagna was the first region in Italy in terms of volumes, is a very useful tool and we therefore ask the government to reintroduce it again next year, given that the budget allocated for 2020 has been used minimally.

Camping Business: Like FAITA, have you promoted it among your associates? Because there were big differences between the different regions …

Gianfranco Vitali: In the most difficult moments, during the closing phase in March, we often virtually met between associates from Emilia-Romagna, establishing a very close relationship and giving each other advice on how to deal with this emergency, both in terms of health and under the commercial aspect. As soon as we learned about the news of the holiday bonus, we asked all our members to accept it and many of us promoted it directly to their customers, including via newsletters. This is probably why it was so successful in Emilia-Romagna, where it was also accepted by many hotels.

Camping Business: Attracting many new guests, have you registered an evolution in your clientele?

Gianfranco Vitali: We noticed many new customers, but above all many new motorhomes. This year, the use of this vehicle has exploded, both with rented and purchased vehicles. Obviously, this pandemic has changed holiday habits and I believe that the outdoors was the favorite, because it guaranteed the social distancing. And this new trend I think will remain in the future. It’s up to us to make it grow.

Camping Business: Did the increase in motorhomes translate into new opportunities or more in logistical problems?

Gianfranco Vitali: It was a positive surprise, because the pitches are hardly filled. In recent years it has been a problem for us to do so, even in August. The return of the motorhome allowed to increase the occupation of the pitches. It is a phenomenon that must be taken care of and promoted even among those campers who prefer to use alternative structures to campsites, such as rest areas. As FAITA we are pursuing this approach to the world of campers: we have available spaces, free pitches and therefore we are very interested in this type of clientele.

Camping Business: Let’s talk about foreign guests. We understand that until August 15th it was a disaster, but then the situation recovered, is it true?

Gianfranco Vitali: It was revived from mid-August onwards, with a very good September and also arrives until the beginning of October, for those campsites that have remained open. We saw a massive return of German, Austrian and Swiss tourists with the motorhome. We expect that in 2021 those markets will see a migration of customers: many will abandon the idea of ​​traveling by plane to distant countries to prefer a vacation close to home, or a thousand kilometers away, accessible by an autonomous vehicle, whether a motorhome or a car. We therefore think that next year we will see an important return of these customers to destinations in central and northern Italy. The growth of the motorhome market in Germany is a good sign, because these are tourists who tend to prefer campsites to rest areas, at least in Italy.

Camping Business: Did this emergency that put everyone on their knees a bit, at least in the early stages, served to regroup the associative spirit, to bring the association back to the center of information, decision making, exchanging experiences?

Gianfranco Vitali: As is well known, associations when all goes well seem to be useless. Things change when there are difficulties like these. We have noticed in the difficult period of March and April a strong participation of the members. They were all looking forward to sharing experiences and suggestions with us. And the associations have also been the interlocutors of politics in making relevant decisions, because politics is confronted with associations, not with individual entrepreneurs. Representation of associations has regained importance.

Camping Business: Let’s talk a little about you. Besides being president of Ascom Comacchio, what other roles do you hold?

Gianfranco Vitali: I am also coordinator of the Emilia-Romagna political control room. The region has been divided into three areas, the most important of which is the coast. The four provinces – Ferrara, Ravenna, Rimini and Forlì – have come together in a single authority, called Destinazione Turistica Romagna, which is promoted in a unified manner on various markets. This is a public authority, whose president is the mayor of Rimini, Andrea Gnassi. Then there is a technical-consultative tool represented by companies and I am the coordinator. We are the technical advisors of the politics.

Camping Business: Leaving the world of camping for a while, how did the tourist season go for the Romagna destination?

Gianfranco Vitali: The final drop will be around 30 percent, both in terms of revenues and attendance, because there were no foreigners. There are cases of places that traditionally work a lot with the Italian market and that have suffered much less the decline, because July, August and September were very good. In terms of overall result, at the end of the season their result will probably be very similar to last year. It is true that revenues have fallen, but so have costs. While before the hope was to lose as little as possible, at the end of the season many companies not only did not lose but confirmed the result.

Camping Business: The fear, especially in the world of camping solution providers, is that 2021 is a year of stagnation, where owners will not invest to modernize their facilities. Is it a concrete fear?

Gianfranco Vitali: Yes, it is. If nothing else, there will be a decision-making delay, because this pandemic has by no means disappeared and there is a daily uncertainty in the epidemic curve that does not give us any security on 2021. Tackling major investments is a decision that many are postponing at this time.

Camping Business: What did you have to change in the campsites to satisfy the Italian customer, while the foreign customer is missing? Have you had to change attitudes, menus, prices or some services because the Italian customer has different needs?

Gianfranco Vitali: Let’s say that in Emilia-Romagna the majority of our customers have always been Italian, at least in the campsites. The changes were therefore almost nil, because the structures were already organized for Italian campers. Those structures accustomed to working with foreigners, who had to change some habits of entertainment, menus or timetables, for restaurants for example, had more difficulties. Those who have had to adapt to working with Italians, however, from the aspect of catering have recorded important positive results, because the average expense of an Italian customer at the restaurant is higher than that of a German, at least on our Riviera.

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