Tourism hit by lockdown mess

Warren Hately, Taylar Amonini & Steve ButlerAugusta Margaret River Times
The snap long weekend lockdown sent visitors to the region scrambling for their masks.
Camera IconThe snap long weekend lockdown sent visitors to the region scrambling for their masks. Credit: Warren Hately

The region’s hospitality sector fears the relationship with Perth’s tourism market was undermined by the chaos surrounding Friday’s confused city lockdown.

The industry bore the brunt of enforcing the Chief Health Officer’s instructions, with visitors who either didn’t know or didn’t care about what was required after thousands fled the city before a midnight curfew.

Holiday accommodation then saw mass cancellations, and many venues closed to avoid ugly scenes, with some visitors refusing to mask up.

Margaret River Motel owner Donna Hawkins said members of Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region had “mass cancellations” for the long weekend as well as coming weeks, especially from potential interstate visitors.

Her business suffered $10,000 in losses which had a flow-on effect to casual employees and the local economy.

She backed calls from the Opposition to compensate business operators, with JobKeeper no longer in effect to cushion the blow of lockdowns.

“Employers cannot keep shouldering the burden of any kinds of restrictions, and our employees are the biggest losers,” she said.

But Ms Hawkins said the worst issue was the effect the lockdowns had on the Perth tourism market, which was the only thing keeping the Margaret River industry alive.

“I’m very concerned about the ongoing negative effect this could have on all South West tourism businesses,” she said. “We simply cannot keep being forced to close or lose bookings based on the whim of our CMO and our Premier, especially when it is over a handful of cases.”

RAPMRR spokeswoman Debbie Noonan said the State Government needed clear procedures in place.

“It’s over a year later and still everyone is still winging it, and we in business are paying the price,” she said.

Margarets In-Town Apartments general manager Lee Burket said he’d had 35 per cent cancellations across his two sites. “In regards to lockdown, I’m glad I run a hotel and am not the Premier,” he said.

Jet Adventures owner Peter Kalbfell said the last long weekend of summer usually saw his business run off its feet, but he spent it reimbursing cancellations.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-CEO Sharna Kearney said members saw an immediate switch once the lockdown was called, with some providers losing up to 70 per cent of their trade.

“One of the difficulties cited by members was the evolving nature of the situation, and the lack of clarity around the advice provided,” Ms Kearney said. “Business started off operating as normal, then moved to providing advice to visitors, then began actively policing visitation, before some eventually made the decision to close because it simply wasn’t viable to operate.”

Obligations around penalty rates, wasted perishables, and the effect on employees were also cited by members.

Australian Hotels Association WA CEO Bradley Woods said members had been left in an “impossible position” due to the lack of Government advice and the fact establishments were not charged with policing COVID-related policy.

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