Australians reconnect by getting back to nature

Despite a brief slow down during the COVID-19 restrictions, this South Australian tourism business has seen a resurgence in Aussie families embracing the great outdoors.

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COVID-19 has had a range of impacts on Australian businesses, but for some it has created an opportunity to slow down and plan for the future. Brownhill Creek Tourist Park in South Australia is using this time to work towards a more sustainable future.

Brownhill Creek Tourist Park in Adelaide has been a favourite camping destination for South Australian locals and visitors since the 1950s. Set at the foot of the Adelaide Hills and just 7kms from the Adelaide CBD, this place of natural beauty was quiet during the COVID-19 lockdown.

A man stands in front of a sign for Brownhill Creek Tourist Park
Gavin Dyer, Brownhill Creek Tourist Park.

But now, owner Gavin Dyer is thrilled to see families reconnecting with each other again while spending time in the bush. “As Australians, camping is what we do. It gives you the opportunity to explore at your own pace, a place that is unique to anywhere else in the world. It gives an unbridled feeling of freedom,” he said.

There has been a resurgence in camping and caravanning following COVID-19 restrictions easing in South Australia and Gavin says he’s seen a positive shift in the family holiday.

“When I think back to 18 months ago, it was all about Wi-Fi. I’d see kids here playing online games rather than exploring the bush, climbing trees, or playing in the creek,” Dyer says.

“But it seems that after being in some form of isolation, people had to slow down and re-engage in a way that they’ve never thought they had time to do. The thing that warms my heart, is seeing mum, dad, the kids, and the family dog all go for a walk together. I hear laughter and see happiness that I haven’t for a long time.”

A time to shift focus

When restrictions first hit South Australia the park certainly slowed down with occupancy rates dropping from around 80% to just 20 or 30%. Gavin took this opportunity to take stock of the park’s facilities, and complete some projects that weren’t possible when the park was full of guests.

“I knew people would come back. I would say I’m proactive as a business owner, and it was important to take this time to do things that I’ve never had time to do,” he said.

This included renovating cabins that were usually booked out, and upgrading high traffic facilities that would normally be used by guests every day. As restrictions eased, Gavin says the growing number of people wanting to visit was like “turning a tap on”, but occupancy was still sitting below 50% in July 2020.

“There was definitely a wave of optimism when it felt like things were coming back to normal. People were saying on social media that they can’t wait to get out again – the trick is to be here when they’re ready to come,” he says.

Part of this preparation included contactless check-in options and stringent sanitisation procedures on all common areas and accommodation. Gavin wants to ensure all guests feel confident to visit the park when they can.

A considered way forward

Another job that Gavin found time for was reviewing his electricity account. Brownhill Creek can accommodate around 250 guests with 22 cabins, 50 caravan sites, and 50 unpowered camping sites – so it uses a substantial amount of power. Gavin contacted AGL to discuss ways to make this more cost-effective.

Along with a new plan, he was introduced to AGL’s new Carbon Neutral certification product, which launched on July 1. Gavin was interested in using his energy to positively impact the environment and Brownhill Creek became the first Carbon Neutral business customer.

“The idea of going carbon neutral feels like I can pay it forward” says Gavin.

An environmentally conscious energy approach also aligns with Gavin’s plans for his business. He believes more guests consider the impact on the environment when making decisions.

“We want all new cabins to have solar power. This will reduce the actual electricity use per unit, but the by-product is that it’s environmentally conscious. Every little step I take to reduce our cost by using a sustainable way of generating power is good for the environment and for the business. Why wouldn’t we do it?”

As the park is situated in a gully and in shade for most of the day, going solar on a larger scale isn’t viable right now. But Gavin is interested in revisiting this option when solar battery systems are more reliable and affordable.

“It’s something people like to see. If they’re walking through the park, surrounded by this beautiful natural environment and can see you’ve got solar panels, you’re using rainwater, you’ve got facilities for separating waste and recycling… it says the business has made a decision to reduce their footprint and they like it,” he said.

Gavin is also working on a new project with his architect son, designing and building Scandi-style, eco-friendly accommodation ‘pods’. These pods can be moved to different parts of the park, depending where guests want to stay and are 100% solar powered.

“They look cool and are considerate of the environment, and you have the choice of where you want to wake up in the morning. That’s ideal for the next generation of campers. But it also really speaks to our future, which is all about environmentally friendly accommodation options.”

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