10 January 2020

Tathra businesses meet to discuss economic repercussions of tourist ban

| Elka Wood
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Rob White at Kianinny Cabins yesterday

Rob White contemplates his town’s future at a meeting at Kianinny Cabins on Tuesday. Photo: Elka Wood.

Despite smoke still hanging heavy over the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla, along with warnings the fires may return, the Tathra Chamber of Commerce is trying to bring normality back to the region.

Chamber President Carmen Risby called the meeting at Kianninny Bush Cabins after advice from fire authorities on 2 January that all tourists leave coastal areas south of Nowra, a ban which will be lifted by the Rural Fire Service at an unknown time.

“Most businesses in areas like Tathra make 70 per cent of their income in December and January and the rest during the year,” Carmen explains. “To have tourists told to leave in the first week of January could mean that we’ll see small businesses close their doors.”

It’s clear that Carmen, who co-owns and manages Tathra Beachside Caravan Park, and those present at the meeting, are conflicted about talking about economic matters when so many people are hurting.

“It’s people first, money second,” she emphasises.

But some of the people small businesses must consider their staff, many of whom are casuals recruited to handle summer crowds, who have been stood down and are without a paycheque for the foreseeable future.

If the ban continues and tourists don’t come back, some businesses will have to ask permanent staff to use their leave to get through a summer season which calls for a skeleton staff.

“If the ban continues into the next few weeks, I’ll have to reduce the number of days we’re open,” says Tathra Hotel owner Cliff Wallis, who re-opened after the fires on Tuesday.

Many of the accommodation providers reported that all their bookings have cancelled up until Easter.

Tathra Beachside Caravan Park co-owners Frankie J Holden (in red) and Carmen Risby with Shannon from Coastlife in foreground

Tathra Beachside Caravan Park co-owners Frankie J Holden in red and Carmen Risby with Shannon from Coastlife in the foreground. Photo: Elka Wood.

This is not the first time that the town of Tathra has wrestled with fire recovery. The 2018 fire seems close, with some accommodation providers saying they are still housing people who lost their homes in that fire.

“Even in the worst situations, there are opportunities, we’ve learnt that,” Carmen says dryly. “We’ve all been through this before, this time it’s on a larger scale and is not isolated to Tathra.”

There is some government relief for small business owners whose income has been adversely affected by the bushfires, with grants of up to $15,000 for short-term relief available through the Regional Assistance Authority.

As well as losing everyday holiday business, the representatives at the meeting are losing income from the postponement of major events in the region, like the Tathra Wharf to Waves and The Cobargo Folk Festival.

There were suggestions from those at the meeting that alternative, one-off events which would bring people to the region later in the year when it will presumably be safe to return.

Carmen’s business partner Frankie J Holden suggests planning for an epic Christmas in July in Tathra to recreate some of the holiday spirit which was interrupted by disaster.

Many accommodation businesses are full of locals who have lost homes or just see Tathra as a safer place to be than their own homes, but the owners of accommodation businesses are not charging full price, with some charging only a cleaning fee.

Blend Providore owner Bronnie Pividori has recently extended her popular cafe, just in time for the crowds which were promptly turned away by fire. She is very concerned about the future of her business.

“There’s a lot of money coming in to help with the fires,” she says, “and a lot of people who want to help but not much of it is going to go to small business.”

So what can we do to help in areas affected by fire? Use services. Eat out. Splash out on a night in a hotel by the water. Purchase what you need locally.

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The regional assistance authority grant and also the interest free relief loans available are for businesses who were directly impacted by fire. Naturally, they need a great deal of assistance. I haven’t been able to find any assistance for business who have not been physically damaged but have lost their income. As a business owner, I would be interested in an interest free loan that supports us to keep our skilled staff employed through this time of hardship. Staff are being layed off as we speak, so this us more urgent than perhaps perceived. Assistance of this nature would have a significant benefit to the community who are losing shifts and jobs as we speak. These are the same people who will spend money on small business, going to cafes and living their lives. I would love to see businesses receiving support to keep their staff employed – staff who will inevitably need to ask for individual government assistance when lose their jobs. It’s so hard to find skilled staff in these areas. And now we are actively laying them off to save our businesses. Heartbreaking.

Annette SILLIS7:56 am 10 Jan 20

The affects of this fire season are going to be felt for a long time. The tragedy of lives lost, homes lost and livelihoods gone. And then we have the businesses in our area. How do they survive this when 70% of their yearly income has gone up in smoke? The answer is we can’t. We can’t survive this on our own. We need to get people wanting, no needing, to get here and spend (when the bans are lifted).

Christmas in July is a great idea, however, that is 7 long months away. What do we do in the meantime? Maybe an autumn festival run over a few weeks (or longer depending on what we can offer)? We get businesses on board from Bermi to Eden, offering great deals across everything – food, activities, accommodation etc. We could mix it up a bit – offer something different? Add a couple of live shows – music, comedy etc.

What about holiday packages? Accommodation which includes breakfasts at local cafes, lunches at the hotel or clubs, dinner at Fat Tony’s, a taxi ride and dinner at Wheelers, free tickets in meat raffles etc at the local clubs.

The main thing is we all work together to make our region the region people want to come to again.

I feel for the businesses going through this trauma, it was something no one could prepare for.
I would like to make a General comment about the hotel & cafes, I had family here before Christmas & grand kids in their twenties. Nothing for them to do, as pub closed at 8.30pm, putting chairs on tables around them, no entertainment.tried for late breakfast in cafe, sorry breakfast finished 30 mins ago??? Late coffee in the afternoon, finished at 3.30pm. On the Tathra wharf, waited one hr for coffee & snack, (were not very busy) if you want tourists to come back you’ll have to improve service. I might add it was similar in some places in Merimbula. I was very upset over their experiences. Judith Reid Tathra

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