Outdoor holidays go up-market

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
lodge owned by Parkdean

a lodge at Gatebeck Holiday Park © Parkdean Resorts UK

Demand for camping, caravans and holiday parks remains strong in Europe, particularly in the key markets of the UK and France say Clearwater International – a corporate finance house that takes a particular interest in the outdoor holiday market.

Clearwater’s latest analysis says that holidaymakers are increasingly paying attention to comfort and quality rather than basic needs and this is the sector that is likely to see significant growth in the future.

Consumers are seeking more regular breaks, enjoy being closer to home, and value a safe, relaxing, outdoor family environment.

The European outdoor accommodation market is the second largest in the world after the US, with up to three million pitches at around 29,000 campsites. 27% of all pitches are in France, 19% are to be found in the UK and 12% in the Netherlands, meaning probably over half of all camping holidays in Europe take place in just three countries.

It isn’t the case anymore that you just pack a tent or tow a caravan and pitch up at a camping site. The market is much more sophisticated than in the past. You can now simply drive up and rent pre-erected tents, caravans and lodges. Lodges can be more exotic than some hotel rooms and contain a number of bedrooms as well as luxuries such as Jacuzzis and even, in some cases, butler service.

static homes at Kidwelly in Wales

In the future it might even be that some lodges rival those that you find in up-scale resorts in Fiji, in the Caribbean or in southern Africa.

On a quick ring-around I found that, whereas a tent pitch might cost under £15 for the night, a lodge could cost you £400 for the week and that is on a par with a hotel room.

Decades ago, camping sites were the domain of single-site owners or farmers who were looking to supplement declining farming income with some extra cash. Many have stayed this way but some expanded, buying nearby sites and creating family holiday companies like Shorefield Holidays. At the other end of the scale, conglomerates have been buying up sites so that a company like Parkdean, which merged with Park Resorts, now has 73 sites.

Now this once seemingly old-fashioned industry has become much more profitable, it has become more attractive to investors and has good growth prospects.

secluded camping on a farm

For the holidaymaker this means that the offerings have expanded and the image of a field somewhere near the sea or on a farm has been replaced by a modern picture of a site with many more amenities. No longer is the holiday park or caravan site a by-product of something else but a powerful industry in its own right.

As this type of holiday has altered, Clearwater sees holidaymakers driving the future.

It says that we are seeking more regular holidays or short breaks and that owning a holiday home or taking more regular holidays is driving demand.

Because sites are increasingly providing a full range of leisure and social activities with demand particularly strong for high-quality swimming pools, water parks and sports facilities, they are becoming more attractive to holidaymakers who might never have considered this type of holiday before.

Holidaymakers want comfort and quality at reasonable prices, says Clearwater, and mobile homes and lodges can provide this. For those seeking a holiday home for more frequent holidays, a mobile home or lodge, it suggests, can offer significantly better value than purchasing a property. In an area like west Wales where there is a mix of holiday homes and caravan parks as well as static mobile home sites and lodges, will there be a shift away from holiday home lettings in the future as the holiday parks provide even more amenities for us?

Clearwater also says that holidaymakers are seeking holidays which are nature-friendly and offer a sense of freedom for families and that is driving operators to not only improve the quality of the accommodation  but to improve the holiday experience so that holidaymakers make repeat bookings. For example, in the UK, many parks are increasing the availability of lodges compared to caravans.

Like the rest of the holiday industry, online booking capability is becoming increasingly important and is particularly high in the UK with the rest of Europe now also catching up. Companies like Pitchup are making it easier to just complete one-stop shopping by booking campsites, glamping sites, caravan sites and holiday parks at just the one online visit.

Given all this change, Clearwater estimates that the number of rented pitches across Western Europe has doubled to around 550,000 over the past five years and that growth will continue. It also thinks that the upgrading of the market towards 3*, 4* and 5* sites will also continue.

green camper van

Indie Campers making camper vans trendy and modern

For the future, it looks as though there will be more consolidation as companies try to gobble up those camping,  caravan and static mobile and lodge sites that offer the best locations. In the last couple of years, two of the most well-known brands, Eurocamp and Canvas Holidays have been taken over.

What it means for us holidaymakers if Clearwater is right is that we should continue to see ever-improving facilities, a range of accommodation from basic to luxury and a holiday that is as far removed from the old Carry on Camping film as it is possible to be.


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