Batemans Bay businesses are putting out the welcome mat for COVID-19-safe visitors this year, decrying the negativity and antipathy being doled out to Canberrans on some social media posts.
Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce president Mathew Hatcher has moved to reassure tourists they will be warmly welcomed in the Eurobodalla Shire, saying the keyboard warriors are not representative of the wider community.
“It’s just that very small minority who are very loud on social media,” he said. “We can’t wait for people to get down here.”
Mr Hatcher acknowledged there had been mixed messages from the town, with Canberrans urged to visit and support the local economy after the bushfires, then told to stay away as COVID-19 hit and concerns about the South Coast health service’s ability to cope arose.
“We have an ageing community and people were scared,” he said. “But most people have an understanding of just how important Canberra is to us.
“[In the lead up to Christmas], numbers have been outstanding this year. Most people in hospitality are doing all-time record numbers.
“We are ready, open for business and can’t wait to welcome people here.”
Eurobodalla Shire Council Mayor Liz Innes added her support.
“It’s disappointing to see social media can be such a negative place after the tough year we’ve all endured,” she said. “We value our Canberra visitors, just as they value our beautiful place.
“While social media can be very shouty, I do believe the vast majority of Canberra visitors and Eurobodalla locals respect one another and enjoy the summer vibes we create together.”
In fact, the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce has taken a proactive approach to bring more Christmas spirit to the town this year.
“We haven’t always done a good job of being festive,” said Mr Hatcher. “There’s been a bit of an attitude of, ‘They are going to come anyway, we don’t need to do anything.’
“This year we want to make sure we have the town looking alive for Christmas.”
Part of that has been decorating 15 trees along Murra Murra Mia Walk with fairy lights, putting up a seven-metre Christmas tree and coordinating Light Up the Bay, a VIVID-style New Year’s event.
“It’s been very, very hard to get approvals but it’s a celebration to say thanks to emergency services and lighten the mood,” said Mr Hatcher.
Corrigans Cove Resort Batemans Bay operator Andrew Johns said before the recent Sydney Northern Beaches COVID-19 cluster, Christmas trading was looking exceptionally strong.
He said many people were returning visitors, but disruption to domestic and international travel meant some were trying the NSW South Coast region for the first time.
“We are conscious that a chunk of the market is new customers who, in the past, haven’t visited the South Coast,” said Mr Johns.
“This will give us the opportunity to grow the business … it’s an opportunity to build sales and employ more local staff moving forward into 2021-2022.
“It’s critical for all tour operators in the region to offer extended trading hours, high-class service and quality products.”
Patrick Butt moderates a number of South Coast Facebook community pages and said he’s been trying to filter out the hateful comments.
“I do battle all day long with the bogans,” he said. “Canberra people are most welcome down here. Most residents at Batemans Bay come from Canberra to retire.
“So don’t worry about the bogans – businesses want you guys and are gearing up to cater for visitors.
“Please let everyone know the Bay is their holiday place. We love them.”
Meanwhile, Eurobodalla Shire Council has scheduled radio advertisements during summer and installed signage at local beaches, parks and playgrounds reminding visitors and residents to stay 1.5m apart and to practice good hand and respiratory hygiene.
The radio ads also remind people to check they’re not overcrowding shops and cafes before entering.
NSW Health and NSW Police will be enforcing COVID-19-safe rules in Eurobodalla.