Reflections Holiday Parks has been forced to think outside the box to keep its 37 NSW holiday spots afloat as fires and the ongoing drought threaten visitor numbers.
Seven parks had to close due to fires during the company's busiest period, while decreasing water levels have impacted its lakeside locations for months.
Fire reached the back fence at Copeton Waters and visitors were evacuated as embers from a fire at Tuncurry spread across the waterway and set fire to a hill on the edge of the park at Forster Beach, Reflections Holiday Parks CEO of six years Steve Edmonds said.
Eden, Pambula and Bermagui parks were also closed for some time and those staying at Evans Head were advised to leave by the NSW Rural Fire Service.
"The first day the fire came close to Bermagui, the park manager sent us a video. It was in the middle of the day and you could hardly see the front fence of the park because it was so smoky. Then the road was closed and a lot of visitors cancelled. So that had a big impact on our business," Mr Edmonds said.
Fortunately, all park staff are trained to deal with emergencies and every park has an emergency management plan, Mr Edmonds said.
One of the first things Mr Edmonds did as CEO was install firefighting equipment in each of the parks.
"People might not see a lot of new cabins being built but there's a lot of infrastructure like water treatment plants, sewer treatment plants, electrical upgrades and fire that we've been working on, because the board's first priority was to make sure everything was safe and compliant with modern legislation. A lot of these parks have been let go for quite some time," Mr Edmonds said.
The company behind Reflections Holiday Parks, NSW Crown Holiday Parks Trust, was formed in 2013 to consolidate the operation of twenty six coastal and eight inland holiday parks and reserves located on Crown Land and previously managed by communities and councils.
Lake Keepit water down to 0.6 per cent
However, even prior to the fires, Reflections Holiday Parks was struggling with the drought.
"The drought has been a moral set back for us, given that these parks were growing at eight per cent per year in visitor numbers. Water is the big attraction to these parks and when you have very little water..." Mr Edmonds said.
At Lake Keepit, the water level was down to 0.6 per cent at the end of January.
"There's really not a lot of water-based activities you can do at that level," Mr Edmonds said.
"We've got a tenant there, Lake Keepit Sailing Club, so I suggested they go to Copeton Waters to keep their annual competition going. That's a way we can work with our key stakeholders to keep them busy," Mr Edmonds said.
The company realises this isn't the first and won't be the last drought and has been working hard to find other ways to attract people to its parks.
"We're really bullish about working our way through this time and want to keep our heads high," Mr Edmonds said.
Shift to non-water based activities
Upskilling staff to ensure their roles aren't redundant and introducing non-water based activities to the parks has been key keep going.
An example of this, is how Reflections has trained some staff to become arborists to maintain the parks' trees, a job that was previously contracted out.
"The other thing we've done is looked at the staff willing to travel. Places like Burrinjuck Waters and Lake Glenbawn still have reasonable amounts of water in them, so they're still quite busy and we've been able to get staff to go over to them instead of putting on casuals," Mr Edmonds said.
"We really want to retain those key skills because the water will come back."
At Lake Keepit, staff have been successfully trialling star gazing, while Reflections head office plans to introduce BMX tracks and bike trails at other parks.
A pump track for push bikes and scooters was built at Wyangala Waters last year and has been popular, Mr Edmonds said.
The water level there has been dropping rapidly for months and was down to 9.3 per cent at the end of January.
Grabine and Wyangala visitor numbers take a toll
Visitor numbers were down by 15 per cent at Grabine Lakeside and 19 per cent at Wyangala Waters, both parks on Wyangala Dam, between November 1 and the end of January.
"That's when we get 45 per cent of our revenue," Mr Edmonds said.
Fortunately, the park remained open for the whole period, with the area spared from fires and staff were able to keep their hours.
An optimistic Mr Edmonds said the cabins at Wyangala Waters were nearly full for the Australia Day long weekend.
"The thing that will impact us in the longer term is the Wyangala Dam raising. I can't say too much about that at this stage, but we have been working with the director in charge from Water NSW and we've had very positive communications and strategy sessions. So I'm very confident we'll get a good outcome there. I don't think people should be too nervous about that," Mr Edmonds said.
The government's commitment to raising the dam wall at Wyangala has the potential to flood infrastructure such as fishing huts and these parks on the lake.
However, Reflections Holiday Parks began planning early.
"It's a very big project with a lot of moving parts. We got in early when we heard the announcement. We made contact with their senior people and it's been very positive," Mr Edmonds said.
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