Before Covid-19 hit Australia, the country and RV industry had another battle to fight: devastating bushfires. We spoke with Stuart Lamont, CEO of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia about the market, impact of Covid-19 and the role the Caravan Industry Association of Australia has during these challenging times.
Words Irene Viergever
Aboutcamp BtoB: How was the market before the Covid-19 emergency?
Stuart Lamont: Australia has a proud and strong local caravan manufacturing sector. In the past 12 months, a total of 21,500 recreational vehicles were manufactured, representing the tenth consecutive year of production exceeding 20,000 units. There are around 711,000 registered RVs in Australia and the caravan and camping lifestyle is deep rooted in the Australian psyche. Tourism Research Australia figures for 2019 visitation for caravan and camping showed that it was more popular than ever – reaching a record high of 14 million overnight trips.
Typically, residents in the southern parts of the country take trips over the Christmas and New Years periods, extending the whole way through January over School Holidays and into the Easter period, after which travellers tend to head north into Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia as the seasons turn. This is particularly popular among retirees and families who have taken extended time off work or school to do the “big lap” of Australia. Sadly, the impact of bushfires in some very popular summer destinations in the south and along the east coast was devastating and then the COVID-19 crisis followed which brought any travel plans to a complete halt.
Aboutcamp BtoB: How much do you think this Covid-19 emergency will affect the RV Industry in Australia?
Stuart Lamont: Manufacturers have understandably needed to review their workspaces to align with social distancing guidelines and increase hygiene practices for their workforce which may impact on efficiencies for a while. Interestingly, we are hearing that caravan and camping retailers and dealers are finding an uptake in sales, as people are using this downtime to service product to be ready to hit the road when restrictions ease. Despite having a strong local manufacturing industry, a global crisis of this scale does impact the international supply chain, so local manufacturers are having to get smart about where to source their components, and how far ahead to order. Caravan Shows have also been postponed for a while which has changed the way the many dealers interact with their customers this year. That’s not to say that demand will subside, while disposable income for some customers will be impacted, welfare and wage subsidies have been a big focus of the Australian government to soften the blow of this to households so they can continue to spend and that businesses can quickly pick back up once the risk is reduced.
Aboutcamp BtoB: And what about the Campsite and RV Park industry?
Stuart Lamont: Thanks to the proactive work of our government, restrictions are now able to begin being eased in Australia, with some states already allowing travellers to get back on the road. It is anticipated that without the option to go overseas or on a cruise for a while, domestic tourism will flourish and is the key focus for those wanting to book a trip. This plays really well into the hands of caravan park operators, as the experience they offer is very much what people are likely to be after – a place where they can spend time with loved ones in amongst nature with their own equipment or a self-contained cabin away from the cities or suburbs. This isn’t to say that the last few months have not been incredibly difficult for operators, however they are resilient and there is light at the end of the tunnel for many.
Aboutcamp BtoB: What has been the role of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia during the Covid-19 crisis?
Stuart Lamont: Thankfully, Australia has managed to achieve an enviable position with relation to the battle against COVID-19. Initially the association was heavily focused on ensuring that industry businesses had the right information on what they needed to do, with customers, staff and with the government support programs. Now that restrictions are beginning to ease it is all about market stimulation and ensuring that caravan and camping is front of mind for anyone wanting to take a holiday. This comes hand in hand with lobbying the government to ensure that they understand the economic benefit that our industry provides in regional Australia and that it is a safe way to travel. Tourism Australia which usually promotes Australia to the international market has recently taken a domestic focus, and we are working closely with them to ensure that caravan and camping experience is front of mind. This is in conjunction to a number of social media campaigns with our strong digital audience of around 800,000 Australians and industry partnerships.