AboutcampBtoB interviews Uwe Frers, CEO of ADAC Camping, a division of Germany’s biggest membership organisation, ADAC
Words Antonio Mazzucchelli
photo Enrico Bona
Responsible for publishing a digital magazine and a website (which recently changed its name from ADAC Camping World to PiNCAMP) with over 5,500 campsites in Europe available to book, Aboutcamp BtoB asked Uwe Frers about the current camping industry, and its future.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How long have you been CEO of ADAC Camping, and what are your previous career highlights?
Uwe Frers: I started at ADAC Camping in November 2017, which means I have been the CEO for over two years. I have been involved in online businesses for 23 years. I started my career at a German media group and I have also been the assistant to the General Manager of the Handelsblatt Group in Dusseldorf where I created its first online business. In 2000, which is now 20 years ago, I went to my first start-up in the financial industry, and now I am at PiNCAMP, which is the fourth new venture I have created. My dream and focus is creating ideas and getting teams together to do something new and see it grow.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The report you presented at CMT 2020 said the demand for camping is increasing but there are not enough pitches. Can you explain this in more detail?
Uwe Frers: There are two parts to this: the manufacturers and the consumers. We can see rising numbers of consumers stepping in to the camping market every year. In Germany, more than 80,000 leisure vehicles were sold last year, which is another double digit increase compared to the year before. These people are interested in creating great camping experiences, but are also looking for campsites and we can see a stagnation in the rise in the number of pitches available on campsites in Germany and the rest of Europe.
The number of campsites in Europe is decreasing which means there are less pitches available. Sometimes new campsites are created but these, and the existing campsites, are tending to invest more in mobile homes instead of camping pitches. The result is that there are more and more camping-orientated consumers looking for campsites, but there are less and less pitches available for them, so the market is really confusing. We now have to find a solution. We launched PiNCAMP one year ago because we know that 20 years ago campers were able to decide where to stay once they arrived somewhere, but there’s no chance of that today and booking ahead is often essential. If you are a family wanting to stay somewhere for two weeks in the main season you have to book several months in advance. It’s pretty much the same for couples too at peak times; rather than going from campsite to campsite when they want to like they used to, they also need to pre-book. Therefore, the strategy for PiNCAMP is to have a platform with all the rates and availability available online so users can pre-check which campsites are available.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The same report highlights that one third of German campers stay in Germany for their holidays. How has this ratio changed over the years?
Uwe Frers: I think the German market is booming even more than the southern European region, and the only reason for this is the changing weather conditions. In 2018, for example, it was an amazing summer in Germany with more than six weeks without rain, and even last year was pretty good. We can see a really high increase in overnight stays in Germany and our publishing business has seen an increase in books with information for holidays in Germany and the north of Europe, whereas sales of books for southern Europe (e.g. Italy, Croatia, Spain and France) have not grown.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You have calculated that 22.8 percent of German campers with caravans come to Italy, while 22.7 percent stay in Germany. For motorhomes, the ratio changes in an important way: 34 percent remain in Germany and only 13.2 percent go to Italy. Why do you think these statistics for caravans and motorhomes vary so much?
Uwe Frers: That is quite easy to explain. The caravans are more likely to be families who want guaranteed good weather for their main holiday, so they’re not prepared to take a chance, but a motorhome owner might be happier to risk it. A family with a maximum of two or three week holiday available in the summer will usually choose a campsite with a beach or a water attraction and good weather conditions. Even though Germany has had great some summer weather, the conditions are always more guaranteed in southern Europe, like Italy. Motorhome owners are more likely to be 55+ and do a lot of short stays where they only have to travel up to 300km, stay at a campsite or Stellplatz to visit a city, and then go home. For families in a caravan, southern Europe is still a major target. Motorhome owners may choose southern Europe for extended trips but stay closer to home for shorter trips, which is why Germany is quite important for them.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You have highlighted an increase in the trend for winter camping. Can you tell us more about this phenomenon?
Uwe Frers: Winter camping is quite an important subject that has grown by something like 26 percent compared to previous years. This is because more campsites are open in the winter, especially in the Alps where people want to get a holiday in the snow around Christmas time or in January and February. The other reason is that the average price for a new motorhome is €72,000, so if someone has invested that much they will be interested in taking as many holidays or breaks as possible in it.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The phenomenon of ‘vanlife’ full-timers and young and independent campers is very interesting, but how can they be attracted to conventional campsites. What are your thoughts on this?
Uwe Frers: This is interesting from two viewpoints – the manufacturers and the campsites. The market now is quite different compared to 20 years ago when there were not so many campervans available so younger people probably bought one that was 25 years old with several previous owners and then used it for 15 years. Today, the younger buyers are 35 years old with dual incomes, no children and are prepared to invest €60-70,000 in a super-equipped camper that is very comfortable. They are interested in modern design and convenience and probably already drive a premium car, like a BMW, with a second car, like a Mini Cooper. They are style orientated consumers. This means the manufacturers have to focus on a new target group which is much more modern. The ‘vanlifers’ are looking for an experience that is very different from a big, five star campsite and I think the camping industry has to think about how to attract them with new types of offers and new types of campsites. For example, yesterday, I spoke to someone who intends to create a forest campsite with huge amounts of space for everybody and where campervans and vanlife people can be fully in nature. They are looking for freedom and nature, whereas a campsite offers security and a different kind of nature. The two offer very different experiences.
