How a campsite is born and evolves - The cynical truth
How a campsite is born and evolves - The cynical truth
Photo Source: Gaetano Sciacca, Dario De Marco

I come from a family that has acquired relative economic well-being over time, not because of some kind of arcane passive income, but simply because of my father and my mother's career choices and financial management. All my grandparents were in fact simple farmers who, thanks to hard work in the countryside, were not sick but did not even sail in gold. However, they were doing well enough for their children to study. As the son of peasants, my father was thus able to retire as a General of the Italian Army.


To set up the campsite, I tried to intercept the funds that Europe donates through the Region of Sicily. However, between the presidencies of Cuffaro and Lombardo, those funds were "frozen" (there were but for the moment unavailable ...) In any case, to access those non-repayable loans in the very attractive amount of 75% (excluding VAT) I would have had to win a tender. To start the bureaucratic process to win this tender, I would still have had to have a few thousand euros in my pocket. Summarizing calculations and reasoning, I would have had to have half of the total amount out of my own pocket (or through a bank loan) to carry out the project (which, among other things, could not have been too small, otherwise I would not have won the tender ...) Basically, as a recent graduate, I would have had difficulty even finding the money to start the process. However, fortunately, dad was there to help out ! So I was also able to give a damn about the intrigues of Cuffaro and Lombardo…


The part of the campsite now dedicated to the tents area was one of my maternal grandfather's land, now my mother's (kindly granted me on loan for use), initially planted with vineyards but later, luckily for me, planted with olive groves. It is therefore the first olive tree planted at the time by my grandfather , the very first stone of Agricamping Sophia. My maternal uncle was the first to realize the tourist and commercial potential of that plot close to a thriving Marzamemi. It is no coincidence that in a portion of that land he built the cellar and the store of his own company, Vini Sultana. And it is precisely from there that, observing in ecstasy the olive grove at dusk, I began to see, as if it were a mirage, tents set up ...


Wanting to play with one of the most famous philosophical concepts, if we consider as negation the movement that from my grandparents distances my parents from the countryside and as negation of negation what as a grandson it takes me back to the countryside but in a new guise including my parents' experience, the birth of Agricamping Sophia can be considered a stage in a dialectical process of Hegelian memory. A stage that is certainly already influencing the lives of my children. In other words, hardly anyone really starts from scratch . And as far as I'm concerned, I've been pretty lucky.


Almost at the end of my course of study in philosophy , on my desk on one side there was the draft of my degree thesis, on the other the camping project. Net of the imaginative professional outlets praised in the presentation of degree courses, the only concrete job opportunity directly related to a degree in philosophy was (and probably remains) teaching. With regard to teaching, the problem was fundamentally the confusion reigning then on the way to access it. I would have liked to teach, I don't deny it. However, I had a priority need: to make money to make myself independent. And if many of my former university colleagues are support teachers (therefore forced to "invent" skills that they only partially possess, since philosophy does not seem to give direct theoretical support to dealing with problematic children ...), few others (a forty years old) have a professorship. No, I could not wait that long (especially, forgive me but unfortunately it is, in the face of a salary that is not up to the role and responsibility). At one point in my studies I looked around and saw my mother's olive grove, Marzamemi becoming more and more fashionable, a long experience as a scout and in music, a father who could help me and a degree in philosophy that however it would come in handy. In the late 1980s and 1990s, I was a scout . Scouting at the time was not yet spoiled by the hyper-control and hyper-anxiety of parents (including myself ...) of the new millennium. The characteristic feature of that Scouting was the acquisition of skills that would be able to cope in almost any situation, alone or in a team: little more than children they made us do things for which today I do not know how many assurances and authorizations it would take. In any case, from that experience as a scout (think, for example, of simple facts such as knowing how to tie different knots or mount various types of tents) I am drawing many advantages in relation to working on my campsite. I've always loved music and as a teenager I also started playing it. Those were the golden years of grunge, of the iconic film "Jack Frusciante left the group", of venues for live music, for jam sessions. In those years, my garage (or rather, my parents' ...) had become a sort of social center: with the instruments perpetually mounted, I spent whole afternoons playing with friends.


The idea was basically to create a tourist reception structure based on what I more or less knew how to do . However, I had no direct experience in organizing and managing a campsite, except for the scout camps ... The result was a simple, essential campsite, devoted to musical culture with which I was most familiar: in short, a sort of anti-tourist village . To be precise, technically, for bureaucratic needs, it is an agri-camping, that is, a farm to which an agritourism clearance is assigned. Obviously, as regards the care of agricultural "burdens", I have obviously never exceeded the "minimum wage".


The first two years, in particular, were the most difficult due to inexperience. I believed, for example, that the needs of the seasonal workers of Marzamemi, in most cases "stall holders", were compatible with those of vacationers. With a romantic spirit of solidarity, I hosted them at very favorable rates. For many, however, some rules were strict, for example, that of not letting your dogs roam freely around the campsite. However, the most complicated thing to fit were their schedules with those of "service" (for example the washing times of the bathrooms). Living together for the entire summer season, in these conditions, proved to be humanly stressful, on both sides. For this reason, in the following years, I was forced to offer him regular rates which, obviously, acted a bit as a filter and substantially solved the problem. Another initial mistake was working with campers without ever having been a camper, especially assuming that they had needs similar to those of campers, among other things in an environment designed and organized for pitching tents. As the years went by, I reduced the areas dedicated to campers more and more, until I completely eliminated them. Basically, it is not always possible to reconcile professional needs with "social" needs : a campsite is still an entrepreneurial enterprise and not a voluntary non-profit organization. Furthermore, trying to intercept as many targets as possible (in this specific case, both campers and campers) for a few euros more but to the detriment of the quality of the service, in the long run it is also counterproductive for the pockets. As well as the same logic relates to setting a structurally sustainable limit to the acceptance of guests on August 15th: there is thus a "risk" of earning even a few thousand euros less but, by reducing the opportunities for discontent, the possibility of negative reviews is also reduced. (whose influence, whether we like it or not, is by no means negligible). I, egg today, I always choose the hen tomorrow ...


