Grey nomads drive caravan boom but camp spots decline

There was a 257% increase in the decade from 1995 to 2005 in caravan registrations. suziesparkle

Travelling baby boomers, grey nomads and younger, adventure-seeking families are driving a rapid resurgence in caravan registrations at a time when traditional caravan park spots are in consistent decline, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by Rod Caldicott, a PhD student from Southern Cross University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, found that traditional camp-site infrastructure, geared towards caravans and tents, is giving way to fixed forms of relocatable homes and ensuite cabins.

There was a 257% increase in the decade from 1995 to 2005 in caravan registrations, said Caldicott, but short and long term site capacity of parks decreased by eight and 13% respectively between 2000 to 2009.

Caldicott’s case study of the Tweed Shire, on the Far North Coast of NSW, found that tent sites in the Shire’s 27 tourist parks had declined 64% between 1970s to 2010, while the number of ensuite cabins had grown from an average of five sites per park in 1990 to nine sites in 2010.

Annual caravan sites had fallen by 12% from 1970 to 2010, he found.

“We have a serious mismatch between supply and demand,” said Caldicott, adding that some caravan spots had been converted into beach-front hotels and units, while other caravan park operators who wanted to expand or start new parks were stymied by red and green tape.

“I suspect that, in time, governments may consider whether to revisit legislation that might be seen by some as barriers to entry into the caravan park business,” he said.

“At the moment, it’s a one size fits all regulatory framework. Whether you want operate a small camping place with a grassy knoll and a couple of taps or a mega RV resort, it happens under the same legislation.”

The study was published in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.

Burgeoning demand

David Beirman, Senior Lecturer in Tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney, said the new paper was very good.

“Clearly, property developers in the Gold Coast, Tweed and Sunshine Coast would prefer the higher investment returns of hotel or resort development over caravan parks. However, as the baby boomer generation is set to vastly increase the grey nomad population, the demand for caravan and motor home facilities is certain to burgeon,” he said.

“I would suggest it will manifest itself in the development of caravan facilities in secondary holiday destinations along the Australian coastline and throughout regional centres in the Australian inland.”

Meeting the needs of holidayers with RVs – which may require only a power point, a readily available water supply and toilet facilities – could be done by local government authorities at a fair price, said Dr Beirman, who was not involved in the study.

“It could be that, in order to attract the grey nomad market, some local government authorities may see this as a means to attract tourism and the associated spending of tourists to regional destinations,” he said.

However, author of the original study, Rod Caldicott, said that a balanced approach was required.

“It is important for local authorities to balance up the need and net benefits of attracting this type of tourism before launching into provision of infrastructure that the private sector may be willing to offer,” Caldicott said.

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