As published on Escape.com.au by Kirrily Schwarz.
Haven’t heard of Tasman Holiday Parks? You’re not alone.
The property start-up launched in 2019 and has been quietly buying up Australia’s best holiday parks. Its portfolio now has 40 properties (including seven in New Zealand), totalling $500 million. You can stay with them everywhere from Shark Bay in Western Australia to the Bay of Fires in Tasmania, the Shipwreck Coast of Victoria, the Sapphire Coast of New South Wales, and everywhere in between.
On top of that, a phenomenal amount of money is flowing into improvements and additions. Every park has something different, from glamping tents to tiny homes and even office pods for remote workers.
A recent visit to Airlie Beach Caravan Park, one of the acquisitions, reveals five new glamping tents, all with shiny black Weber barbeques on the balconies.
There’s a new playground, with a new shade sail and new barbeque to come. The palm-fringed pool was recently retiled and the roads recently repaired. Six tiny homes are on their way. One new camp kitchen has been installed and there’s another en route. Ensuites are inbound and new astroturf will be laid soon.
Everywhere you look, the level of investment confirms classic drive-and-stay holidays are having a resurgence. So does the consistent demand.
I stop by in April, right at the end of the wet season, when the temperature is about 35 degrees Celcius and the humidity is somewhere around 90 per cent. As soon as you move, you sweat uncontrollably. But the blazing sun and soupy air hasn’t deterred visitors from this iconic North Queensland destination.
Site manager Lynn Clough has been with the company three years. She and her husband Stephen managed Tasman Holiday Parks in Western Australia and Tasmania before taking on the Airlie Beach property in July 2022.
“It was busy the whole way through the wet, not flat out, but constant,” she says. “I expected we’d go quiet, but we haven’t really had an off-season at all.”
Every effort has been made to create something special at this park. Everything is designed to be relaxed and self-paced, creating a calming feel. It’s clearly a perfect base from which to explore the area, including the Great Barrier Reef.
There’s a coffee van at the front gate serving Byron Bay Coffee Co brews, next to a wall of signs offering every water-based activity imaginable. All of them can be booked through reception, whether you’re wanting to go snorkelling, fishing, skydiving, jet-boating, sailing at sunset, or on a crocodile safari.
Food vans rotate throughout the week, arriving in the evenings to serve Korean dumplings, Thai noodles, or fresh woodfired pizzas to hungry guests. There’s fresh fruit by the pool on Saturdays and cheese and crackers on Wednesdays.
Every day at 4pm, guests can feed the birds. Lorikeets and cockatoos swoop down from their nests for a nibble, often standing on the heads and shoulders of delighted guests to create unforgettable moments.
“We’re really committed to moving with the times,” says Clough. “We get families, as you’d expect, but we also get a lot of backpackers, grey nomads, and couples. I think they like it because of the peace.”
I’m staying in one of these cool new glamping tents. The layout is great: a queen bed front and centre, with bunks tucked around the corner on both sides to create some privacy. The left side has a bathroom; the right has a kitchen. There’s a glass door at the front and zippered sides that can be opened and shut as desired.
It’s air-conditioned, with a bowl of fresh fruit on the table and the scent of frangipani in the air. And because of the canvas walls, you can hear the birds singing outside. It’s quite innovative, with the perfect blend of indoors and outdoors.
I pull up a deckchair in the shade, ostensibly to read, though I’m covertly watching those around me. As I enjoy the pop of fresh grapes and a few friendly chats with passersby, I realise the simplicity of experiences like this timeless.
“A lot of us are looking for meaningful and authentic experiences, we want a sense of community,” says Nikki Milne, CEO of Tasman Holiday Parks. “Pushing kids on a swing, jumping into a pool, cooking snags in the camp kitchen, sharing stories with each other. You get that in a holiday park more than any other kind of tourism accommodation, because people want that connection.”
Figures from accounting firm BDO and the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, released in November, said forward bookings for the 2022/2023 summer were 37 per cent higher than the year before. Soaring demand put park operators on track for their most profitable season since 2019. These holidays are becoming even more popular as the cost of living rises and families seek affordable stays.
Milne says the recipe for success in the holiday park industry is straightforward. Once the location is sorted, the experience simply needs to be “clean, safe, and easy”. The company recently surveyed 100,000 of its past guests, and those three things were repeated time and again. So that’s what’s being delivered.
The rate of acquisition is astounding, the level of reinvestment is impressive, and the commitment to innovation with the launch of new product types is admirable.
However, the appeal is uncomplicated.
“Holiday parks are part of the fabric of Australian society,” says Milne. “The last few years have forced everyone to ask themselves what’s meaningful. And they’ve decided it’s classic holidays like these.”
Original article published in Escape.com.au by Kirrily Schwarz.