Many of those of us who travel permanently, or for an extended period, seek out those special places where we can enjoy total freedom from rules and regulations and relax by a river, lake, beach or Mountain view, but are we really free from restrictions? Even in a pleasant waterfront setting like these we may be subject to any number of “rules” – Can we actually legally stay here overnight? Can we light a campfire? Can we use a generator when there is just not enough solar? Can we take our beloved pooch here? How long can we stay? Can we fish and do we need a license? Can we (responsibly) run our grey water on to the ground or have to contain it? etc. etc.
Even if none of the above apply we are still subject to whatever local by-laws may exist and the various laws of whichever State or Territory we are in and what may be an ideal camp today may well be closed the next time we try to visit. In these articles we will attempt to present an overview of the structure of the camping and caravanning environment and how the various levels of Government affect every one of us and every single place that we chose to stay.
I am sure we have all seen comments on Facebook (and elsewhere) about different locations, and sometimes what we perceive as unfounded criticisms of this place or that based on a single experience on a particular day. We all have (and are justifiably entitled to) our individual opinions about places and experiences, but sometimes the criticisms are given due to a lack of knowledge of the background information. We will start by looking at the structure of each type of camping location and what laws or regulations each of those have to comply with. Hopefully some of this information will provide some “food for thought” before you might want to complain about something, somebody, or somewhere!
First – Caravan Parks – Let’s start at the top of the cost scale.
Caravan Parks can be as diverse as any of our camping options, they can range from a complete “Resort” with all the entertainment, play and Dining options you might want, right down to a small patch of land in an equally small community in the bush with just an amenities block. In the same way the ownership and management of caravan parks may be just as diverse.
Ownership – There are actually two parts to this; the ownership of the land and basic infrastructure (office, roadways, pipes and wires, amenities building (sometimes) etc. and the ownership of “the park” as a business entity, this may include all “on-site” vans or cabins, sometimes even the managers residence and the playground equipment (and the amenities block if a transportable type). On the other hand the whole park may be owned by a single entity. This structure applies to both privately owned parks and council owned parks.
Where the ownership is split between the real estate and the business, the real estate owner is more often than not a “passive” partner in the whole thing and the business owner is the totally responsible person for everything that happens on the premises.
Costs – The costs associated with establishing and operating a Caravan Park are many and varied, depending on some of the above regulatory conditions. Just in establishment costs it is currently (2019) estimated that the cost of setting up a park with in ground services, concrete slabs and roadways is around $35,000 per site. A similar figure applies if a Park is being extended.
The days of setting up a Caravan Park in an empty paddock are pretty much over, although just establishing something as a “Campground” is different in most local government areas which we will discuss in the next article.
In addition you then have to build the Amenities, Office and Residence and any “entertainment” options (Playground, Pool, BBQ Area, Camp Kitchen etc. Then you have to furnish and equip all of these.
On top of the infrastructure costs are the fees imposed by Local Councils for “licensing” and/or planning approval, subdivision, re-zoning of the land,connection fees to services and so on (and on…). We know of figures such as $40,000 annual license fee, $25,000 “Amenities charge”, $30,000 “establishment fee” etc. All of these on top of Council Rates, Water, Sewage, Garbage and Power charges. Last year (2022) one owner reported an annual cost of $100,000 for repairs and maintenance of the Dump Point due to incorrect use (“abuse”) by customers. Then, of course, comes Insurances, Wages, Superannuation and all the other costs of operating a “business”. Assuming we now have our Caravan Park finished and operating we have to staff it and maintain it. For the latter you probably need as a minimum a Ute, maybe a trailer as well, a Ride-On Mower and a storage shed to keep it all in.
Staffing comes down to the operational structure (Owner operated, managed, leased etc.) but whoever is responsible for running the park day to day has to find enough people to man the office for at least 12-14 hours a day; clean the amenities, maintain the grounds etc.
After all this is in place you probably want to add some onsite accommodation, usually cabins these days rather than onsite vans.. So start adding from $100,000 per cabin, and then you have to supply linen, maybe kitchen facilities and find someone to clean and launder.
The other significant factor is that many areas are VERY seasonal, e.g. the wet tropics where the Park has to survive on a 5 to 7 month season at best.
I think you might get the picture by now that Caravan Parks in the 21st century are not the piece of grass they were in the 60s, 70s or even 80s when some of us used to travel around them. Next time you book in and/or check in please share a thought for the people involved and what has been done to provide you with a comfortable night’s (or week’s) stay.
Author’s Note: This is not intended to be an exhaustive view of every little detail but to present the overall picture. It maybe paints the ideal (?) picture but we all know that there are people involved in running Caravan Parks who we might think are in the wrong industry but give them a thought anyway!
Coffs Harbour Caravan Park 1966 Photo Courtesy National Archives
This article is also written for and authorised to be published by Full Range Camping