A RETIRED couple who have been on the road for the past seven years and seen more of Australia than many could dream possible say Bega is one of the most uninviting places they’ve visited.
Frank and Helen Haynes were holidaying in Bega over Christmas, but were concerned at the non-existence of public facilities for RV and motorhome owners such as dump points and access to town water.
The Hayneses had set up their fully self-contained and solar-powered four-wheel drive caravan in the Bega Caravan Park and had nothing but praise for the park and its facilities.
However, they said Bega - and indeed the whole shire - was one of only a handful of places where there is no public access to short-stay areas or blackwater dump points.
“We retired in 2005, put our furniture in storage and have been on the road ever since,” Mr Haynes said.
“Earlier this year we did 23,000km through the Top End.
“The biggest complaint after travelling the amount we have, even off the beaten track, it doesn’t matter what small town we’ve been in, there is a dump point.
“A lot of caravan parks provide a dump point and this [Bega Caravan Park] is a lovely park and lovely people - the facilities they have are really good and I can’t understand why it’s not more used.
“But unless we are staying at caravan parks there is no dump point here in Bega – there’s nowhere to empty our toilet cassette if we need to.”
Even a cursory glance at the map of Australia highlighting the extensive travel the Hayneses have completed lends credence to their concerns, but Mr Haynes also speaks from authority as a former president of the Bermagui Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, a position he held for five years during the 1990s.
Mr Haynes said a phrase he had heard around Bega during his Christmas visit was that the town is the “commercial hub” of the shire, not a tourist destination.
“To say ‘don’t worry about promoting Bega because it’s a commercial hub’ is just rot,” he said.
“Commercial hub or not, it is still a through road - and if Bega is used as a central home base for day trips then it is a tourist destination.
“Every centre, city or village is a tourist destination, it just depends on how you want to promote it.
“And as a business centre, Bega should be leading the way.”
Mr Haynes said Griffith – their home town before hitting the road seven years ago – provides parking areas, free barbecues, shelters and a dump point, all only one block from the town’s CBD.
He also used an example of Bollon in western Queensland, which was a small town struggling to survive until it built public facilities including showers, camp kitchens and rest areas for motorhome owners.
“Now you’ve got a job to get in,” Mr Haynes said.
“Everything is provided free – they just say ‘come visit us, all we ask is you buy a loaf of bread and some milk at the corner store, fill up at the local servo and maybe enjoy a counter meal at the local pub’.”
Ms Haynes said that support of local businesses is a big part of their travel mentality and is one shared by many in the RV community.
“I’m surprised by how much we’ve spent since we’ve been here,” she said.
“We’d like to see free-stay areas, but we also don’t mind paying.
“We are always happy to put our hand in our pocket.”
She also said as many in the RV community constantly cross paths and keep in touch, “you soon hear ‘don’t go there, they don’t have this or that’”.
The flow-on benefits on offer to towns catering for RV users with parking areas, public dump points and access to water are vast said Richard Barwick, general manager of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA).
“If these facilities are provided to the public, there's every likelihood the people who use them will spend money in town,” he said.
Mr Barwick said the RV community is the fastest growing tourism sector in Australia.
He said his club has 64,000 members and through affiliations with other similar organisations, can tap into 450,000 travelling consumers.
“And 'consumers' is the key word here,” he said.
“Our members aren't freeloaders – they always feel an urge to spend money in the areas they are travelling.
“On average motorhome owners spend $572 a week while on the road – and 14 per cent of our members are on the road full time.”
Mr Barwick said it wasn't just the daily essentials such as food and fuel on which RV owners spend their money, but also tourist attractions, local produce and giftwares – and prescription medication.
He said RV and motorhome owners spent $3.2billion during 2011 in Queensland, and NSW could take a leaf out of that state's book on offering low-cost public services.
“There are big dollars on offer for low costs.”
Mr Barwick said there was a “big void” on the South Coast through the lack of publicly available dump points and easily accessible parking areas.
“For example you can't park in Merimbula – it's a nightmare for RVs.
“Expensive fuel in Bega is a deterrent too.”
As an added incentive for local councils to help make their town more RV-friendly, Mr Barwick said the CMCA has a subsidy scheme where it will supply a dump point unit for free if the council provides the installation infrastructure in an appropriate and publicly available location.
He said 350 of the free dump points had already been installed Australia-wide.
“I'm happy to come down and talk to the council and open up communications,” Mr Barwick said.
“It's all about making towns willing to get involved in RV travel.
“We'll try as hard as we can, but we need the cooperation.”