Customer demands are driving incredible innovation in holiday parks throughout the country. In this feature, Kirstie Bedford from caravanworld.com.au peeks beneath the veneer to explain why it is happening.
The statistics say it all.
Caravan parks are thriving, and their evolution is undeniably driven by an insatiable consumer with high expectations.
Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s research shows the industry has been, on average, the fastest growing domestic accommodation type for the past five years.
In 2017, caravan park revenue exceeded $1.9 billion, and for every $1 caravan park revenue generated, there is $1.38 worth of direct economic benefit into the local economy. In the last year alone, the RV market spent more than $8.6 million annually.
So, there’s clearly a huge economic injection to be had by those who invest in their local parks - and it’s not just the public and private sector doing it. Rivershore Resort in the Sunshine Coast suburb of Diddillibah, the first park to be built in the state in 45 years, was the brainchild of a local family who had previously owned pubs and a retirement village. Less than 18 months old, the park has replaced cane fields.
Park owner Bernie McGovern says the idea came about because his family saw an opportunity to provide something unique in the evolving market.
“People want to get their kids back outdoors and we felt others weren’t catering to the new market. We wanted to bring in the latest WiFi and have a restaurant and bar, and we wanted it to be unique.”
Unique it certainly is, with direct riverfront access and 15 luxury safari tents imported from South Africa, which Bernie’s mother styled. More like the feel of a new suburb than a park, it’s undeniably stylish, although flip-flops are still the going attire.
This brand new park epitomises the new era, with retro bikes for hire and kayaks to take on a cruise down the river, and when you’re done, you can sit back and enjoy five-star cuisine in the restaurant - think pork belly braised with wild steamed rice and Asian greens, or bush spiced beef fillet with kipfler potatoes and dried artichokes; all washed down with a glass of the region’s best.
Further south for those wanting something with a more traditional park feel is BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park.
Never would you guess directly across from Movie World and Wet 'n' Wild, on the Pacific Motorway, is a 32-acre haven with villas tucked away in lush tropical gardens, where kangaroos bounce along the back of the property, and koalas clutch to enormous gum trees.
This former residential park was re-developed six years ago, and under the current owners is now a tropical oasis with a Bali-style resort pool, licensed café, salt water creek where you can fish, BMX track, tennis court, and animal farm.
A small, but key difference to other parks, are the shower screens, which separate the changing cubicles. There’s also a newly opened doggie day care on site, so you can drop the dog in and head to the theme parks for the day.
Manager Mark Sickerdick says the park does appeal to grey nomads as well as families, because they like the variety of sites available, and the accommodation options for extended family, and “who doesn’t enjoy watching the kids have fun”.
He attributes the rise of this style of park to the “cruise-ship mentality”.
“If you give people everything then they don’t need to go off site and people’s expectations have grown and the dollar is harder to get and easier to spend, so people want value for money, and they want the facilities.”
In the NSW mid north coastal town of South West Rocks, NRMA South West Rocks Holiday Resort has also recently evolved to meet the demands of consumers, launching new luxury lodges which literally blend in with the landscape.
The seven Ngurra lodges (meaning ‘place of home’ in the Dunghutti Aboriginal language) boast a decal that replicates the forest setting behind it. Two hundred original photos have been photo-shopped together to create the life-like landscapes, which mould the lodges into the local bushland.
The new two-storey Ngurra Lodges have leather lounges, three televisions, full kitchen and laundry facilities, and two large bedrooms.
Sunshine Resort owner Tony Mayne says holiday parks are changing dramatically, “and we have always been at the forefront of meeting the new demand”.
Two years ago he added a $1 million water park and the park's list of facilities also includes a trampoline, putt putt, saltwater lagoon, and go-karts.
BIG4 Holiday Parks, Australia's leading brand in the leisure accommodation sector, has recently changed its branding, to ensure clarity in the now diverse range of parks it offers.
CEO Steven Wright says it decided there was a need to better describe the parks, so the consumer knew exactly what they were getting, and has renamed its parks as either classic, holiday or premium.
“I used to get letters saying we went to this BIG4 park and it didn't have a jumping pillow, and then the grey nomad says I’m sick of paying for facilities so I'm not coming back, so we are playing a role to ensure they chose the right park.
“If you are a grey nomad who wants a quiet location and cheaper environment, then there are parks in the classic range and we also have facilities for families and kids in the premier range with higher pricing.”
He says it’s about making sure the park meets the consumer need.
“If you're in a quiet outback town driven by the nomad market then that's what you have to deliver as an experience, but if you are on the beach in Gold Coast, or if in a major family holiday destination your park needs to address that and that's what we're doing, trying to help the consumer find what’s right for them.”
Equally he says it doesn’t prevent those grey nomads wanting the resort experience to choose that, at the right time of year when prices are lower.
“A lot of our parks are using a flexible price model, so you can stay in an off-peak environment and not have to pay peak prices.”