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Dorema at Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf, Germany.

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General Manager Of Dorema Talks Technical Advances, Cultural Differences & Camping Lifestyle At German Confab

Dorema CEO Michael Haus at the Dorema Booth at Caravan Salon In Dusseldorf, Germany. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

Germany differs in many ways both in the style of camping and the application of its aftermarket accessories. For Michael Haus, CEO of Dorema, a leading awning supplier, it is about diversification and thinking outside the box. Haus sat down with The Buzz at Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf Germany to discuss camping lifestyles, differing technology and cultural differences.

The Buzz: Alot of people like to come over here and they're interested in the RV lifestyle, whereas the Germans come over to US as well as a lot of Europeans. But there are very distinct differences in the camping lifestyle. Could you talk about that from your point of view?

Michael Haus: Well…here in Germany, we have the tradition that you have a car, you have a trailer, and you go somewhere. In former times, you were very, very lucky when you could go to Spain, to Italy. You would pack your car, you would pack the trailer, and you'd go to Italy, pitch up your tent to it, and have two weeks of holiday at the coast side.

The Buzz: Like boondocking? No actual campground.

MH: No actual campground, but you were located in certain interesting regions. So campgrounds started to grow at these regions because they wanted to give you electricity. You could dump your waste water somewhere. And this is how campgrounds founded in all the holiday places, like Italy and Spain. In Germany, we had the culture that for the weekend, the working people would go to a garden colony and everybody had a small piece of garden with a small hut where they would stay located directly in the town.

The Buzz: But no caravan.

MH: No caravan.

The Buzz: It was their property?

MH: No, it was a general property that they could rent for a year, for two years, whatever. But they weren't happy with that because they wanted to move somewhere else where a lake was, some nice places. And this is how the campgrounds were created at nice lakes, nice places where you would put your caravan, leave it there stationary, and have your awning with it to extend the space. And for the weekend now you wouldn't go to that garden place, but to your campsite.

The Buzz: So this was your permanent, almost, home away from home.

MH: Yeah. This was your second home for the weekend. And this has been a very, very big German tradition. The countries around us, Netherlands for example, they don't have that place. They have nice rivers, whatever, but they also wanted to go to Spain, to Italy. They were a traveling market, so they had smaller caravans that you could easily tow and for their holidays, they would go to Italy, to Spain and you could go all the way going over there through our Autobahn and come back four, five weeks later.

The Buzz: How does that balance in the essence of the campgrounds from your perspective then? Because you sell the awnings and everything so they have to be both up for a while?

MH: We have awnings that are permanent awnings for the whole season. We have awnings that are traveling awnings, just for recreation and the vacation. That’s the market we are in now, but 10 years ago, we had 70% residential accounts and 30% traveling accounts. This changed a lot in the last years. First, because of holidays [here], people have shorter holidays but more often. People like to go somewhere, a nice place and don't stay at the same place all the time. And the driver's license allowance changed. Young people now can't tow a caravan anymore. They have to do a certain exam to be able to tow a caravan.

Inside One Of The Inflatable Tents at the Dorema Booth at Caravan Salon In Dusseldorf, Germany. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: At a certain age?

MH: At a certain age and at a certain weight of the caravan. So the caravans became smaller and smaller and smaller, and they were allowed to travel. And now we have the discussion with the E-cars. They can't tow that much so caravans will get smaller as well. Smaller caravans are not that nice for residential. So the touring market is growing, growing, growing at the moment, and the residential market is coming down more and more and more. We have a situation at the moment that there is 60% touring caravans and 40% residential.

The Buzz: So the Germans are camping less?

MH: We are not camping less, but different. That's why, for example, Etchu Awnings like we are sitting in, are so popular because when you come to your campgrounds, you blow it up, and 10 minutes later your awning is erected. In former times, it would take half a day to erect your awning. People don't want that because holidays are shorter. You want to come there. It should be easy. It should be stable against wind and everything, and you don't want to have much trouble pitching up your awning.

The Buzz: Is camping here in Germany mainly seasonal? How does that work?  I mean, because it does get cold. It does get hot.

