11 July 2020

South Coast tourism operators rolling with more punches due to COVID-19

| Elka Wood
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Narooma Big 4 caravan park

Guests relax at Narooma Big 4 caravan park. Photo: Supplied.

“We’re getting very good at giving refunds!” quips Tegan Abbott, manager at Narooma’s Big 4 Caravan Park, as she reflects on how many reservation changes she and her staff have processed in the last six months, first as a result of bushfires, then the COVID-19 lockdown and most recently following the closure of the Victorian border on 7 July.

The next day the tourism industry was dealt another blow with the news that a COVID-19 positive Victorian teenager was mistakenly allowed to travel to Merimbula and Tathra.

The effect on local business was instant.

The Tathra Hotel released a statement on 8 July explaining that the hotel will be closed for an unknown time while staff who may have been exposed to the virus are tested.

“Following the news that a patron at lunch on Sunday tested positive for COVID the hotel will be closed for a short time. NSW Health has been more than happy with the way the hotel has been dealing with the restrictions and have advised that we do not need to close but because staff can’t work until they have a negative test, we are closing due to staff shortages,” the statement says.

Although the Tathra Hotel announced yesterday that it will reopen on Saturday, 11th July, tourism providers in the area are concerned that the news may deter visitors.

“All staff have been tested and all results are negative. Some staff are still waiting for their test results; no staff will be allowed to work until they have been cleared by NSW Health. We hope that all our customers and others in the area who have been tested get a clean bill of health,” a statement from the hotel says.

“I really feel for the Tathra Hotel, having to close, even for a short time, is another blow,” says Rob White, who owns and manages the Tathra Beachhouse Apartments.

“News of the positive test is all over social media, which might not be so good for us, although the risk of anyone contracting it is so unlikely.

Rob, standing outside Tathra Beach House reception, says he feels optimistic overall despite seeing some cancellations from travellers from Victoria.

“We’ve got a few big things going for us on the far south coast. We’re a driving destination, so no-one has to get on a plane to come here and we get a lot of repeat visits from Canberra, which has remained affluent throughout the lockdown due to the security of public service jobs.”

Tegan says the Narooma Big 4 has seen quite a few cancellations as a result of the border closure but that at this stage, their cabins are close to fully booked this week.

She expects that the second wave of COVID-19 we are currently experiencing will have a flow-on effect of cancellations in the coming weeks.

“We’ve had some regular visitors from Victoria cancel and they were devastated,” she says.

“We’ve had so many supportive guests – people who booked in January and cancelled because of the fires, then booked for Easter and cancelled because of lockdown. Now they’re booked again for October – but it’s so hard to determine what’s going to happen. People are desperate for a holiday.”

Closer to the Victorian border, the Seahorse Inn at Boydtown had a wave of cancellations as soon as the border was closed, according to receptionist Kath Vandermay.

Every one of these tourism providers has managed to roll with the punches that the last few months have delivered, from implementing extra hygiene routines to monitoring postcodes to make sure people aren’t travelling from COVID-19 hotspots and above all, not being able to predict when their income might stop, slow or pick up.

For Rob, it’s important that people wanting to travel to the area rely on official sources for their information.

“You see some of the comments online and they’re just not true. Please listen to experts, they’ve done the research. Look at the numbers and rely on science, not some guy commenting on a community noticeboard,” he says.

If you are in the Bega Valley and feel unwell, NSW Health recommends getting tested for COVID-19. For local testing locations, visit the Southern NSW Local Health District.

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