According to Bruce Lochore, although the New Zealand Motor Caravanning Association is a professional body, it is still a club at heart, and that is what makes it special. By Mary Searle Bell.
As the NZMCA chief executive, Bruce Lochore admits he hadn’t even heard of the organisation when he first saw his role advertised back in 2012. But when he looked into it, he got excited about the opportunity.
“The association had been growing steadily for more than half a century, had quietly built a membership of more than 40,000 and through careful management had established a solid financial base. But it was still very much under the radar – most people saw it as just a little club.”
Just eight years later that ‘little club’ has experienced spectacular growth as motorhome and caravan ownership has boomed. In that time the NZMCA’s membership has more than doubled – with the 100,000th membership number being allocated in September last year – and it is now a major player in domestic tourism.
Until he joined the NZMCA, Bruce’s career had largely been in hospitality.
Starting with what was then Lion Breweries in his hometown of Palmerston North, he found his niche in sales, and his job culminated in a six-month stint in California where he helped introduce the Steinlager brand.
Back in NZ, Bruce and his wife Cherie, who was also in the industry, established the Celtic Arms hotel in Whanganui.
Then, in his 30s he reassessed his career goals and went to university as a full time student to complete an MBA. With that in his CV, he then got a role as a regional manager with Hospitality NZ, covering the lower and central North Island.
“It was my first introduction to professional associations. I dealt with country communities a lot and developed a real affinity with provincial New Zealand.
“I believe the provinces are where the heart of the country is, and where the nation’s identity is forged.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but that’s an outlook that has served him well since taking on his leadership role with the NZMCA over eight years ago.
“My challenge was to make the organisation more business-like, without losing the club feel.
“We wanted to modernise it, to engage better with the membership, to build stronger relationships with councils around the country and to provide strong advocacy for our members on national issues like freedom camping, while still retaining the relaxed and friendly ‘club’ vibe.”
Bruce says it was a complex task, but the association’s primary goal is, in fact, pretty simple: ‘To help our members have more fun.’
“That’s why it’s important that we balance our profile as a national association while still ensuring our members feel a personal connection to their club.”
Just how strong that connection is can be seen in the NZMCA’s huge volunteer base, with hundreds of members giving up their time and skills to such activities as overseeing the association’s network of 47 parks nationwide or training as certified self-containment officers.
Bruce says he spent his first six months in the role, just listening: “I went around the country and met people. I listened to the staff, the board (who are also volunteers), the members and the community partners. I listened for opportunities.
“There have been some excellent initiatives by the board over the years.
“The club was established in 1956, and in its early days it set up its own insurance scheme. Now managed by an insurance brokerage, last year it generated $1.2 million in commission for us.”
The association also has strong partnerships with the likes of KiwiRail (for the Interislander ferry service); Wireless Nation, to provide mobile broadband to members’ motorhomes, which has allowed a new generation of member to work while on the road; and Kiwi Fuelcards for fuel discounts.
“This has helped put the NZMCA in a unique position. Most associations struggle for funding and are constantly on the lookout for new commercial partners. We say ‘no’ to more than we say ‘yes’ to, but when we do say yes, our members support us – they trust our decisions.”
Creating such member benefits has been a key area of focus for Bruce and his team who have spent a lot of time listening to why newer members had joined the NZMCA (a third of the membership has joined in the past two years alone) and what they were looking for from the association.
“Our recent digital upgrade came out of this.
“We’ve spent $1 million overhauling our systems, we’ve built a new website, and work is also underway on developing a travel app for members that will fully integrate with our website and database.
“We’ve developed an events programme too, which is partially based on club-specific events along with what’s already happening out in communities – things like food and music festivals where the organisers are prepared to set aside space for motorhomes at their events.”
This initiative alone resulted in NZMCA members supporting over 100 community-based events last year.
Another obvious area of focus for the association has been freedom camping; with Bruce strongly advocating for the rights of responsible freedom campers in certified self-contained vehicles.
“Early on, it got quite heated at times; however Malcolm Alexander (the former CEO of LGNZ) and I got chatting one day and agreed we have more in common than not and it would be better for us to work together.
“In November 2013, I spoke at the Rural and Provincial meeting and the whole game changed between us and councils.
“Some councils got it. However, other councils have struggled to understand the positive impact our members can have on tourism. Some associated us only with freedom camping issues.
“My role has been to educate them on who we are, what we do, and how we can work together. We’re actually on the same page when it comes to the problems with freedom campers.
“As a result we have worked with LGNZ on the guide to creating a Freedom Camping bylaw and another guide to creating exemptions to the Campground Regulations.
“Out of this closer relationship has also come our ‘Motorhome Friendly Towns’ scheme, which now has some 57 towns involved. And we’ve set up ‘Off the Beaten Track’, to encourage our members to stop, stay and spend in the country’s smaller, rural and provincial communities.
“This works for both our members and the councils.
“If we continue to talk to each other, even when we disagree, we both win.”