Airbnb hits hospitality trade

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Golden Cafe’s Alasdair McGregor says there was a buzz on Margaret River’s main street during the peak summer period.
Camera IconGolden Cafe’s Alasdair McGregor says there was a buzz on Margaret River’s main street during the peak summer period.

Accommodation providers say Airbnb listings have boomed even further during the peak summer period and directly undermined Margaret River’s main-street economy.

Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region spokeswoman Debbie Noonan said monitoring of online booking platforms like Airbnb showed yet more homeowners had opted to list their properties for rent to tourists — many of them without planning approvals.

“This summer another 150 properties (were) added to the Airbnb platform, taking their listing over 2200, or another 7000 extra beds available per night in the region,” Ms Noonan said.

“The impact of the short-stay economy has been heavily felt on not only the accommodation providers this January, but on the main street and many subsidiary businesses who have felt the impact of the oversupply of self-catering tourists (or empty spenders as they are also known) in the region.

“Many wine tour operators are now also feeling the effects, reporting the worst summer ever.”

Despite an uptick in interstate visitors to the region, tourism authorities also confirmed tourists were spending less during visits than they had in the past.

“It certainly appears that spend is constrained,” Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said.

“Visitors are being more discerning about what they are spending their money on, and are preferring to do one or two more substantial experiences, and filling the remainder of their time with free activities.

“This is consistent with the year ending September, 2018 results, which shows increases in visitation to the region from intrastate, interstate and international markets, but a decline in spend.”

But Ms Kearney also said there were mixed reports on the local economy, while the MRBTA’s own bookings were full during the peak period.

Burger Baby co-owner and former Margaret River Chamber of Commerce committee member Richard Moroney rejected the idea empty spenders were the challenge.

“Margaret River’s economy isn’t going down the tubes because consumers have changed their spending preferences,” he said.

“Like it or not, Australia is in a recession, and consumers are looking for their dollar to go further.

“They are not ‘empty spenders’.

“I feel for the accommodation providers.

“Their market is taking a pummelling.” Caves House general manager Neil Jilley said wider economic factors were behind the turbulence, which he noted was tough for accommodation providers.

Chamber executive officer Rebecca Young said traders told of mixed results.

“Some businesses have noted a terrific season, while others have said that trade was down,” she said. “There are many factors that contribute to how tourists spend while they’re visiting the region.”

Similar reports were offered by other operators.

Golden Cafe owner Alasdair McGregor said the peak season was good for his new business.

“The holidays are a great boost, but as a small business, we really value local support to get us through the year,” he said.

Cowaramup Brewing Co’s Jeremy Good said he had noticed fewer patrons coming through the door and customers had spent less than previously in the past year.

But several other operators declined to talk about the trading season, acknowledging conditions on the main street were “tough”.

Concerns about the stagnant local economy were aired last year, with talk of a business forum to address the crisis.

The chamber ran workshops to prepare businesses for the disruption of the main street redevelopment, which is now on hold because of a funding shortfall.

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