A regional city in Western Australia says a controversial move to offer free caravan rest stops is paying off — despite opposition from the holiday park industry.
- The City of Bunbury says a trial of free caravan sites has proved a success
- The two-year trial of the free sites has generated $360,000 for the local economy
- Major holiday park group Discovery Parks says the move is unfair to private operators
The City of Bunbury last night voted to make permanent a two-year trial to allow caravans to stay for free near Back Beach, close to the centre of town, for up to 48 hours.
The decision was made despite pressure from one of Australia’s largest caravan park groups — Discovery Parks — which said a trend by local governments across Australia to offer free sites was unfair to private operators.
Free sites generate ‘$360,000’
The City of Bunbury, two hours’ drive south of Perth, has long tried to capitalise on tourists travelling through to the more high-profile destinations of Margaret River and Busselton.
And Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan said the two-year, free-rest-stop trial had done just that by generating $360,000 for the local community and attracting 2,500 travellers.
He dismissed industry suggestions that the free rest areas lured paying customers away from private caravan parks.
“The feedback we’ve got is that without the free parking areas, they wouldn’t stay here,” he said.
He said the local community had been overwhelmingly positive about allowing a small group of caravans to stay for free, for a limited time.
Trial ‘unfair’ to private operators
But the decision to offer free caravan rest areas in Bunbury has frustrated private operators, who offer unpowered sites for about $35 a night.
Grant Wilckens is the CEO of Discovery Parks, which has about 60 private parks Australia — including two in Bunbury.
He said industry research suggested guests at free sites spent less than those in commercial parks.
Mr Wilckens said private operators contributed to the local community — noting Discovery Parks was investing $1 million in a $1.7 million water park in Bunbury — and defended the price he charged for customers to stay at the park.
“A $40 powered site is a very reasonable fare when you’re getting access to all the great facilities like jumping pillows and camp kitchens,” he said.
‘We wouldn’t have stayed’
Caravanners on Ocean Drive said without the free sites, they would not have stayed overnight in Bunbury — because of the cost of private parks.
Queenslanders Kelly and Glen Howland have been travelling for about eight months, and stopped in Bunbury because of the option to stay there for free.
“If we were paying for a caravan park, we wouldn’t be able to go and do that, we wouldn’t be able to see sites and go to the Dolphin Discovery centre and spend our money in town.”