The city lockdowns could not have come at a worse time for regional tour operators who now need the support of neighbouring regions.
Acacia Rose who runs K7 Adventures, a snow and adventure company in Thredbo, said she felt the sting when the calls to cancel came through.
“We’ve had quite a lot of cancellations,” she said. “From a business point of view, it’s devastating; the financial impact is extremely significant.
“After making pre-winter investments in equipment, advertising and all that sort of thing, then suddenly to get hit by all these cancellations.”
However, Ms Rose would still love to have you. “Come and have a spring holiday in the mountains: the days are longer, there’s great snow in early spring, the weather’s more stable … Come and enjoy everything the Snowy Mountains have to offer,” she said.
Josie Howard, Dubbo Regional Council’s economic development and marketing manager, said while cancellations rose in the school holidays, there has been an increase in visitors from neighbouring regions.
“While we do get a bulk of tourism from the metro areas, particularly during the school holidays, we are seeing a massive increase in regional visitation,” she said.
“Dubbo is much more than Western Plains Zoo. It’s become a thriving hub of food, great local shopping, as well as fantastic tours and activities like the Wellington Caves. The great thing though is that visitors are also spending locally. They are buying artisanal goods from local producers and are spending money in our hospitality businesses.”
The Tourism and Transport Forum Australia calculates that the tourism industry will suffer a $6.3 billion loss in the June/July holidays across Australia compared to 2019, with almost 500,000 less tourists set to travel in this period.
Regional NSW is copping 20 per cent of this loss, with an estimated $1.26 billion in tourism spending being missed out on these school holidays, equating to about $92 million a day.
Which is why now it is more important than ever to support regional tourism.
Nearly six hours’ drive north of Thredbo in Orange, Leah Dawson, owner of food and wine tour company Kenny Escapes, is facing similar struggles. But like Ms Rose, she is awaiting support from regional NSW.
“Obviously it’s happened a few times now,” said Ms Dawson, “and it is difficult in the sense that we’re operating with such uncertainty and managing last-minute bookings is quite a logistical challenge.
“Our business used to operate with bookings months and months in advance, but customers don’t have the confidence to do this anymore. Previously, 70 per cent of our bookings were made months in advance and now it’s almost 90 per cent last-minute bookings. This makes it extremely hard to plan financially and with staffing.”
On the South Coast, there are similar struggles occurring. Nadine Schlippe from Jervis Bay Wild, which operates whale-watching cruises, said: “We normally have a lot of people coming from Sydney. It’s been hard. Originally, we had six cruises per day, now we’re down to two and sometimes the afternoon cruise is still struggling to book.”
Towns where you would usually see plenty of foot traffic are now deserted.
“Huskisson has been nearly completely empty on the streets,” she said. “Towns that rely on passing-through travellers are also struggling. I’ve been told Berry is like a ghost town.”
A key message from tourism operators across New South Wales is that when you get the chance, get out, spend your money locally and have a good time.
Top regional attractions
Thredbo Valley Horse Riding, Snowy Mountains
In the warmer months, the Snowy Mountains is the perfect place for a gallop. Not only can you live your inner poetic musings as you recreate “The Man from Snowy River” but you can also give yourself the perfect vantage point to see how beautiful the area is, even without its snow blanket.
Explore more: thredbovalleyhorseriding.com
Eucumbene Fishing Charters, Snowy Mountains
To support a business where the greatest asset is its back-to-front knowledge of the local area, throw a rod in the water with Eucumbene Fishing Charters. They’ll supply the tackle, rods, reels and insider knowledge to get you the perfect day of trout catching.
Explore more: eucumbenefishingcharters.com.au
Country Food Trails, Orange
Friendly local guides will take you through intimate and meticulously curated food and wine experiences. You’ll learn about the history of the area while feasting on locally grown, made and farmed produce.
Explore more: countryfoodtrails.com.au
Balloon Joy Flights, Canowindra
To see the countryside from above you can book with Balloon Joy Flights for a whole new perspective on the entire region. An experience that offers thrills and tranquillity in equal measure, you’ll be high in the sky for about an hour before enjoying your champagne breakfast.
Explore more: balloonjoyflights.com.au
Jervis Bay Stand Up Paddle, Jervis Bay
Whether you’re looking to learn or flex some skills, the remarkably flat waters of Jervis Bay are an amazing place to do some stand-up paddling. You can gracefully cascade your way through the bright blue waters and watch out for marine life below.
Explore more: jervisbaystanduppaddle.com.au
Woebegone Freedive, Jervis Bay
If you’d prefer to spend part of your holiday underneath the water, Jervis Bay has a huge marine ecosystem that Woebegone can help you discover. Whether you’re after a simple snorkelling tour, an accredited freediving course or even a swim with humpback whales, they’ve got you covered.
Explore more: woebegone.com.au