Disruption in the caravan parks industry could pose a real threat

April 16th, 2019 | | Accommodation

Clayton McCudden has been in the caravan park industry for just three years, but he’s already considering leaving the sector.

Key points:

  • The number of caravan parks across Tasmania has fallen by almost 25 per cent in less than a decade, from 100 down to 77
  • The proliferation of free camping sites across Tasmania is feeding the decline of caravan parks.
  • The Campervan and Motorhome Club says caravan parks need to lower their prices as self-contained campervans become more popular.

Mr McCudden, who is based in Zeehan, in Tasmania’s west, says he can’t compete with low-cost or free camping springing up around the state.

“[There are] a lot of free camps, both official and unofficial … and we’ve really noticed the impact of those,” he said.

“While we are required to pay rates, insurance costs, water bills, rubbish disposal costs … all of those services are passed onto free campers totally free of charge … at the expense of the ratepayer.

“From a consumers perspective, they actually don’t see a lot of difference [between a caravan park and a free camp site] and that’s in part the problem, when the community is picking up the costs of those services.

“With the caravan park, we’ve got a lot of overheads.”

‘As few as 10 genuine caravan parks within a decade’

Industry figures show the number of caravan parks across Tasmania has fallen by almost 25 per cent in less than a decade, from 100 down to 77.

Comparatively, there are more than 300 low-cost or free camping sites around the state.

Caravanning Tasmania president Rowen Carter said owner-operators were struggling to survive.

“The caravan park sector is in fast decline, and there will probably be as few as 10 genuine caravan parks left in Tasmania in the next 8 to 10 years if something doesn’t change,” Mr Carter said.

“Free camping is part of the Australia psyche … but what we’re talking about is councils subsidising people to have a holiday in the centre of town — they’re having an adverse effect on the caravan park visitor nights.

“It’s not fair that caravan parks are paying commercial rates for their sites while we’re losing customers and subsidising them to stay in council sites.”

Earlier this year, the Tasmanian Government released a new policy statement on free or low-cost camping, requiring councils or public entities involved in providing campsites to compete on fair and equal terms with private businesses. 

It also determined councils must limit their public, non-powered campsites to no more than 10 per cent of all camping offerings within a 60-kilometre radius of a commercial caravan park.

But if it can be proved it’s in the public interest to offer free or low-cost camping within those bounds, councils can be exempted from the rules.

Mr Carter said the public interest test was “far too wide-ranging” and “flawed”. He said some councils were not adhering to the rules and the Government wasn’t doing enough to regulate them. 

“They’re [the State Government] not holding councils accountable … councils are running rampant, councils are the police, the judge and juror in this case,” he said. 

“The Government, as the body that should oversee this, are not enforcing the rules.” 

Free camping lets caravanners stay in town longer

Queensland caravanners Chris and Jaye Phillips have been travelling the state for four months in their self-contained caravan. 

The pair said they’re happy to pay for caravan parks occasionally in order to dump waste and wash their clothes but preferred to use free camping options where possible. 

“I think there should be more, and I think people would use them a lot more too,” Mr Phillips said.

“You’re not actually saving any money because you’re spending it on other areas. 

“We go on more day trips so therefore we’re spending money on petrol, and we’d stop into little boutique places and buy their specialty jams and fudge. 

“We’ve spent a fair bit on going out for dinner, going on trips … by coming to camps like this occasionally … you can save a little, which allows you to do those things a bit more often.” 

It’s a trend that has the caravan park industry nervous. It argues the rise of free and cheap camping has cut the value of their businesses, limiting their ability to reinvest, and even stay viable. 

Mr McCudden said he had already come up with a plan B.

“Because the market’s not so good to remain in caravanning services we decided to go in a new direction,” he said.

“Glamping is a new market that seems to be going well so we’re planning on converting 22 odd sites into 12 large glamping sites as well as BYO tents.” 

‘Today’s vehicles don’t need a caravan park’

On the other side of the equation, free camping advocates say the caravanning sector had to move with the times, as self-contained recreational vehicles become more popular. 

“[Free camping is] not destroying the [caravan] business at all, because the simple numbers will tell you that a lot of the vehicles they are manufacturing today don’t need to go into a commercial park,” Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia CEO Richard Barwick said.

“A low-cost … is what we expect. If you’re only paying for minimal facilities, you shouldn’t be paying $30-40 dollars per night in overnight fees when you don’t need them. 

“Everyone needs to adapt and change, and I think that’s what hasn’t happened in Tasmania.”

ED: smacks of similarities to other disruption in the accommodation sector.  Try free camping in Noosa and see how far that gets you!

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

2 Responses

  1. Greg says:

    As mentioned in the comment at the bottom, this is a totally different angle to what is normally seen in the youth camping sector – usually it’s that there is no free camping, it’s being clamped down on etc. Funny part is that in Tasmania some of the most incredible camping locations are absolutely free – on the Bay of Fires for example there are campgrounds at incredibly beautiful beaches that beat Bondi any day of the week. Sure the facilities are rudimentary (long drop toilets) but there is no charge whatsoever.

    These facilities are managed by Parks & Wildlife but as they are state reserves rather than national parks, you don’t need a parks pass. Campers are therefore subsidised by taxpayers and those visitors who do purchase parks passes.

    This is a broader issue for our sector because campervans have really become the new low cost option for backpackers – it used to be your cheap dorm bed and a hop on hop off ticket, but a Wicked Camper costs a fraction of that and you go where you want, when you want, stopping as you please. If tour guests are subsidising campers (because they pay for parks passes) and hostels are also subsidising them (because their rates are paying to maintain free council run facilities), our prices end up higher and just help to make free camping even more attractive.

  2. Macca says:

    Greg – I know the Bay of Fires camping ground and advise many backpackers to go there as you say it is an incredible beautiful place.

    There are number of states that currently calling for a national ban on Wicked Campers and there are some caravan parks refusing them entry.

    The point is Governments cannot keep putting costs on Caravan Parks and set up their own is opposition. In many cases the land is worth more than a caravan park

    During many times of the year backpackers are it hard for accommodation in Tasmania now