Caretakers Australia was approached by the new owners of the Barmah Bridge Caravan Park in October 2018 after meeting them at the VICPARKS Conference at Cape Shank.

THE CHALLENGE After the Barmah Council indicated it was going to close the caravan park down, the current owners, Nikki and Aaron Hennekam, decided to stick their necks out and take over the lease from the Council. Theirs was an emotional decision as their family had been holidaying at this park for over 30 years but they had no experience in caravan park management.

The park located outside of Echuca in North Eastern Victoria is based on 6 acres of riverfront crown land and is a mix of tourist cabins, annuals, campsites and a few permanent residents. Initially Nikki and Aaron engaged some fellow campers and friends to manage the park for them as Nikki and Aaron had other business interests in Melbourne. Before too long it became very apparent that the park required experienced park managers if it was to grow and develop and provide a return to its owners. That’s when Nikki and Aaron reached out to Caretakers Australia, recruitment specialists for the Accommodation sector and fellow Vicparks members. Being essentially a small business, the “traditional” recruitment fee model (10-15% of salary) was going to be cost prohibitive for the Park. However, Caretakers Australia was trialling a new fee model for VicParks members which offered a more realistic price for small businesses. The model operates on an “hour cost” basis and ultimately costs about 1/3 of the normal recruitment fee. At the same time as these conversations were taking place, the existing managers advised Nikki and Aaron that they needed to leave immediately.

Caretakers Australia was able to urgently provide relief managers, to run the Park, while the recruitment process for permanent managers was underway. Staff members from Caretakers Australia visited the site, both to assess the safety of the site from a WH& S perspective for their Relief Managers to work within, and also to gain a better understanding of the context and environment of the job. They identified a number of areas that could be improved for managers thereby making it a more attractive and sought-after opportunity. So, while Caretakers were sourcing candidates for the permanent position, the relief managers were deployed, trained and started working bringing their experience in systems and operations to the Park. – This took some urgency out of the decision-making process to appoint permanent managers. Adding to the challenges however was that the installation of a new reservation system coincided with the departure of the old managers! Fortunately Caretakers Australia was able to secure relief managers who had experience using this system – so they were able to assist the owners with implementation and training.

THE SOLUTION As often happens – the Relief Managers, really enjoyed working at the park and decided to put their hat in the ring as candidates for the Permanent Management role. This gave Nikki and Aaron the opportunity to observe them in action and assess their competency “on the job” while at the same time considering other well credentialled candidates Caretakers was able to source. Although it was a difficult decision, choosing between the short-listed candidates, ultimately Nikki elected to appoint the Relief Managers to the permanent role of Park Managers on an initial 12 month contract – which both parties were thrilled with.

THE CONCLUSION The takeaway message from this case study is that putting the all-important process of Staff selection and recruitment in the hands of people who know what they are doing and who understand the nature of the industry, is a pretty good idea. To discuss Permanent or Relief management for your park, contact the industry experts, Richard Kellaway Sally Limpyer or Meredith Racina at Caretakers Australia at [email protected] or 1300 972 947