MH: It gets very cold. We have a summer market, and we have a winter market. Winter camping gets popular more and more and more. When you go to winter camping sites, you would be excited about what they offer. They are heated. You have a room where you put your ski gear, where you put your wet stuff, dresses. You dry them. You have perfect char rooms.

The Buzz: But that means the caravans need to be built for that kind of weather, correct?

MH: Most of the caravans are built here in Germany [to those specifications]. They have very good isolation against cold, and they have permanent heating inside. And on these campsites, you have big gas bottles which last for a week, or you have a permanent gas access where you don't care about the gas bottle for changing. Because it always happens at 3:00 in the morning that the gas is off and you have to go out and change the bottle.

The Buzz: You made a partnership with a popular campground resort here in Germany. Can you talk about thinking outside the box in that way and making it work?

MH: I'm a favorite of networks and what I don't like is if caravan producer is only caring about his caravans. If we as an awning producer are only caring about our awnings and the campsites are only caring about their campsites, that normally doesn't work. When you're a new camper, you don't have experience in all these things. And if you have to make all these experiences by yourself, you may sometimes have a lot of bad experiences. If it’s in the wrong place, or you forgot to fill in the water, or you have too much water. All things like that. And I like that we all work together. Because camping is just a certain lifestyle and once you've had that and you have those experiences, I believe you will stay a camper your life long. It's a lot different from hotel holidays. And for me, with families, it's the best holiday you can have. You're not bound to breakfast times, you're not bound to anything.

The Buzz: Now when you talk about awnings - just so I can relate it to the readers - the fact is in the US, they’re usually attached to the RV, they're almost motorized or they're just one thing. This is something completely different. This is more like a tent or a living space added on. Could you sort of explain that a little bit for the US market?

MH: You don't have a tent market. You don't have tent awnings in your market. What you have is the gazebo coming out and that's it. For the RV market here, we have these markizas as well. And the problem with bad weather is that you’re afraid when wind comes in it will just skips over your RV, pulls up the awning or rip it. This is a special tent for one of these gazebos. You want to have it easy. And it should withstand bad weather. It’s grounded so that way you have a stable awning for bad weather. And if it turns out to be nice weather you just pull out your gazebo again and have that in a very easy solution. But in the States, you also don't care for the weight. When you see your RV – “Hey, put another kilo in there, another kilo in there”. You hardly care. We have very, very strict rules for how much weight you can take along on the road relating to brakes and all these things.

More Tent Models at the Dorema Booth at Caravan Salon In Dusseldorf, Germany. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: So you have to think outside of the box, and the good thing is, that because you have seen all these different places and you've worked these different places, it probably gives you a better

MH: Well, we were initially only an awning producer. Just awnings and we brought accessories. We bought trailer tents, and we bought folding caravan company to be on different feet because the markets are changing. We want to be ahead of the market when it is changing like we see it now with the air tube awnings. A lot of residential tents are gone. And four years ago, I gave an interview with one of the big magazines here in Germany. I said in five years nobody will talk about regular awnings anymore but it will be air tube, air tube, air tube. That's been four years ago so we are one year ahead already with the air tube market. And have you had a look around this fair? 75% of the exhibited awnings are air tube awnings. So changes are that fast at the moment

The Buzz: How has Caravan Salon changed? You've probably been coming for quite a few years to this. What has been the biggest change

MH: What has struck me most? One of the things is how fast this new developments have conquered the markets. Because in former times it would take at least 10 years to change in the market to be established in the market and now it goes within two years.

The Buzz: Is that because of the Internet?

MH: Certain trends are implemented. I think part of it’s the Internet. The way you buy on a fair has changed. Just take catalogs. Nobody's carrying catalogs around anymore. You have a QR code and they will copy the code. They get it on in their mobile. They have all the information. We also offer discounts, but that doesn't help because they compare in the Internet. They stand in front of the awning, see your advertisement with the price and everything, and they would check that on the Internet.

The Buzz: You've worked in China. Having been to China myself recently, it's interesting to see how culturally, each place is different. Obviously, there, it is about the family. It's about grandparents with the parents and the grandchildren, and it's generational. How does that work here? Is it couples who camp? Or is it multi-generational families? Or is it grandparents and grandchildren?

