Australians love taking to the open road in search of adventure.
After 2 years of lockdowns and travel restrictions, they are heading off in ever larger numbers. The caravan industry is booming.
During 2021, the caravan and camping sector generated 12.6 million trips. This was an increase of 19% on the previous year. Visitor expenditure for the period totalled $7.4 billion, up 29% (Source: Caravan Industry Association of Australia, Caravan and Camping State of Industry, June 2022).
As Australia heads into a golden age for caravanning, the industry is responding with innovative products and improved facilities.
Chair of the National Caravan Industry Association of Australia and G’Day Group CEO Grant Wilckens is passionate about the future of the caravanning industry.
'A key part of what we’re doing both federally as the Caravan Industry Association and within G’day Group is looking at the future of caravanning and camping,’ Wilckens says.
‘Imagine if you could cross the Kimberley in an electric vehicle?
‘At the moment it’s unheard of and is probably a year or 2 away. But imagine if you could cross the Gibb River Road in an electric four-wheel drive. That’s the sort of vision that we’re working towards.’
He points out that both Europe and the US have strong electric vehicle markets. Smaller vehicles are more common in Europe. The US shares a preference for larger vehicles with Australia.
‘We’re looking globally at the technology that’s advancing in the motor vehicle space,’ Wilckens says. ‘The US is advancing very quickly in [electric] pick-up truck-type vehicles that can actually tow boats and caravans.
‘Talking to our US counterparts, we do feel the electrification of the caravan industry is closer than everyone thinks. We’re being very conscious as to what we need to do as a park operator.’
To that end, G’Day Group is investing in the infrastructure needed to support electric vehicles. This includes electric vehicle–charging stations throughout the Group’s portfolio of caravan parks.
In the 18 years G’Day Group has been operating, Wilckens has seen caravanning steadily grow in popularity. ‘There’s been a real resurgence in the industry over the last few years,’ he says.
In response, the G’Day Group has been progressively modernising its product.
‘Even 18 years ago, investment into holiday parks was relatively average yet customers had started to expect more,’ Wilckens says. This led the Group to introduce better facilities including self-contained cabins, resort-style pools and wi-fi.
Wilckens says the Group’s ultimate goal is to streamline the customer experience through technology. Customers can already find and book a site in the G’Day Group app. The Group also aims to introduce contactless check-ins and departures.
When customers arrive, a sensor will identify their vehicles and open the boom gates. They will be able to locate their site through GPS. When their holiday is over, their departure will be equally hassle-free.
‘That’s the sort of seamless customer experience we want to have in our parks,’ says Wilckens.
Looking at all the caravans sitting motionless in neighbours’ driveways, Justin Hales wondered why he couldn’t rent one while they weren’t using it. The idea for Camplify was born.
Camplify is to caravanning what Airbnb is to holiday homes. It is a platform that makes it easy for caravan and motorhome owners to earn an income from their underutilised assets.
Founder and CEO Hales says the main benefit of Camplify’s model is its widespread network. Mainstream campervan hire companies concentrate their stock in capital cities. With Camplify, customers can usually find a caravan or motorhome close to them.
‘We’ve got stock everywhere and a highly varied rental fleet,’ says Hales. ‘You have a different experience every time you book through us. You can rent anything from a 60-year-old Kombi right through to a brand-spanking new caravan.’
Camplify launched in 2015. It has since expanded its operations to the UK, Spain and New Zealand. While customers were quick to see the potential, Hales says it took longer to attract caravan owners to the platform.
‘We had to make sure we had all the right protections in place for them,’ says Hales. ‘It’s something that’s built over time with owners.’
To increase owners’ sense of security, Camplify offers varying levels of insurance cover. Hirers can purchase a GPS tracker so they know where their vehicle is and how far it has travelled. To make marketing their vehicle simple, they can buy a customised bumper sticker. The sticker has a QR code that potential customers can scan for details on booking the vehicle.
The company has also partnered with manufacturers to sell vans that are custom-designed for the rental market.
Hales believes the caravanning trend has not yet peaked.
'Peak caravanning was 1976 so we’ve just gone back in a little way to what previous generations have done,’ he says. ‘We saw a huge amount of investment into caravan parks in that period. I think we’ll see the same now.
‘We’ll see some evolution of the vehicles as well. I think we’ll go through an EV change globally, and I think we’ll see that in the caravan and camping market as well.’
Caravanning provides Australians with an affordable way to travel domestically, bringing economic benefits to many regional areas. Domestic visitors account for 91% of total visitor spend in regional Australia (Source: Austrade, Opportunities for the visitor economy, June 2021).
Encouraging Australians to travel and spend domestically as they would overseas is one of the actions of THRIVE 2030, the national strategy for the sustainable growth of the visitor economy.
Tourism Research Australia (TRA) is Australia’s official provider of tourism data and analysis to support Australia’s visitor economy. TRA has a rich 35-year history of data collection at the leading edge of tourism research in Australia.