Rise of the Resort Park

By: KIRSTIE BEDFORD, Photography by: Liudmila Smelyanskaya


Resort-style caravan parks are rising in numbers to meet the high expectations of a new market, as Kirstie Bedford discovered.

"The caravan park is actually trying to say, there’s a portion of my audience that needs to be entertained," -- CCIA Stuart Lamont.

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The statistics say it all. Caravan parks are thriving, and their evolution is undeniably driven by an insatiable consumer with high expectations.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s research shows the industry has been, on average, the fastest growing domestic accommodation type for the past five years.

In 2017, caravan park revenue exceeded $1.9 billion, and for every $1 caravan park revenue generated, there is $1.38 worth of direct economic benefit into the local economy.

In the last year alone, the RV market spent more than $8.6 million annually. So, there’s clearly a huge economic injection to be had by those who invest in their local parks - and it’s not just the public and private sector doing it.

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Rivershore Resort in the Sunshine Coast suburb of Diddillibah, the first park to be built in the state in 45 years, was the brainchild of a local family who had previously owned pubs and a retirement village.

Less than 18 months old, the park has replaced fields of cane. Bernie McGovern says the idea came about because his family saw an opportunity to provide something unique in the evolving market.

"People want to get their kids back outdoors and we felt others weren’t catering to the new market. We wanted to bring in the latest WiFi and have a restaurant and bar, and we wanted it to be unique."

Unique it certainly is, with direct river front access and 15 luxury safari tents imported from South Africa, which Bernie’s mother styled.

More like the feel of a new suburb than a park, it’s undeniably stylish, although flip-flops are still the going attire.

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This brand new park epitomises the new era, with retro bikes for hire and kayaks to take on a cruise down the river, and when you’re done, you can sit back and enjoy five star cuisine in the restaurant -- think pork belly braised with wild steamed rice and Asian greens, or bush spiced beef fillet with kipfler potatoes and dried artichokes; all washed down with a glass of the region’s best.

HOLIDAY HAVEN FOR THE KIDS

Further south for those wanting something with a more traditional park feel is the BIG4 Gold Coast Holiday Park.

Never would you guess directly across from Movie World and Wet’n’Wild on the Pacific Motorway, is a 32 acre haven with villas tucked away in lush tropical gardens, where kangaroos bounce along the back of the property, and koalas clutch to enormous gum trees.

This former residential park was re-developed six years ago, and under the current owners is now a tropical oasis with a Bali-style resort pool, licensed cafe, salt water creek where you can fish, BMX track, tennis court, and animal farm.

A small, but key difference to other parks, are the shower screens, which separate the changing cubicles. There’s also a newly opened doggie day care on site, so you can drop the dog in and head to the theme park for the day.

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Manager Mark Sickerdick says the park appeals to grey nomads, as well as families, because they like the variety of sites available, and the accommodation options for extended family.

He attributes the rise of this style of park to the "cruise ship mentality".

"If you give people everything they want, they don’t need to go off site. People’s expectations have grown and the dollar is harder to get and easier to spend, so people want value for money, and they want those facilities."

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A TOUCH OF LUXE

In the NSW mid-north coastal town of South West Rocks, the BIG4 Sunshine Resort South West Rocks has also recently evolved to meet the demands of discerning consumers, launching new luxury lodges which literally blend in with the landscape.

The seven Ngurra lodges (meaning ‘place of home’ in the Dunghutti Aboriginal language) boast a decal that replicates the forest setting behind it. Two hundred original photos have been Photoshopped together to create the lifelike landscapes, which mould the lodges into the local bushland.

The new two-storey Ngurra Lodges have leather lounges, three televisions, full kitchen and laundry facilities, and two large bedrooms.

Resort owner Tony Mayne says holiday parks are changing dramatically, "and we have always been at the forefront of meeting the new demand".

Two years ago he added a $1 million water park and the park’s list of facilities also includes a trampoline, putt putt, saltwater lagoon, and go karts.

