An innovative ‘Stop and Shop’ free camping trial introduced by a Queensland council has been declared a stunning success … and plans are well advanced to roll out the scheme in other locations.
Thinking outside the square in order to maximise the number of grey nomads stopping at Maryborough and Hervey Bay, the Fraser Coast Council cooked up an ingenious scheme whereby self-contained travellers producing receipts for at least $10 from a local business are entitled to a night’s free camping.
The Hervey Bay Visitor Information Centre is the first site approved as a designated long parking area and, while there are only four spaces available, the council has been hugely encouraged by the early reaction. It will open another site in Hervey Bay and one in Maryborough within the next few weeks.
Remarkably, the scheme was introduced with the unanimous approval of all stakeholders … including local caravan parks.
“There was concern in some quarters that grey nomads might feel in some way insulted about having to prove they spent money in the area,” said Councillor Stuart Taylor, who is responsible for the tourism portfolio. “But we found exactly the opposite, with people eager to show just how much they spend.”
Although visitors only have to show receipts for $10 at the visitor centre to earn their ‘20-hour stay’ voucher, many show reams of receipts proving they spend – on average – a minimum of $115. Some spend over $1,000 eating out and taking tours. The council says this sort of ‘hard evidence’ helps justify the initiative.
“We have seen people who would otherwise have left stay in the area to spend money,” said Cr Taylor. “We also see people staying an extra night elsewhere once they discover what the region has to offer.”
And he has little doubt that other local authorities will soon start taking an interest in – and potentially replicating – the unique initiative.
“I am sure that if other places try this they will get equally positive results,” said Cr Taylor. “It is a win-win situation.”
Crucial in keeping local caravan parks ‘onside’ is the council’s determination to take a holistic approach to camping.
“We recognise how important the grey nomad and RV market is and we want to help commercial and non commercial operators alike,” said Cr Taylor. “We are looking to slash the red tape and the costs involved for caravan parks seeking to open up new areas to offer an affordable, no-frills option to travellers who don’t need many amenities.”