The History of Touring Cars
Throughout history, people have moved from one place to another, riding on wagons on wheels since the days of the Wild West. People’s endless desire to experience and see the world has made tourism the world’s largest and most fascinating industry.
The very core of the Touring Cars’ business idea is the motorhome. A motorhome can be used to move from one place to another, to seek holiday experiences, to entertain and amuse, and to benefit and exploit as a business tool. The motorhome is a relatively valuable product of the modern lifestyle. Its users are people with the ability to pay, who value independence and individuality, or representatives of such organizations. The motorhome is a fascinating and modern travel tool for people who love adventure.
The philosophy of Touring Cars is to deliver good experiences − good feelings for people who love to travel. Customers arrive with wallets full of money but minds empty of experiences and return home after the trip with brains buzzing with incredible experiences − this is where the company’s mission is fulfilled!
In 2022, the 40th anniversary of Touring Cars was celebrated.
The company's legacy is rich in historic highlights and incredible stories. We will share the most important turning points and some stories of key persons from the past on this site. The entire story of Touring Cars will be published as a printed publication and eBook in 2024. If you want to read the entire storyline, order your eBook copy of TC Legacy from the end of this page.
The History from the Early Years to the Recent Trendy Lifestyle
1980 - 1990
Touring Cars was founded in Kuopio in 1982. The company’s goal was to become a leading expert and pioneer in the motorhome business. The company was founded with the aim of investing in the sale of motorhomes in Finland. At that time, Touring Cars was one of the first companies to be set up in the sector. The company bought Baltic motorhomes built on the Fiat chassis from Baltic Oy located in Rautavaara. Soon afterwards, Hannu Kekäläinen, the founder of Touring Cars, pioneered the industry and started to operate internationally by boldly traveling to Italy to do business. He brought the first Marco Polo motorhomes from Italy to Finland by driving them himself.
The film Gorky Park, set in Moscow around the same time, was shot mainly in Kaisaniemi Park in Helsinki, as the crew was not allowed to enter the Soviet Union at the time. The film was shot from January to April 1983. Lee Marvin, the famous actor in the film, wanted to live in a motorhome during the filming. A suitable motorhome was found at Touring Cars and Lee Marvin became the company’s first rental customer.
The cooperation gave birth to a new business idea − motorhome rental!
Hannu took the bold step of offering new types of car holidays to domestic and foreign tourists, combining a motorhome and a holiday in Finland. This type of holiday was already well known in the US and growing in Europe. Hannu marched to Finnair’s headquarters, saying “now foreigners have a reason to come to Finland by plane!”.
A product called Flights & Motorhome was born.
With Finnair, Touring Club Switzerland and other Swiss tour operators, a car holiday was linked to a package holiday offer including flights and car rental. The holiday package was printed on the tour operators’ catalogs, which were distributed in Swiss travel agencies. This made it easy for Swiss customers to buy a Touring Cars Flights & Motorhome holiday. By launching and refining the product, Touring Cars surpassed the performance of its competitors and was thus awarded the travel industry entrepreneur of the year award!
Quite soon after the start of the business, Touring Cars began importing high-quality German Hymer motorhomes to Finland. The first motorhomes were delivered to Finnish customers in 1986, and Hymer motorhomes continue to be imported into Finland.
The first business cooperation across borders began already in 1985.
As Sweden was seen as a potential market, flourishing operations was started in Stockholm in 1985 and within few year, the company expanded into the Norwegian market (1989).
The Legacy Story of Hannu Kekäläinen
the founder of Touring Cars
1991 - 2000
In fact, behind every business, a creative entrepreneur stands firm.
Throughout all these years, the business growth and vitality of Touring Cars have been earned thanks to the energetic and inspirational entrepreneur, Tanja Saarnio.
Ms. Saarnio originally started to operate Touring Cars at an early age while still studying at the university. Her interest was longing for the Russian market, therefore, she chose the language as her major while she was actively working for Touring Cars and participating in several sports activities. The former owner quickly realized Tanja´s outstanding skills. Thanks to her hard work, strong dedication and creative mindset, she was meant to take care of Touring Cars.
Eventually, in 1991, the owner of the company, Hannu Kekäläinen, appointed Tanja Saarnio as CEO of Touring Cars, and at the same time, she became a co-owner of the company. Tanja’s responsibilities as CEO at that time included not only the sales and organization of tours to the Soviet Union and Estonia, but also the rental of motorhomes.
