Longer trading hours pushed

Taelor PeluseyAugusta Margaret River Times

Extended trading and service hours could be critical to unlocking tourism potential across the Capes, with Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association urging businesses to persist with gradual operational changes to raise the region’s standing as an international tourism destination.

MRBTA chief executive Pip Close told the Times since moving to the Capes almost four years ago, she had witnessed the steady expansion of products and experiences.

However, she highlighted the importance of businesses continuing to move forward while being mindful of international tourist expectations.

“We encourage local businesses to persist with these efforts, as adequate opening hours — along with excellent customer service — are imperative for a growing tourist destination such as ours,” she said.

“If this region fails to measure up to other international destinations in the experience it offers, then it won’t be successful in establishing itself on the world stage.”

A 2015 study into the region’s ability to draw direct flights from the east coast found limited week-night services and early kitchen closing hours as key shortcomings, which Ms Close said “contradicts and undermines the region’s positioning as a gourmet destination”.

A more recent study late last year also found several businesses were closed at weekends to the detriment of CBD vibrancy and visitor appeal.

Margaret River Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive officer Rebecca Young said while she was proud of business’ efforts in contributing to the town’s vibrancy and visitor experience, there were several hurdles to overcome.

“We understand from our members that penalty rates and staffing shortages during peak times make it difficult and financially unviable for all small businesses to extend their trading hours,” she said.

“However, as the region and patrons grow, we hope that this will change in the future.”

Busselton Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Ray McMillan echoed comments made by Ms Young and summarised it as “a chicken-and-egg situation”.

“Customers will come when premises are open and premises are open if customers come,” he said.

“We need to head towards a tipping point where it is viable to open for extended hours and we are approaching that.”

MRBTA and both chambers agreed trading hours and services on offer were gradually expanding and expected others would follow suit.

Ms Close said progress could be perceived as slow as businesses took a gradual approach, but recognised a “willingness to experiment with extended opening hours”.

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