New website sets freedom camping free again

With legislation having been passed on so-called 'freedom camping', exploring New Zealand by sleeping in a vehicle or camping at the roadside has begun to look like an uncertain prospect. As the country experienced a deluge of Rugby World Cup visitors, concerns have emerged that would-be tourists might limit their travels, hitting regional tourism.

Things are about to change, however, with the launch of an internet-based business called Park-Sleep. The idea is simple. Thousands of Kiwis have the space to let touring camper van drivers park overnight. Some even have facilities they can offer. By registering on the Park-Sleep website (www.park-sleep.co.nz), they can let campers know where they might find an accommodation park for the night. Costs and use of anything other than a parking space are agreed directly, and the host dictates everything including length of stay and what's on offer. Unlike home-stays or 'couch-surfing'' businesses, homeowners don't have to hand over a key or let anyone enter their home.

The idea is the brainchild of Brendan Waters, and at age 60 he's not your typical web entrepreneur. With decades-long experience in tourism, including the camper van motor home, RV vehicle rental hire sector, his practical knowledge runs deep. The idea seemed simple, logical and appealing, and the internet made it entirely possible.

Park-Sleep's revenue comes from charging would-be hosts a modest annual listing fee - around only $97 or less ($57) for launch. The host can specify the cost of stay and what's on offer, including any limitations or extras. "The host is in complete control", says Waters. "They might specify no pets, for example. Then again, they might welcome pets, and that would be a bonus for some visitors. Many rural properties have outdoor facilities and, again, the host can choose to offer these if they want to, either free or for a charge."

With nearly 5,000 rental vans which hit the road for Rugby World Cup, and around 23,000 privately registered, the demand for spaces round the country is bound to continue to be high. The view of Waters is that Park-Sleep isn't so much competing with campgrounds as complementing them. "The campgrounds will fill up first", he insists. "Inevitably, they have all the facilities and will be first choice for most travellers. What Park-Sleep replaces are those spur-of-the-moment stops, single-night stays or stays in areas where there are no campgrounds. Freedom camping, in other words. Park-Sleep simultaneously solves two sides of the problem. It lets tourists on their grand trip around New Zealand enjoy staying in out-of-the-way places, while obviating the downsides we've heard so much about and which prompted the legislation." Park-Sleep listing will be open to campgrounds if they wish, and the site aims to include Department of Conservation and other sites.

The motivation for Waters was less to do with commerce and more about the good things Park-Sleep could do for New Zealand and visitors alike. "Like many Kiwis, I love it when visitors see and appreciate what New Zealand has to offer, " says Waters. "This is an idea that can clean up our countryside, provide a useful bit of income to the hosts, allow people to stay in some remarkable areas and give the opportunity to extend some great Kiwi hospitality - one of our greatest tourism assets." According to Waters, Park-Sleep could bring other benefits, too. "It might be a surf club that wants to raise some funds by letting out space with waterfront views, or a Rugby club or even a stay on a Marae - can you imagine the kick visitors would get out of that? It can also give people their first experience of working in the tourism industry, with potential tax advantages similar to homestays if you are letting part of your property out. Whether you are an established business like a country tavern or just your home."

Park-Sleep goes live in December 2011 and the company will be working hard to market the idea via suitable partners, including those vehicle rental companies that have previously appealed to freedom campers. Park-Sleep's priority is recruiting Kiwis and organisations to list their places for overnight parking accommodation.

Contact: Brendan Waters, PARKSLEEP Limited Coordinator
021 06 80 200
brendan@park-sleep.co.nz
www.PARK-SLEEP.co.nz
September 2011