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Give Us Our Money’s Worth

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous on

    With the current economic climate and the lousy exchange rate, many people are now camping in SA rather than going overseas for holidays. The reverse is also true, and more visitors to SA are going the camping route, as this is a cost-effective way of seeing the country and enjoying the outdoor life we South Africans take so much for granted.

    SA is a very attractive destination with great campsites to work from. So, the result is that caravan parks are under more pressure to offer value for money and to cater for different groups of campers.

    However, we have noticed that a lot of the caravan parks are responding to the economy by simply pushing up their rates. As full-time caravanners, we are very conscious of the cost of caravanning and campsite fees. Some campsites have increased their rates by up to 20%, and the reason being offered is the cost of electricity and water.

    Today’s caravans, both off-road and conventional, are very sophisticated – air conditioners, hot water on tap from built-in geysers, fridge/freezers, electric ovens and cookers, microwave ovens and TVs – these are all now becoming the norm.

    So, when one of the new vans or motorhomes pulls into a campsite, as soon as it is plugged into the power supply, it starts using electricity.

    Some caravan parks have installed a meter system, but very few seem keen to use this because they gain more from a flat rate fee than from a fee-plus-electricity. This means that the camper with less is sponsoring those with more.

    However, monitoring electricity should be compulsory: this is the only fair way to do it, whether it is from Pay As You Go meters, or simple monitors with readings done at the start of the visit and on leaving.

    The other issue is maintenance of the grounds, as salaries have also had their impact on camp fees. According to some, everyone wants a tree to park under and grass to stand on.

    We beg to differ, and have seen enough damage to caravans and tents as a result of heavy wind, rain, bats, birds and snakes under trees, for us to prefer taking our chances with the sun!

    Anyone who stands on grass with a full tent for longer than a week is going to kill it, even with the proper groundsheets; and tents, with their basin bases, are worse.

    Paved stands are both impractical and expensive; impractical because tent pegs are difficult to anchor, and expensive because the cost of laying a good slab of standard size for a full-sized tent costs plenty in both materials and labour.

    Green areas for playgrounds, picnic sites and communal entertainment areas are easier to maintain.

    Ablutions should run on gas; and, where possible, solar power should be encouraged for wash-up areas. Baths should be half-size for children; and, although many people love a bath, it is not something to be encouraged in a campsite as it is not only unhygienic, but water-hungry.

    Ablutions also need to be checked daily, and there has to be a self-clean facility available to everyone… No wring mops, but decent brooms and mops to encourage everyone to clean up after themselves and their kids. And all toilets, drains and showers have to work properly and be cleaned twice daily, not just before weekends and after holidays.

    Window-dressing like pretty décor and nice tiles does not mean that the ablutions are great.

    Park owners/managers have got to move about their campsite, both to meet their clients and to check up on what is going on in their business. Leaving it to staff to run the camp does not work, as the bigger the staff complement, the less they do.

    Day trippers are a huge problem in many campsites, although they mean good revenue for the owners.

    Shared ablutions, access to the campsites, and noise tend to be seen as weekend issues, but crime is on the increase in all areas and caravans are prime sites for opportunistic petty theft. Somehow this has to be controlled, possibly by fencing off areas and supplying separate ablution facilities (toilets and outside shower), and controlling free access.

    Municipal and National parks need toget their act together, and it is no longer enough to say that they don’t have the resources. Tourism is becoming the only source of real revenue in South Africa. They are happy to take the money, but the municipalities have to begin using some of it to clean up the parks and start running as a profit centre.

    None of us wants something for nothing. We pay our fees, enjoy our stays and live outdoors in nature the way we love. However, people will stop coming if they can’t afford the fees − and that day is already on the way.

    The only people that can keep this industry going are the campsite owners and managers. They need to become involved in their business, adapt to the prevailing economic conditions and give value for money. They need to become the campers’ friend rather than the faceless individual taking their money; they need to take control of their future.

    Finally, this country needs people who love camping, however they do it. It is the only way to keep conservation and the love of nature alive in the next generations.

    However, South Africans are not going to pay international prices for mediocre service. Botswana, Namibia and some of the National Parks are already feeling the backlash. And we already have some much respected South African campsites scratched off our list because of this very issue.

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