How to Organise a Festival Camping and Avoid the Pitfalls?

How to organise a festival campsite? Should you consider one at your event? And what are the pitfalls? A question for Festicamp owner Geert Naudts.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Hi Geert, welcome to the studio.

Hi Kevin, good afternoon.

Today we're going to talk about a very specific topic. Organizing a camping for your large event or festival. And I notice I say large. Maybe it doesn't need to be large, I don't know.

It doesn't have to be large. Of course there's always, the same as in a festival, at the camp site there's also an economic reality. So you have to have a certain size to make it profitable. But you can build small and big camp sites, of course.

What I wanted to talk about to you, Geert...

Because you work for FestiCamp. And FestiCamp is, and correct me if I'm wrong...

Maybe I should let you answer that question. What is FestiCamp?

Well FestiCamp, it's in the name, is a festival camp site production company. So basically we are doing the same as a production company. Or we always explain it like an architect. What an architect is doing with a building, we will do with a camp site. So we produce. We build. We design. We operate. And so we deliver the whole package in terms of festival camp sites.

Okay, if you look at a festival camp site. What are the major things, as a festival organizer, you need to be aware of? Maybe the biggest pitfalls you need to be aware of when organizing such a thing?

There's one, or basically two, big pitfalls.

The first thing: the problem is a festival camp site, it looks the same as a festival. But it's a little bit like skiing and langlaufing. It looks the same: you do it in winter and you do it in snow. But it isn't the same. There are more differences than things that are the same. And that's the most common mistake festival promoters make when looking at their camp site. You have an idea and it all looks very easy. And you think: oh, we're going to apply this idea. But it will work, possibly, your idea, on your festival, but that the camp site things are different. That's the first, the biggest thing. It's different. It's not the same. It's a different thing.

Secondly, because you have your festival, which is like a huge thing, with a lot of, what we call, gravitations. So everything is kind of sucked into the festival. Which lets the camp site...

We always say camp sites are the stepchildren of the festival industry. So as soon as the festival goes like this, all the attention will go to the festival. And then you're kind of stuck on the camp site. So you need a partner. You need somebody who is dedicated to the camp site. And who will stay on the camp site.

Those are the two biggest things.

But if you look at a camp site and you start with a blank canvas. To say it like that.

Green canvas in our...


Green in this…

In best case. I can imagine it's not always the case. You need to build everything. From water, toilets, showers. Even stores to buy food. What are the things you typically provide for a camp site?

It all starts, of course, with your venue. As green as possible. You need some grass to pitch your tents. And that's already the first thing.

The festival promoter can choose between two fields. And he will take the nicest field for the festival. But at a festival you have wooden floors. You have the drive plates and things like that. But you can only pitch a camp site tent on a grass field. So there's the first struggle. And then of course you need some fencing and some basic site materials. And then, kind of the first primary things, are toilets. Showers, that's a new thing. You don't have showers at a festival. You do have at a camp site. So in terms of water, you have...

You need more water. You also need more sewage. So that's already a big thing to think of. Also in terms of capacities. And then you have to add light, for example, is a good one. Basically, at a festival, you pitch three - four big light poles. But at a camp site people need to sleep. So in the mind of a festival promoter he says: yes, okay, we already booked four big thirteen meter light poles. Yes, you did it very well, but people will not sleep.

No, if such a thing is above your tent.

Yes, but it seems logical. Yes, it's just pitching four light poles. No, it isn't just pitching four light poles. Because the more light you have on a camp site the more mayhem it is. Because people don't sleep. If you make it a little bit more dark people will be calm and will go to sleep. And you will have a very easy night. And then of course you need to look at food and beverage. At routing. Safety, a little bit.

So, basically, the things are in line with the festival. However, you need to approach it from a different angle.

Yes, but there are also less obvious things. Like, for example, an info-point. Explaining where everybody needs to be. Security, like you already mentioned. You want to have it quiet at night, so people can actually sleep. Which is not very easy, I think, if people come from a festival.

Yes, that's also one of the differences between a camp site and a festival: the way people behave. You can be much more, how do you say it, clear towards things that you accept from visitors or not. But when somebody is, I don't know, fighting at your festival, you can just say: okay, go outside. With the bouncers, as they say. But on a camp site, when you have somebody who traveled 1200 kilometers, from the south of France, with his car, and he's drunk, will you put him on the street at four o'clock in a strange village? Or at a big highway? No, you can't just do it.So, often we are in discussion with security who says: yes, this guy or girl, they need to go.

But you can't put them on the street. Yes, you can. But you don't want to...


No, you don't want to take that responsibility.

No. That's your problem.

So, as I say, everything looks the same, but you need to approach it from a different angle.

I know a lot of the campings you organize, you also provide them with tents already available for rent. Is that the new trend in festival camping? That people don't bring their own tents anymore?