On Tanja’s 28th birthday in 1995, she bought the Touring Cars motorhome rental business outright. She became the sole owner of Touring Cars. Shortly after the acquisition, Tanja founded Touring Cars Motorhome Oy, a motorhome import company, with Pekka Welling and started importing the Spanish Viva motorhomes. Later, the range was complemented by the German Frankia motorhomes. But the acquisition of company-owned motorhomes was slowing the company’s growth, and a solution to the growth problem was needed.
An investment return scheme was created to serve the needs of the company, the lessor and the tourist in equal measure.
Tanja’s innovation was to rent motorhomes from individuals or companies for Touring Cars and re-rent them to tourists. With the distinguished investment return scheme, Touring Cars’ business growth accelerated rapidly. The scheme provided Touring Cars with a large number of new, high-quality cars for tourists to use during the busiest holiday season. Companies and private rental companies that joined the investment return scheme were able to finance the purchase of their motorhome with the generated revenue and to use the car outside of peak seasons.
Joining the scheme was easy, the motorhome owner first chose a suitable vehicle from Touring Cars’ range of new or slightly used vehicles. A commission agreement was drawn up to sub-let the vehicle to Touring Cars. Usually, the car would work for three to four months during the summer for Touring Cars for two to three years. The investment return scheme guaranteed the owner of the motorhome a monthly income throughout the year, irrespective of the vehicle lease time, for the period specified in the contract. This income enabled the lessor to pay, for example, the installments on the vehicle. Touring Cars took care of the rental, insurance, washing and maintenance of the car on behalf of the owner during the lease. The much-appreciated win-win scheme still works perfectly today.
In terms of sustainability, recycling and the long life of vehicles, the investment return scheme is a prime example of a trailblazing idea.
In view of a green future, the only option is not necessarily to develop car technology, but to reuse and recycle materials and technology as part of the future of sustainable adventure tourism. In Touring Cars’ investment return scheme, the same car is used to provide holiday experiences for several families. The vehicle generates funds for its owner over its lifetime, while maximizing the car’s operational capacity and longevity through regular professional car maintenance provided by Touring Cars.
The Historical Review from Jan Feodoroff
Incredible out of the box thinking during early years
2001 - 2010
In 2001 global tourism industry faced a challenging period caused by the terrible incident known as the 09/11. However, according to the company mindset, challenges are meant to be overcome. Despite the global situation, Touring Cars did not give up on its innovative operations and business digitalization.
2001 Touring Cars launched its Norwegian operations in Oslo.
2002 Touring Cars created its own training program and a quality manual for its staff with the aim of providing even better customer service. This manual has since evolved into the Touring Cars Concept Manual and the TC Academy staff training program. As a result of this development, the company joined the Travel Development Center’s quality system Laatutonni Quality 1000 and started to systematically monitor customer satisfaction.
“It has been interesting to see how customer responses have changed over the decades. For example, when asked why you chose Touring Cars in the early days, the most common answer was ‘You were the only one in the market’. Since then, a number of new competitors have emerged in the market. Touring Cars still wants to be a pioneer and a trendsetter in the industry,” Tanja Saarnio explains.
In 2003, TCF acquired from Stockholm a motorhome company, which had been run by a self-employed entrepreneur since 1985, together with its Swedish operations. As a result of the acquisition, sales increased significantly by 43%.
The same year saw the launch of Touring Cars’ first website and electronic booking system to serve customers who wanted to book their motorhome directly online.
The Key to Freedom booklet was created as a guide for customers planning a car holiday. The aim was to inform them in advance about the holiday product, the Nordic conditions, the cars and Touring Cars’ services. The guide was designed to highlight that Touring Cars’ product is the “Key to Freedom”, not just the rental of a motorhome. The booklet was sent to all tour operators in 15 countries to give to customers.
Touring Cars applied for and received a package tour operator license from the Consumer Authority. After the application was approved, the company was invited to join the Association of Finnish Travel Agents (AFTA).
The Flights & Motorhome product was actively marketed to international tour operators in Europe and third countries. To increase awareness and networking, Tanja and her mother participated in several fairs and workshops every year. Together they also made several sales trips to visit customers all over Europe. Tanja and her parents also took part in export promotion trips with delegations of ministers of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland. Trips were made to Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Touring Cars markets itself at the same table as other Finnish transport companies that are much larger than itself, such as VR, Finnair, and Silja Line.
