Editor’s Note: The following story was posted on today (Feb. 14) on Australia’s Cairns Post. It’s about RVing in northeast Australia but has some applications to the U.S. market.
One of the key findings in the Touring Markets Workshop Report, released yesterday, was that free versus paid camping must be addressed if the Far North is to tap into the booming recreational vehicle travellers and grey nomads market over the next decade.
Produced by Drive North Queensland in conjunction with Tourism Queensland, the report summarises the findings of 11 workshops held in the Far North to discuss changes in the drive tourism market.
Author Russell Boswell of Drive NQ said: “These travellers are coming. What we have to do is encourage them to stay at caravan parks, or to look at other accommodation that doesn’t impact on the community, or they will go elsewhere.”
Research shows that RV travellers are the biggest spending travellers in the domestic market – averaging $572 a week and about $14,000 over the course of their travels.
It is estimated that there are 500,000 RV travellers in Australia, and the highest proportion – about 35 percent – call Queensland home.
Boswell said it was vital organisations started preparing now if they wanted to reap the benefits.
“It’s no secret key visitor markets have been impacted by the global financial crisis,” Boswell said.
“But in the domestic sphere, this is a market that’s always been there but it’s now going to account for a much higher proportion of visitors, so operators have to adapt their approach.”
The growth in self-contained RVs that do not require electricity and power services offered by caravan parks also means drivers are increasingly looking for alternative options.
The issue of free, or low-cost, camping with minimal services versus paid camping has created strong divisions within communities.
It was August last year when Grey Nomads made headlines in Cairns after calling for a virtual boycott of the city due to what they saw as the “locking out” of motorhomes.
It was estimated that the loss to the regional economy was $7 million a year.
However, campground owners at Cairns, Tully and Atherton emphasise that livelihoods are at stake.
Lloyd Smith, manager of Cairns Coconut Resort Holiday Park, said the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia was “hell-bent” on getting councils to open up showgrounds and public spaces for camping.
“That’s a big no no – the more they do that, the more businesses like us will go under, so when the 2025 boom comes there will be no facilities,” he said.
“We’ve lost 200 caravan parks in Australia in the last couple of years. I think it is sad what will happen if the situation doesn’t change.”
On the Atherton Tableland, Mayor Tom Gilmore said the Tablelands Regional Council’s decision to expand its RV Friendly status to nine towns had brought extensive benefits to the region.
“One of the biggest unheralded benefits is that these people travel the countryside and if they see us as a friendly community, they’ll talk about it and spread the word,” he said.
Cr Gilmore said the council’s three free campgrounds were in isolated areas, but said the focus was on encouraging people to come to the region so both free and paid campsites were full.
“The more we can get people here, the better friendships and economic benefits we’ll see,” he said.