TOURIST SURGE TO HIT CAPES

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Main Roads WA's upgrade to the Caves Road scenic drive is at least a year away.
Camera IconMain Roads WA's upgrade to the Caves Road scenic drive is at least a year away. Credit: Warren Hately

Margaret River is bracing for a rush of Perth visitors in coming weeks, with tourism operators across the region reporting a surge of bookings.

Accommodation providers said their phones rang hot on Sunday after Premier Mark McGowan confirmed Monday’s reopening of the restricted South West border.

Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region member and chalets operator Rob McDonald said the June WA Day long weekend was already booked solid. “We got bombarded with a good number of bookings,” he said.

Other RAPMRR members confirmed similar results, while Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Steve Harrison said members also reported “a strong uptake in inquiries since the Perth border announcement”.

RAPMRR chairman Alan Wilkes said the surge was not a “flood” and would not counterbalance the money lost from pandemic-related cancellations.

After weeks as a ghost town, and with many stores shut during the pandemic, questions remain about how many businesses are poised to take advantage of the mini boom .

Authorities have also warned residents that future waves of COVID-19 infections remain a very real possibility — and some locals feared the influx of tourists could expose the Capes to increased risks (see Page 5).

Meanwhile, many bigger venues told the Times that without a full “return to normal” it was still not economically viable to re-open kitchens or return stood-down staff to duties.

There were also concerns beyond next month that second-wave infections could lead to a return to strict social-isolation measures, throwing businesses back into shutdown mode.

Shire president Ian Earl said the Government had warned about potential risks, but the region’s economy — and the lives of operators under enormous financial pressure — were also at risk without the relaxation. “There’s a risk in everything we do,” he said. “If we don’t open up, we’re going to see more people dying (by suicide).

“Some of these people are mortgaged to the hilt.”

Local Nationals MP Terry Redman said he was surprised to see the intrastate borders relaxed when many of the region’s tourism businesses were unable to cater for visitors due to social restrictions.

MRBTA’s Mr Harrison said local operators now had considerable planning to undertake.

“MRBTA will be re-opening its visitor centres and attractions from Monday,” he said. “To encourage locals and visitors out of hibernation, special offers will be in place at each of MRBTA’s attractions.”

Mr Harrison said strict controls would be in effect to maintain social-distancing requirements.

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