Tourist lulls hurting economy

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
A settling in period will be needed as trucks as well as hoon drivers embrace the perimeter road.
Camera IconA settling in period will be needed as trucks as well as hoon drivers embrace the perimeter road. Credit: Warren Hately

The Margaret River economy has settled into an uneasy “new normal”, with a lack of willing workers and weekend-focused tourism emerging as the biggest challenges.

While the South West topped a recent visitation survey, which noted a 6 per cent increase on tourist numbers, Perth and intrastate tourists were spending far less than other visitors, and trips were focused towards weekends — leaving many operators struggling with a midweek lull.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall said WA tourists spent about half the amount interstate tourists did while in the regions, and international tourists — unable to visit because of COVID-19 — averaged more than four times the spend of West Australians.

Local operators in the adventure tourism business also noted Perth tourists were mostly focused on wining and dining, leaving the region’s “unique experiences” untouched and putting those businesses under increased financial pressure.

With news Margaret River Taxis could shut down because of the lack of available drivers, and recent Times reports vintage 2020 could be troubled by a shortfall of workers, further disruption of the shire economy is expected.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said most members reported a “very busy” school holiday period.

“Visitation to the region generally since travel restrictions lifted has been strong, although this visitation is concentrated around weekends, with midweek much quieter,” she said.

“Accommodation, restaurants and cafes, and cellar doors in particular are doing well.

“Tours, attractions and activities — particularly those that would normally experience a high level of interstate and international visitation — are not seeing the same level of conversion.”

Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region spokeswoman Debbie Noonan said operators had mixed responses.

“Some self-contained properties are reporting stronger-than-normal bookings,” she said.

“However, most are saying they are full on the weekends and quiet midweek. Most are grateful for any cashflow coming their way.

“The hard border is causing the inconsistencies mentioned above, and whilst for most members the overall trade is lower, we support the closure for the overall benefit to the community.” Some major hospitality businesses, including Settlers Tavern, need full relaxation of restrictions before live music and functions could resume — but ongoing east coast COVID-19 caseloads continue to force delays.

“We don’t want to jump the gun and wind up like Victoria,” Settlers proprietor Rob Gough said.

“I anticipate our live music schedule to step back up when we move to level five and we’re allowed to accommodate our usual crowd numbers.”

Premier Mark McGowan this week indicated the State border closure could remain until mid-2021.

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