Managing a caravan park: Port Campbell Holiday Park, Vic

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Managing Port Campbell Holiday Park, Vic, is a dream come true for Sharon and Ray Kable.

WORDS by Claudia Bouma

For Sharon and Ray Kable, a long awaited-dream of becoming caravan park managers finally became reality after years of searching and applying for jobs.  “It was amazing when we finally received the news that we had been appointed managers of the Port Campbell Holiday Park,” Sharon said. “We had two weeks to pack up our six-bedroom house in Albury/Wodonga, move our stuff, find a school for the two boys and start our new job.”

Even though Sharon and Ray are new kids on the block in terms of running a caravan park, they are no strangers to the tourism and hospitality industry. Back in Albury/Wodonga, Sharon managed a couple of motels while Ray was the handyman. Sharon is also a chef by trade and grew up with parents who owned and managed several motels and restaurants. Ray is a former mechanic who loves to get his hands dirty and can fix anything that crosses his path.

Four months into it, they are just as enthusiastic as when they first started. “I live for my customers, and I thrive on fast and busy,” Sharon said with a smile.

And with 101 sites and 24 cabins at Port Campbell, that’s a great quality to have.

BUCKET LIST DESTINATION         

Port Campbell is a small seaside town with a population of around 600, situated along Victoria’s world-renowned Great Ocean Road and only a stone’s throw from the iconic Twelve Apostles.

“You’ve got everything right on your doorstep,” Ray said. “Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge, Gibson Steps, Bay of Islands… It’s all within easy reach. I feel like we’re living the dream – we just need to find the time to experience these incredible places for ourselves.”

Unlike most places, Port Campbell attracts visitors from all over the world, year-round. The number of Chinese tourists has skyrocketed the last couple of years, with numbers only expected to rise. In summer, the park is completely booked out; many of the visitors are local dairy farmers who come to have a holiday but still have to milk the cows twice a day.

When asked about the transition from an inland city to a rural coastal town, Ray and Sharon can’t praise the locals enough. “Port Campbell is a very welcoming town. Local shop owners introduced us to others and we know we can always pick up the phone if we need help.” 

CHALLENGES

Even dream jobs have challenges and caravan park management is no exception. “On our second day the dump point was blocked and we had absolutely no idea what to do,” Sharon recalled. “Thankfully, the former managers had left clear instructions on what to do in any given situation so we did figure it out in the end.”

Attracting staff is difficult in a town which is located in an area with a high concentration of dairy farmers. “People prefer to find full-time work but we can’t always promise this as the work is seasonal,” Ray said.

However, Sharon came up with a fantastic solution: she contacted the boys’ high school and suggested the idea of a Year 12 traineeship. “It means a Year 12 student can get hands-on experience in the tourist industry and end up with a valuable certificate in Reception Management at the end of it,” she explained. “It’s a creative solution which benefits everyone involved and that’s what it’s all about.”

Some days, Sharon is still checking guests in at 9pm. “I’ll never turn a customer away,” she said. “You always have to be on the top and everything has to be perfect.”

“The first impression is what you get rated on and you want to ensure you get good reviews on Trip Advisor and other online booking sites”.   

Sharon and Ray have already had their fair share of funny experiences. “We had to place arrows on the roads to streamline traffic throughout the park for safety reasons,” Ray said. They also realised some overseas visitors simply didn’t know how to turn on a stove, so they had to print off a list of step-by-step instructions in different languages.

PARK LIFE

Life is busy for the couple, with days off few and far between. “Managing a caravan park is a lifestyle,” Sharon said. “When we do get to leave the park, we need to buy supplies in Warrnambool because Port Campbell only has a small general store. Thankfully, we have great staff. It’s like a blended family; together we ensure the park runs well.”

What do their two kids think of living in a caravan park? “Conrad (eight) and Lachlan (12) have grown up in the hospitality industry and they pretty much pitch in whenever they can,” Sharon said.

“They are heavily involved in some of the sports clubs in town so they’ve made lots of new friends,” Ray added.

STEPPING STONE                                           

Unlike owner-managers, Sharon and Ray have a two-year contract with Australian Tourist Park Management (ATPM) to run the Port Campbell Holiday Park. ATPM is an organisation that provides a wide of range services to the caravan and resort industry. So how do they feel about managing a park they do not own?

“It’s like a stepping stone,” Sharon said. “We would love to own a caravan park one day but this is giving us the experience to learn the ropes. It’s great in that ATPM looks after the website and social media so we don’t have to worry about that. We focus on managing the park and make suggestions about ways to improve the park. We basically run it as if it’s our own business.”    

As my time with Sharon and Ray drew to a close, I finally asked the question I was itching to ask: ‘If you could say one thing to guests, what would it be?’ Sharon didn’t hesitate: “Welcome, enjoy your stay and we hope to see you again”. Ray nodded in agreement. “We’re here to assist and meet people’s needs.”

ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY

Port Campbell Holiday Park is part of the Gumnut Award Eco Program – an industry-specific eco-rating program recognising environmental and socially responsible caravan and camping businesses.

Launched in 2002 as the first eco-rating program in Australia, the Gumnut Award Eco Program offers three levels: bronze, silver and gold, with each progression recognising a higher level of commitment to sustainability.

Due to its commitment to sustainable environmental management, Port Campbell Holiday Park first achieved Bronze level status in February 2012 and progressed to Silver in early 2015.

The park has developed and implemented an environmental management plan, which incorporates things like planting endemic plants that are drought and salt tolerant, installing water tanks for irrigation, toilet flushing and laundry requirements, the use of water saving devices, using energy-efficient LED lighting, switching to biodegradable chemicals for cleaning and an annual clean-up of a 3km stretch of local creek.