26 June 2020

Tourism paradox: the Sapphire Coast needs visitors but fears COVID-19

| Elka Wood
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Barmouth Beach

Idyllic locations like Barmouth Beach are irresistible lures to tourists. Photo: Phil Small Photography.

The South Coast desperately needs tourism dollars so our local economies and businesses can recover from a summer of setbacks and financial losses. But with a developing COVID-19 hotspot in Victoria and 30 new cases in the last 24 hours, there are questions about whether welcoming a horde of Victorian tourists for the winter school holidays is really a smart choice for COVID-free communities.

According to Bega Valley Shire Mayor Sharon Tapscott, the Council has heard from many locals who are concerned about the health risks holidaymakers present locally.

“Small businesses and tourism operators are looking forward to the upcoming holidays but given what we have seen on the other side of the border this week, questions from the community have come forward.”

This comes after local tourism organisations have spent months gearing up for an onslaught of tourists wanting to support fire-affected communities, with multiple campaigns to bring city visitors to the country, coast and bush.

Sapphire Coast Tourism is this week celebrating being recognised by Australian Traveller magazine as one of their featured coastal destinations in their ‘100 ways to Holiday Here This Year’ Collectors Issue, making it even more attractive to tourists hoping to get away these holidays.

“Our region features in the NSW section and the Beach Holidays Section,” says a Sapphire Coast Tourism spokesperson.

“We were lucky enough to host the team from Australian Traveller here last year and we obviously made a good impression.”

Last week, the NSW Premier made it clear that the Victorian border won’t be closing, but she reminded tourists and locals alike that it’s our job to make sure the virus doesn’t spread, using hand hygiene and social distancing protocols.

Today (26 June) is the last day of school term for school children in Victoria before the holidays, and Cr Tapscott reports that Bega Valley accommodation providers are ready to meet any demand within COVIDSafe guidelines.

“Given the [COVID-19] spike we’ve seen in Melbourne, it’s also been suggested that local operators review their bookings to identify those hotspot postcodes,” she says.

“Should they have visitors coming from those suburbs, operators are making contact with them to discuss their booking and address any concerns.

“The advice to people in those areas of Melbourne has been pretty clear and we need to trust that they will do the right thing.”

Despite the risk of a local hotspot developing, the mayor and council support visitors coming to the Bega Valley for the holidays, with the Mayor saying that it’s likely that the majority of our visitors in the coming weeks will not originate from identified COVID-19 hotspot areas.

“This whole journey continues to be a shared experience and, in most cases, we have seen visitors and residents alike follow the guidelines and act in a COVIDSafe way,” Cr Tapscott says.

“These outbreaks remind us of the importance of continued vigilance as we look to balance the health and economic impacts of 2020.”

For more information, visit Bega Valley Shire and Sapphire Coast Tourism.

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