Caravaner Len�s on the trail of travellers

Kate PollardThe West Australian
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Self-professed "mad keen caravaner" Len Armstrong is on a mission to attract tourist dollars to small Wheatbelt towns.

The Lake Grace Shire president, who lives in Newdegate, wants caravan visitors to slow down and explore small towns instead of passing through.

Every year more than 800,000 local, interstate and international visitors travel through WA staying in caravan parks and camping grounds.

Mr Armstrong believes there are plenty of opportunities for regional WA but visitors need to know places of interest along the route they are travelling.

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Some regions have already instigated their own routes, like Hidden Treasures in the Great Southern, the Gascoyne Food Trail and Tourism WA has a range of suggested drive itineraries.

For small communities near Lake Grace, the opening of the Fitzgerald River National Park Improvement road, from Hopetoun to Bremer Bay, could result in increased tourist traffic.

To make the most of this market, Mr Armstrong has come up with the 'Woolly Highway' linking Lake Grace and West Arthur.

The idea is for attractions along the trail to be identified using a fibreglass sheep. These would include the existing art gallery, winery, lakes and walking trails in Lake Grace and Newdegate's Hainsworth Building and Hollands Track.

In Dumbleyung, it could take in Lake Dumbleyung and Cambinata Yabbies, in Wagin the giant ram and pioneer village and a refurbished shearing shed in Arthur River.

The idea is in the early stages and needs support from the community and regional shires.

"The benefit for Wheatbelt towns is it's a chance to tap into the tourist dollar," Mr Armstrong said.

According to the Caravan RV and Accommodation Industry of Australia, for every $1 or park income, $1.38 of local economic activity is generated by the individual park.

Tourism WA is also about to research how much travellers spend on trips.

But first, rural towns needed to become caravan friendly, Mr Armstrong said. This meant providing a parking bay not far from town so caravaners could get their bearings, identify the local caravan park and see where they could dispose of waste.

Caravan Industry Association of WA chief executive Simon Glossop, who promotes small communities as destinations for caravaners, said these facilities needed to be provided to help attract visitors.

But he said shires needed to make sure they did not put in non-compliant camping areas and dump points where a local ratepayer, such as the local caravan park, provided that service.

"We fully support local government attempting to attract visitors in our segment," Mr Glossop said.

Fast facts *

·In 2011, there were 790,000 domestic and 57,500 international visitors staying in caravan or camping accommodation.

·Domestic travellers spend an average of $117 per night and international visitors $115 per night.

·In 2009-2010, takings from accommodation revenue were $163.5 million.

·Most popular areas for WA domestic caravan and campers are Augusta-Margaret River, Busselton, Roebourne, Carnarvon and Exmouth shires.

·Most popular for International travellers are Broome, Bunbury and Augusta-Margaret River.

·Occupancy rates in 2010 were 55 per cent.

Source: Tourism WA Source: Tourism WA

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