Agritourism business development program participant: Nightfall Camp
GLAMPING | WILDERNESS IMMERSION
Steve and Heidi Ross often wonder what path they’d have taken had they not been selected for the agritourism business development program. At the start of the course, they’d barely begun considering options for building budget cabin accommodation and permaculture gardens to create an income from their Boonah property. By the end of the course, a far grander dream had been born: a high-end tented camp hand-built on land that was purpose-bought to showcase the Scenic Rim’s natural wonders and the couple’s eco-wilderness lifestyle. The location switch was a direct result of the program.
“Very quickly, through the deep evaluation we did in the course, we realised that if we were going to invest all we had in building a tourism business, we were going to do a damn good job of making something memorable for both ourselves and our guests,” says Heidi Ross. “The program gave us the confidence to honestly analyse what we needed from the business, so we could combine all our needs to create a sustainable income. We were supported to look outside the square, researching ‘the best of the best’ globally to get creative”.
“When we found our new property in Lamington, we knew it was our spot: rugged mountain wilderness beside tumbling crystal- clear creek waters, World Heritage-listed rainforest and that feeling that you are truly off the beaten track. What better place to live and host others?”
The Rosses says their participation in the program was instrumental in shaping Nightfall’s guest experience. “Glamping was just arriving in Australia, so it was easy to think of tents. [Program facilitators] Rose and Robyn challenged us to create a product that would still be fresh and innovative in 10 years’ time. They walked through the experience: why were we doing this? Why would people want to come to Nightfall instead of other retreats nearby? What made us unique? That’s when we started to see value in sharing how we lived. We created our dream lifestyle with giant luxe tents, vintage tin baths, fireplaces, organic fire-cooked food fresh from the garden, with days spent in the forest and by the creek. Visitors could feel they’d come as guests and leave feeling like they’d just spent a few days with old friends, sharing our camp life.”
Unhappy with off-the-shelf tents, Steve and Heidi designed their own bespoke structures. Steve crafted the 62-square-metre platforms and welded the tent frames, while Heidi sewed the canvas walls. Involvement in the agritourism program helped guide the project through a “material change of use” development application. The sensitive nature of the site called for flora, fauna and bushfire assessments and delicate negotiations with Council. The Rosses also designed to meet advanced accreditation by Ecotourism Australia.
The project was completed with the help of a builder, neighbours and international WWOOF labour.
Now in its third year of operation, Nightfall employs two people full-time and five part-time, including an arrivals/marketing manager, cleaner, massage/yoga therapist and bookkeeper. The camp’s three tents are fully booked three to four months ahead on weekends, and midweek occupancy is also strong.
Nightfall camp won Queensland Tourism’s 2014 New Tourism Development (silver) award and 2015 Hosted Accommodation (bronze) award, as well as the 2015 Scenic Rim Business
Excellence Award for business marketing. Nightfall has also been used as a Queensland government case study for investment supporting best practice ecotourism (Queensland Ecotourism Plan 2015-2020) and a best-practice example for ecotourism development on freehold land (Queensland Ecotourism Development Toolkit 2016).
The Rosses’ project secured $132,000 in state and federal government feasibility and T-QUAL funding, boosting their financial and in-kind investment in the land and infrastructure to more than $1 million. Participation in the agritourism program helped solidify their relationships with other local operators and industry contacts. They actively collaborated to produce a popular Lost World touring map and Heidi Ross served for a number of years as a committee member of local tourism operator Scenic Rim Escapes. Those relationships continue today.
- New tourism investment: creation of Nightfall Camp, an award-winning high-end wilderness immersion experience with hand-built tent accommodation and high-quality organic food
- Leadership: Heidi Ross served on the local tourism committee of Scenic Rim Escapes for several years, and shared business experience and knowledge through mentoring and industry programs
- Investment: this venture converted a rural allotment with little agricultural value and an overgrown environmental landscape into a high-yielding tourism venture that is restoring and protecting the natural landscape, producing food for guests and offering a vibrant business and tourism product. More than $1 million has been invested, plus an estimated $400,000 of in-kind labour to hand-build and sew bespoke tents, as well as establish food gardens and common infrastructure.
- Jobs: created two full-time and five part-time jobs, including an arrivals/marketing manager, casual waitress, cleaner, massage/yoga therapist and