23 June 2022
23 June 2022, Comments Comments Off on Stuart Lamont – CIAA Australia
Stuart Lamont - CIAA Australia

Ups and Downs in the land Down Under

A lot has happened since the last time Aboutcamp BtoB spoke to Stuart Lamont, Chief Executive Officer of Caravan Industry Association of Australia

Words Irene Viergever

Australia, like the rest of the world, has had a turbulent two years: floods, bush fires, COVID-19, more floods, supply issues. Things are looking positive for the Land Down Under though. We caught up with Stuart Lamont for an interview about the impact of COVID-19 on the RV Industry, the 2022 National Conference and Future Plans for the Association as life turns ‘back to normal’.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Another successful National Conference has been held at the Gold Coast. What was the theme of this year’s conference and what did the overall program look like?
Stuart Lamont: This years’ conference celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Caravan Industry Association of Australia coming into existence, so it centred around “looking back… driving forward”. As an industry we have seen so much benefit from the industry coming together as one – suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, repairers and caravan parks, so we wanted to provide an environment which facilitated social exchange of ideas (in the first real industry event since COVID began), as well as bringing together many of those individuals who had contributed so much along the way to see how far we had come as both an organisation and an industry. Interesting motivational speakers were supported by the ACCC, the Federal Department of Infrastructure, panel discussions around supply chain challenges, an international report around supply disruptions, what the future looks like in 2030, and the impact of alternative vehicles entering the market. These were all designed to allow the industry to not only better understand what is happening now, but start preparing for what lies ahead.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What were the highlights of this year’s conference? And your personal highlight?
Stuart Lamont: It was a massive week with so many events in one – conference sessions, workshops, masterclasses, social dinners, VIP luncheons, a golf day, awards night, plus so much more so just balancing the different events which all needed special attention was a huge challenge for an event which is managed purely by association staff. This is not their normal job activity and so to see the team come together and step up where needed when part of the team came down with COVID, and curve balls were being thrown at us, was a massive highlight. The teamwork shown and camaraderie generated is something which forges a strong bond towards achieving the heavy agenda ahead. On a conference front, the awards night to finish the event is always something to look forward to, and to see the awarding of industry’s highest honour (the Eric Hayman OAM Award for Excellence) to one of the gentlemen of the industry, Chris Goddard from Cruisemaster, someone so passionate towards advancing the interests of the manufacturing sector and the development of RVMAP (manufacturing accreditation program) was a real personal highlight for me.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Just like previous years, Wednesday was the Future Leaders Conference. What is the overall feel among our industry’s Future Leaders? What keynote speakers presented during this event?
Stuart Lamont: The Future Leaders Conference has always had an important role within the main conference as we look to develop the emerging leaders of our industry, and encourage them to expand their thinking as they move towards themselves taking positions of leadership and prominence within our industry. This year we changed the format slightly, making it more of a forum where we workshopped what the industry could do better around five key themes – diversity, industry integration, sustainability, technology, and regional tourism. The thoughts generated from these discussions were then presented to the entire conference just before our closing speaker so that we could better hear from our Future Leaders finalists as well as exploring some of the ideas that the current Board should be preparing for as part of their upcoming strategic discussions.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What is the place for shows in 2022? Will they be just as popular as pre-COVID19?
Stuart Lamont: Consumer shows continue to have a very important place in the landscape in 2022, and we see this through the numbers continuing to visit all of the state association run consumer shows held so far this year. While technology allows far greater research capacity for consumers, there is nothing better than being able to touch and feel industry product while getting access to a range of product to reaffirm your keyboard thoughts. While COVID has disrupted the timing of some of these shows (and the unfortunate postponement and cancellation of shows in Adelaide and Perth), there continues to be a thirst by consumers to attend these shows, and we will continue to see their popularity in the next few years ahead.

