|12 Sep 2009
Cabins big ticket item for proactive delegates at VicParks caravan park conference
The story (25 Aug 2009) regarding the continuing interest by 'tourist parks, caravan parks, holiday parks (call them what you want) to install cabins and the commensurate drift of tourist sites from 'powered sites' to cabins, highlights one of the biggest issues facing the Australian domestic travel industry. Caravan parks have, over the past 10-20 years stolen from the motels the market for the non self-contained traveller: ie the traveller who needs a roof for the night and/or others who perhaps for a week or so want somewhere to stay with basic cooking, washing and leisure facilities.
I for one am becoming heartily tired of seeing & hearing the term 'caravan park' to find when I see it in the flesh that it has become a 'cabin farm' - as it seems to be growing cabins all over the backyard. A Toowoomba park I stayed at a few years ago was in the process of swapping yet another dozen powered sites to become cabins and so only having about 20 powered sites remaining; a park in Beechworth, Vic was doing the same when I was there. When I briefly discussed this with the manager, he was quite up-front about it ~ 'I get a thousand dollars a year from a powered site, versus a thousand dollars a month from a cabin. I need the cash flow to survive during the quiet times' he told me.
In early 2009 the AAAT organisation submitted to its members proposed changes to their definition of a Caravan Park. The proposal stated:- quote 'For the purpose of AAA Tourism including Parks in its Tourist Park Guide a property must provide a minimum of 5 sites for short term tourist accommodation. Sites must be suitable for camping, caravans and/or motor-homes and some may be occupied by transportable dwellings, commonly known as Cabins'. endquote. I am not aware whether this proposal has made it into the full regulations, but it would not surprise me if it has in fact become AAAT policy.
So if I interpret this a bit loosely, out the back of the local pub somewhere down the highway, there may be 5 sites made available for 'tourists' 1 unpowered for campers, 1 powered for caravanners and 3 for cabins, and it will qualify to be called a caravan park.
So what can we do about it??
Firstly let me say that I would not like to be a caravan park owner/operator ... it is hard work with long hours and with little apparent reward. You rarely get to know your clientele as they are 'here one day, gone the next'. However there is the constant need for cash flow to keep the place going, so this brings in the need for long term residents, ie: permanents, invariably in cabins in the 'good' areas or construction-site dongles in the 'outback' &/or mining areas.
And then there's the clients of the caravan parks - the genuine traveller who is on the road for weeks or months at a time: some want full facilities, some want partial facilities; others do not want any facilities at all as they are fully self-contained. And all want it for as little as they can get away with, but the park operator needs the maximum income they can get in order to pay the wages and other bills. An operational shambles and a no-win situation for the park operator.
Australia is noted as a 'caravanning society' ... there are literally hundreds of thousands of vans around Australia, where we as a community hitch up the van and hit the road whenever we get a chance to go on holidays. Newer caravans are becoming more sophisticated, we are seeing more campervans and motorhomes (which are very popular with our overseas visitors too) and the demographics are changing as the population ages ~ the baby boomers are retiring and hitting the roads.
For half of any year, anyone looking into a 'caravan park' anywhere north of Brisbane in the east, or Carnarvon in the west will see that it is full or near-full of caravanners, people who have travelled northwards for some or all the winter months to escape the cold of the southern states. For this demographic, none of the parks need a children's playground, but all parks will have one as it earns points for the AAAT stars rating. Many will have a swimming pool, again it gets them stars-points, but most pools are cold and unused much of the time, essentially are a wasted resource.
So we get this dichotomy of caravanners needing sites for overnighting to perhaps a few weeks, and parks switching to cabins for an income stream with clients who stay overnight to perhaps a few weeks.
How about we start by renaming our caravan parks in a consistent manner? How about ...
++ 'Caravan Park' for those locations where 80%+ of available sites are dedicated towards caravanners, campervanners, campers &/or other self-contained travellers;
++ 'Holiday Park' for families ~ where 'caravan' sites are about 50% of the total number of available sites;
++ 'Cottages' or 'Cottage Estate' for those locations where 80%+ of available sites are cabins and which are aimed at travellers who have few if any personal facilities with them as they travel.
Renaming parks on a consistent basis would at least be a start to rationalising caravan park operations.
Regards, Phil [www.philjones.com.au]
|30 Apr 2009
Discussion Independant Camping vs Caravan Parks
My perceived advantages of independent camping over caravan parks, and associated information sources.
by Phil Jones, Canberra ACT.
Several GoSee Forum correspondents & Garth our moderator, have during April 2009 made reference to the advantages & disadvantages and relative costs of the 'free' sites as listed in the Camps Australia book vis-a-vis most caravan parks whose facilities are required to conform to the AAAT organisation's specifications to achieve certain 'star ratings'.
The 'dance' between choosing between an independent camp site and a controlled camp site in a caravan park is one that I as a traveller face on a regular basis for between 150 & 200 days each year. Each type of site has its own advantages and disadvantages.
For me and many fellow travellers, to refer to a book of some sort is considerably preferential to an on-line reference ~ while I realise that a printed book is (argueably) out of date by the time it reaches the shop, in my personal experience regrettably the majority of internet sites are out of date as well. Any information site is only as good as the last time it was updated ~ all too often I refer to a web site (including the GoSeeAustralia site) and find information that is incorrect &/or out of date. Now I know that if a van park (or whomever) does not advise GoSee that its phone/ fax/ email etc details have altered, then it's hardly the fault of GoSee, but it still does mean that the information is inaccurate.
My point is that online information is not better than print information, and 'online' can't be accessed sitting around a campfire out in the bush somewhere, despite the advertorial photographs put out by the telecommunications & computer companies.