2005 The company ordered the TC Branded vehicles from the factory pre-taped under the TC Mobile brand.
In 2005, Touring Cars was named the most innovative tourism company of the year. One of the members of the jury was the Tourism Center, which also awarded Touring Cars the Quality Award, which was presented at Finlandia.
In 2006, the Association for Finnish Work awarded the Key Flag Symbol to Touring Cars Oy. The Key Flag indicates that the service is produced in Finland. It is a symbol of quality, safety, and sustainability. In the same year, Touring Cars was also elected a member of the Finnish quality association Excellence Finland.
In May 2007, Tom Sjöberg acquired 20% of the company and was appointed CEO of Touring Cars.
In 2008, the company had around 200 privately labeled TC Mobile homes for rent. Hymer Group was the company’s manufacturing partner.
The four rental stations in Finland accounted for 50% of the business, with the other half of the turnover coming from the Stockholm and Oslo offices. Despite this, only less than 10% of the customers were Finnish. At the time, Touring Cars’ services were used by 1,100 families a year, who stayed for 11,000 nights in the Nordic and Baltic countries. This amounted to a total of around 60,000 overnight stays.
Touring Cars Oy always had a strong belief in the future.
Global severe financial crises occurred in 2007-2008. The company faced the challenge of a short season, with businesses concentrating on the summer and the tourist holiday season. Touring Cars sought to extend the tourist season by offering new products in Southern Europe. At the time, they already had verified dedicated partnerships worldwide. 120 tour operators and travel agencies around the world were already selling TC services. The product range consisted of package tours, traditional motorhome rentals, and a variety of special products tailored to the customer’s wishes. Finetuning of service offerings, solid networks, as well as trustful partnerships were the key to that period.
2009 saw a lot of growth in a short period when Risto Walden became a shareholder and board member with a 10% stake in the company. During the current year, Touring Cars Iceland Ehf was opened, and 54 motorhomes were purchased for Iceland. As a result of the expansion, sales increased by 35%. For the first time, TC Mobile cars were produced not only by Hymer and Carado but also by the EHG Group’s LMC plant in Sassenberg. TC Vehicle Oy was set up to manage fleet sales. Touring Cars Germany GmbH was opened in Germany as a purchasing organization.
2010 TC Group’s sales increased, but at the same time, profitability fell. A new CEO was appointed − Keijo Tolonen. But already in 2011, Tanja returned to her position as CEO of the group, and an Advisory board was created to support the growth and development of Touring Cars.
Everyday Memories from Ritva and Arto Saarnio
Together with a family and devoted team going beyond unusual
- Read the story in FI: Kielipääoma kantaa ja mahdollisuus motivoi
2011 - 2020
in 2012, the company celebrated 30 years of growth and created a new growth strategy for the future.
The growth strategy was to create and implement the TC service concept, with motorhome rental service at its core, and to diversify the company’s core business first to the Nordic countries and Europe, and then to third countries through franchising. The first step was to find local franchised independent entrepreneurs for the company’s own locations in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Iceland.
2013 Touring Cars signed its first franchise agreement in Oslo, Norway. The next step in 2014 was the transfer of Touring Cars Iceland Ehf to a local franchisee. At the same time, TC Rent Ltd was established to manage the concept and the international marketing and sales of the chain.
A franchise network, still operating under the current model, was established.
The chain’s operations are still developed, managed, and marketed by a multinational management team based in Finland, alongside a local rental and car service center in Vantaa.
2016 Touring Cars and Hobby signed a cooperation agreement for the chain-wide use of Hobby motorhomes. This strategic partnership with car and caravan manufacturer Hobby provided an opportunity to be involved in product development based on the real experiences of customers and the maintenance and service experience of Touring Cars’ experts. In line with the partnership, the Hobby factory financed new vehicles for the Touring Cars chain. The total vehicle fleet increased to more than 500 vehicles. The cooperation enabled wider sales and marketing, as the range of cars was available to all franchisees.
The marketing advantage of the partnership was the best thing for Touring Cars’ visibility!
Touring Cars gained the right to participate in major industry trade shows at Hobby’s factory stands around the world. In addition, Hobby listed Touring Cars as a “factory rental chain” on its website.
In 2017, the business expanded to Malaga and Madrid in Spain and Manchester in England with the addition of franchisees. In 2018, as new franchisees were founded, operations expanded to Latvia, Riga, followed by Sofia, Bulgaria, and in 2020, growth continued to Moscow, Russia, Zagreb, Croatia, and Edinburgh-Glasgow, Scotland.
