IT started as a decision driven purely by health and safety considerations, and a desire to protect his vulnerable father, but it soon became apparent it was a sound business decision too.
When Curlwaa Caravan Park owners Ric and Margot Young announced on Facebook that from November 1 only fully vaccinated visitors – or those with a medical exemption from their GP – would be welcome at the park, it initially sparked an angry response on social media.
The couple’s decision was branded “un-Australian” and compared to Fascism.
That feedback was to Ric, as the man ‘at the other end of the screen’, “gut-wrenching”.
But the couple wasn’t about to back down.
“For the first few days we thought ‘What have we done to our business?’ – but this is our business and these are our morals and ethics,” he said.
However, those initial negative reactions were soon swamped by a wave of support for the couple’s vaccination stand.
“Now we’re thinking ‘Strewth!’,” Ric said this week.
“We’ve had phone calls like mad saying: ‘We’ve got no idea where you are but we’re going to make a point to find you and come visit’.”
Suddenly, business was booming.
The reason for the ban on the unvaccinated is really Ric’s father Brian, 78, who has an illness that limits his lung capacity.
“If he was to get COVID, it’s probably going to be the last illness he ever has, because it shuts down your lungs, causes difficulties with your respiration and he’s having 50 per cent difficulties as it is,” Ric explained to the ‘Weekly.
Ensuring his father’s protection was a clear motivating factor behind putting in the new policy.
But it was also about everyone who visited the park – Ric said he didn’t want anyone to fall ill.
“We can’t knowingly place people at risk and we believe by bringing unvaccinated people in, we’ll be putting other people at risk,” he said.
Ric rejected a notion put forward in recent weeks by some Sunraysia businesses, who have argued on social media that turning away unvaccinated customers was akin to “discrimination”.
“We have a duty of care under the occupational health and safety rules that we need to maintain a safe environment, a safe workplace,” he said.
“This whole caravan park is a workplace.
“So we have to maintain the health and safety of every single person on this property … we can’t dig a hole and hope nobody falls in it.”
The concerns raised in angry Facebook comments didn’t sway Ric.
He said while vaccines don’t stop you from catching COVID, they reduce the severity of it and limit how much you’ll transmit to others.
“We’re not saying it’s a cure. We’re not saying it’s a be-all and end-all,” he said.
“What we are saying is if you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to get sick, certainly unlikely to be hospitalised, and the chances of dying from it — you’re probably going to get struck by lightning first.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission advises that if there is no specific law requiring a COVID vaccination, businesses should be “cautious” about imposing a blanket rule requiring vaccination.
The advice notes that there are medical reasons why a person may not be able to receive a vaccine or may choose not to in their circumstances, including because of protected attributes such as pregnancy or disability.
Ric said his policy allowed for medical exemptions and would be easy for visitors to comply with.
“The NSW QR code system is going to change very shortly, where when you check in — which you have to do — it will being up a green tick for vaccination status,” he said.
“That’s all we want to look at.
“If you are medically exempt, a letter from your doctor saying these are the reasons you don’t want to be vaccinated.
“I don’t want to know what you’ve had for breakfast.”
After the initial Facebook backlash, things took a turn for the better, Ric said.
An ABC article about the early reactions introduced the Curlwaa Caravan Park to readers around Australia and even the world.
Support — and even new bookings — started to flood in.
The original post suddenly had more than 4300 positive reactions, compared to just 77 angry reactions — or a meagre 1.8 per cent of those engaging with the post.
A wave of positive comments has almost completely drowned out the negative ones.
Nearly 1400 supportive emails arrived in the park’s inbox, many putting Curlwaa Caravan Park on their travel to-do list.
Most people, Ric said, wanted to be customers of businesses that prioritised safety.
He said those businesses welcoming unvaccinated customers might find they lose other customers as a result.
“That’s been in almost every single comment — ‘We’ll come there because we know we’ll be safe’,” he said.
“People just want that safety.
“Would you send your kids to a kindergarten if kids there weren’t vaccinated?” he asked.
The sudden uptake in bookings certainly came as a huge relief after two difficult years and a really slow past three months owing to travel restrictions.
Ric took three bookings this week for Easter, which could soon be booked out.
“People are worried they might not be able to get in — that’s a fantastic feeling for us,” he said.
For Ric, the best part was that a full park wouldn’t just benefit him, it would help other businesses as well.
“Dareton is going to benefit. Wentworth is going to benefit. Mildura is going to benefit. Merbein is going to benefit,” he said.
“It’s been mind blowing, absolutely mind blowing, and I do get emotional about it.”
– By Michael DiFabrizio