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Byron Shire
May 17, 2021

Grey nomads set adrift by van park shortage

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A decline in caravan park accommodation across Australia, combined with a resurgence in RVs, is putting pressure on the local caravan-park industry, says SCU academic Rod Caldicott.

The caravan-park sector of the Australian accommodation industry currently provides 50 per cent of total domestic bed capacity.

However, there is a gradual decline in establishments while at the same time a resurgence in registrations of new recreational vehicles (RVs). The number of campervans and motorhomes specifically increased 19 per cent over the past five years. The contrasting trends are predicted to create a serious accommodation shortage within the caravan-park sector.

Rod Caldicott from Southern Cross University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management is researching the topic for his PhD. A research paper, co-authored by Pascal Scherrer, was recently published in the Journal of Vacation Marketing.

‘The development of caravanning in Australia is at an interesting crossroads in its evolutionary cycle,’ Mr Caldicott said.

‘On the one hand caravan manufacturing is experiencing rapid growth. The sector peaked in 1975 with an annual output of 37,000 units. For a variety of reasons this fell to lows of 5,000 units in 1991 and it wasn’t until 1995 that the sector started to recover. For the past 17 years the industry has grown and now produces more than 23,000 units per year.

‘Furthermore, there was a 257 per cent increase in the decade from 1995 to 2005 in caravan registrations.

‘Unfortunately caravan parks have been declining over the same period, driven predominantly by a conversion in coastal areas of beachfront land to highrise units and hotels. However, the sector still provides 50 per cent of total domestic bed capacity and in 2009 generated more than $1.1 billion in annual takings, providing direct employment to more than 3,500 full-time and part-time employees.

‘Short- and long-term site capacity of parks decreased by eight and 13 per cent respectively between 2000 to 2009.’

Mr Caldicott used the Tweed Shire, on the far north coast of NSW, as a case study. He found that in many respects the Tweed parks were mirroring national trends.

Tent sites in the Shire’s 27 tourist parks have gone from an average of 32 sites to 11 from the 1970s to 2010, a loss of 64 per cent. Non-ensuite caravan sites are 36 per cent below their peak in the 1970s, while ensuite caravan sites, in contrast, have grown because they were virtually non-existent in the 1970s.

A major factor in declining sites for caravans was the emergence of ensuite cabins, from an average of five sites per park in 1990 to nine sites in 2010. Furthermore, a rise in long-term sites for relocatable homes also impacted on parks with an average of 21 relocatable home sites per park.

This is somewhat offset by a decline in annual caravan sites, by 12 per cent from 1970 to 2010, and a decline in long-term park cabins.

‘Onsite caravan, non-ensuite cabin and long-term park cabins are clearly heading towards extinction,’ Mr Caldicott said.

‘Annual caravans are also declining but they will cling on in their diminished presence owing to historic sentiment and possible community backlash until dying out by attrition. Tent sites, non-ensuite caravans and ensuite caravans all remain in stagnation.

‘Rejuvenation in caravan parks will come through emerging demand for specialised fully serviced sites. For example, those providing drive-through sites for grey nomads travelling in larger motorhomes, or those catering exclusively for the new breed of camper-trailer and themed cabin developments, as both gain popularity with families.

‘The future of the caravanning in Australia will be measured by the industry’s ability to continually reinvent supply with new product offerings targeted to new customers.’

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