Towns in Victoria and elsewhere are scrambling to emphasise their grey nomad friendly credentials as the power of the grey grapevine starts to hit local economies.
Last week, Warrnambool’s tourism services manager, Peter Abbott, was forced into damage control after a storm of negative online comment put the Great Ocean Road town on many travellers’ ‘do-not-stop’ list. But Mr Abbott’s desperate reassurances that Warrnambool does welcome all types of tourists, after all, may not be enough to undo the damage already caused.
On the flip side, positive word of mouth has been attracting significant numbers of budget travellers to public reserves in nearby areas such as Panmure, Hawkesdale, Cobden and Lismore.
The small settlement of Hawkesdale to the north of Warrnambool appears more than happy with the contribution the visitors are making, with the Hawkesdale and District Development Action Committee saying it was “keen for the campers to keep coming”.
The group’s secretary, Frank Huglin, told the Age newspaper that there had been “significant growth of free campers” in the town’s Apex Park and it was keen to discuss with the Moyne Shire Council what more could be done. He said more rubbish bins were needed and “toilet issues” had to be resolved.
At nearby Panmure, local resident Paul Moroney said many people camped for free at a picturesque picnic spot near the Princes Highway bridge over the Mount Emu Creek. He told the Age that the site was equipped with public toilets and a barbecue and the campers – often grey nomads looking for cheap and convenient stops – caused no problems.
As the owner of a pottery studio, he was also keen to acknowledge that campers, who often stayed for a few days, commonly spent money in the township.
Moyne Shire Council environmental and regulatory services manager Robert Gibson told the Age that if free campers were not causing any litter or hygiene problems in locations away from townships and caravan parks, the council was unlikely to move them on.
“There are lots of spots where camping is not prohibited, such as roadside rest stops, where campers can go,” Mr Gibson said.
He said the council recognised that camping in free areas was becoming popular but it would be controlled where necessary.