How Caravan Parks Have Changed – for the Better

Nearly a decade in the caravan and camping industry sector has enabled me to witness the dramatic shift in consumer opinion from caravan park holidays being “the poor cousin” of holidays to becoming the “iconic Aussie holiday experience” with all the trimmings.

The great Australian summer holiday is as legendary as it is iconic. Packing up the family, sitting, sweating shoulder-to-shoulder with siblings, the only air conditioning being an open window and the only thing that started with an ‘i’ was “i need to go, now…” This is the stuff that many baby boomers remember as the way a great family holiday began. And what defined a great family holiday? Was it the friendships that were made or the family memories created? Whatever it was – the caravan park was the central, core ingredient.

Back then the caravan park industry provided just the basics – Mum and Dad provided the rest. It was a simple formula that worked well in its day. Like all good businesses, the caravan park of old has evolved into much, much more.

We now talk about ‘holiday parks‘ and ‘family resorts’ – properties that have recognised that today’s consumer not only wants more but is prepared to pay more. Traditional caravan parks are upgrading their facilities, installing luxury villa accommodation and creating entertainment precincts. This process of renewal is catering to the demands of the family market, the more discerning professional couples and also cashed up baby boomers.

Everything old is new again and nostalgic experiences reign supreme as time-poor parents try to reconnect with their kids and share what they once enjoyed as childre, but this time round, in comfort and style. Some of the industry changes are obvious while others show a more subtle shift. Everything though, is more premium. One example is that luxury vans now come complete with their own on-board en suite. There is a desire for personal privacy and convenience that far outweighs the cost (and the communal bathroom that was never a favourite). The introduction of luxury cabins was in direct response to AN31-5-MKG-Goodall-H Parksthe market demand – a walk-in, walk-out home away from home.

Marketing of parks too has changed dramatically – today’s consumer researches their holiday in a totally different way to previous generations. The Internet has played a dramatic role across all property types. For parks, it is no longer a matter of simply putting an advertisement in the motoring club magazines and waiting for the phone to ring – the old “me-to-everyone” approach. Today, all properties must have clearly positioned their product, know who their market is and develop effective, measurable, marketing campaigns.

Even as recently as three years ago, marketing in the caravan park industry was still relatively traditional. A mix of electronic and print media targeting the family market and relying on repeat bookings from one year to the next. Today everything is different. While some of the above may still occur, the economic downturns over the past decade and the most recent GFC have altered the way holidays are approached by consumers. Baby boomers are watching their nest eggs fluctuate dramatically and, while they are not as price sensitive as generations prior, do demand greater value for money.

The strength of the Australian dollar has more recently created increased competition from an almost unexpected direction. Families swayed by the media and tech savvy tweens and teens surrender to pester power and choose to take their kids to Disneyland, Hawaii, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong or Bali – for the same price or less than they can holiday in Australia.

All that said, there has never been a better time to be in the industry. By continuing to evolve, and with the strong heritage that comes from decades of goodwill, the industry will retain the strong position it has enjoyed over the past 15 years. The real challenge for today’s holiday park owner/operator is to identify the key experience they can provide the guest, capture the imagination of the Aussie traveller, promote the destination and provide exceptional value for money – not in cheaper prices that will affect profitability but in the service, facilities and standard of holiday provided. In these uncertain economic and political times, a genuine holiday park experience in a unique Australian destination is a safe and rewarding option for Australian and international guests.

Terry Goodall
Goodall Dineen Group 
Terry Goodall is managing director of Goodall Dineen Group – that specialises in tourism property management, marketing and consulting. He has over 25 years executive management and marketing experience, the past eight directly in the tourism sector. Terry recently launched Pathfinder Parks, a new marketing program developed specifically for holiday parks.

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