On the 1st of October 2018, Veijo Tiitinen was appointed as CEO and Tanja became Chairman of the Board.
In 2019, the first independent board members, Kari Neilimo and Jonas Ideström, were elected to the Board of Touring Cars. As Touring Cars followed a massive development period, it reached a strong European-wide international presence with over 17 rental stations and franchisees by 2019.
In 2020, a surprise pandemic crippled Touring Cars’ international sales, and the chain was not immune to the effects of the pandemic. Tanja had often said that “tourists always come like the sunrise”. Before the surprises of spring 2020, who would have believed in a global pandemic and the need to wake up to a situation where the whole world stopped, and no more tourists came?
Fortunately, at the time of the crisis, Touring Cars had a board of professionals who advised and helped the management to identify the most important aspects of the business. The company’s primary focus at the time was to secure cash flow and take the necessary steps to ensure it. Touring Cars had previously sold 80% of its motorhome holidays to foreign tourists and 20% to local tourists. Following the sudden cessation of international travel in the wake of the pandemic, the company quickly focused on domestic customers in both car sales and rental.
The rapid response and the measures taken were a great success; after the initial uncertainty, the motorhome sector actually grew during the pandemic.
Many new customer families became interested in motorhome tourism and wanted to buy or rent a motorhome. However, the effects of the pandemic were felt in many ways along the chain. Some franchisees abroad left the chain, and, in some countries, new operators took over.
The Growth Insight from Veijo Tiitinen
Story from the current Chain Director
2021 - recent
In 2021, the company acquired Risto Walden’s shares and Tanja became again the sole owner of the company.
In the spring, the Rovaniemi franchisee passed away and Touring Cars bought back the operations after the 2022 season. Touring Cars currently owns offices in Rovaniemi, Vantaa, and Stockholm.
In 2022, Touring Cars’ four decades of innovative and tenacious development, dedication, and commitment to the industry as a whole was rewarded with the Certificate of Honor of Matkailuajoneuvotuojat ry (MAT), a tourism vehicle industry umbrella organization, at the annual Caravan Business Forum.
Recently, Touring Cars have started to undergo a partial generational change.
Tanja’s daughter Elle Tick is a board member and co-owner of the company with a 49% stake. She is currently studying business and working for the company alongside her studies. Elle’s boyfriend Lauri Hellen also works for Touring Cars as a Station Manager at the Vantaa Rental Station.
Touring Cars value highly their employees, franchisees, and partners. Touring Cars would not be one of the leading providers of the motorhome service concept today if it had not been for the incredible employees and the innovative chain team that has formed a united, close-knit family over all these years. A team that works together for a common goal and has complementary skills makes the company a strong and innovative pioneer. We must remember that organizations do not make results, people do. A company must be taken care of by taking care of all its performance drivers. Everyone’s contribution is important. Everyone must be respected, helped to find their own strengths and to do their best.
The company’s long-term partnerships with tour operators will continue to support and enable the scalability of the company’s growth. Trust, flexibility, and transparency are the cream of the crop of decades of cooperation. Building a close international network of more than 150 tour operators has required passion, skill, expertise, and courage. This makes it easy to trust that the sun will continue to rise, and the tourist flows will continue to flow into Touring Cars’ offices around the world for decades to come.
The story of the franchise concept offered by Touring Cars is still in the early stages of its life cycle.
Multi-award-winning Touring Cars will continue to offer its customers unique journeys, incredible experiences, tailor-made packages, and memorable experiences for decades to come. That is what the company has always been and always will be. The desire to deliver even more incredible experiences for its customers is constant. Customers’ wishes are listened to carefully and responded to with tailor-made services. As the company continues to evolve and grow, the family business story will take on new dimensions over time.
The Statement from Kari Neilimo
the TC Board member since 2019
Journey Reflections from Tanja Saarnio
the woman behind this incredible growth and success of Touring Cars
- Read the story in FI: Matkailuautobisneksen tuolileikki
And the Story Continues…
Future Thoughts from Elle Tick
the young woman who is eager to learn piloting the future story line of Touring Cars
- Read the story in FI: Elle ilman rajoja
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On behalf of Touring Cars, we want to thank all people who gave their contribution to compile, frame, write and illustrate the growth story of this unique organization as printed and online publications. Special thanks to Sanna Seiko Salo and Mira Nyrhinen. We are also grateful to the interviewees who used their precious time for interviews and validation of the writing process.