The ongoing debate about exactly how much economic benefit free camps bring to country communities is back in the spotlight following the announcement that a popular RV rest stop in northern Queensland has closed.
In announcing the closure of the camping area behind the Saint Catherine’s Catholic Church in Proserpine, Whitsunday Regional Council effectively said the sums didn’t add up.
The situation at the particular RV Rest Stop was complicated by the fact that the council didn’t own the land on which it was sited, but rather it was leased from the Catholic Church.
Although the Church indicated it would be happy to extend the current lease, the council said a potential cost of more than $600,000 to install drainage, lighting and carry out other infrastructure work couldn’t be justified.
The Proserpine RV Rest Stop, which was approved in 2019, offered free camping for up to 48 hours for self-contained travellers, although it closed for several months every wet season.
Before making the decision to close the campsite, councillors were given a report assessing the economic benefits it brought to Proserpine.
“Based on one-day visits at 1,600 vehicles for a six-month period from December to May with two people per day per vehicle equals 3,200 people,” it said. “The figures included in the assessment are based upon a 24-hour period with most visitors staying for a period of two days which would result in a considerable increase in food expenditure.”
Several councillors argued the free camp had brought significant economic benefits and warned local businesses would be greatly impacted by its closure.
And there was also concern expressed that the closure would mean Proserpine would be seen as not a friendly place to go.
The report concluded however that the closure of RV Rest Stop might result in a minor reduction in spend, but not a total reduction. Furthermore, it said evidence provided to it by local caravan parks indicated there was a significant impact on their revenue during the months when the RV Park was operational.
The debate then goes on.
How much do free campers really spend in an area, and how much impact do they have on commercial camping operations?
In May this year, Gilgandra Shire Council in the NSW Great Western Plains region launched a 24-month trial of a free 48-hour parking area for self-contained RVs in a bid to attract more travellers. Its success or otherwise will be assessed against the impacts on the region, ‘including economic, visitation, operational, private operators and growth’.