Andy Cichanowski and Mark Wilkinson run Amaroo Valley Springs, their little piece of paradise in Kangaroo Valley on the edge of the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. The property, set on a lush green farm with a sandstone escarpment as the backdrop, has two luxury villas with cooking facilities and large wooden decks.
“It’s peaceful and quiet,” Andy tells me over the phone as he looks out across the view. “You can listen to the wildlife, go for a walk down by the river, or just sit on the lounge and watch the world go by.”
Amaroo Valley Springs would normally have occupancy of about 95 per cent, with waiting lists for those prime weekend spots. But with the Sydney lockdown, the bookings are now down to just 15 per cent of capacity, opening up unexpected availability for people looking for a break. And to attract guests to the villas right now, Amaroo Valley Springs is offering special rates and deals, like three nights for the price of two.
“We’re just trying to capture anyone who can travel with deals,” Andy says. “I’ve been doing any deal I can to keep the funding coming in, even if it’s only half of what we normally earn, just to keep some money coming in.”
Unfortunately, the story of Amaroo Valley Springs is far from isolated. The lockdowns across Australia over the past month – but particularly the protracted Sydney lockdown – are proving to be extremely hard for tourism businesses that have to deal with wave upon wave of cancellations. But the unexpected last-minute availability, and the special deals that come with that, are a great opportunity for keen travellers who aren’t constrained by stay-at-home orders.
With Australians focused on domestic travel for the past year, getting a space on The Ghan has been really difficult, with many of us finally realising a dream to go on the multi-day luxury train journey from the tropics of Darwin, through the Red Centre, down to Adelaide.
The trip was forced to temporarily stop at the end of June because of border restrictions, but it restarted a few days ago and has quite a few available berths because of cancellations. For anyone interested in grabbing one of these spots, there are savings of up to $1250 per person for departures until the end of August.
“These special fares are ideal for people who can travel at short notice and who may have been dreaming of a Ghan journey for a long time,” Journey Beyond’s chief commercial officer, Peter Egglestone, says.
At the New South Wales ski fields, the snow is coming in thick and fast, but unfortunately visitors aren’t, with Sydney guests locked out and interstate travellers wary of border restrictions. It means great opportunities for those who can book last-minute ski trips – Canberrans and regional NSW, for instance. Thredbo is offering 30 per cent off its hotel and lift pass package, while Perisher has a half-price sale for rooms and apartments at The Station. Lots of other small businesses and accommodation providers in the region also have deals at the moment.
The New South Wales Government announced a few days ago that the Vivid Festival would be postponed to new dates of 17 September to 9 October, and hopefully that will be able to go ahead and be a huge success… Sydney certainly needs something to look forward to. But it’s obviously easier for an event funded by the government to change the dates without worrying about lost income.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the struggles the tourism industry would face with lockdowns over the school holidays. I predicted some small businesses would collapse and, unfortunately, I recently got news that an icon of the Blue Mountains, the red Explorer Bus, has been forced to close down after 35 years of operation.
“Without international tourists it’s just not viable,” Fantastic Aussie Tours managing director, Jason Cronshaw says.
“We’re running a 77-seater bus with one or two people. It costs us $3.50 per kilometre on a 26km circuit and tickets are $49 for an all-day pass. The maths just doesn’t add up.”
The Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is a victim more of the international border closure than domestic restrictions, but it’s evidence that the dire predictions from the tourism industry are not just words, they are reality.
The current availability and bargains across the country for people who can travel is great news and I’m not suggesting anyone should take up the offers because of a sense of charity. However, a discounted holiday that also helps businesses stay afloat is a win-win situation right now.
If you’ve been dreaming of a particular domestic trip and you’re ready to travel immediately, have a look at what is on offer in that destination. I’ve seen announcements for great deals on cruises in the Kimberley, pack-free hikes in the Northern Territory and Tasmania, holiday homes in Byron Bay, and much more.
Not that you need to travel far – it could just be a romantic weekend getaway, relocating your home office to a luxury villa for a few days, or an impromptu family reunion on a farm stay. If you can travel now, make the most of it. You never know when the next lockdown might be yours.
You can see more on Michael Turtle’s Travel Australia Today website.