Reading material for those who love the camping life

By: Hans Kristiansen, Hotel, Restaurant & Tourism (HRR)
Motorhome and Caravan magazine, No. 2 March 2020

Topcamp expands: Chain with 6 campsites

In December last year, Topcamp bought another of Norway's best-known campsites, Sjøsanden by Mandal, thus having six of the country's most popular campsites. But that does not stop there. - «Our goal is to build a chain, where we will own and operate the best campsites in Norway. We now have six large campsites and the next goal is to get six more, "- says the entrepreneur Thorstein Berg in this interview.

The camping market in Norway is growing, not least in the motorhome segment. The interesting thing is that the growth also comes in the shoulder seasons, this also applies to foreign guests, especially from Germany. This is because both cabins and sanitary facilities now maintain a much higher standard than before. "At Bogstad, we are now building a new service building and 12 terraced cabins, the cabins will be ready by the summer, while the service building will be completed next winter" - says Thorstein Berg and continues: - "Last summer we opened a new Kiwi store. We are now working with Odd Ivar Solvold to create an attractive restaurant concept. The restaurant, of 450 sqm, has a view of Bogstadvannet. It will be a mix of brasserie / bistro / bakery, open all day »-.

Village house

Part of the restaurant will be like a parish house, where it will be possible to hold meetings and arrange parties. Topcamp has received inquiries from three or four restaurant groups who want to operate there. Operator will be chosen for the summer and the restaurant will be ready next winter. Berg believes that the potential for a good restaurant in this area is huge. The restaurant should reach a turnover of between 35 and 40 million kroner in the course of 2-3 years. - "We have so far invested around 50 million kroner at Bogstad and expect to reach 150 million when everything is finished" -, says Thorstein Berg

Restaurant Operations

- «At Sjøsanden we also have a restaurant, Stjerna, which is run by Mandalitten Restaurantdrift. We will focus on what we are good at, and then we will get those who are good at restaurant operations to do so. We budget with a turnover of around NOK 100 million in 2020 in the six places we currently have. During 2020, we are also investing in getting two to four new campsites into Topcamp, and then gradually increasing, so that the business starts to grow a little "-, says Thorstein Berg.

High expectations

Berg says that today's camping guests have high demands on comfort and service. Topcamp is looking for new places that can be quickly improved to a relatively high level. There must also be attractions nearby, TC will not build the destination itself. - «In Ål we have built the destination, while at Bogstad, for example, we have everything around us. Many of the campsites are located in fantastic places, with beautiful nature, beaches, etc. We are now thinking of a little round trip concept, so it is natural that we move towards Vestlandone and a little north in Central Norway. We have received a good number of inquiries after we have become a little known and are in dialogue with someone "-, says Berg.

Development

- «No new campsites are being built, so when we are going to expand, there are existing pitches we are talking about. We are looking for places with development potential, where we may have to invest something to raise quality, as we have now committed to do on Sjøsanden. Among other things, the sanitary facility is being upgraded sharply. Eventually there will also be more cabins with a higher standard. At Sjøsanden, we have a 40-year contract with Mandal municipality, we own the buildings and are responsible for the operation. In total, we will invest NOK 30-50 million there over the next four to five years. At Mjøsa Ferie- og Fritidssenter we have bought 100 acres extra and have plans for a theme park and new cabins, here we are talking about investments of just over 50 million kroner over the next two years. But it is profitable to invest in comfortable cabins. At Hallingdal Feriepark, the cabins, which cost NOK 1,2 million to build, have an annual turnover of around NOK 300.000 per cabin, so we get the effort back in four years "- says Thorstein Berg. 

Commercial leader

Torbjørn Slåtto was last year hired as commercial manager, he has a solid background in the tourism industry from both tour operators, charters and the hotel chains First and Nordic Choice. His family has for many years run Onsakervika Camping near Hønefoss, which was bought by Topcamp last year. - «I have long called for a consolidation of the camping industry in Norway, it is far too fragmented, with mostly small, family-owned places. In almost all other countries, there are larger chains and structures in the industry. Most people have enough of theirs and everyone tries to be equally good at distribution, HR and technical operations. The requirements for those who run campsites are being tightened all the time, those who run a medium-sized campsite have to deal with around 17 different public control bodies, it is almost like running a hotel with 200 rooms. On the distribution side, the demands have also become greater, at the same time as one has to be the host "-, says Slåtto.

Competency

- «The digital world places great demands on competence and background that many of the drivers do not currently have. Therefore, we build the entire chain structure on that we can include campsites, regardless of which PMS system they have. We offer joint branding, purchasing, loyalty programs, distribution systems, and more. The goal is to make everyday life easier for drivers, so that they can focus on the important hosting role. We have also recently hired an operations manager with extensive experience from camping, so we have a good platform for further growth. When we make significant investments, it is important to get operations up for as large a part of the year as possible. On an annual basis, there are naturally most Norwegian guests, followed by Germans and Dutch "- says Slåtto.

More places

- «We take care of marketing and most things that have to do with IT, HR functions, finance and operations. We will add more services over time. We have an ambition to gather quite a few campsites in Topcamp, perhaps a total of between 30 and 40 pitches in the long run. We set high quality requirements, so the number is limited. The places must have development potential and a certain minimum turnover, so we often say no thank you. Internationally, there is great development in camping, in the Netherlands and Germany camping is particularly strong. There is also a lot going on in Italy, where there are many advanced campsites, some offering spas, for example. In the Netherlands, they have campsites with hotels integrated and are more of a kind of resort. Wifi is a must, there must be a wireless network everywhere on today's campsites "-, concludes Torbjørn Slåtto.

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