Holiday bookings in the Eurobodalla have become something akin to musical chairs, with accommodation vacated by Victorians quickly snapped up by NSW visitors who have had their own plans disrupted.
While it’s early days in terms of the success of this summer season, Eurobodalla Tourism Manager Tim Booth said it was far from all doom and gloom.
There was an initial shock when the Victorian Government slammed its border shut, disrupting holiday plans and sending its residents scurrying home, but Mr Booth said it appeared the industry quickly readjusted.
While Victorian holiday-makers left in droves, NSW visitors also had to rethink their plans.
“From the updated data I got this morning [5 January], it looks like our occupancy level in January is higher than December and November and they were great months,” Mr Booth said. “They were the best we have had, even pre-bushfires.
“The operators who have contacted us have refilled.
“Everything still appears to be going in the right direction. The weather hasn’t been the greatest but the town seems busy.”
Traditionally, the northern end of the Eurobodalla is frequented by Canberrans and Sydneysiders while Victorians favour Narooma and further south. Up to 90 per cent of visitors to the southern part of the Sapphire Coast come from Victoria.
There, the impact of the snap border closure on the tourism industry has been devastating.
“We have been savaged really,” Sapphire Coast Tourism Manager Anthony Osborne said.
“There was such a panic and a rush to leave. We had tens of millions of dollars flowing over the border on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It was taking people seven hours to get across the border from Pambula.
“Caravan parks went from full to empty.
“It has certainly written summer off … it’s pretty heart-wrenching for a lot of businesses … devastating after last year’s bushfires.”
Mr Osborne said what was often overlooked was the emotional impact of the border closures.
“It’s not only the economic chaos, it’s also the social chaos,” he said. “Thirty per cent of our visitors stay with family and friends. They were loading family and friends up and sending them back across the border, and many hadn’t seen each other for a long time.”
Mr Osborne said the region would be marketing into the ACT and wider NSW to entice last-minute trips to the Sapphire Coast.
“We will never claw it all back,” he said. “The people who were here were longer stays – two to three weeks – the ones trickling in now will be shorter.
“But at least everyone isn’t inside hiding from smoke.”
Meanwhile, the threat of COVID-19 has also impacted visitor behaviour this year, with seemingly fewer people in indoor venues and more taking advantage of the socially distant holiday activities on offer.
“I think everyone is acting more cautiously than they were,” Mr Booth said.
“Visitors are keeping more to themselves rather than gathering in public settings like usual.”
With only 62 per cent of residential homes in the Eurobodalla owner-occupied, Mr Booth said visitors had plenty of choice when it came to self-contained accommodation, and many of them seemed to be taking advantage of that.
“The biggest growth has been in supermarket spend,” he said.
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Mr Booth said the South Coast was fortunate to offer so many opportunities for visitors to get out and about in a COVID-safe manner.
“People can go for walks on the beach, get out in the forests, do all the little things we didn’t realise we enjoyed before we were locked up in our homes for a period of time.”