Tourists get a room

By Charlotte Wooldridge | posted on May 28, 2020

THIS coming long weekend is what many tourism and accommodation operators have been holding their breath for, but for some businesses the spike in customers might not be enough.

Non-essential travel restrictions between many of the state’s regions were lifted on May 18, prompting a surge in bookings for Great Southern accommodation providers.

Owner of Lilac’s Waterfront Villas and Cottages Joe Lembo said the phone rang for the first time in three months when the restrictions were lifted, where before the only contact they received was for cancellations.

“We’re fully booked this weekend we’re very pleased to say,” Mr Lembo said.

“It has been very quiet since the lockdown of course, so we’re very happy and relieved that the borders are open.”

Nigel Oakey, one of the creators behind Katanning’s Premier Mill Hotel, said ‘tough’ couldn’t begin to describe what the business had been through during lockdown, however is grateful to have customers back for this long weekend.

“We’re all booked up and it’s looking good,” Mr Oakey said.

“I think the positive momentum we built previous to the shutdown has made sure people haven’t forgotten us and they’re keen to get out and do something different.

“We’re looking forward to this weekend, but it’s about making sure this can be sustained after that.

“Obviously that’s going to be all related to future restrictions being eased and so forth.”

But not all businesses have received the same rush of bookings.

Albany Visitor Centre Coordinator Steve Williams said other restrictions have hampered the region’s potential.

“Bookings are about 30 per cent of what was received for this long weekend last year and feedback suggests many visitors are waiting for restrictions on museums to lift so attractions like the National Anzac Centre are open again before they commit to visiting Albany,” he said.

Owner of Dog Rock Motel Neville Buss said his business is still feeling the grip of COVID-19, with comparisons to last year showing how much of an impact the pandemic has had.

“It’s been very tough on all accommodation places and all around because of the restrictions on borders, once the borders opened we have become busier, but it’s nothing like it was pre-COVID,” Mr Buss said.

“[The bookings] were higher last year for sure, at least at this stage.”

Mr Buss encouraged people who are booking to try and keep the money they are putting into tourism within Australia.

“If anyone knows anyone coming, tell them to book direct,” he said.

“When people book with agencies online all of the commission goes out of Australia, whereas if they ring places directly, they’ll get a better deal and the money stays in Australia.”

Amazing South Coast Chief Executive Peter Grigg said while the effects of coronavirus restrictions have been deeply felt across the region, this long weekend shows hope for the future.

“Our air is pure, our water is crystal clear, if there is any place in Western Australia or even Australia to come and re-energise your soul after being locked up in your house after so many months, this is the best place to be,” he said.

“Whether it’s Denmark, Albany, Plantagenet, the Porongurups or Bremer Bay, people now have a bit of fresh air that they can get out into and enjoy.”

Mr Grigg said now is the time for businesses to take advantage of the visitors we will have. “The opportunity that we’ve got is to promote the region to three markets,” he said.

“Those that have never been, and what a great destination they will enjoy when they
get here, there are those that have been down 20 years ago and so much has changed in that time and that is the very reason that they need to come back, and the other big market is our relations.

“We haven’t seen our grandparents or our grandchildren for many months, and now we’ve got some friends and relations and family that can interact and socially engage, share a bottle of wine and share a meal, all outside of having a Zoom meeting or a FaceTime on the computer.”

While he emphasised the importance of people remaining cautious, Mr Grigg said he is excited to see people enjoying the gifts of our region once again.

“I think for us the opportunity now is the next four weeks, and hopefully everything goes well,” he said.

“The last thing we want is a resurgence of this.

“We do need to be cautious, but our message is that we’re open for business, the region is open for business, our operators are open for business, so please come back and we’ll make you most welcome.”