I almost always ran the risk of turning to trusted friends from the city where I grew up and live, Messina, to get help in managing the campsite. And it is no coincidence that I used the expression "take the risk", because although you can sleep peacefully (half a euro has never disappeared, so to speak), the risk that a friendship relationship degenerates, working for two or three months a year in close contact, sharing every kind of emotion, is remarkable. Especially during the early years, when the uncertainty of proceeding in the right direction did not allow for the relative relaxation with which today, with so much more awareness on the back, you can work. Among the initial mistakes was that of sleeping even in the same environment. I used to do it by the scouts, but for one or two weeks, not for two / three months ... The intuition was banal: even if "we are all friends and we love each other" (cit. Elio e le Storie Tese) we have to switch off at a certain point of the day, even from friends. For some years my collaborators have each been based in a spacious “glamping” tent: our personal relationships, the quality of night's rest and work have benefited from a small measure.


The anthropologist Augé defines "non-places" as places like McDonald's, that is, places that are the same in every part of the world, with the same style of furniture, the same products for sale, in which everyone, customers and staff, can be replaced. The Agricamping Sophia is, in fact, the exact opposite. For example, the management of the "kiosk" is so characteristic, shaped in the image and likeness of one of my historical collaborators, that if tomorrow he decides not to work with me anymore, it would be impossible to replace without radically transfiguring his style. More generally, Agricamping Sophia is exactly like those who work there and like the regular friends who frequent it (the like looks for the similar ...) Each choice, even the choice of the type of coffee or beer, reflects our personalities. Nothing is thrown there by chance or because "it is done this way". Even for a simple pizza, we not only study and search for the dough that is further away from the classic Neapolitan (jeez, we're in Sicily!) Or from the more anonymous take-away pizza, trying to use Sicilian flours as much as possible, but the we call it "scaccia" (as my grandfather called it). We do not have the "Margherita" but the "Wittgenstein", with very Sicilian tuma and very Sicilian datterino. In short, if you want to make a difference, don't try to be different but just be yourself . In fact, not everyone likes us…


Studying philosophy has a virtue (which, in other ways, is also its biggest flaw): it turns you upside down like a sock. And going back to bothering a little (philosophy, not socks), I go a little deeper than the logic that led me to the choice of opening a campsite. I think we all agree in defining human society as a living, complex and dynamic system. As a “living person”, it has physiological needs such as eating, sleeping, moving, etc., which can be considered as constants that are difficult to change. The "journey" today responds, in most of the "Western" cases, to needs related to relaxation and pleasure, that is, these too, physiological needs. In other and simpler words, man throughout history has always eaten, slept, traveled, etc., and it is likely that he will continue to do so for a long time to come. For the festival of the obvious: opening a camping site in an attractive tourist location, associating it with a restaurant business, how much could be a wrong move?


We said that human society is a living, complex and dynamic system. Therefore, as “complex” and “dynamic”, it also presupposes the change of a myriad of factors. For example, the spending possibilities of families in the vicinity of economic crises following pandemics change, for which the same rate for renting a bungalow has a different “real” value in relation to the period. For example, fashions regarding the aesthetic devices of a website change, so some settings that were good before, now need to be changed. For example, the same cotton curtains of the 70s, supplanted in the following decades by the lighter and more transportable polyester curtains, are now back in fashion as "glamping" tents. For example, today you can place a mobile home without building permit, tomorrow not because the laws change, the day after tomorrow yes because the laws have changed again. For example, we offer a service that seems cool to us, only to discover that in reality no one is queuing up. In other words, it is true that you can count on certain "constants" on which to base the core of an entrepreneurial activity, but if so many other factors change, you have to change in time with them .


What I have told you so far is not a parrot-like repetition of notions fished here and there. It is a sincere reflection on my experience as an entrepreneur . I simply shared the arguments that preceded the choice to start my business and to correct it gradually. Probably obvious, banal reflections. But that's precisely why, in hindsight, they worked. Because they were right there in front of me, it was enough just to notice. And after so much obviousness, I can only conclude with another obvious concept.
Any product a company wants to sell (be it a service, an artistic product, a shirt, etc.), if it is attractive to the "market" (that is, to your brother, your aunt, your friend, your professor, employed in Biella, to the Dutch engineer, etc., therefore not to a "diabolical abstract entity" enemy of the people), then it will be bought. However, if this product, despite any efforts to make it appear more attractive than it really is, nobody buys it, the company may also think that the "market" does not understand anything or is ignorant, but the product will still remain unsold ... < br> Obviously (but it is not even, unfortunately, such an obvious question ...) it is necessary to set ethical limits, from refusing to produce and sell anti-personnel mines to (with due distinction ...) not to encourage those who do not want to know about separate collection to choose the Agricamping Sophia.
Paraphrasing (heavily ...) Hannah Arendt, no activity (political, cultural, entrepreneurial, etc.) is really effective if it is not preceded by the apparent "non-activity" of reflection .
Text Source: Antonino Rampulla
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