Operators report mixed fortunes from latest tourism data for Margaret River region

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Singaporean visitors Josh Ong and Serena Zou.
Camera IconSingaporean visitors Josh Ong and Serena Zou. Credit: Sean Blocksidge

Capes tourism continues to face mixed fortunes despite the State Government talking up an overall boom in visitor spending.

The latest Tourism Research Australia figures confirm a significant uptick in how much travellers to WA are forking out during their holidays.

At the same time, those figures didn’t adequately consider the increased cost for doing business, meaning it was less of a boom for operators in the Augusta-Margaret River and Dunsborough-Busselton areas than believed.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association chief executive Sharna Kearney said the tourism landscape continued to evolve post-COVID-19, with the boom in Perth tourists finally dropping back to slightly below pre-pandemic levels.

At the same time, efforts to re-engage with international markets continued — but they weren’t there yet.

International visits were still below 2019 levels, and while the Perth market had dipped back too, the figures showed visitors were spending more nights and more money than before the pandemic.

However, the three-year average was down 5.1 per cent for domestic visitors and down 7 per cent for nights stayed.

International figures — which were less accurate — was tracking at almost 89,000 people compared to the lofty highs of 2019 when 141,200 travellers were recorded.

“It is positive that despite our region receiving less visitors than pre-COVID-19, the value of tourism to our region has grown,” she said.

“Most tourism operators were expecting visitation to normalise after the post-pandemic highs of the last few years and are reporting they are experiencing a decline in visitor numbers, more distinct fluctuations in visitation, and shorter booking lead times.

“The increase in overall visitor spend doesn’t necessarily translate to improved business profitability, as costs have risen significantly in the same period,” Ms Kearney said.

“A continued focus on the full recovery of our interstate and international markets is critical, as these markets assist to boost visitation during off-peak periods, creating a more sustainable year-round operating environment for businesses.”

Margaret River Discovery Co. boss Sean Blocksidge told the Times a lot of uncertainty remained as the industry came out of the “corkscrew” of the pandemic.

“Tourism is a constant roller-coaster of ups and downs,” he said.

“I hope we’re on the up path, but unfortunately costs are dragging many operators down.

“We’ve lost a bunch of really awesome small operators in recent years. It’s tough.”

Mr Blocksidge was TripAdvisor’s number one-rated tourism guide and had held that pole position for 17 years.

He noted visitation from the UK during the summer had bounced back and Singaporeans were returning to the region, but interstate markets remained in a slump.

“I do love the focus of MRBTA and Tourism WA on showcasing experiential tourism operators and what they are calling the ‘Dream Collective’,” he said.

“It does give me hope for future direction of the roller-coaster.”

Several operators canvassed by the Times said more people were coming through the door than ever, but cost-of-living pressures were still affecting how tourists spent.

Those same pressures had driven costs up for operators too, and ongoing rates rises and high interest rates were causing headaches.

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