Fewer grey nomads in outback Queensland as holiday-makers head overseas

Fewer grey nomads in outback Queensland as holiday-makers head overseas

Retired couple Greg and Dianne Osborne are hitting the road in Queensland’s outback with their camper trailer despite an increasing number of Australians their age choosing to head overseas for holidays.

“We’ve done some lovely overseas trips in the past, but this is just Australia’s time now,” Ms Osborne said.

Greg and Dianne Osborne are taking their new camper trailer through the state’s south-west.(ABC Western Qld: Peter Quattrocelli)

The Osbornes may be intent on exploring their own backyard but they are bucking the trend, with Queensland tourism operators reporting fewer holiday-makers to start the season.

“It’s probably been a bit slow in terms of bookings so far this year,” said Robert Russell, property manager at Charlotte Plains, near Cunnamulla in the state’s south-west.

“It’s pretty expensive to tow a caravan around the outback.

“Travel is a bit of a luxury thing and it’s one of the first things to go when people cut their spending.”

Charlotte Plains is a sheep station and camping ground.(Supplied: Patrick Want)

Charleville Bush Caravan Park owner Graham Reid said potential travellers might have been deterred by recent flooding and fears of road closures.

“Bookings for the caravan park were excellent then reality hit and it dropped off,” Mr Reid said.

Graham Reid wants people to know the outback is open and ready for tourists.(ABC Western Qld: Peter Quattrocelli)

Heading overseas

The slow start on outback roads this season followed a drop in caravanning across the state in 2023.

Tourism Research Australia (TRA) data showed in the last quarter of 2023, there were 200,000 fewer camping and caravanning trips in Queensland compared to the previous year.

“Grey nomads, instead of going caravanning or camping, are actually going overseas,” Caravan Parks Association of Queensland chief executive Michelle Weston said.

“We’ve seen the number of international departures for that age group matching the decline in caravan and camping trips for 2023 in Queensland.”

The number of grey nomads choosing to go overseas rather than travel locally is increasing.(Supplied: QMF/Patrick Want)

More than 500,000 passengers departed Brisbane Airport on an overseas trip during the Easter school holidays, a third more than the previous year.

Overall, the TRA reported 2.3 million Australians aged over 55 went on overseas holidays last year, a two-fold increase on the previous year.

Attractions down on business

Outback attractions, like the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, are still waiting for the tourism season to kick off.

“We’re about 20 per cent down on our visitation numbers compared to last year,” chief executive Lloyd Mills said.

“The issue is that people just haven’t commenced travelling this way yet.

“International flights are back and the cruise market is extremely cheap and aggressive in their marketing.”

Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame’s Lloyd Mills said winter holiday bookings were strong.(ABC Western Queensland: Damien Larkins)

With their bookings over the winter school holidays looking full, however, there is still some hope for the rest of the season.

“Traditionally when you get a very soft start to the season you hope to God that you have a strong back end,” Mr Mills said.

Caravan market holds steady

While grey nomads are expected to jet set on international tours and hop on board cruise ships, the caravan industry says there is no indication the second hand market is flooded with impulsive pandemic purchases.

“Looking at the after-sale market, we haven’t witnessed that at all,” Caravan Industry Association of Australia General Manager Luke Chippendale said.

Mr Chippendale said the market for new caravans was still performing well and the number of registered caravans was growing.

He said the industry had seen an uptick in young families taking longer camping trips as a more affordable option for a larger group when compared with overseas travel.

“It allows for an entire family holiday, which could include grandma and grandpa if they’re going to come along as well,” Mr Chippendale said.

The number of caravans being registered in Australia is increasing.(Supplied: Malcolm Street, Australian Motorhoming Lions Club)

Meanwhile, the Osbornes are continuing their travels around Queensland’s south-west before they head back to Brisbane

They are planning to return with a larger vehicle that will allow them to take the camper trailer even further into the outback.

“I just think the Australian bush is beautiful,” Mr Osborne said.

“We’re exploring further west than we’ve ever been before,” Mr Osborne said.

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