According to the European Caravan Federation, in 2019, around 53.922 new motor caravans were registered, and industry reports suggest the European Recreational Vehicle Market is growing at >7 percent over the next five years. Like them or not, motorhomes are here to stay, and there will be more in Portugal every year.

One of the major complaints from readers is that these vehicles park illegally and ‘abuse’ the countryside, so called ‘wild camping’. Without exception this is unacceptable, and the GNR have the authority to deal with this and fine those guilty of wild camping, and in some areas they seem to be doing this quite well. The fine is up to €4,000 for infringements.

The fundamental problem seems to be one of misunderstanding what motorhome people are seeking and their value to the tourism industry. The general misconception seems to be that these people are trying to save money and enjoying their holidays ‘on the cheap’. Facts don’t bear this out.

Not a cheap alternative to conventional accommodation

Rental of a well equipped motorhome, with at least a built in bathroom and toilet will cost in the region of €80 a night in October. A three or four start hotel will offer much more space and facilities for the same price, so cost is not the factor here. In addition, there is rental for the campsite you choose, and that ranges from €30 to €50 a night for a motorhome ‘pitch’ with electricity, water and waste disposal facilities. Whichever way you look at it, around €100 a night for a rental motorhome and parking, is not cheap.

Buying your own motorhome is no cost saver either. A well equipped new motorhome will cost between €50,000 and €100,000. Despite the cost, these vehicles are in good demand. The motor caravan segment was again extraordinarily successful in 2020, growing by a strong 20.1 percent – despite or because of Covid-19 – and reaching a new high. 159,082 new registrations mark the fifth record year in a row and represent a doubling of 2010. Electric powered motorhomes are already coming onto the market, so objecting to them on an ecological basis is not a valid argument.

The dream is over

Given that a well equipped motorhome is not an economic choice for a holiday maker, why do people opt for these when a conventional apartment rental or hotel will offer equally good value, and perhaps more space and facilities? It seems obvious that people who choose this way of travelling are seeking to escape built up areas in favour of the countryside and ‘getting away from it all’.

The problem is that this may be a great dream but in practicality it won’t work. The dream of parking in a quiet country location overlooking the beach isn’t legal, although people still do it.

The law in Portugal obliges you to park in one of the properly licensed and organised camping sites, and guess what, it’s quite crowded.

One of our readers recently wrote “I have had a motor caravan for over 30 years watching the encroachment of these vehicles over time and now there are far too many of us and too many who are badly behaved. I have travelled extensively all over Europe and it is in the winter time that so many gather in "honeypot" areas and spoil it for those of us who are responsible. Yes, I have always wild camped but have shied away from more than six in any area. I have never wanted to be "cheek by jowl" often, unfortunately, meeting very ignorant people who do not understand the views of residents in beautiful places or who do not have any respect. I have been lucky but I have empathised both with communities and the natural environment.”

Do motor homers bring any value to local businesses?

The frequent argument used against the motorhome travellers is that they have no benefit to the local business community, but that doesn’t hold water. Recently, when a very popular camping spot in Silves was brought under control, the local restaurants and shops were complaining as these visitors spent well in their establishment. The only losers are the providers of conventional accommodation.

The reality would seem to be that as the motorhome based visitor is brought under control and obliged to use the proper facilities, the basic attraction of getting away from it all is lost.

Perhaps it will draw less complaints from the general public who really don’t like these large and ugly (sorry) vehicles. They don’t want them parked in their towns or villages, they take up too much space, they don’t want them on the roads as they slow down traffic, in fact they don’t want them at all.

The Portuguese tourist authorities are still promoting the attractions of Portugal to the motorhome community, as long as they use the proper facilities.

As long as the GNR do their job, which by or large they do, what’s the attraction? A well designed tourist development or hotel has a lot more to offer than a crowded camp site. The dream is no longer reality!