Aboutcamp BtoB: Another point of interest is the eco-sustainability of camping holidays. What are ADAC’s relationships with the EU Ecolabel and ECOCAMPING brands? And what is your advice in this area for owners of European campsites?
Uwe Frers: There has been a long co-operation between ECOCAMPING and ADAC Camping, and we have supported them from the beginning. It’s important to be active in this sector today, whereas 20 years ago nobody really cared about ECO and sustainability topics, but this has all changed. There was an important speech at the ADAC Camping Gala which said our children, the new generation of 14 to 16 year olds, have a totally different mindset; for example, there are children who tell their parents they do not want to go on holiday by aeroplane anymore. The new generation is much stricter and I think it is the time to not only talk about this, but make changes. Therefore, it is the right time for the industry to think about what can be changed. This is a major topic so we must think about how we can combine economic interests and eco-interests. I’m sure the industry can find ways to earn more money by being eco-friendly.
Aboutcamp BtoB: You have 134 Superplatze (superpitches), which is about 20 percent more than in 2019. Does that mean that several campsites have invested in quality?
Uwe Frers: When we looked at all the quality metrics of the ADAC inspections, we saw an average increase of one percent, so the quality is improving. There was a big rise in the number of Superplatze pitches, which saw the biggest increase compared to any other category.
If someone is investing in a new campsite (for example: there are some big projects in Croatia, Italy and France), they are focusing on the luxury side because this gives a lot more opportunities to refinance their investment. Sometimes these represent two or three digit million investment opportunities so I think we can see an increase in the professionalism in this sector. There is an increase in chains creating great value at the campsite and brands that represent a quality proposition for consumer, so I think we will see an increase in superplatzes in the future.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The biggest improvement of the average ADAC ratings is in Croatia. Italy is only in third place after Denmark. Do you have an explanation of why this improvement has occurred in Croatia but less so in Italy?
Uwe Frers: There are some top quality regions in Italy with more superplatze pitches than in any other region in Europe. It is quite amazing to see how much they have invested in these sites, not only in hardware, but also in creating great services and teams that really offers value in high season. Italy is doing a great job.
In Croatia, they seem to be hungry to create something new and a big business in camping. They have a lot of experience from the hotel industry and everything is driven by some big chains and the government, which clearly sees tourism as its number one business. Camping is a major driver of revenue for a country, and I think Italy’s problem is that it doesn’t have the political support behind it like Croatia does.
Aboutcamp BtoB: PiNCAMP.de seems to be a big success. What are the next steps? Will you translate it to other languages?
Uwe Frers: We have already started to offer PiNCAMP in other languages. We are launching PiNCAMP.CH in co-operation with the Swiss touring club and then there will be an Italian and French version as well. This is just our first step to becoming international. We have two major goals: getting more campsites bookable online, and rolling it out over Europe as a consumer brand, which is why we changed its name from ADAC Camping to PiNCAMP.
Aboutcamp BtoB: The ADAC Camping Stellplatzführer App 2019 is the first tourism app in Germany to achieve 77,000 sales in 2019. How has the ratio of sales between the hard copy guide and the app changed in recent years? Has there been a significant reduction in sales of the hard copy guide? Do people buy both (the guide and the app), or are you reaching new users who previously did not buy the guide?
Uwe Frers: The hard copy guide market is fairly stagnant but we want to keep our market position as the best-selling guides of their kind in German bookstores. We don’t want to lose market share. The app is a real success story. It is the number one app for camping and travel, and in ninth place for all paid-for apps (except gaming) in Germany. Sales increased by eighteen percent last year, and it has been so successful because it has a combination of campsites and Stellplatz (designated overnight stops for motorhomes). Over 50 percent of people who use the app use motorhomes and like to do those typical three day breaks. As the combination of offering campsites and Stellplatz is so successful, we want to offer this function on PiNCAMP by this summer. We are also adding a separate search function for mobile homes so every type of camping (campsites, Stellplatz and mobile homes) is available on PiNCAMP. There has been a stagnation in the growth of the book business, but a rise in the app and a tremendous increase in our core online business with the reach of the PiNCAMP website increasing by 86 percent compared to the year before. We have a target to increase this by at least another 50 percent in the next few years. Last year, we reached about 7.2 million visits on the PiNCAMP website with about 20 million page views, and we’re sure this will soon be over 30 million. We still believe in printed books though and think there is a new interest in the book business. We have to think about what kind of books the new target groups are looking for. They are not just interested in a list of 5,000 campsites, they want more inspirational books with a lot of emotional content and pictures but less details. They want to see where they can get a real emotional experience, so we are preparing new concepts in co-operation with the second biggest media group in Germany for travel literature to create inspirational ‘coffee table’ books. We will launch the first two books this year (2020) and then two to three books every year. They are for a clear target group of people, for example, those that want luxury camping or the popular topic of camping with kids, and will have more pictures and emotion to describe what fun it is to go camping.