Van life

As Australians look for safer domestic holiday options, caravanning has surged in popularity. But today’s caravans are nothing like those cramped versions of childhood camping trips. Caravans now offer all the comforts of the family home.

By Shane Conroy 

As COVID-19 has slammed international and state borders closed, many Australian holidaymakers have rediscovered the pleasures of holidaying at home. This has tended to mean discovering their own backyard with a caravan in tow.

According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, caravanning and camping was the most popular holiday type in 2019. “Jayco has experienced an upsurge in sales nationwide across its entire range,” says Jayco national sales manager, Scott Jones. “We have seen a 35 per cent increase in sales across all new and used RVs, with new people coming into the market that may not have considered caravanning before.”

But the pandemic has made it more challenging for Australia’s caravan builders to meet this spike in demand.

Matt McPhail, national sales manager at New Age Caravans in Victoria, says pandemic-related restrictions and supply chain hold-ups have made it tough for Australia’s busy caravan builders to keep up.

“It has been a roller-coaster. We had periods through lockdown where nobody was allowed on site. Due to social distancing, we could only have two people working on a caravan at any one time. Add to that supply chain issues with some materials difficult to source, and staff off work due to exposures.”

However, you can’t keep a good caravan builder down. “We have seen an increase across all product segments, particularly those products that allow couples and families who are new to the market an affordable way to travel,” says Jones. It’s clear to insiders that the industry is facing a bright future despite short-term challenges.

“Demand for our product has never been to these levels in my time,” McPhail says. “While we might not see this level of demand again, I think in the long-term, we’ll still see more people choosing caravanning as a great way to see our country.”

THE FAMILY VAN

McPhail is not just referring to the grey nomads who have traditionally dominated the caravanning market. He has noticed a significant shift in his customer base from intrepid retirees to adventure-seeking families.

“In 2021, eight of our top-10 bestselling caravans were family vans,” he says. “Our customers include young tradesmen who grew up in the camping lifestyle and are keen to continue it with their own kids, or people who have planned overseas trips and decided to stay home. It’s not just for grey nomads anymore. The family van is huge for us.”

Family-friendly caravans have evolved well beyond the rusty rattler you might remember from your childhood. The emergence of family friendly resort-style caravan parks—some with their own water parks—has also helped make caravanning more appealing to a new generation of families.

McPhail says his company’s top models now feature all the mod cons you enjoy at home.

“Back when I started selling caravans, they had a bed, a cooktop and maybe a rollout awning. Now, they are literally five-star houses on wheels. The furniture is thicker and stronger, and they have fully-equipped kitchens, a hot water service, toilet, shower, washing machine, solar power, air conditioning, TV screens—you name it. Most caravans in our range even have external speakers so you can sit outside and listen to the cricket.”

According to Jones, “One of the emerging markets has been the adventure market which has really captured the attention of younger travellers.”

Amongst the impressive new features in the 2022 Jayco range is a new MPPT solar system, capable of improving power output efficiency by up to twenty percent.

Another new addition to the range across Outback models will be an Anderson plug, which enables an additional portable solar panel to be connected. This additional power source and improved solar technology will allow for greater off -road capabilities for keen adventurers.

SAFELY OFF-GRID

McPhail has also seen increasing demand for caravans that can handle remote, off -grid trips. He says that’s why New Age Caravans has developed a lighter chassis. “Caravans can easily be equipped for long off -grid trips these days. You can add water tanks, greywater systems, and solar power,” he explains. “But these additions can be quite heavy, so we’re seeing a need for caravans with a lighter, stronger chassis.” McPhail says rigorous safety testing is also critical. “Caravans can range anywhere from $60,000 to pick a number,” McPhail concludes. “It’s probably the second biggest investment you’re ever going to make, so you want to know it’s going to go where you want it to go and will still be in one piece when you get back.”

But that investment doesn’t just help you. “The opportunities now to explore and travel in our own regional areas is huge,” says Jones. “It also helps boost the local economy and businesses that may have been affected by the pandemic in the last 24 months.”