Overseas visits out

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
International travel restrictions could hamper overseas tourism to Margaret River for the next year or two.
Camera IconInternational travel restrictions could hamper overseas tourism to Margaret River for the next year or two.

Margaret River tourism and hospitality operators have been told to brace for no international visitors this year, and possibly next, in a major challenge to the region’s recovery.

While Australia’s ban on non-essential overseas flights looks likely to stay until at least September, tough measures to control COVID-19 for incoming passengers could write off the leisure market.

Tourism Council of WA chief executive Evan Hall said he would be surprised to see any tourist flights resume into the country this year.

However, ongoing efforts to contain COVID-19 once flights resume could also kill off the in-ternational market. “Wherever there’s a requirement to quarantine for 14 days, it will simply be a ban on leisure tourism,” Mr Hall said.

“If you’re there for a holiday, no one’s going to do that.”

A spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Government was unable to offer clarity around planned international flights, but told the Times it understood tourism was crucial for many communities “especially here in Margaret River”. “The Government is continuing with the necessary planning to ensure that when the border restrictions are eased, our tourism industry can recover as quickly as possible and continue to be a major contributor to the economy and employer of Australians,” she said.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Steve Harrison said the region would likely see a “staged recovery”.

“It is also likely that it will not be our traditional interstate and international markets that will move first, with the region needing to shift its focus to those markets that are willing and able to travel,” he said. “This will require all tourism businesses to consider their product offering and marketing in light of changing markets and consumer expectations.”

Margaret River Discovery Company operator Sean Blocksidge said the region might not see flights for two years.

“In the absence of a vaccine, the international visitors have evaporated,” he said. “Similarly, I can’t see any of us travelling overseas either.

“What’s scary for Margaret River is that international tourism wasn’t just the cream on the cake — it was the flour in the cake, too.

“They were some of the highest-yield visitors that injected millions of dollars into the community.”

Mr Hall said the Government needed to open up to international visitors in a staged approach, and he believed South Korea and Singapore would be viable markets, while pinprick testing at point of departure was “easy and cheap” and could offer reassurance.

“They are also doing very well in managing COVID-19,” he said.

“Singapore has always been a fantastic group of travellers for WA and the South West.

“We get a lot of repeat visitation ... They tend to come back, and (then) travel further.”

Mr Blocksidge echoed those remarks, saying Singaporeans were active in local restaurants and cafes, and booking tours.

National COVID-19 Co-ordination Commission chairman Nev Power added weight to Mr Hall’s suggestion yesterday, saying an “Asian bubble” for international tourism could be feasible — but tourism would not be the first focus for flights.

“I think international travel and anything that relies on international travel is one of the obvious things that will take some time, because it’s not just about Australia, it’s how other countries are managing the virus as well,” he said.

Mr Hall said apart from quarantine, issues like what travel insurance would cover, and whether stood-down workers had any leave entitlements left would challenge the sector further.

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