Interview by Joel Thompson, Director at Edutourism Melbourne Pty Ltd, and ICF Board Member
Australian Camps Association CEO, Rod Thomson
When did you take on the position as CEO and why the Australian Camping Sector?
I started the role at the end of June 2021 after a number of years at Swinburne University. The Australian Camps Association (ACA) has a program called People Outdoors. At People Outdoors, we provide camps and outdoor experiences for people living with disability. I have previous experience in the disability sector and the ACA’s vision of more people outdoors more often really spoke to me.
Describe the year of camping from your perspective?
Tough! It’s been more like two years for the industry and less than six months for myself however, I’ve already seen how our camping industry is incredibly resilient. Here in Australia, we’ve had bushfires that created devastation to property and impacted some of the national park sites in which our members operate, this then caused air quality issues in other parts of the country all that impacted our members operations. COVID-19 has continued to play havoc across the country with lockdowns and varying government policy between states and territories causing business disruption, not to mention the huge financial impact for those members affected. Lockdowns meant that thousands of Australian Students have missed out on the opportunity to experience the benefits of camp. As I write (3/12/21) schools in New South Wales cannot attend camp due to COVID restrictions however, children in the same state could participate in scouts on the weekend and return to school. This is such a discrepancy with the rest of the country being able to school camps. We are speaking with Government on Members’ behalf to get this situation rectified.
What are the challenges we face?
Insurance – a worldwide issue. Coupled with business disruption from COVID-19, access to insurance and significant price increases are really putting pressure on businesses here in Australia and I have no doubt it’ll be affecting camps across the
Staffing – the camps and led outdoor activity workforce in Australia is largely casual With lockdowns in a number of states many staff had to look for work outside the industry. International staffing options are currently roadblocked with international border restrictions in force. Camps, those in Victoria and New South Wales in particular, are now faced with trying to recruit new staff along with many other industries in Australia.
Availability – lockdowns have caused a backlog of bookings to be shifted which is limiting availability for new bookings across the 2022 will be a busy time for camps in Australia.
What are 3 major focus areas of the ACA for the next 12-18 months?
Supporting members as they get ‘back to business’ post COVID lockdowns and restrictions.
Continue to advocate to government and strengthen relationships within government.
Deliver opportunities for our members and the broader sector to engage and connect.
Some members of the ACA are also ICF members, how do you see the collaboration between the ACA and ICF growing?
The ACA will continue its relationship with the International Camping Fellowship, informing our members of any upcoming ICF events or news. I welcome the ICF Committee to contact me in situations where they deem a collaborative approach to be appropriate.
After the longest lockdown in the world in VIC, and other states being affected by COVID, how are user groups (e.g., Schools, community groups, etc.) returning to camp and what is some general positive feedback circling?
Wonderfully! Schools and the general public want to go to camp and they want to participate in led outdoor activities. Our booking enquiry service has seen hundreds of enquiries from groups wanting to find venues. It’s really positive to see and we know our members will provide each group with great experiences and a wonderful opportunity for Australians to connect after periods (some extensive) of social isolation.