Hello reader! Are you perusing this article as a newcomer to Practical Motorhome because, having decided that quarantine restrictions mean you are unlikely to be going on a foreign holiday, renting a motorhome to explore this island and see what all the fuss is about seems like a very good idea?
If so, you are not on your own. Many people are so eager to do the same that, even if the motorhome hire industry is still waiting until the Government allows caravan parks to open again on 4th July, they are already making bookings.
They have, no doubt, grasped the many benefits that hiring a motorhome can bring you – benefits that, by the time you finish reading this article, may well be of interest if you already have your own vehicle, but are looking to try something different.
Such an unexpected boom is good news for the industry, which earlier in the year had been reeling from the loss of business on the Easter weekend, traditionally the bumper start to the annual hiring calendar.
Matt Sims, director of the Motorhome Holiday Company, thinks this was quite a low point to bounce back from. His company commissioned a survey of over 70 motorhome hire firms in the UK (yes, there are many, of all shapes and sizes), and they reported an average of £1000 of business lost per motorhome over just that one Easter week. And with an estimated 2500 motorhomes for hire throughout the UK, that could add up to an overall loss of £2.5m.
Bookings on the rise
But now Matt says his own company, based in Bristol but operating nationwide, is seeing bookings for this summer and beyond that are eight to 10 times what they would be normally.
“Some 80% of the enquiries we are receiving have never enquired with us before. We suspect most have never considered a motorhome holiday before. It’s very exciting,” he says.
It’s a similar story with Just Go Motorhomes, another nationwide and European operator. Director Sarah Roach says they are currently seeing enquiries at last year’s levels, but based on their research, they expect things to get a lot busier. “Owing to what we predict will be unprecedented demand for staycations this summer, we believe demand will outstrip supply,” she explains.
Home from home
Swift Go, a motorhome hire company that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Swift Group, had even more of a setback earlier this year, because, according to general manager Kevin Foulkes, it was just about to open its third depot, near Heathrow Airport, when lockdown struck.
The cancellation of summer music festivals was also a blow. Kevin says this is a key market for a company that has identified that “an increasing number of people are transitioning towards the ‘home from home’ comforts of a motorhome, rather than spending days under canvas”.
But now he is optimistic again, and believes a boom is likely this summer because of the uncertainty over quarantine rules.
Indie Campers, a Portuguese campervan hire company with depots all across Europe, including the UK, has also seen a rise in bookings, and in particular, domestic bookings. Director Hugo Oliveira says, “Historically, our British customers have a majority of bookings abroad, but recently, domestic bookings account for more than 62.5% of UK total online bookings created in May 2020, compared with 2019, when 93% of our May bookings were for abroad.”
The company has already seen a similar uplift in another European country whose citizens usually have a penchant for hiring campervans to tour abroad: “For May, after Germany removed travel restrictions, over 84% of our large number of German bookings are domestic. We expect similar patterns in the UK once the country opens up later this summer.”
Less hassle to hire
So is hiring a ‘van for this summer’s holiday a good way to see if motorcaravanning is for you? It certainly saves a lot of the hassle involved in looking for one to buy, then equipping it.
Gone are the days when you had to travel for miles to find a hire depot. They are now spread across the whole of the country, often in locations that are easy to reach by public transport.
You obviously need to read the small print, but most large companies can also provide you with a fully equipped ‘van, and possibly even arrange insurance. (And if you aren’t going abroad, thus is likely to be cheaper.)
There could be other extras thrown in. Swift Go, for example, which has rental periods of as little as three nights, offers customers temporary membership of the Caravan and Motorhome Club, with preferential rates at more than 2000 parks.
Some hire companies are also offering special discounts to celebrate reopening. Somerset-based Chelston Motorhomes, for example, has a 10% discount on all 2020 bookings that are made before 31 August. And with its bookings, you also get temporary club membership – this time of The Camping and Caravanning Club.
Nowadays you get a wide choice of model, too. The Motorhome Holiday Company has a large selection of Adria and Sun Living (Matt himself is a former Adria dealer), and the fleet now includes Chausson, Roller-Team, Hobby, Pilote, and, this year for the first time, Swift.
Although the company does supply a wide range of family-sized overcabs and low-profiles, some with bunks, they are not the only models it offers. “Our A-class Pilotes are very popular and unusual to see on a hire fleet,” says Matt.
Manchester-based Freedhome, meanwhile, offers a wide range of special-edition models produced by the likes of Roller-Team. Managing director Jason Mawdsley says its island-bed ‘vans are particularly popular at the moment.
Anyone going with Swift Go, meanwhile, has the reassurance of potential back-up from one of Britain’s biggest motorhome manufacturers.
But given the upsurge in first-timers looking to hire, the rental companies themselves are taking extra steps to add confidence, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. If, for example, you arrive at a Just Go depot to pick up your vehicle, you will be shown around the outside of it by a member of staff and then shown a video of how it works once you are inside. But if you prefer, you can have this video sent to you beforehand, so you can familiarise yourself with the vehicle in your own time.
Refining your choice
This year, to help first-timers, the Motorhome Holiday Company has added a comparison grid to its website, so you can refine which models are best for you. There is also a ‘walk through’ page to guide you through the process.
As you would expect, all companies are paying even closer attention to cleaning the ‘vans before dispatch. All Chelston’s models, for example, are deep cleaned beforehand. Social distancing is also rigorously followed on collection day.
To reassure its customers further, Swift Go is offering a 100% refund or postponement without penalty if new Government restrictions mean the depot is closed on your chosen pick-up date, you can’t travel because of those restrictions, or one of you has to self-isolate.
Support continues when you are on the road. “We have a robust ‘on road support department’ to support our clients while out on hire,” says Just Go’s Sarah Roach.
So is all this enough to entice customers who already own a motorhome to hire one instead – at least to see what a new model could offer? There are companies out there – both hire companies and manufacturers – who do offer a ‘Try Before You Buy’ scheme.
Swift Go does this: it offers a full refund of the cost of seven nights’ hire if you go on to buy a new Swift motorhome within six months of the rental period.
Van converter Auto Campers offers something similar. It has broadened into campervan hire with partners in England and Scotland (where bookings are already near capacity for April and May 2021), but anyone who hires from any of its locations gets £500 back from the cost of the hire if they go on to buy an Auto Camper.
Indie Campers says it does get requests from motorhome owners who want to try out a specific new model, although this centres on its fleet of Volkswagen Californias. Owing to its European range, the company says it does see interest from British motorhome owners who, for example, want to travel to Portugal but don’t want the expense (and depreciation) of getting there.
Just Go offers something of the kind in reverse, and this year, because of the pandemic, there is still time to take part.
Its Euro Lease Italy Collection offers customers the chance to fly out to Tuscany, where Just Go’s motorhomes are made, and then drive a model at their own pace back to the UK, often with free insurance and ferry crossings. This event usually takes place in March and April. But this year it has been delayed until August and September. If you are interested, contact the Just Go office.
Hiring versus buying
Some claim that new thinking makes hiring more attractive. “We regularly see people challenging their decision to own. Ownership is not always the best option for everyone,” says Matt Sims.
At Indie Campers, they see things from a more environmental perspective. “Campervan rental services focus on the importance of the sharing economy. An emphasis on renting ensures the campers have a higher density of days on the road, as opposed to newly purchased parked campervans,” says Hugo Oliveira.
No matter what your opinion, it’s clear that motorhome rental is here to stay.
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Given the upsurge in first-timers looking to hire, motorhome rental companies themselves are taking extra steps to add confidence