The Melbourne Cup is done, and won, and summer’s almost here. As temperatures rise, holiday park operators around Australia are working frantically to prepare for the holiday hordes who will descend over the Christmas break, six weeks when normal life ends and it’s time to work, work and work some more. RMS Cloud has spoken with some of Australia’s leading holiday park operators to find out how the peak summer season is shaping up. Here’s what they had to say.
‘Chock-a-block’ in WA as locals head back to the beach
Sarah Corbitt, GM at Summerstar Tourist Parks, Western Australia’s largest operator with 10 parks around the state, is looking forward to a bumper peak season.
“Christmas, as ever, is set to be chockas at our parks all around the state – the people of Western Australia love flocking to the beach.
“We’re busy right through to Australia Day, which is a little unusual as business normally drops off after the first week of January.”
Sarah hopes it’s the beginning of a longer-term tourism recovery for the west, where the industry has suffered in recent years due to lower international and interstate visitations.
The proliferation of Airnbnb rentals and non-compliant campsites have also had an impact.
“West Australians are hopefully starting to holiday in their own back yard again. It’s been a long winter and a bit wetter than normal.”
While peak travel periods such as school holidays are always busy, business has been slower than usual during the off-season.
On the upside, the tidal wave of grey nomads remains undiminished while an emerging market is families “doing the lap” of Australia.
A few of these make it up to the spectacular north-west of Western Australia, remote but dramatically beautiful.
“The remoteness can be challenging but with caravanning and camping that’s what people want. WA has such a diverse range of things to do and see.”
In terms of travel trends, Sarah says the hottest destinations for Summerstar this year are its parks at Jurien Bay and Esperance.
Horrocks Beach on the WA Coral Coast has also enjoyed a surge of popularity after being selected as Australia’s best beach by Brad Farmer, ‘beach ambassador’ for Tourism Australia.
Sarah is very optimistic about the future (“you’ve got to adapt to survive) and the family-owned business continues to expand with a new park under development at iconic Red Bluff, near Kalbarri.
Let the Good Times Roll
On the other side of the country, it’s been a huge year for Tweed Coast Holiday Parks, a business unit of Tweed Shire Council, which owns and operates seven holiday parks on the far north coast of New South Wales.
Andrew Illingworth, Unit Co-Ordinator, says the good times are set to continue with outstanding Christmas holiday bookings, citing redevelopment of its flagship property, Kingscliff Beach, as the highlight of 2018.
The beachfront property reopened to great acclaim in March after 14 months of work that dragged a park founded in the 1960s into a state-of-the-art facility.
Kingscliff Beach has since won a slew of awards including ‘Best of the Best’ at the NSW Caravan and Camping Industry Association NSW Awards for Excellence 2018.
Andrew says the focus of the transformation was on quality not quantity.
“We actually reduced the size of the park and created much larger sites to allow for the bigger vans and vehicles we are seeing now,” he says.
“Since reopening, our occupancy has gone up significantly and Kingscliff Beach now typically averages 94% while the price per site has also been increasing. People are prepared to pay more for better sites and locations.”
He says demand is so strong across its portfolio – especially from Brisbane, just 90 minutes away by car – that “we could be selling every site three or four times” during the Christmas holidays, especially during the peak period between December 20 and the first week of January.
Demand is also strengthening through the back end of January, he says, as the way people holiday evolves.
A major trend is shrinking length of stay. “People used to stay three weeks, that doesn’t happen anymore, now it’s a week or 10 days.”
From Brickies to Surgeons, You Have to Keep up With the Times
Sandra Watts, from Watts Holiday Parks, which owns and manages three parks in Melbourne, Ballarat and Renmark, can’t wait for the Christmas break, even though she’ll be frantically busy.
“I’m very excited and am really looking forward to the holidays – I just love seeing all the families at our parks,” Sandra says.
She loves bringing people together in a truly egalitarian environment.
“It’s the only place you can see a surgeon standing next to a brickie having a beer and a chat – where else do you see that?”
Holiday bookings are good, she says, and is expecting the usual full house at all three of the parks.
“Renmark is already booked out – people book year to year. Goldfields (Ballarat) is busy though there’s still availability, while in Melbourne there’s lots of space but it tends to fill late.”
In other words – “It’s a typical year.”
Sandra says booking trends such as the move to shorter stays reported by other business have essentially remained the same across all three Watts Parks.
There’s a seven-night site minimum at Renmark while both Melbourne and Ballarat – opposite tourist attraction Sovereign Hill – have always attracted short-term visitors.
She says van trailers are getting bigger, and “that’s a challenge”.
Innovations through the year include the development of a Sensory Room at Renmark for use by families with a child or children on the Autism spectrum. Designed in consultation with specialists in the field, including parents, it has been extremely well received.
“We have also put gyms in Melbourne and Renmark – they are very popular.”
“We’re always investing, you have to. We’ve got people coming back year after year to the parks and they like to see improvement.
“Things are changing all the time – you have to keep up with the times.”
More Bookings, Shorter Stays at BIG4
Steven Wright, CEO of BIG4, says forward bookings for the Christmas break across its national network of more than 100 parks are up 9% over last year.
“People are booking more breaks and shorter breaks,” he says.
They’re also increasingly booking online.
Bookings through the BIG4 website were up 18% for the three months from July through to the end of September, a record, following a strong 2017/18 financial year for BIG4 member parks.
Innovation is a factor in stimulating more park visits, says Wright.
“Parks continue to invest in infrastructure and innovations such as glamping seems to be doing very well.”
He adds that January is BIG4’s busiest booking month.
“People are either booking a last-minute Christmas holiday or have just returned from one and are planning their next trip.”
Annual Pilgrimage Still a Thing
Adrian Edwards, proprietor of the Inverloch Holiday Park, says “Christmas bookings are looking good, as you would expect being a coastal holiday park in Victoria.
“We do have the odd gap but will fill those before we get to Boxing Day.”
He estimates around 80% of Christmas guests are repeat visitors. “Most would have stayed the previous year” and camping sites are in especially high demand.
Nine out of 10 guests will be staying the minimum one week and half live in the ever-expanding suburbs of southeast Melbourne, just 120km away, while another 40% come from the country Victoria, predominantly Gippsland.
Adrian says guest demographics are slowly changing as Melbourne becomes a much more cosmopolitan city due to rapid immigration.
A noticeable shift has been a decline in the ‘grey nomad’ market – which is very price sensitive and may be reacting to increased petrol prices – while there has been an increase in Asian visitations, mostly second-generation.
He is optimistic about the future due to the rapid growth of Melbourne, Australia’s fastest growing city.
“We are a destination park and our proximity to Melbourne is a real advantage for people who want to head to the beach for a few days.”