Mid West tourism, hospitality industries boosted by interstate & international travel

Phoebe PinMidwest Times
Mid West Adventure Tours operator Cameron Williams.
Camera IconMid West Adventure Tours operator Cameron Williams. Credit: Taylar Amonini/RegionalHUB

Mid West tourism operators breathed a sigh of relief when WA’s hard border came down on Thursday, but most businesses are yet to see quarantine-free travel translate into bookings.

The tourism and hospitality industries were among the hardest hit during the COVID pandemic, but most were able to survive thanks to an influx of West Australians coming into the regions to holiday.

This was the case for Shark Bay Coastal Tours, with business owner Rebecca Stanley saying the majority of customers had been from Perth, Geraldton and Carnarvon for the last two years.

“We have been really happy to have the West Australians travelling within WA, so it has been nice to see local people taking advantage of seeing their own backyard,” she said.

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Before the pandemic, about 50 per cent of the tour company’s business came from interstate or overseas visitors, with Ms Stanley saying the border reopening would “absolutely” benefit the regional tourism industry.

But she said tour enquiries had not picked up as much as she had expected following the return to quarantine-free travel.

“I probably was expecting a little bit of an increase but it is still really hot here, so that might have put people off a bit,” she said.

Broadwater Hotels and Resorts managing director Scott Cogar said a “significant” number of bookings were deferred or cancelled in February due to changing border rules and COVID restrictions, but demand was starting to pick up again.

“From our point of view the demand is improving. I don’t think it is any silver bullet yet but we are definitely seeing an uptick in demand,” he said.

“We have a bit of ground to make up because we had a couple of tough months.”

Mr Cogar said many of the vacancies were being filled by corporate bookings, with general tourist numbers yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“From this week through to the next couple of weeks we have solid demand, not from tourists, but from corporate accounts coming into town for business,” he said.

“We would like to see some more demand from tourists but I think that is going to take a couple of weeks to build back up.”

Exmouth Adventure Co office manager Shona Malone said bookings had slowly started to improve after it was announced the borders would reopen.

“A lot of these people travel to Bali, and have now decided to explore their own backyards. Some people in WA have never been north of Geraldton before,” she said.

Mrs Malone said the business has been unable to run full-day tours due to hot temperatures and cyclone warnings, but expected bookings to peak next month.

“There’s a lot of people travelling within WA. We’ve had an influx of people from Perth. From next month it should be chockers,” she said.

“Personally, I think it’s good to have some normality again. We’re looking forward to the busy season.”

Mid West Adventure Tours operator Cameron Williams hoped to see more tourists in the region following a two-year travel “stalemate”.

“Even over Christmas when you’d normally see an up-kick, it’s been really quiet so we really need the influx of customers the border opening will bring,” he said.

“I personally have had to pick up a second job to supplement my income because things are so bad.

“With the border opening it’s a step in the right direction of bringing that peak season back, whether it be through the return of cruises — even domestic ones — or Eastern States visitors eager to explore WA.

“Now that the borders are opening, we need to drive numbers back into Geraldton and the Mid West region or we will all face closure.”

Some tourism and hospitality businesses will also have to navigate new COVID rules, with Mr Cogar saying capacity limits would be a concern for many operators if implemented long term.

“We have the 2sqm rule in the hotel which effectively halves the number of patrons,” he said.

“We have been fully supportive of doing our part but of course these constraints don’t make it easy. They become a bruise on the experience, they need to be there but the question is for how long.

“The 4sqm rule would be devastating for the hospitality industry because you would be basically operating on 25 per cent of your capacity. Most businesses here and around the State would be unsustainable on a 4sqm rule.”

He said there was also a need for more incentives and discounted fares to encourage people to holiday in the Mid West, with the Pinnacles being the only tourist attraction in the region to benefit from the State Government’s Gifts from Western Australia voucher scheme.

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