I think it was a new trend. I think it's not new anymore. We saw it because I live on camp sites, since 2003. So there you have...

Also my age is now disclosed.

And in 2010 and 2012 we saw that people...

The need and the way people were camping at camp sites...

Yes, there was kind of a shift. There was a higher demand for ease of use. And a higher demand for comfort and extra experience. Those are basically the two things. We, with FestiTent, my other company, offer the ease of use. But then, of course, you also have the glamping. The bell tents, the lodges and so on. Which is basically another segment. So we always say you have the three segments of a camp site.

The regular camp site: people who come with their own tent.

Then you have the ease of use: the FestiTents.

And then you have the glampings.

It's like a city where you have a two-star, a three-star and a five-star hotel.

And we think the market is growing. On average we see between two and three percent of the population, on an average camp site, who is in a pre-pitched accommodation. But in England, our English colleagues, they already have five - six percent. And for example, at the Dreamville, the Tomorrowland camp site, we see around 20% of the people is in a pre-pitched accommodation. So we think the market is huge in terms of pre-pitched accommodations. And it's very important to catch that train being a festival promoter.

Now, we were looking at it, until now, as the production. But you also have the operation of the camping. And I can imagine, if you have several thousands of guests...

You're even larger than the largest hotels And you also need to make sure people sleep in the right... Well, they can decide what tent they want to sleep in themselves. But they have their own spot that needs to be assigned. You also have all that kind of guest relationships going on. On-boarding people and so on.

Yes, indeed. Basically you are running a village with seven, eight, nine, ten, twelve, fifteen thousand people. With fewer resources. You are in a temporary structure. You're, basically, in a field with power and some water. And, also, the people are in a different status, I would say. They are there with their tent so they are, kind of, exposed to nature. To the weather. They are drunk, sometimes. They are badly prepared. They don't...

It started to rain and they only brought a T-shirt, for example. So those are all things you have to deal with, that you have to take into account, when operating a camp site. And the hardest part of that is, and that's also a big difference with the festival: your festival starts, for example, at noon and it ends at one, two, three o'clock. So, basically, when you're at your festival, being a festival promoter, and you see, after five minutes: we made a mistake, the bar, I don't know, is wrong, you close your eyes and you wait for twelve hours. And then you have twelve hours to change. Because then everybody goes home or to the camp site and you have your venue to your own. You can do whatever...

If you want you can turn the main stage upside-down.

But then a camp site, it's opening on Friday, at noon and it closes on Monday. Twenty-four hours, there is something. There is the need for something. People need some things. So you never have, kind of, the safe time or the pause to change things. Which is also very difficult.

And for example: crew catering. It's a little piece of the puzzle but we need...

We have, sometimes, more people awake at night than during the day. So, we also need crew catering at four o'clock in the morning. Because people are working for twelve hours during the night. So if you're depending on the crew catering on the festival, you will have nothing. And that's also a discussion we have, a lot, with festival promoters. Because you have breakfast, lunch and dinner. But with us, breakfast is at seven o'clock in the evening. For half of our people. So that's an interesting...

Yes, it's a different world.

And, just out of curiosity, the crew then also sleeps on the camping? They also stay there?

Yes, we made that choice almost twenty years ago. So we didn't work with a lot of, what do you call it, football clubs and youth scouting things and so on. We always look for people who want to work for us. Who we pay. And who we ask to stay at the camp site. So people working for us, they enter on Friday and they stay until Monday evening. And it's one big family that stays together. Also to have them present at the venue, in case something would go wrong, you have your crew with you. So there's always one half sleeping and one half working.

Maybe as a last question, if a festival organizer is thinking about: should I start with a camping, yes or no? What are the reasons to do so? Is it a profitable business? For the festival. Are there other reasons you would want to consider?

Well, I will give a consultant answer. It depends.

So, it depends. It's very hard to get a camp site profitable. When you look, only, at the camp site. So, if you ask me: should you do it for the money? I would say: stay out of it. However, what a camp site is doing, it's adding a lot of extra experience to the festival journey.

For example: when you have a three day festival, people come to your festival on Friday. They are with you for eight hours. And then they go home, they come back, they go home. You can't really take them into your story.

On the other hand, when they come on Friday and you can keep them with you, you can pull them into your story. You can pull them into your journey, your experience. And then they go home on Monday with a very good feeling. So that's the biggest profit for a camp site. And of course, the longer they are with you, the more, probably, they will consume. And in terms of that. So it's very difficult to look at the Profits & Lost of the camp site. You have to put it in a bigger picture. And then of course it's a big extra and a big gain for everybody.

Okay Geert, I think they need an expert like you to help them so we will put the link below the video.

Geert, thank you very much for sharing your insights on festival campings.

Yes, it was my pleasure and I wish you a very pleasant day and a very good festival summer.

Thank you. And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.