A split on the “Belpaese”, which has a long tradition in the use of motorhomes and caravans and where, finally, there are signs of market recovery.
Words Gianni Picilli
In 2017 open air tourism in Italy marks its 85th anniversary (its forebear was Luigi Bergera, later co-founder of the F.I.C.C. – Fédération Internationale de Camping, Caravanning et Autocaravaning in 1933 and Confedercampeggio in 1950). The movement started in the name of tent and caravan and initially it was reserved only for the very wealthy. Over time open air tourism adapted to the way society was evolving, thus starting in the Eighties it gradually focused less and less on tents and more and more on motor caravans. If truth be told, the development and habits of Italian campers were such that “caravans” were mostly confined to trailer parks to the advantage of motorcaravans and to the detriment of tents. Today, probably due to the financial crisis, the Country somehow underwent a true revolution. Tents, in new shapes and sizes, are back on trend, especially among young travellers, if they are already fully fitted. Caravans are no longer manufactured in the Country, but imported in a very small number: about 1,000 units/year. Nevertheless, the number of vehicles on the road is particularly remarkable and in 2016 counts with as many as 189,599 units, of which only 30,000 circa (as at 2016) are less than 20 years old. Motorcaravans, after years of glory and after spreading everywhere (an average of 12-15,000 vehicles per year between 2000 and 2008), today, because of economic issues, in lack of a single and clear regulation and because of too many legal disputes, the number of registrations dropped in the part years to 3-4,000 vehicles per year, even though the trend appears to be reversing. This is also why over 30% of vehicles on the road (year 2015: 87,333) is over 20 years old out of a total number of vehicles on the road of 281,687 recreational vehicles. Probably the economic reasons and the disputes of the past decade on the driving and parking regulations on motorcaravans pushed a steadily and slightly – at least since 2008 – growing number of people towards vehicles with length of approximately 6.00 m, very easy to handle and fitted with a smaller, yet adequate, number of accessories: the panel vans. Also in Italy over the past 8-10 years the “van” market moved from 7% to about 17% of total produced and registered vehicles. After all there must be a market rationale if some foreign manufacturers have opened dedicated plants in the Country to manufacture their vans. Many of the interviewed readers who own a van stated to have chosen that type of purchase (a good percentage had already experimented with coach-built and low-profile vehicles) not just because it incurs less management and maintenance costs, but also because it’s easier to park in city centres without wreaking havoc among traffic wardens. A survey among Confedercampeggio members showed that 93.4% of them own a motorcaravan, while the remaining 6.6% uses a caravan. Breaking down the number by categories, 53.3% prefer coach-built/motorhomes; 23,4% low profile vehicles, while the remaining 23.3% prefer camper vans. Considering that between 2005 and 2007 low profile production ranged between 37.4% and 39.5%, then it may be derived that in the past eight years the preference of our Members have changed, since low profile purchases went down while panel vans are slightly increasing. Without a doubt the Italian recreation vehicles market has changed for many years. Not only has the ownership of single Italian brands changed, not only were some Italian factories displaced somewhere else in the Country (including internal restructuring in terms of number of operators), but also the preferences of Italian customers changed as an effect of the crisis and technical advancement. The world of open air tourism is changing. People keep going to campsites, but also and mostly in trailer parks (a rather Italian thing). Campsites are turning more and more into actual “resorts”; of course people still sleep in “tents”, better if already pitched and furnished at the campsites. “Mobilhomes”, more and more evolved, equipped and fitted with air conditioning systems, are a safe investments for campsites. Italian tourists are tired of towing their caravans around and are more and more partial to motorcaravans. Those who prefer vans moved from approximately 8% in 2008 to about 17% in 2016 both in Europe and Italy; “low profile” vans are losing ground to the befit of vans, while old coach-built models, so dear to our little children and their mothers, is holding its ground. In summary, it may be said that our industry has gone through a very good streak (Italy in particular) up to 2006-7, then it went deep into a financial crisis between 2008 and 2015 (in Europe the crisis had stopped some years prior). Now, in 2016 and 2017 there were clear and unequivocal signs – finally – pointing to a recovery. Sales and registrations are on the rise, and recreational vehicles are used more frequently. Italian campsites host as many as 4,648,684 Italians (average stay 7.03 nights/year 2016) and as many as 4,613,032 foreigners (average stay 6.47 nights/year 2016); of them, according to Ufficio Italiano Cambi, 1,431,000 came into the Country with a “tent, trailer, caravan or motorcaravan”. In Europe there are almost 6 million recreational vehicles (motorcaravans and caravans) and every year over 150,000 (81,000 + 72,000) vehicles are registered; on Italian roads there are 477,602 (ACI, 2015) vehicles and almost 5,000 (4,000 +1,000) are registered. Europe counts with over 30,000 campsites. Italy has almost 2,400 motorhome parks (equipped or not) in Europe were not officially surveyed. In Italy approximately 1,240 motorhome parks are run by municipal authorities; 1,600 free or managed privately and about 1,000 in holiday farms. A new complaint: fees are constantly increasing. We are the fifth European nation in terms of manufacture and exports. Number in Italy are also increasing and this is reason for hope in the near future. But we will no going back to 2007 numbers (approx. 15000 motorhome registrations). In Italy there are 80,000 motorcaravans that have been on the road for over 20 years; moreover, more than 100,000 caravans are severely outdated: the number is impressive since those who travel rarely cross path with a caravan bearing Italian plates.