Country tourism has been crippled by coronavirus but it’s ready to rise again when restrictions ease


April 24, 2020 12:31:28

Melbourne health worker Fiona Holland is looking forward to getting away again when coronavirus restrictions allow.

“We’re being told that we’re not going to be able to travel overseas,” Ms Holland said.

“That’s in some ways a nice thing because suddenly our bucket list is full of Australian areas that we want to visit.”

It’s sentiments like this that country tourism operators are counting on.

Globally the tourism industry has ground to a halt, with operators going into hibernation or completely shutting down.

‘We want to have visitors’

But Donna Foster from Regional Tourism Australia hopes that bans on international travel will create a resurgence in domestic travel in regional and rural Australia.

She said while some tourism businesses have had to shut their doors, for those that survive the return of the old fashioned Aussie road trip would be crucial.

“I think taking a roadie, it’s going to take on a whole new meaning for Australians,” she said.

“We in the regions are hospitable, we want to have visitors and we want you to stay longer.”

Rowan Blakers, who runs an adventure tourism company in the idyllic town of Bright in north-east Victoria, said the area was “made for outdoor recreation”.

Surrounded by mountains, in summer people flock there to camp, hike, mountain-bike ride, fish and rock climb, while in winter they come for the snow.

“You drive through town now and it’s very strange not to see cars everywhere and people having fun. It’s eerily quiet,” he said.

The shutdown comes after the summer’s bushfires all but destroyed the area’s summer tourism season.

While Mr Blakers business is closed for now, he’s hoping for a rush of visitors later this year.

“Our take is that spring is when things are going to kick off. Again, I think it’s unlikely to be winter, but come spring, I’m hoping we see a big surge in domestic tourism,” he said.

Chief executive of Visit Sunshine Coast, Simon Latchford, is hopeful travel within states and territories might open up a bit earlier.

“We expect to be there around about — with a little bit of luck – the first of July,” he said.

“That is our best case guesstimate based on information available, we don’t know that this virus might change or regroup and that’s been part of the challenge, it’s been so unpredictable,”

Impact on small towns

Chief Economist at the Regional Australia Institute, Kim Houghton, said the places that would be most effected by coronavirus would be small towns like Bright, rather than big holiday destinations such as those in south-east Queensland.

“So for those smaller places where there isn’t a lot a lot of other activity going on, reliance on tourism is much higher, paradoxically, than in some of those more well known tourism destinations,” Dr Houghton said.

But he said they would also be attractive, low-risk destinations when local travel opened up again.

“If the rural places, regional places can maintain that sense of safety from the virus that will put them in good standing as potential destinations for that first round of visits,” he said.

What the experts are saying about coronavirus:

It is hoped that a surge in domestic tourism will make up for the shortfall of international visitors, but Dr Houghton warned that not everyone would be able to afford to go on holidays.

“I think we’re going to see a real split in the community between those that have been able to keep working and those that aren’t,” he said.

“So I think we’re looking really at a fairly significant reduction in the number of people who might be willing to travel.”

The revival of the regional tourism sector will come down to those who can afford to travel, like Fiona Holland.

And she plans to spend her money generously, starting in eastern Victoria.

“First and foremost destinations where I can fill my esky, areas that were impacted by the bushfire,” she said.

“Mallacoota Croajingalong National Park, Cape Conran, you know, support the pub in Marlow support the pub in Mallacoota, buy a pie in Orbost.”

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First posted

April 24, 2020 07:01:19

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