Diversification key to future

Augusta Margaret River Times
WA Police, SES and Defence personal are manning three checkpoints on the Forrest Highway at the Old Coast Road intersection under the State Government’s regional travel ban.
Camera IconWA Police, SES and Defence personal are manning three checkpoints on the Forrest Highway at the Old Coast Road intersection under the State Government’s regional travel ban. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/The West Australian, Shannon Verhagen Picture: Shannon Verhagen

While many tourism and hospitality businesses support the ongoing lockdown of the region, other sectors are concerned how operators will recover if and when life returns to “normal”.

Responding to inquiries from the Times, operators mostly backed the WA Government’s actions to contain COVID-19.

And many said consumer support from residents, and diversification of business offerings, would be key to the local economy’s future survival.

Margaret River Chalets operator Lewis Hawkins said the State Government was “doing a fantastic job right now”.

“The long-term viability of my business is something I am optimistic about as long as I can survive long enough to be here when things improve,” he said.

That view was echoed by Jahroc Gallery owner Gary Bennett.

“We went into this situation in a fairly strong position, and having been in business for 33 years, we have weathered many economic storms — though I must say this one looms very large.”

Talk of schools reopening next term meant it made sense for regional lockdowns to end before too long.

White Elephant Cafe operator Anthony Janssen said it was hard to gauge the road ahead.

“For business, the lifting on the restrictions would appeal to a certain majority and not appeal to others — and I empathise with both sides.”

Wayne and Michel Doney, of Margaret River Family Vet Hospital, said it was “far too early” to ease restrictions because of risks to the local health system.

Settlers Tavern proprietor Rob Gough acknowledged the restrictions were damaging to business, but they were crucial.

“There needs to be a relentless pursuit to contain COVID-19, so we can begin the road to recovery sooner than later,” he said.

“The longer it takes to quash this virus, the more it will impact the long-term health of our business.”

Jamie and Lara McCall, of Burnside Organic Farm, said although the lockdown shut their accommodation, they had refocused on their farm operation.

Like others, the McCalls said greater diversification would be needed in future.

“As a community, we need to maybe concentrate on supporting the diversification of our economy so it is more resilient,” they said.

“Tourism comes with a lot of potential downsides that this emergency has exposed.”

Tate Construction boss Barry Tate told the Times the “huge negative impact on tourism” had probably put a stop to any new projects for the near future.

“The biggest concern I have is how long can we sustain the pressure on our economy,” he said.

Australia as a whole needed a more self-reliant economy, including the manufacturing industry, Mr Tate said.

Main street traders Ella Pickett and Layne Wilson from Marine & Co believed long-term interstate and overseas travel restrictions could be a boon for Margaret River’s economy after regional lockdowns finished.

“Being one of the most popular destinations in WA, we believe this will be great for us and the whole town,” Ms Pickett said.

“We believe that relaxing business restrictions within the region will only stimulate spending if the social distancing rules are also relaxed.”

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