How Coast glamping resort dream became a reality
WHEN Bernie McGovern, then 24, took over his first pub, the Lamington in Maryborough, he had never stood behind a bar and poured a beer and had no idea how to spear a keg.
Nor did he know anything about fashion when he bought Anna Marie and Mr John, the national bridal and formal wear hire chain; or about running a retirement village when he purchased Buderim Gardens back in 2000.
But that sort of obstacle has never worried Bernie. He's always figured he'd work it out as he went along.
And he's a believer that hard work, attention to detail and outstanding customer service will pretty much guarantee success in any field of business.
He did know something about caravan parks, though, before he launched his latest project, the trend-setting "glamping" resort at Diddillibah, known as Rivershore.
He and wife Cathy took six months off, hitched a caravan to their four wheel-drive and explored Australia, stopping at caravan parks the length and breadth of the country.
"If nothing else, I learned what not do," Bernie says.
His head brimming with ideas about what a caravan park should be, Bernie and his son - also Bernie, but known to most (even the rest of his family) as Bernard - scoured north-eastern Australia searching for a suitable park to buy.
There were none.
"They were all old, with tiny sites, and they wanted too much money for them - $5 million to $10 million," Bernie recalls.
That's when he started thinking about building something from scratch - a resort that would incorporate the ideas he'd been hearing from disgruntled caravaners across the country; a caravan park that would offer big sites, outstanding facilities, a first-class restaurant and, if clients wanted it, a five-star accommodation option.
He bought 10ha of former caneland on a tributary of the Maroochy River, just up David Low Way from Erbachers fruit and veggie business, and began to seriously think about what his venture would look like.
"I sat down in a room with an architect and we drew the plans up," he said. "I wanted big van sites - big enough to accommodate two vehicles and two vans if necessary."
The resort, one of the only new caravan parks to be built in Australia in the past 20 years, opened last August.
Rivershore's 80 van sites, on average, are 10m x 12m - 50% larger than normal. Some are even bigger.
"Seventy percent of caravaners and campers said they wanted a restaurant and bar - so we gave them one of the best," Bernie says.
"Some people consider caravaners to be second class citizens. They're not. They're well heeled and spend a lot of money on their holiday home - the camper/caravan - and they're prepared to visit most tourist attractions wherever they stay."
So he figured they were entitled to clean, classy facilities, a proper playground for their kids, a big, roomy swimming pool complete with water slides and he reckoned they should be treated with respect and courtesy.
Bernie, his sons Bernard and Will, and their partners, personally greet every camper and caravaner and show them to their site. They remember their names, their favorite drinks, the names and ages of their children, and where they're from.
So appealing are the attractions at Rivershore that it has become a popular destination for locals - with or without caravans. They come for a drink after work, to dine at the restaurant or to spend a day with the family in and around the pool.
"Some people think the resort is just for campers," Bernie says.
"That's not the case. It's for everybody."
Particularly the classy restaurant Driftwood and the heated swimming pool.
The McGoverns took a calculated risk when they provided their clients with a true "glamping experience" - 15 safari tents which sit in a row along the shores of the river, offering a degree of luxury almost unheard of outside five star resorts.
"We had some concern whether the caravaners and the 'glampers' would mix - whether there might not be some disconnect between them," Bernie says.
He needn't have worried. The two groups share the facilities. Often, people visiting their friends in the caravan park opt to spend a night in one of the safari tents.
The tents are there because the resort is situated on land described as a "floodplain" - off limits to permanent residential structures. Tents, happily, are not considered permanent structures.
They're not cheap. Nightly tariffs start at $200 but you get what you pay for. They offer luxury and elegance that you simply do not expect in anything that even resembles a caravan park.
They are self-contained "units" with four-poster king beds, luxury ensuite bathrooms with shower and bath, a kitchenette with fridge and microwave, a Weber barbecue and a covered outdoor veranda.
And most are booked out months ahead.
Bernie credits wife Cathy with the quality and style of the resort - particularly the safari tents and restaurant.
"She has great taste and style," he says.
"Her influence is everywhere."
Rivershore is a true family affair. Sons Bernard and Will gave up careers in Brisbane to become involved in the business and share in its ownership. They clearly enjoy each other's company and relish the challenge of working together.
Since it opened last August the business has boomed. It's on track to achieve a $5 million annual turnover and employs 36 staff - 15 of them on salary.
So far it has recorded nearly 50,000 "room nights", equating to an economic impact for the region of nearly $14 million, using Visit Sunshine Coast's calculation of a net worth of $310 a day per person.
"We have a resort on the Sunshine Coast that is unique - not just to the region but to the entire country," Bernie says.
"We have had visitors from China, Japan, England, Germany, Switzerland and the US, as well as from every state of Australia as well as New Zealand.
"And they're not your typical stereotype of caravaners - there are young families and honeymooners, as well as retirees."
Bernie reflects that the project, which has so far cost upwards of $10 million, was nearly aborted on several occasions, so frustrated was he with the red tape and delays that were a result of local and state government red tape and procrastination.
"I nearly walked away a half dozen times," he says. "But I'm a fighter and I stuck to it."
He believes governments - local, state and federal - must change their culture and eliminate hurdles.
"All governments should be facilitators - not regulators."
After nearly a year of successful trading, the McGoverns are looking to the future and planning improvements.
They want to add a day spa, increase the resort's capacity and expand the corporate side of business - conferences, meetings and company retreats.
They're starting to attract weddings and wedding receptions and they're looking to employ a resort manager, allowing Bernard and Will a better opportunity to get out and promote the business.
As for Bernie? He's considering taking a step back and even talks about retirement - even though that's a notion he's already contemplated, and then dismissed, many times in the past couple of decades.