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Drive tourism: Embracing new energy for sustainable growth

In his column for AccomNews, Stuart Lamont CEO, CIAA says caravan parks can play a critical role in Australia's low-emissions future

By Stuart Lamont CEO, Caravan Industry Association of Australia

As Australia stands on the cusp of a transformative energy shift towards a low-emissions future, the caravan and tourism sectors find themselves at a pivotal crossroads.

The movement towards low-emissions vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs) presents a distinct set of opportunities and challenges, particularly for drive tourism and the caravan park industry.

Read Stuart’s column and more in the new Autumn print edition of AccomNews HERE

With caravanning contributing an astounding $10.9 billion per annum to regional and rural economies, the integration of new energy solutions within this sector is not just an environmental imperative but a significant economic opportunity.

Today, there are approximately 1500 caravan parks in Australia, which employ about 50,000 Australians (many of which are in regional Australia) as well as generating many more indirect jobs. As drive tourism accounts for 75 percent of all tourism in regional Australia, this segment of the market has always been a lifeline for Australia’s regional and rural areas. It not only supports local businesses but also promotes the dispersal of tourists away from congested urban centres, thus ensuring a more sustainable and equitable distribution of tourism’s economic benefits.

Quantifying the drive tourism footprint, key statistics demonstrate the sustained appetite:

  • Total visitor expenditure as of Y/E December 2023 is $10.7 billion, with 89 percent of nights being spent in regional Australia.
  • As of Y/E December 2023, a total of 56.2 million nights were as a result of self-drive travel, in comparison to 2.9 million nights resulting from fly-drive travel.
  • In December 2023, the average total distance travelled return to caravan parks was 1407.81km
  • As of Y/E December 2023, rolling annual visitor trip growth is sitting at 1 percent.

As we embrace a low-emissions future, caravan parks play a critical role in sustaining this momentum. Charge infrastructure and the activation of the accommodation sector to install charging points will be key in facilitating the long-term recovery of regional tourism. This will ensure that Australia’s vast and picturesque landscapes remain accessible and appealing to the environmentally conscious traveller.

AdobeStock By Summit Art Creations

One of the most immediate ways caravan parks can align with this new energy future is through the provision of EV charging infrastructure. Fast charging stations, accessible publicly at the front of caravan parks (outside the boom gate), offer a dual benefit. Firstly, they serve as a crucial amenity for day-trippers and those passing through, encouraging EV owners to explore further afield with the confidence that charging infrastructure is readily available. Secondly, these facilities can act as a drawcard, attracting visitors to the park and the surrounding region, thereby supporting local businesses and communities.

There are lots of benefits of parks installing destination charging:

  • Opportunity to acquire new visitors.
  • Enhancing the visitor experience.
  • Providing EV drivers with improved travel planning.
  • Drivers encouraged to stay longer – caravan parks have other facilities for day-trippers – onsite cafes and beach access.
  • Promotes the park – additional features and facilities.
  • Contributing to sustainable tourism.

Behind the boom gate, the opportunity for caravan parks to offer trickle feed chargers for guests to use overnight is equally compelling. Such facilities not only enhance the guest experience by ensuring convenience and peace of mind but also position caravan parks as leaders in sustainability and innovation. This move can significantly increase the appeal of parks to a growing segment of the market that values environmental stewardship and is looking for tourism options that align with their principles.

Investing in EV charging infrastructure is not just about keeping pace with technological advancement; it’s a strategic enabler of regional dispersal. By eliminating ‘range anxiety’, parks equipped with charging facilities can encourage tourists to venture beyond the major cities and explore the hidden gems of Australia’s regional and rural landscapes. This is crucial for the continued vitality and sustainability of these areas, helping to spread the economic benefits of tourism more widely and reduce the environmental impact of travel.

Furthermore, the transition towards a new energy future offers caravan parks the chance to rethink and revitalise their offerings. Incorporating renewable energy sources, such as solar panels to power the charging stations, can significantly reduce operational costs over time and further enhance the environmental credentials of the park. 

Additionally, the integration of smart technology can improve efficiency and guest experience, from booking systems that indicate charging station availability to apps that provide real-time information on local attractions and eco-friendly initiatives.

However, realising these opportunities requires collaboration across all levels of government, industry, and the community. Investment in infrastructure, particularly in remote and regional areas, must be accompanied by supportive policies and incentives that encourage both the uptake of EVs and the development of sustainable tourism practices.  Furthermore, education and awareness campaigns are essential to promote the benefits of eco-friendly travel and to ensure that tourists are well-informed about the availability and location of charging facilities.

In conclusion, as Australia moves towards a new energy future, the caravan and tourism sectors have a golden opportunity to lead the way in sustainable travel. By embracing the shift towards electric vehicles and investing in the necessary infrastructure, caravan parks can not only enhance their appeal to a broader range of tourists but also contribute significantly to the economic and environmental sustainability of Australia’s regional and rural communities. 

Image courtesy of CIAA

The road ahead is undoubtedly challenging, but it is also paved with immense potential. Through innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to sustainability, the caravan industry can ensure that drive tourism continues to thrive in the low emissions era, bringing benefits to all Australians for generations to come.

A notable trend in the caravan sector is the increase in driveable product, expanding tourism opportunities for smaller communities, with the average spend of travellers per night sitting on average at $180. Drive holidays to destinations like Tasmania are crucial for domestic and local economy contributions in 2024.  The new Spirit of Tasmania offering will kick off in 2024 with increased capacity and easier access through its Geelong terminal, we anticipate this to be a major hit with travellers from across Australia, who have dreamt of hitting the Apple Isle but have been restricted due to its lack of Spirit capacity.

It is great to see, our industry remains in fine shape in 2024. Despite economic challenges, Aussies still caravan in record numbers, thanks to local manufacturing and trip value. As an industry, we must encourage responsible touring and manufacturing to build on our momentum. The open road still calls louder than ever for Australians in 2024.

Caravan Industry Conference 2023

2024 National Caravan Industry Conference

Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s annual national conference is Australia’s largest gathering of the industry’s decision-makers under one roof. Each year the event attracts delegates representing all sectors of the industry, facilitating industry-specific learning and networking, business opportunities and allowing delegates to connect with the leaders of the caravan and camping industry.

2024 is shaping up to be the best Caravan Industry Conference yet. With world-class speakers delivering unbeatable content, and the return of all the popular social events, delegates are in for a treat with personalised content and lots of opportunity to connect and grow.

This year’s conference will be held at RACV Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast from May 15 to 17, 2024, for anyone looking to attend this stand-out event visit:  for more information.

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