A shire in Western Australia have shut their free camps to support caravan parks in the region. I’m just off the phone from the Irwin council’s CEO, Shane Ivers. He said, “Caravan Parks have lost their key income stream, we encourage people to come and help them get on their feet.”
Council are also grappling with COVID regulations required for travellers, native title and have been considering adding a surcharge to another one of their sites, prior to the pandemic.
The Cliff Head campsites (WA sites 438-440 in Camps 10) cost council $400,000 to upgrade, and the belief is that people staying here bypass town and businesses, not contributing to the economy.
However, studies have shown that travellers staying at the site located in town – Dongara Town Oval (WA site 441 in Camps 10) bring in $80 each. This is a 24 hour stay, with no facilities. Seven camping areas have been shut (WA sites 436-442 in Camps 10)*.
And yet, council staff are still questioning the economic benefit. Short sighted decisions which will supposedly profit the caravan park owners, have potential of huge backlash to tourism in the community.
By all means, close amenities if they are too hard to comply with COVID regulations, or ask for a donation or a small fee. Appeal to travellers to “stay another day” and have a second night or more in the region at a caravan park. Build incentives for nomads to support caravan parks, or promote competitive pricing for “self contained” RV travellers. But closing freedom sites altogether in the region, risks turning away a huge proportion of travellers who appreciate the choice of where they stop the night.
We camp in both freedom sites and caravan parks. So do many people. Time and time again, we try to help people understand that a significant proportion of our customers DO NOT stay in caravan parks. They crave wide open spaces, they are fully equipped and don’t need playgrounds, games rooms, pools, camp kitchens, or even laundries, showers and toilets! Freedom camping is more than a mode of travel, for many it is a way of life.
However we saw in Rockhampton, Queensland, where a court case against council prevented them opening the freedom camp, that travellers simply bypassed the area. Unfortunately, it may take a while for the “not RV friendly” stigma to fade.
Why would you risk bowing to four businesses, at the risk of income sacrifice to the majority of businesses in all of Port Denison and Dongara?
No, it is not fair that caravan parks are suffering. But they are not the only ones. All accommodation venues have taken a hit with the travel lockdown. Add to that, pubs, clubs, cafes, tours, service stations, retail – this decision has the potential to hurt them, and the caravan parks, even more.
Please – if you have visited in the region – did you stay at Knobby Head, Cliff Head, Freshwater Point, or 7 Mile Beach? Did you visit Dongara/Port Denison and stop for lunch or pick up petrol or supplies?
If you are aware of other studies in Australia of the economic benefits to freedom camps on a town or region – please let us know.
Add your comments to our Facebook page or group, or contact council direct on 08 9927 0000.
*Please note: Arrowsmith Rest Area (WA site 435 in Camps 10) remains open. It is run by Main Roads, and is 50 km south of Dongara with toilets, picnic tables, fireplaces, dump point and is pet friendly. You will also find all of the sites mentioned in our Camps Australia Wide App.