Natural disasters: Are you prepared?

Australia’s changeable climate has its perks – who doesn’t love sunshine year-round? The disadvantage comes when extreme weather leads to natural disasters.

We’ve seen our fair share over the past few years, with the opposing forces of fire and flood among the most catastrophic for caravan and holiday parks. With bushfire season already here and a predicted five cyclones for Queensland this wet season, park operators should be asking themselves – are we prepared?

Geoff Illich from Brisbane Holiday Village has experience dealing with the difficulties of running a park during a very nasty flood. “As a tourism business, natural disasters can affect us suddenly and how the media responds to these disasters can make the public concerned. During the 2011 Brisbane floods, we were lucky to be situated away from the major damage; however we had many people worried about driving and getting through and received huge amounts of calls and cancellations. We had to reassess the business quickly looking at our cancellation policies to be able to work with our customers. We then needed to quickly replace that lost business which is extremely hard at short notice,” Mr Illich said.

Glen Cromie Caravan Park in Victoria is no stranger to coming back after a natural disaster. They were affected by the Black Saturday Bushfires of February 2009. They lost 17ha of their 18ha property to smoke and ash, as well as six caravans, and a further five than were severely damaged. Then, two years later to the day, disaster struck again. This time it wasn’t fire; it was rain.

“The park was inundated with four feet of water at 4.30 am with no warning,” said owner Karen Azzopardi. “Dealing with a flood of this scale, with a park full of guests was extremely stressful,” she continues, “but luckily we had a good plan in place to help us survive a natural disaster.”

With the help of emergency action plans in place, Glen Cromie has bounced back from fire and not one but two floods.

“We lost a lot of forward bookings and came close to bankruptcy – even with insurance! We decided to stick it out, through the moments of self doubt, the asking ourselves ‘can we do this?’ and eventually made it back on our feet,” said Karen.

Severe tropical Cyclone Yasi was a very powerful and destructive tropical cyclone that made landfall in northern Queensland on 3 February, 2011, causing severe damage to affected areas. One of the parks in the eye of the storm was Kurrimine Beach Holiday Park.

“Most of Kurrimine Beach was evacuated, but we were able to stay in our house. The uncertainty of what might happen, given the size of the cyclone, made us all anxious. But as we and our immediate neighbours stuck together it was easier to handle,” recalls owner Kay Kitchen.

Though damage to the grounds was extensive, Kay makes the point that the clean up was made much easier because they had a plan in place to deal with a disaster of this nature. “Most of our trees blew over, nearly all of our fencing was wrecked, vegetation was everywhere including in the swimming pool and what looked like green confetti was all over the cabins. But because we had gone through the accreditation process we had an emergency plan to cover most contingencies in place, which worked extremely well,” said Kay.

Kurrimine Beach Holiday Park has certainly overcome their disastrous setback – they were awarded the 2013 Certificate of Excellence by the world’s leading travel review site – TripAdvisor

Often the biggest problem that arises following a natural disaster isn’t the clean up itself, but the lost income from cancelled forward bookings. For park owners and operators, it’s important to make sure they are prepared with action plans for during and after any sort of disaster.

Have a system in place to communicate with guests who might be inclined to cancel. Reassure people planning to stay at your park, and honour their trust in you. Provide value-add services, and have a plan for generating new business should cancellations flood in.

Most importantly, have emergency plans in place, and keep your park and your guests safe.

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