“We must give back to the campers what belongs to the campers…” can be read on the site of the petition “Save the real camping”. With 10,000 signatures, campers and campsite managers are mobilizing to defend bare pitches, these sites dedicated to motorhomes, caravans, tents or other fitted vans. With the rise in range in recent years of outdoor accommodation, mobile homes and rental pitches have established themselves in the landscape of campers, in favor of bare pitches, which are less profitable.

“Real camping is part of French culture, it must be preserved,” said Olivier Lemercier, creator of the petition. “As manager of a campsite, I want to protect my profession, its know-how and the brand image of this activity” he defends. Launched two months ago with two other people, a retiree and a committed citizen, the group now represents around a hundred establishments. “We estimate between 7 and 10% the number of campsites that no longer have a pitch to accommodate campers”, which contributes to the deterioration of the image of this activity. According to figures from the collective, it is a loss of “3%” per year of bare pitches in favor of mobile homes. In 2021, there would be 411,000 bare pitches out of a total of 657,000 pitches, according to INSEE figures.

Without questioning the evolution of campsites towards more comfort and the installation of mobile homes, the collective would like establishments to have the obligation to have a minimum of bare pitches to be recognized as a campsite. “We need to introduce a form of social responsibility,” says Olivier Lemercier. With 190 euros per week on average in 2021, for a bare pitch for four people compared to 490 euros for rental accommodation (figures from the FNHPA), the calculation is quick for investors.

The leisure sociologist and professor at the University of Rouen, Olivier Sirost, speaks of a real “gentrification of campsites”. The disappearance of bare land has economic consequences for holidaymakers. “We realize that 2 out of 5 French people no longer go on vacation”, he explains, “people with camping equipment will then mobilize it at home”. Beyond the economic aspect, it is also a questioning of “social gains from the popular front such as free time and the right to have vacation time”, adds the sociologist. This is the opinion shared by Guéna, the creator of the Facebook group Caravane et Camping, which advises and references campsites in France: “Camping-caravanning was, at the base, intended for escape and freedom of classes social workers’.

“The legislation helps to understand the evolution of the supply of campsites”, explains the sociologist. To name just a few dates: in the 1980s, a decree was issued on residential leisure parks, which recognized new types of campsites, with mobile homes and fewer pitches devoted to tents and caravans. In 2010, a fifth star for campsites was introduced.

Beyond the legislative aspect, “technical and market developments” must be taken into account, he continues. Associative and municipal campsites have been in decline for around thirty years: “Municipalities have had their land bought out by private promoters”. The offer has become mostly private. Establishments quickly moved upmarket and now mostly have Wi-Fi, bars, restaurants, swimming pools… ‘Atout France and INSEE. “We are entering into a logic of the disappearance of bare pitches to move towards more comfort”, confides the sociologist.

With the disappearance of bare land, a whole typology of tourists is set to disappear, warns manager Olivier Lemercier, such as itinerant tourists and international tourists. What’s more, “camping is a perfect reflection of society, a faithful distribution of CSP (socio-professional category)”, describes the sociologist. It is mostly retirees and working classes who take the tent and the caravan to go on vacation, inheriting a family tradition. Senior executives go more to campsites rated 4 or 5 stars.

The very image of the tent has been overturned. “She has become a symbol of social struggles,” explains the sociologist. And on the other side, a luxurious campsite has developed in the image of Glamping (contraction of glamor and camping) where it becomes possible to sleep in unusual and very comfortable places. But “isn’t there an opposition between the word chic and the word camping?” exclaims Guéna, upon seeing an establishment called “Clicochic”, which does not offer pitches for caravans.

Regarding the petition, Nicolas Dayot, president of the national federation of outdoor hotels (FNHPA), has reservations. “We didn’t understand… We have 51% of bare pitches in France, it’s the European country that accounts for the most,” he says. In addition, few campsites only offer equipped spaces. Bare pitches would even, according to him, make a resounding comeback with a 30% increase in bookings this summer. Equipped pitches remain the most in demand but, for him, this demand is stabilizing: “We will arrive at 50/50 between the two types of pitches”. In 2021, the occupancy rate of bare land was 31% compared to 49.8% for those equipped, according to INSEE figures.

The evolution of demand has brought campsites towards more comfort and luxury. The increase in turnover, generated by the installation of rental pitches, has made it possible to make campsites “more equipped and attractive than 40 years ago”, adds Nicolas Dayot. For this outdoor establishment manager, “it is the complementarity of the two that makes the model a winner”. He therefore opposes the establishment of a standard or a quota on bare pitches: “Let’s not add constraints to constraints, it would be madness, especially when there is no problem”.

Establishments with mobile homes or chalets have attracted new customers, often referred to as “neo-campers”. “I may not just make friends, but I think new campers do their own harm […] because unfortunately there is more and more demand for campsites that are not says Françoise, camper and member of the Caravane et Camping group.

Outdoor establishments with more comfort have taken “a spotlight over the past 15 years with the series of Camping films by Fabien Onteniente”, says the sociologist. However, this development is not to everyone’s taste. “When I’m looking for a campsite, I absolutely don’t want the kind of things you see a lot in France: entertainment, large swimming pools, aperitifs at everyone’s house,” says Françoise. A camper for sixty years, she appreciates this activity which is affordable for her “small budget”. “When I want to return to an establishment that I know, the pitches have been replaced by lodges, chalets or permanent houses which are therefore much more expensive,” she confides.

Guéna created this Facebook group after having had a similar experience. “With my husband, we found ourselves one day in front of a small campsite by the river which was no longer a campsite… It had been transformed into a motorhome area. It shocked me,” she says. Similar experience for Gérard and his wife. Arrived two years ago at a campsite for a holiday on the Island of Oléron, they were only two caravans out of more than 300 mobile homes. “What more can I say, we were a curiosity…”, he concludes.