One of the 'best' stupidities of the on-line information world exists in Queensland with their national park (NPW) operations and bookings to NPW park campsites. All too often I have arrived at a Qld NPW location intending to stay one or more nights to find a sign stating 'bookings for campsites can only be done via the Queensland Government web site...' and I find that there is no phone coverage close by, and it's 20 - 50km back to the nearest town where phone coverage may exist.
Caravan parks, their quality and cost
The caravan park industry, via the AAAT tells the travelling public 'come to us, you can trust us, we're the best, we can offer you all you need...' or something along those lines. As a vacation traveller for the past 30 years and a significant traveller for much of the last five years, my comment is 'what a load of cobblers'.
Over the past four years of my travels, I have recorded my own experiences of caravan parks I have stayed at, given them 'points' and a user-star rating based upon the percentage totalled. I don't care what the dimensions of the bathroom mirror is, or what the clearance is below the toilet door and 'important' stuff like that. I look at 'are the facilities clean, is soap provided in the amenities, is the toilet paper 'good' or not, is it easy to reverse park the van, are the footpaths suitable for aged persons, is the pathway lighting adequate or do you need a torch' etcetera.
However, of the 200+ caravan parks I have visited during this time, some of my comments regarding caravan parks make interesting reading. For example:-
* Reputed to be Canberra's best - still leaves a lot to be desired;
* Small park on ocean frontage. Good views but sloping sites & small sites make for hard time;
* Good feel about the place, friendly office & grounds staff, all facilities well maintained;
* Pleasant park, amenities clean, high % permanents but tourists welcome;
* Good park, mgt excellent, many en-suite sites, good shade etc;
* Packed like sardines, we were on grass verge near the road, late comers left in carpark;
* Felt 'just a number', not as pleasant as we had hoped;
* Each site was tennis-court sized, open, good, but park lighting inadequate;
* 95% of site is cabins &/or permanents, only 1doz or so of 180 sites for tourists;
* Nice park but 90% permanents. Tourists on grassy area at rear of park.
Costs of overnight accommodation
On the score of caravan park site-costs, I can see the dilemma faced by each and every caravan park around Australia ... as a business they must pay taxes to local, state & federal governments, wages to staff, insurance & overheads of all sorts and so it goes on. To pay these costs, they must charge we members of the travelling public for our use of their facilities, and many of the van parks that I stop at are charging me the equivalent of $200 per week for parking my van on a bit of their grass.
As my van has its own shower & toilet, I don't use theirs ~ it's the same as at home with the convenience of the en-suite. I don't have to use their laundry ~ I can pop up town and use a laundromat for the same price & convenience. I don't use the children's playground ~ and neither do 75% of my fellow travellers, and I rarely use the swimming pool as it's often too cold or it's full of children doing things that my parents told me not to do. I don't use the camp TV room (if one exists) for much the same reason as the swimming pool. My van has solar panels on its roof and all the internals are 12volt or gas. Yes, there is a full 240volt circuit but as the stove, oven, hot water & fridge are all gas, I don't carry any 240volt equipment and so I don't need powered sites.
So why bother with a caravan park when collectively, they've got so little to offer me?
Well I do use caravan parks a fair bit. In my small business of Tag Along Tours for campervans & caravans, many of my clients expect to stay at a caravan park for a variety of reasons. Some quote 'security', although the only time in the last 30 years that I have had any security issues was in a caravan park, and more & more parks that I stay at have barbed wire on top of the side fences. Some quote 'the facilities' and yes, if your van does not have a shower/toilet, then you need to use someone's facilities. Some quote 'companionship &/or cameraderie' of fellow travellers, and this can be the case, but in my experience is often not so. All too often other travellers just turn on their tv and disappear from sight.
I also introduce clients to independent camping, with the Camps Australia book as the bible. Most of my 21-day tours have a minimum of 7 nights 'out' rather than 'in' a caravan park. We can sit around a camp fire, we can be by ourselves and do our own thing in a manner unheard of in a caravan park ~ and I don't mean being noisy or uncouth, just being friendly.
Many of the independent camp sites we use are well away from towns, out in the bush, &/or somewhere along a long, winding country road. We see the wildlife coming and going at dawn and dusk, we see magnificent sunsets, we chat to local farmers and other travellers who come along to ask about the group.
When I am by myself or with others who enjoy independent camping, I do prefer to stay at an independent camp site. I use the Camps Australia book, I talk to tourist information centres &/or the local copper out in the bush, and I keep my eyes open for a suitable roadside location where I will not cause any disturbance to locals or passing traffic.
To stay a couple of nights in one of the hundreds of State Reserves on the banks of the Murray River is truly wonderful. To stay a night at a country pony-club or village recreation ground is a great eye opener to country life. Parking the van under a tree and watching children training their ponies, or the local footy team practicing for their next match or a farmer training his sheep dogs is something that caravan park users will never see.
Many is the time I have made a $10-$20 donation to a country SES group or Fire Brigade for the use of their back yard for an overnight stay, and it's something I am quite happy to do.
Costs of NPW sites:-
Another matter is the cost associated with NPW sites ~ it doesn't matter where I am around Australia, I am expected to pay a $7 to $10 vehicle daily-entry fee plus an $8 to $12 per person camping fee, often totalling $25-$35 per day/night. And what does the NPW offer me? ~ an out of the way location (which I am happy with, after all that's why I am there) and no facilities beyond a drop-toilet, and lots of flies & mosquitoes.
I would like to suggest to the NPW bean counters that they need a dose of common-sense reality. Their costing for overnighters needs to be overhauled ~ or perhaps there is a hidden agenda of persuading people not to use their parks so that the facilities ~ often unchanged from the 1960s ~ are preserved as-is for our grandchildren.
Phil Jones is a traveller and photographer who can be contacted via his web site: