25/03/2010 - 00:00

Camping into a new comfort zone

25/03/2010 - 00:00


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Caravan holidays are making a comeback. Russell Quinn reports.

Camping into a new comfort zone

THE days of camping and caravanning as the preserve only of those who enjoy roughing it in the great outdoors are long gone.

Following a slight dip in popularity during the 1980s and 1990s – albeit with strong retention among the brigade of ‘grey nomads’ heading north for the winter – caravanning is booming again across a range of age groups and demographics.

And a new phenomenon known as ‘glamping’ has a lot do with the revival.

For the uninitiated, ‘glamping’ is the term used to describe glamorous camping, where getting back to nature doesn’t mean life’s little pleasures are forgotten.

For ‘glampers’, for want of a better moniker, their time away from home is, actually, quite like being at home, with fridges, microwaves, hot showers and even satellite plasma televisions included inside the decadent surrounds of the latest luxury motor homes, fifth-wheelers and caravans.

The industry’s recent renaissance has been primarily driven by the return of families taking to the great outdoors.

Those working in the industry (including local manufacturers, suppliers and dealers) admit to experiencing a reduction in business last year during the downturn, but say the return to more prosperous times has been remarkably quick.

Publicly listed entity Fleetwood Corporation’s wholly owned subsidiary, Coromal Caravans, is the state’s largest and the nation’s second largest manufacturer of caravans.

In its 2009 annual report, Fleetwood detailed a 57 per cent fall in earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) to $8.3 million and a 20 per cent drop in revenue to $153 million, as compared to 2008, for its recreational vehicles division.

In addition to Coromal, Fleetwood’s RV division also includes The Camec Group (Australasia’s largest caravan spare parts, accessories and marine equipment manufacturer) and Windsor Caravans (the fourth largest caravan manufacturer in Australia, based in Melbourne).

However, Caravan Industry Association WA chief executive Pat Strahan said sales of all types of recreational vehicles had turned the corner.

“Caravans, motor homes, camper trailers, fifth-wheelers; it’s all picked up over the last six months,” Ms Strahan told Business Class.

“It’s gone up about 25 per cent since September.”

Figures from the Department of Transport support Ms Strahan’s claims as the number of RVs registered for Western Australian roads in 2009 increased more than 20 per cent on the previous year.

The greatest increase was in the caravan sector, with registrations increasing by 3,307 to 47,555 by the end of 2009.

“We thought it might have been quieter for a bit longer, and I guess it caught people by surprise,” Ms Strahan said.

“There’s a lot of the family markets coming now and they’re buying caravans …and (manufacturers are) putting bunk-beds back in to cater for families.”

Ms Strahan said the state’s largest outdoor lifestyle event, the Perth Caravan and Camping show held last week, attracted good crowds (potentially eclipsing last year’s 45,000 attendance) indicating the growth of the market generally and in particular the popularity of ‘glamping’.

“You can make it as glamorous as you like; you can set up a tent and have everything in it and it really is glamorous,” she said. “Fifth-wheelers are absolute luxury and so are the big motor homes. Those things are happening because of consumer demand. The beauty about this industry is there’s something to suit all budgets and lifestyles.”



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