Kalbarri tour operators concerned about low bookings, with visitors slow to return after Seroja

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Guests Aurelie Yeo and Joy Parnell at the Castle Cove lookout, at the Kalbarri National Park coastal cliffs before the cyclone.
Camera IconGuests Aurelie Yeo and Joy Parnell at the Castle Cove lookout, at the Kalbarri National Park coastal cliffs before the cyclone. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian, Stephen Scourfield

The roads to Kalbarri may have reopened, but some tour operators are yet to receive a single booking post-cylone Seroja.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services last week removed road blocks preventing visitors from entering Kalbarri, a decision which had locals divided.

Businesses dependent on tourism revenue welcomed the move, but some residents who were still without a home said Kalbarri was not ready to host tourists.

Kalbarri Red Bluff Tourist Park manager Teresa Delane said visitors had not descended in big numbers over the past week as some had feared, with most tourists expressing concern for cyclone-affected residents.

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“A lot of people have been concerned when they come in and they ask what the feeling is in town,” she said.

They are not gawkers, they are genuine people who are travelling through, who definitely want to see Kalbarri because they have heard so much about it.

Building repairs to the tourist park are now complete and Ms Delane said bookings were starting to pick up again.

“We have quite a few bookings coming through, a lot of one nighters, some people coming for a week,” she said.

“We are booked out for the July school holidays ... we have been booked out since last year and there are more enquiries coming.”

But D’Guy Charters owner Guy Acosta is concerned accommodation is the only service tourists are buying while in Kalbarri, with the tour operator saying he has not received a single booking since road blocks were removed last week.

“All our bookings were cancelled during the cyclone because the town was closed and my next booking is not until about a month from now in June,” he said.

“There are a few people in town and you have the normal grey nomads, but they are the ones who don’t spend any money ... they book into the caravan park, they bring their own food, they are on their way up north to get away for the winter months.”

Mr Acosta said he would normally be taking bus loads of 8-10 people on tours to the Kalbarri National Park about three times a week, attributing the lack of bookings to the public perception the town was still a disaster zone.

“We have had quite a few people from the Eastern States saying, ‘You are still locked down and there is asbestos everywhere and you haven’t got this or that’, which isn’t quite true,” he said.

“Yes we are short on accommodation, but there are still places available for people to come up and a lot of the clean-up has been done compared to what it was a month ago.”

“There is nothing wrong up here, the weather is fantastic, and there is not a cloud in the sky.

“Everything is ready to rock and roll but we can’t get the traffic because of the negative publicity.”

The Skywalk in Kalbarri National Park has reopened after Seroja.
Camera IconThe Skywalk in Kalbarri National Park has reopened after Seroja. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian, Stephen Scourfield The West Australian Picture: Stephen Scourfield

Nationwest Aviation — which operates Kalbarri Scenic Flights — had some bookings this week but manager Jessica Thorpe-Gudgeon said the next few weeks would be quiet.

“This week is my last lot of bookings then I have nothing until June,” she said.

“It got to the point where we have actually cross-hired a plane and pilot to someone up north because they are busy and I need to give my pilot hours.

“If I can’t get them flights in Kalbarri, I have to find something for them.”

That’s when people start to come back up, some people are deciding they are not going to come to a town that is not as pretty as normal, which I can understand but it is just not great for the town.

Ms Thorpe-Gudgeon acknowledged some locals did not think Kalbarri was ready for visitors but said businesses would start to disappear without tourism.

“Fishing has dried up in Kalbarri — most fishing boats do tourism fishing — so without visitors there is not much the town can do,” she said.

If Kalbarri got closed off from tourism permanently it would become a ghost town.

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