MH: Over here, you have all of this. You have the families with the kids, which is the most popular group to attract for camping. Because on a camping site, you open the door, your child has a friend within five minutes and you start having holidays. Campers take a lot of care of their children and of other children playing with them. So you as a father or a mother, you can be much more relaxed on a campsite than everywhere, in a hotel or everywhere else. When I worked in China -- I worked there seven years ago for two years permanent. And one of the big caravan producers gave me a caravan over there for free and the Chinese put it in a hall.

The Buzz: Inside?

MH: Yeah. Inside. Because all they knew was the experience of coming to Europe, seeing the expeditions or the fairs. And they're all inside, aren't they? Everything you see is inside. So they thought, "Well, caravans are put inside and we stay there." I said, "No. You live outside. We put that caravan outside and you stay in there for the weekend outside." They didn't dare to do that because it will get wet, it will get cold. And I said, "That's what the caravans are made for." And they said, "No. We've been in Europe all the time, but everywhere they're inside." I said, "That's only in a fair and they haven't been to campsites." So we took them to the campsites and said, "This is what camping really is about."

Customers and staff at the Dorema Booth at Caravan Salon In Dusseldorf, Germany. [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: Here in Europe?

MH: In Europe. To make them know what camping is. Now the Chinese don't want their people to move around in the country free. They want to know where they are. But they have a very big problem with their labor. With the Chinese bank holiday they have for Chinese New Year, about 75% of the Chinese workers move to their hometown, and that takes about two days, up to three days. All planes are full, all trains are full. You can't get tickets.

The Buzz: And most of them are not allowed to drive.

MH: They are not allowed to drive, so they have to take the plane, they have to take the train. And in our company, we were 40,000 people working. 40,000 employees. For the Chinese holidays, bank holidays, we employed 3,500 volunteers, students and young people to stand in row for the tickets for the train and for plane tickets. Because during that time, if you don't get a plane ticket, if you don't get a train ticket for the people to move home, they would be off work a week before just to get the ticket. That's why the Chinese have such a big problem with their labor moving through the country during that time. And on the way back, they lose 30% of their workers because they get offered a better job at something else. And they can't have a quality production with such a change in their labor. They realized that. That's why now the favorite camping sites about an hour’s drive outside the town center--

The Buzz: Like Beijing or Shanghai?

MH: Like Beijing, Shanghai. And they will start building big camping sites outside the main city center, about an hour’s drive where the people can go for the weekend, come back and have three days of holiday. Or five days of holidays, which is a long time in one row in China. They could stay there and come back to the city center and not get lost on the way and find another job.

The Buzz: Most of the campers that I met at the campground at the Beijing RV Show wanted to go to the north of China or Mongolia, specifically the Gobi Desert and then to the south of China for the beaches.

MH: If you saw the Chinese market, the Chinese market is a RV market. But you are not allowed to pull a trailer. I was given that caravan. It was placed at the harbor of Shanghai. How did we move it to Hongju? Where I worked was 180 kilometers away. We couldn't move it. So we took the Porsche of our boss. Went there, towed it with iron ribbons to the back of the Porsche, and pulled it with an open back all the way to there with police car in front, and a police car in back, so that nothing would happen. When you pull things, even in small cars, they have no tow bar to tow anything. They have smaller trucks. They have trikes to carry things. But they don't have trailers to carry things. And they don't have facilities for cars to tow. So we got a tow bar from Germany for a Porsche. Did that.

The Buzz: With cops in front and behind?

MH: Yeah. It was funny. And that's also why the Caravan is a lot different to the RV market. With the RV market, if you want to travel in China, you need allowances in all the different provinces. You can't just move where you want to. You have to have permits. And they don't give you the permits for free traveling all the way. You are only allowed to travel certain amount of kilometers in certain regions. So whenever you think, "Well, I have an RV, and I can go to Mongolia." There's no way.

The Buzz: Do you think there will be a rental market there at any time? Because I know the French have a deal that they can come in and rent. But they don't have the licenses.

MH: As a foreigner, you're not allowed to drive there. You need a driver.


Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

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