Free Camping - What is the real cost?

Monday, Nov 28, 2011 at 19:12

Baz - The Landy

Story: Baz – Landy (Updating the original – May 2013)

One of the things that make Australia great is our ability to travel the wide open spaces and find our own little piece of Australia where we can camp and perhaps stay a few days to enjoy what the area has to provide.

But it all comes at a cost...

There has been plenty of discussion about ‘free camping’ on this site and in many others.

Often inter-twined in these discussions is the cost of staying in caravan parks or other short-term accommodation. And a recent post about Tasmania reviewing ‘free’ camping prompted me to put a couple of thoughts together...

The arrival of much larger, self-contained, caravans and RV’s has seen the debate about the provision of ‘free’ or ‘subsidised’ camping facilities around Australia become more vigorous.

Many towns you pass through these days have been endorsed by the Campervan and Motorhome Associations’ for the provision of these facilities, seemingly in return for the patronage of the town’s businesses.

But at what cost?

The term, there is no such thing as a free lunch, comes to mind.

Now to qualify the discussion, I am not talking about access to free camping in the wide open spaces, but how it relates to camping in, or near towns, that already provide short-term accommodation via caravan parks or the like.

The argument currently being used is that if you provide free, or subsidised facilities we will patronise the business in your town, and if you don’t we will drive through – a position seemingly being taken by many, and often promoted by the various Associations, but in the long run who will this really affect the most?
I suspect it will be the travelling public.

Free or reduced fees in this context equates to a local government subsidy to those demanding it, at the expense of not only the local rate-payers, but also to those who already provide these services.

And this is a key element of the whole debate, how it affects those currently providing the service, and what does it mean for the future?

It is easy to take a very short-term view of the issue, and there have been many discussions about the cost of staying in a caravan park, and whilst I don’t intend to discuss that in any great depth here, I think there is an element of misunderstanding of the true cost of running these businesses.

The longer-term implication is that over time private sector investment in short-term accommodation for the travelling public will decline, we are already seeing this through the closure of caravan parks, and also is one of the reasons many are not investing in upgrades to current facilities. Let’s face it, if the local government is going to compete with you, and subsidise the real cost of providing the service via ‘free camping’ why would you invest more money in your caravan park?

And this is one of the reasons some caravan park owners are now taking action against local governments for doing this.

Tasmania is a good example.

And to its credit, the Tasmanian authority has commissioned a report to look at the whole issue, in part, due to the fact there are laws around making sure there is pricing neutrality.

This is a personal view point of mine; I have no investments in caravan parks, I want to travel Australia as cheaply as I can, but, importantly, I want to see a continuation of investment in tourism infrastructure inAustralia, as it provides jobs to the local community, and it ensures we have facilities available when we are travelling.

And I’ll leave you with this thought.

Government subsidies generally lead to a fall-off in private sector investment; is very inefficient from a cost point of view, and means that we become more reliant on the government to provide the facilities and infrastructure we need. One only needs to look at the government sector track record on infrastructure investment in Australia to see that the travelling public will be the loser in the long-run if we continue to ‘stifle’ private sector investment.

Perhaps the caravan park model needs to change, but be careful of demanding government subsidies to achieve this...

And as a footnote, Camps Australia has been a boon for the travelling public in Australia, I have one in each of my vehicles, but already we are seeing signs of stress on the free camping areas listed in the books. Often over-crowded, generally unregulated, and in many cases filthy.

The old adage, give someone something for free and they won’t value it resonates loudly.

Is this the infrastructure we want for the future?

Just in case you were wondering “Baz – The Landy” came about as a consequence of owning three Land Rover Defenders, but as you can see this has now changed...

And yes, thank you, I've recovered fully from the experience!

But “Baz – The Landy” reference has stuck...!

Cheers, Baz – The Landy, Outback Australia…
“Those who don’t think
it can be done shouldn’t
bother the person doing it…”
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