High profile Indiana RV dealer Tom Stinnett traveled to the “land down under” in February and discovered, among other things, that the Australian “caravan” industry and North American RV industry face some of the same concerns and opportunities.
Stinnett, owner of Tom Stinnett Freedom RV Center, Clarksville, Ind., and co-chairman of the Go RVing Coalition, was a guest of the Caravan, RV and Accommodations Industry of Australia Ltd. and served as keynote speaker at the group’s annual conference held at the Brisbane Marriott.
Stinnett reviewed the coalition’s new Phase IV ads before an audience of 406 delegates from the manufacturing, supplier, retailer and caravan parks (campgrounds) sectors and served on a panel discussion in which he explained the operation of his successful southern Indiana RV dealership, which serves the greater Louisville, Ky., market.
Stinnett and wife Carolyn also visited a popular campground up the coast from Brisbane during their Feb. 4-16 visit.
The Australian trade group got its first good look at the Go RVing Coalition when founding chairman Tom Faludy spoke to the organization back in 2000, and, according to Stinnett, they were eager to learn more about it and share some results of their own tourism promotion efforts. “A major issue for them is how to tie in the parks (campgrounds) with their marketing program,” he said. “Their parks are more involved in their total group than they are involved here. They (park operators) seem to spearhead things more in their conference than we’re used to.”
Stinnett, an RV retailer since 1978 and a former chairman of the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA), said the Australians noted the absence of campgrounds in the Go RVing ads and found this quite odd, as the vast majority of the Aussies’ promotions include caravan park lifestyle images. Indeed, of the trade group’s 4,000 members, 2,700 represent “caravan parks” or campgrounds – a total of 200,000 powered sites in all. The trade group’s marketing campaign, which resembles the Go RVing Coalition’s efforts in many respects, pushes consumers to its website, which lists the parks that in turn receive bookings.
Ben Yates, CEO of the trade group, said in a subsequent interview with RV Business that his members took special interest in Stinnett’s explanation of how the Go RVing marketing campaign is funded. “Caravan parks are the single biggest contributor to our national marketing fund in recent times, as it is not compulsory for manufacturers to contribute to the fund as part of their membership,” he said.
One in four parks contributes to the marketing program, the latest round of which includes a TV commercial with some Go RVing similarities. The Aussies retained legendary country & western singer John Williamson, who croons the industry anthem, “We Love This Country,” during the commercial. “The Australians are a very, very proud, emotional, patriotic people,” Stinnett said, noting that when Williamson sang that song to the gathered trade association members one evening, “it brought tears to their eyes.”
Appropriately, the Aussie association’s slogan is: “Caravanning; It’s A Freedom Thing.” Their website is welovethiscountry.net.au.
“They had a keen interest in how we accomplished what we accomplished, with industry loyalty being a key element of our success,” said Stinnett. “They have problems getting dealers to attend their conferences, and overall participation is much less in Australia than in the United States. They have yet to figure out a good funding mechanism. Their funding is all voluntary, which makes it difficult to project.”
Partly as a result of Stinnett’s presentation, Yates said, Australian manufacturers will vote this spring on whether to make contributions to the National Marketing Fund a condition of membership.
Stinnett says the composition of Australian campgrounds also is different. “They have more cottages in the parks and invite people who do not have travel trailers or motorhomes to experience the campground lifestyle,” he said. “It rubs off on them.”
Stinnett considers the practice “a good idea” and believes it will help spur RV purchases in the long run.
“Many caravan/holiday parks are located in pristine locations on beaches and on rivers,” said Yates, “and they need to make a decent return on their money. Otherwise the land is more valuable than the business. Therefore, parks have introduced over many years first-class cabin accommodations which can account for as much as 80% of their business, as they cannot survive on $30 a night powered site fees. Hence the accommodation market is very much a big part of the caravanning industry here in Australia.”
While Australia is 80% the size of the U.S., it has just one-thirteenth the population. So, the 50-plus Australian manufacturers don’t come close to the U.S. industry’s production levels, building 18,000 travel trailers, or caravans, and up to 1,650 motorhomes a year. “(But) they have a phenomenal opportunity to increase their market,” said Stinnett, adding that an estimated 56% of the Australian market is comprised of Baby Boomers. And huge growth in tourism is expected as families gradually take more advantage of the range of caravan park facilities available.
The Australian industry doesn’t have a lot of statistics at its disposal, but that will change starting this year as a third party begins to collect data, Yates said.
Meanwhile, Aussies and Americans appear to be coping with higher fuel bills in similar ways.
“Petrol last year reached quite high levels of $1.30 a liter, which caused many caravanners to holiday longer in the one location” Yates said. “We have now found that people have accepted petrol to be at the $1.15 to $1.20 mark and account for it as still the cheapest part of their holiday. This will increase again shortly and will affect the young families who may have built up a lot of household debt in recent years. The Baby Boomers will still travel during our winter months of May to October, but will stay longer in one location due to traveling on a budget.”
Yates said Stinnett’s presentation was well received. “What we will apply to our industry from Tom’s presentation is to involve much more research for our marketing campaigns and develop a greater amount of unity to raise the level of contributions and successful promotional campaigns through the united support of the industry,” Yates said.
Stinnett, likewise, came back with some valuable lessons.
“I went over there to inform them but I learned a whole lot,” said Stinnett. “I learned we just need to work harder to make sure we have everybody around the table, which we do a good job of in the Go RVing Coalition, but we still leave some segments of the market out of the discussion.”