ROOM FOR THE GREY NOMAD

"What about us", I hear you saying. The grey nomad, who makes up the lion’s share of growth market in this sector of travelling RVers, and who feels the big resorts are only catering to families.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s CEO Stuart Lamont says that’s not the case at all, and parks are trying to meet the needs of all markets.

"These resort parks provide an incredible amount of services and facilities that consumers want at a time when they aren’t full of school kids, and they are an important part for consumer needs ... so I get frustrated that everyone says it has a jumping pillow and they are just trying to attract families."

"The caravan park is actually trying to say, there’s a portion of my audience that needs to be entertained, and the jumping pillow is part of that, but they aren’t trying to exclude the grey nomad."

Lamont says when it comes to cost, "if it’s a mixed park with caravans and sites and is attracting families for the jumping pillow, that is subsidising the cost of people attending in caravans".

"Look at Rivershore, and others like them which have cafes and an on-site restaurant and big sites, and unashamedly they charge a fee, and I would suggest it’s good value and continues to be relative to other domestic tourism product ... everyone focuses on a few properties and doesn’t look at the overall picture. I think there are plenty of opportunities for people to travel and stay at a place that their budget attracts."

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CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION

BIG4 Holiday Parks, which has more than 180 parks across Australia, has recently changed its branding, to ensure clarity in the now diverse range of parks it offers.

CEO Steven Wright says it decided there was a need to better describe the parks, so the consumer knew exactly what they were getting, and has renamed its parks as either classic, holiday or premium.

"I get letters saying, ‘we went to this BIG4 park and it didn’t have a jumping pillow’, and then the grey nomad says, ‘I’m sick of paying for facilities so I’m not coming back’, so we are playing a role to ensure they choose the right park.

"If you are a grey nomad who wants a quiet location and cheaper environment, then there are parks in the classic range, and we also have facilities for families and kids in the premier range with higher pricing."

He says it’s about making sure the park meets the consumer need.

"If you’re in a quiet outback town driven by the nomad market then that’s what you have to deliver as an experience, but if you are on the beach in Gold Coast, or if in major family holiday destination, your park needs to address that and that’s what we’re doing, trying to help the consumer find what’s right for them."

Equally he says it doesn’t prevent grey nomads wanting the resort experience to choose that, at the right time of year when prices are lower.

"A lot of our parks are using a flexible price model, so you can stay in off peak environment and not have to pay peak prices."

SEEKING THE SOCIAL EXPERIENCE

Australian Tourist Park Management (ATPM) CEO Paul Davies, Australia’s second largest investor in holiday parks, says with the rise in resort parks, they’re seeing an increase in intergenerational travel.

"We see those groups travelling more and more. Every adult likes to see kids entertained and that [resort park] is a great way to do that."

He denies any theory that the resort park boom will burst.

"There’s an inherent social aspect to travelling and staying in a caravan and holiday park and people enjoy being in a social environment.

"The irony is the facilities they have in rigs are so developed and they can stop anywhere, but they still choose to come to a park because there’s something about that social aspect. From talking to our guests we know that’s an important aspect of the experience, so I don’t anticipate that that will change, it’s an inherent human desire."  

OUR PICKS

Heading to the east coast with the extended family? Here are three of our favourite resort-style parks to keep the entire family entertained for hours.

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  • Rivershore Resort, Diddillibah, QLD

www.rivershore.com.au

Best bits: Spacious sites, safari tents with uninterrupted river views, double slide in pool, five star cuisine and bar

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  • BIG4 Gold Coast, Helensvale, QLD 

www.big4.com.au/

Best bits: Resort-style pool with slide, lush gardens, new villas, plenty of powered and en suite sites, 32 acres of land, BMX track, proximity to theme parks, koalas and animal park, doggie daycare

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  • BIG4 South West Rocks, South West Rocks, NSW

www.big4.com.au/

Best bits: pirate ship water park with three slides in solar heated pool, resident kangaroos, food, and brand new lodges