Who is the self-drive market and why should you care?

In most regions without airline access, there are three main markets you will get to know, who provide ‘bread and butter’ cashflow. These are distinct segments, but are often viewed together AS 'GRAY NOMADS', A Big mistake.

Most people are familiar with caravanners and even 4WDers and look no further, brushing them off as minor markets, or not of high value.  But undoubtedly there are plenty of them and more and more people are taking self-drive holidays since COVID. Road travel is a secure way for many to travel until the market returns to 'normal', if it ever does. Research from the Caravan Industy Association showed the number of RV registrations nationally spiked during early COVID years.
The two main benefits of self-drivers is they disperse widely outside of capital cities, helping regional economies more with their spend.  And they travel for multiple nights to places that often are not serviced by airports. So that's like 95% of Australia! So if you are operating a business in a region, you should probably care about self-drivers. It doesn't have to be tourism; supermarkets, mechanics, retail, food and wine, petrol stations all benefit.

On a closer look, self-drivers can be segmented by different preferences, needs and interests, travel different routes and also modes of travel. State tourism marketing people may mention them in passing, but at the coalface, these markets will come into vivid focus if you are in a regional business responding to their questions, taking bookings, meeting them at your door and cleaning up after them, day in and out during your tourism season.

They are:

  1. Families or couples in conventional cars. Travelling in school holidays mostly, but also for regional sports, and visiting friends and relatives (the VFR market) for parties, funerals, anniversaries. Interested in cabins and AirBnBs or farm stays if they live in cities and farms are a novelty.
  2. Caravanners. Families and couples, mostly older with the time for long haul trips, and many do short week long breaks to visit family, bucket list destinations. They stay in caravan parks mostly, occasionally in a holiday house to repair vehicles, or for a break.
  3. Four-wheel drivers.  They can tow camper trailers as a family unit, or be part of a club and travel in convoys. They are self-contained and independent with their own camping gear and stay in caravan parks, National Parks or farm stays with campsites and long drop toilets.

Self-drivers may also fly into a city, like Perth and hire a car and drive to regions, like Margaret River, or further to Broome. This is known as a fly/drive market

The other group to include here are international self drivers.

Free Independent Travellers (FITs) are like backpackers, and these days are often quite wealthy, sometimes travelling in their middle years (40 - 55 years old) hiring cars and campervans and driving long haul across Australia as couples or in small independent groups. This market is a real shapeshifter, hard to track and research and a large percentage are (or at least were pre-COVID) from overseas. They are very valuable to the economy because  research shows that long haulers may budget on accommodation (as they spend many nights on the road), but they value experiences and willingly pay more for memory-making adventures, food and gift shopping.

Markets within markets

Here are some other self-drive segments you may encounter and ways to tailor a product for them:

  • Families bush camping and 4WDing might need a couple of nights in a small hotel or B&B to wash clothes and send some emails before heading off on the next leg;

  • Visiting friends and relatives (VFR) are an excellent market as they rely on locals to refer them and are generally interested in seeing family, eating out and a day trip to the must do/see attractions;

  • Bushwalkers and mountain bikers often drive to a node before using their legs. They are self-catering and low impact, great for small towns, close to nature;

  • Business travellers want great WIFI (doesn’t everyone?), a good night's sleep and the best breakfast and coffee they can get their hands on at 7am. A low fuss, repeat market, and travel year round. 

These are just a sample a full list is available in my new book.

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Contact us, call Susan Lee

0466 090 600