Aboutcamp BtoB: The last two years have been challenging; bush fires, floods, COVID19, more floods… How did Covid19 affect the RV Industry in Australia? What sectors/members suffered the most? Is there a silver lining?
Stuart Lamont: COVID has created a multi-speed economy and the RV Industry is no different. The closure of international borders and the pause on cruising has seen a real pent-up demand towards caravanning and camping and domestic tourism more broadly. We have therefore seen a historical record supply of RV product to market in the last year (25% above previous highs), with local supply and labour challenges supplemented through record levels of imported product flooding the market. The lockdowns, particularly in Melbourne caused considerable frustration for RV businesses, meaning lead times have increased and supply has been at less than full capacity. This continues as health definitions around COVID and close contacts has seen workforces across the country operating at only 65-85% of capacity. COVID has also seen global demand for RV product increase substantially at a time when worldwide supply chains (and in particular) China have not been able to keep up, causing significant pricing increases in components and raw materials, stripping profits out of the local market. In turn domestic border closures has shaken the confidence of travelling consumers who were more wary of how far they will travel or how often they travel. Despite this, those caravan parks within three to four hours of major metropolitan centres in good locations had record years as consumer flocked to escape the cities and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle which caravanning and camping provides. This led to the industry leading the domestic tourism recovery with caravanning and camping being the number one holiday accommodation choice in Australia through COVID, and the number one accommodation provider in regional Australia, irrespective of the purpose of travel (over hotels and all other forms of accommodation). In a new post COVID world we can only see positive growth for the industry – one which is affordable, allows for escapism but reconnection at the same time, and is considered COVID safe (due to consumers being able to control their own surroundings).

Aboutcamp BtoB: What has been the role of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia during COVID19?
Stuart Lamont: Caravan Industry Association of Australia has had a coordination role during COVID providing support for our state caravanning associations through the exchange of information and provision of research and resources. COVID-19 in Australia is one which has been fought primarily at the state Government level, with local health orders dominating what you were able to do. At a national level, our focus remained on keeping the consumer inspired towards our industry product, and caravanning and camping front of mind when domestic travel returned. Early on it was around Camping at Home to make sure consumers stayed connected with the concept of caravanning and camping, and as COVID-19 developed this moved into a reconnection phase (connecting people with memories, loved ones and nature), a Travel Your Road campaign which moved the consumer into a control phase for their own adventure, and a national Win a Weekender campaign (which saw the largest number of competition entries on a single day of any promotion we have previously run). All of these contributed to building our consumer database to make sure our industry messages were always on, while making sure the industry remained positively represented while other tourism sectors lay dormant.

Aboutcamp BtoB: How will the manufacturing numbers develop over the next 12 months? Is the end of this boom in sight? What will happen now that the International borders are open again?
Stuart Lamont: We expect manufacturing numbers to continue to climb as retail inventory levels are required to be replenished and demand continues to be strong. While the industry benefited from international borders being closed and those consumers substituting into RV product, we now see nervousness around the unknown of international travel, the concern around sudden lockdowns and becoming trapped, and the pricing and availability of both medical services and travel insurance all continuing to play on the minds of travelling consumers. We can see a move back to people travelling overseas, however this will be led by family and friends and business travel, and we believe those who have invested in an RV during COVID-19 we will see supplementary travel rather than these consumers deserting the industry. Therefore we remain highly optimistic that the current interest and activity towards RV product and the caravanning and camping lifestyle will continue.

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are Caravan Industry Association of Australia’s plans for the upcoming financial year? What will be your main focus?
Stuart Lamont: The industry has many challenges (and opportunities) ahead of it for the coming year. As alternative travel options come online we will be required to maintain our share of voice to make sure RV remains as part of the consideration set particularly while we are seeing increased pricing and continued long lead times. Add to this a Federal election which has many potential outcomes, increased regulatory attention towards our industry product, several large recent and upcoming changes to gas and electrical standards which need adhering to, and the move to type approval for importers and local manufacturers alike will see a year like we haven’t seen in the last thirty years. The importance of talking with one voice and providing factual and consistent information to industry, and representation to Government, will be vitally important in the coming year, and so a huge focus for us will be around working with our state associations to make sure there are no mixed messaging in market, and industry businesses receive the most up to date and accurate information so they can navigate the changing regulatory and legislative environment.