A plan to end social distancing by November 1st 2020 in very low-risk areas would allow landowners to permit an influx of temporary accommodation, thereby filling the accommodation vacuum currently being experienced in tourism regions across Australia.
AvantGarde Camping Co. CEO Jennah Hallam says that whilst her ‘glamping’ (glamourous camping) company is ready, willing and able to benefit from pent-up demand (with stock, booking availability and staff on hand) landowners are unwilling to allow campers in any number whilst social distancing is the responsibility of the landholder and operator.
The Trans-Tasman bubble has been confirmed as finalised – with precautions of course – and flagged to begin allowing New Zealanders to travel to NSW and the Northern Territory on 16th October 2020.
Other states’ operators are crying out to be allowed to rent out their various accommodation wares in limited numbers to meet demand, with an immediate need for accommodation for intrastate travellers and the New Zealanders, too.
Already-popular tourism destinations like Port Stephens and the North and South Coasts are already reporting 100% capacity, with one restaurant operator telling the ABC that whilst breakfast, and lunch capacity are through the roof, their business model still doesn’t allow for dinner to run at 50% capacity.
The Tourism News is imploring the NSW Gladys Berejiklian, in conjunction with shire mayors, to develop a plan to relax social distancing, create an enforceable hotspot management plan that the tourism industry can abide by in order to resume a ‘new normal’ of operation for the summer season, potentially saving the bacon of large swathes of the industry.
The Tourism News asks Ms Berejiklian’s government, i.e. the NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayers to implement a comprehensive but easy to follow ‘New Tourism Normal’ guide for NSW operators that, following its success, could quickly be applied across all states and territories.
The New Tourism Normal Guide would be a maximum two page ‘How-To’, in the style of a Memorandum of Understanding, that declared various new modus operandi for the normal running of tourism operations, such as;
- Agreed cooperation from councils that should any cases of COVID-19 be detected and close contacts identified, immediate shutdown must occur at a pre-defined ‘hotspot’ scale, likely an LGA (local government area)
- An understood ‘refund-per-hotspot strategy’ i.e. an invoice line from tourism operators in B2B (business to business) and B2C (business to customer)that full refunds will be given if hotspots are declared within e.g. 72 hours of the commencement of event or delivery of an order
- Government to encourage insurance agencies to create a new hospitality-specific product for hotspot-incurred legislated cancellations for e.g. single bookings over $3000 or for a per-day capacity of up to 21 days (three weekends)
- Ability for government to enforce immediate closure of entire ‘close contact areas’ of any tourist or worker found to have COVID-19
Business assistance – Working together to create a New Normal in Tourism Guide – Summer 2020-2021
- Basic requirements easily rolled out to established tourism businesses, including QR code information (already done)
- Immediate closure of any business found to be breaching requirements (as is the case with Food Safety breaches) with ignorance as no excuse, including too-slack implementation of tracing such as QR codes (a car dealership in NSW was found yesterday to have their QR code lead straight to an opportunity to Google-review the dealership, so it was an unenforced and undetailed marketing exercise rather than a safety data collection exercise)
- Social distancing cut to two people per four square metres, rather than the current (at 3rd Oct 2020) four people per square metre, with enforceable table
- Available business management information for operators, as per major events NSW on best-practice ingress and egress information, such as that which would be used by e.g. the Department of Premier and Cabinet for Major Events
- 14 days pre-Nov 1 COVID-19 testing of all full-time management staff
- Incentivised purchase of outdoor dining furniture, delivery personnel and installers of such furniture
- Incentivised purchase of barbeque equipment with basic safety requirements, modelled on Bunnings’ model of running barbeques via volunteers
- Incentivised purchase of palatable crowd management equipment such as poles, ropes, signage and established-artist employment (to avoid unpalatable fluro yellow danger tape and marking lines etc.)
- Incentivised purchase of Point of Sale equipment such as tablets and the relative software packages in order to streamline customer processing, especially for food and alcohol table service
- Agreement from local councils to cut red tape immediately, including processing times of all applications and wherever possible, include only basic safety limitations on outdoor dining
- Agreement from local councils to immediately allow busking with a defined 1.5m perimeter
- Incentivised manufacture and sale of ‘brightly-coloured’ safety vests and shirts with e.g. rainbow insignia for COVID monitoring staff so that more of a positive festival atmosphere can over-ride the appearance of safety staff
- Training and NSW-Government training as approved COVID security staff for young people who already exhibited an interest in working in hospitality and tourism, e.g. Hospitality HSC students, or any other student willing to enter into a tourism, safety, health or food service apprenticeship
South Coast all but booked out for October long weekend
Cobargo Hotel publican Dave Allen welcomes the return of tourists wanting to support bushfire affected regions this October long weekend but says he is struggling to find staff to cater for them.
