More caravans but fewer parks spells a camp crisis

Everyday motorists love to hate them - those pesky caravans that crawl up hills, wobble at speed when they are going downhill, and block our vision of the road ahead.

But take a deep breath: they are not going away in a hurry. There is a resurgence in caravanning, with increasing numbers of recreational vehicles on the road.

There are 474,000 of them registered in Australia, including caravans, pop-tops, camper trailers and those self-contained, ultra-luxurious motorhomes with solar power, leather interiors, flat-screen TVs and fully equipped kitchens.

RV registrations increased by 14.7 per cent between 2008 and 2011, according to the latest figures from the Caravan, RV and Accommodation Industry of Australia.

Chief executive of the main industry group Stuart Lamont said the strong growth was continuing, with Australians looking for "better value" holidays.

The caravanning boom, though, is creating a crisis, according to research from Southern Cross University. It warns that as more RVs hit the road, older-style caravan parks are simultaneously closing at an alarming rate, selling out to property developers who are building apartments and hotels on prime parcels of land next to rivers and beaches.

"Where the bloody hell are all the caravanners going to go?" asks Rod Caldicott, an academic at the university's school of tourism and hospitality management who has written a research paper on the topic.

"Both grey nomads and younger, adventure-seeking families are looking to use the services of caravan parks but there is less choice for them. Without some serious management of that situation, we will have a crisis."

He said short and long-term site capacity of parks decreased by eight and 13 per cent respectively between 2000 and 2009, with caravan registrations increasing by 257 per cent between 1995 and 2005.


He said the anecdotal evidence was that the decline was continuing, particularly in the coastal areas.

Mr Caldicott said regulatory burdens and rising costs, including council rates, were making it harder for caravan parks to stay open. "As their land value goes up, they are being rated out of existence. Return from revenue can't match the rise in rates."

Mr Lamont said there were still 170,000 sites available around Australia each night, although some coastal parks were being turned into lifestyle villages or high-rise buildings. "We still have occupancy rates of 54 per cent. There is pressure in peak times [to get a site], but outside peak times a lot of these places are empty."

Musician, comedian and writer Dorian Mode is a devoted caravanner with a restored 1963 Sunliner. He said the appeal of a caravan holiday is that it goes back to the basics.

"With a hotel holiday, the kids jump on the internet or watch cable television and we don't really have a conversation as a family. I like the idea of a retro [caravan] holiday where we all talk and play old-fashioned board games."