by Andrew Woodmansey
We have recently returned from a caravan trip along Australia's east cost from Sydney to 1770 and back, staying in 13 caravan parks over five weeks during July and August. Most of our sites had been pre-booked three months earlier following warnings that the parks would be full of grey nomads at that time of year. How right these warnings were.
The grey nomads were delightful. Without doubt the highlight of the trip was the people that we met and the willingness of our fellow caravanners to share their stories, hints, experience and humour. The caravan parks on the other hand were a mixed bag, ranging from delightful beachfront sites to overcrowded patches of dirt with all the character of a supermarket car park.
During the late 1970s, like many other baby boomers I hitch-hiked around Malaysia with a well-thumbed copy of Tony Wheeler’s ‘South East Asia on a Shoestring’ in my backpack – one of the very first ‘Lonely Planet’ guides. When passing through new towns I was struck that the temples mentioned in the guide seemed always to be busy with foreign tourists, whilst similar ones nearby that didn’t rate a mention in the guide were empty.
‘Lonely Planet Syndrome’, as it is now called, is also in full swing in caravan parks, except that with parks it’s ‘Wikicamps’ syndrome. A caravan park with good reviews on Wikicamps is nearly always full, whilst a poorly reviewed one is much less so. This level of transparency and instant customer feedback in the caravan park industry is starting to sort out the good from the less good – and not before time. The less good will ultimately go out of business if they don’t respond more effectively to the needs of consumers.
Without doubt the biggest issue facing Australian caravan parks today is site size and density. Whether it’s due to poor planning, poor management or simple greed, caravan park sites are in the main not large enough for today’s vans. This is an issue of both comfort and safety. One van owner on our trip had to ask five other nearby vehicle owners to move their vehicles so that he could get into his allotted site. At another site, we were surrounded on three sides within 5 metres by BBQ smells, a radio playing all day and snoring at night. Most tow vehicles have to park these days in front of vans because there is no space alongside – which defeats the purpose of having all vans facing towards the access road in case they need to be removed quickly in an emergency.
Other significant park issues are the design and cleanliness of amenities, camp kitchens and laundry blocks, space and view conflicts with other types of park accommodation such as ‘villas’, appalling internet access and speeds, lack of space at park entrances, badly sited dump points, underinvestment in park security and access technology and a sometimes poor understanding of what is important to caravanners amongst park staff. Lack of site knowledge is also common in parks with central reservation systems – including in one case booking us onto a site with a tree in the middle.
A further source of irritation is park marketing and membership programs and discounting that seem to benefit park owners and operators over consumers. Parks aligned under a group umbrella name as well as parks owned or managed by state motoring organisations vary significantly in quality. And why consumers should have to pay additional membership fees in order to receive discounts is anyone’s guess.
The cost of a stay in a caravan park is increasing across the board – whether these increases will be accepted by consumers will depend on whether they think they are getting value for money. If you believe the comments on Wikicamps, a rebellion is already brewing against park fee increases at some parks.
In the coming weeks I will be posting a number of caravan park articles on RV Books:
- Caravan park layout and design
- Caravan park operations and management
- Caravan parks – our favourites
These articles are for the benefit of park owners as much as for consumers. The CEO of the CCIA has said that caravan parks need to listen to their consumers – I hope a few of them do.
Andrew Woodmansey has extensive operational experience at senior levels in Australian tourism, the arts and education, including the Sydney Opera House, Charles Darwin University and the Cockatoo Island campground.