“Our motel is booked out and we are serving double the number of people from this time last year,” he said.
“It’s great but stressful because I can’t get the chefs or waiters I need because a lot of people are earning enough on JobKeeper or JobSeeker.
“On the flip side, JobKeeper, JobSeeker, bushfire grants and early access to pensions means people have money to spend, but there’s not a lot for people to do here. There aren’t any festivals or shows and people can’t go to the cinema.”
The NSW South Coast operator isn’t alone. Accommodation is all but fully booked from the Shoalhaven to Eden this long weekend.
While spring is a busy time for the region, visitor numbers are higher than usual with NSW and ACT residents eager to get away during the school holidays and long weekend.
Phones were ringing off the hook at visitor information centres in Shoalhaven, Narooma, Bermagui, Merimbula, Cobargo and Eden a week ahead of the long weekend, with people trying to find last-minute accommodation and activities.
“There have been 70-80 people through the doors here since I opened at 9 am today,” said Diane at Narooma Visitor Information Centre on Tuesday, 29 September.
“I wondered how busy it would be with Victoria closed, but everyone’s flooded to the coast because of the whales and COVID-19 restrictions.”
A ‘mega pod’ of humpback whales have been on display on the NSW South Coast since early September. However, interest in the area was rising well before then.
“We have been busier than usual since the bushfires because people feel sorry for us,” said an employee at Cobargo Tourist Information Centre. “They want to come here and hit the little shops, buy things and do their bit. COVID-19 has barely slowed us down.”
Cobargo Hotel’s accommodation has also been booked out since the bushfires, not only by visitors but also contractors from Canberra and Batemans Bay who are helping with the rebuild.
People who were evacuated in January due to the bushfires also deferred their accommodation booking to October and Christmas, said Bermagui Visitor Information Centre coordinator Christine Bimson.
“It’s so nice to see people queuing outside our shops again,” she said. “Nowhere was hit harder by the bushfires than Bermagui, Cobargo, Wandella and Brogo. Bermagui had the fire tearing at its doorstep. We lost so many homes and outlying infrastructure and didn’t have power, water or internet for 10 days which meant shops couldn’t open.
“Businesses were on their knees after the bushfires, and COVID-19 put them on their bellies.”
Like Cobargo, many activities – particularly whale tours – are booked out in Bermagui and Merimbula during the long weekend and school holidays.
“The whale tours are booked up here for days because of the interest in the whales and because operators can’t have a full boat – they can only let 30 on instead of 70 during COVID-19 restrictions,” said Merimbula Visitor Information Centre volunteer Gwen Langthorne.
A Shoalhaven resident said she is glad people will be visiting during the long weekend and school holidays but hopes visitors maintain social distancing and hygiene practices to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the area, and so she and others can travel at a later date.
There were only five active cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District on Wednesday and many South Coast residents haven’t been able to leave their homes since the bushfires.
“A lot of us don’t want to leave in case the tradies we’ve been waiting on are available to help with our rebuild,” said the Cobargo Tourist Information Centre employee.
She and her husband lost outlying buildings on their property in the bushfires and saw neighbours lose their entire homes.
However, she is excited that COVID-19 restrictions are encouraging people to explore what is on offer locally and can’t wait to do the same.
“There are always places we put off because we go overseas,” she said. “Now is the perfect opportunity to make a list and go and see the places we’ve put off. Some are fabulous.”
The South Coast isn’t the only area celebrating a visitor boom. Anyone heading inland to the Southern Highlands, Goulburn Mulwaree or Upper Lachlan Shire will also struggle to find accommodation this long weekend.
Visitors from Sydney and Canberra, in particular, have been heading to these regional areas in search of a change of scenery and fresh air, report tourism managers. There have also been very few COVID-19 cases in these areas.
“Since the beginning of spring, our visitor numbers have been on the rise,” said Sarah Ruberto, business manager, marketing, events and culture, at Goulburn Mulwaree Council.
“We are finding that COVID-19 has attributed to travel throughout NSW. However, we are also finding that many visitors have a new perspective on regional travel and are delighted with what we have to offer. We have experienced quite a few visitors who have stated they will definitely return and continue to travel throughout NSW.”