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Campervan essentials: Navigating the promise vs. reality gap.


Campervan essentials: Navigating the promise vs. reality gap.

My daughter has always been an adventurous traveller. Since she was a baby, she has enjoyed travelling by car, tube, train, boat, and plane. My wife, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.


Two years ago, when my daughter was six, we decided to rent a campervan and go to Croatia and Italy for a couple of weeks. After some research, I settled for the campervan rental place I pass by daily. The vans were a bit more expensive, but the company seemed well-established, and the co-owner, who handles the sales, was very helpful and friendly.


When I explained that it would just be me and my daughter on the trip south, he suggested a smaller C-Class campervan. It had everything we needed without any unnecessary weight or height, making it perfect for two people.


Well, not quite. It was only after I left that I realised the campervan didn't have air conditioning. The helpful guy didn't mention this, and I missed the fact that it wasn't on the roof. Let me assure you, sleeping in a campervan without natural airflow or air conditioning in July in Croatia and Italy is absolutely dreadful.


Another disappointment was the equipment. When you rent a campervan loaded with "everything you need for a perfect trip," you expect to find, well, everything you need for a perfect trip. At the campsite, I realised that many practical items were missing. It would have been handy to have an outdoor mat, a lighter for the gas hobs, a knife that actually cut through things, a wash basin for dishes, a clothesline, and many, many other simple things.


Now, I take responsibility for not considering these things beforehand. I guess I subconsciously fell for the "we'll take care of everything from A to Z" line. In the end, I bought all at the campsite. Still, I couldn't help but think about the families who had saved money for their dream adventure, only to spend a chunk of it on necessities or go without them. I'm sure that wasn't the experience they were looking for.


There were also many little issues related to the campervan itself. Personally, I am pretty technical and hold a CE / DE driving license. So, driving a lumbering van with a very high centre of gravity and a side reminisant of a sail and working out how to operate the many switches, locks, and features everywhere didn't bother me. Yet, I noticed many other campers who struggled with reversing into their pitch, levelling the van, connecting electricity, opening the awning, or securing the accommodation properly. These minor problems must have been quite frustrating for them, and not having any of it properly explained beforehand must have spoiled their otherwise perfect holiday.


When I returned, I described all these niggles to the owner. He listened patiently, but it all fell on deaf ears. He didn't see the value in providing mats and wash basins, even if people were willing to pay extra. He didn't believe there was a connection between experiences and customer loyalty either. Apparently, customers would always return because he had shinny new vans.


I rented two more campervans from them for different holidays a year later, but their approach remained the same. There was a lot of interest before the payment but zero communication after. Not a single email the day after I left asking how things were going or if I needed any assistance. Not a single email the day after I returned asking about my experience or any feedback or suggestions.


I guess it all boiled down to the fact that he saw himself in the vehicle rental business rather than the holiday experience business.


We are renting a campervan for two weeks again this year, but from a different place. The total disregard for customer experience was enough for me to look elsewhere. I'll have to drive an extra 60 miles, the vans might be a few months older, and the experience may not be any better. The thing is, over the two weeks, I'll save enough money to cover the Eurotunnel tickets. Since that is the only differentiating factor, why wouldn't I?


I noticed something interesting as I drove by the local rental place this morning. It's the end of May, yet their lot is still full of vans waiting to be rented. Have people switched to less expensive providers due to the lack of any differentiator?

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