Free RV camping or freedom camping in Australia has sparked a national-wide political debate. The impact the rapidly increasing free RV settlements have on their neighbouring small-to-medium-sized towns has become a point of concern for some, while others believe this gives a boost to local businesses and the overall tourism industry in the county and play a role in strengthening the national economy.
When it comes to tourism, I do believe Australia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world; it not only offers a variety of terrain (including dessert, forests and coastline) but also a wide range of outdoor activities. These are just two of the many reasons why the country not only attracts a multitude of local campers and backpackers but also travelers and adventure enthusiasts from all over the world. The RV camps are, no doubt, a major attraction for these adventure travelers and backpackers. These caravan parks are spread all across the country allowing the campers to make the most of their experience.
What is Free RV Camping?
Before I go any further, I want to tell you how free camping is different from caravan park camping.
Both local and domestic travelers acquire a Recreational Vehicle (RV) and use it as an accommodation in an open area where they are not bound by the laws and rules of the local residential communities. The campers can occupy public space without getting any council approval. Free camping sites do not offer any facilities that commercial caravan sites offer.
What do the Stats say?
Surprisingly the internet does not offer much information; however, from what I could find, it is evident that the trend of freedom camping in Australia is on the rise. According to The Caravan Industry Association of Australia, caravan registration has seen a boost of about 30% since 2011 whereas campervans have gone up by 20%. Towards the end of 2016, the combined figured hit its record high of 615,301 registrations and by January these number went up to 647,319 registrations.
Most of these camps are located on the outskirts of small towns and cities, giving campers an easy access to the center of these areas. Because of their location, I have always been interested in knowing the impact these sites have on these towns and surprisingly I found a mixed feeling among the local residents. I want to share my findings on how these towns see the freedom campers.
Intangible Effects of RV Camping on Local Communities
Let’s first see and analyze the positive impact free RV camping has on the neighborhood.
Boost to the Local Economy
One of the major benefits of these camping sites is the boost they offer the local traders, enterprises and businesses. The campers have to buy grocery, food items, fuel, medical and other basic supplies. These transactions are very important to a small-town economy where sources of revenue are limited. It is believed that around 2.1 billion in revenue was generated by these camps last year, which is quite a significant figure.
Creating Job Vacancies
The neighboring towns also get the luxury to offer more job vacancies to their local residents, especially during the tourism season. Restaurants, shopping malls and other tourist attractions have to hire more help to cater to the incoming traffic. Even though it is a short-term benefit, but it offers budgetary relief to the locals.
What Do the Numbers Say?
Here are some of the figures that I was able to gather from the Western Australian Caravan and Camping Visitor Snapshot 2016.
- 16% of the total domestic visitors were RV campers.
- 8% of the total international tourists were caravan and camping visitors.
- 1.54 million domestic tourists and 72,800 international tourists made use of caravan and camping facilities.
- 43% of the domestic and 74% of the international RV campers participate in active outdoor activities during their tours.
- The visitors participate in local activities like sight-seeing, fishing, eating in restaurants and going to the beach.
Even though these numbers are from 2016, but they clearly show that local events, carnivals, fairs and other similar calendar events held in the surrounding towns and communities benefit from free RV camps that see an expansion during the tourism season.
The Not-so-happy Side of the Story
Despite the benefits, many locals do not support free RV camping as they believe they cause a disharmony in the social and economic environment. Many believe that the cost of hosting these free campers is higher when we consider the expenditure on “cleaning up” after the tourists. Moreover, the wear and tear of the roads may cause repair damages in the long-run, which could put a financial load on the local authorities.
A traffic Hazard
Many locals have complained about road safety; they believe many of the campers are not seasoned drivers and therefore cannot manage the massive size of the vehicles. Their town visits cause parking problems, pose a threat to pedestrians and, while reversing, often cause property damage.
A Threat to the Local Motels
Even though they are good for local restaurants but they, to an extent, hurt local motels and B&Bs. Since the campers bring their own accommodation, they do not spend any money on the lodging offered by the locals.
Health and Hygiene
Another huge problem that arises is the health and hygiene issue of the locals. Many of the travelers, especially domestic, do not understand the concept of travel vaccination and therefore can bring with them viral and other contagious infections that can cause an outbreak among the locals. Even though this increases foot traffic in clinics and local hospitals, it is, by no means, a welcome economy booster.
It is difficult to say if the pros outweigh the cons; the answer depends on your perception; however, the benefits it has on the local economy cannot be overlooked. Perhaps, with more regulation and legislation, the cons can be better administered and a balance can be achieved.