Paradise interrupted – how will Byron Bay recover?

October 1st, 2020 | | Tourism

The Byron Bay of our Instagram feeds is as beautiful as ever. But take a trip to the coastal town, and you’ll find businesses in peril, and locals running out of money.

Byron’s glamour and affluence are world-renowned, fuelled by celebrities and Instagram influencers who have pushed the town’s utopian image to the world.

But that image hides inequality and hardship intensified by the coronavirus recession.

Before COVID-19, median house prices exceeded Sydney and Melbourne, making it the most expensive place in Australia to purchase a home — and the rents are high to match. 

Mansions overlooking the Pacific can sell for $20 million.

Byron Bay has long had its homeless — some making shelters out of ropes and tarpaulins in the sand dunes.

Stroll the beaches and you’ll also find a mix of surfers, wellness enthusiasts and if you’re lucky, maybe even a Hollywood A-lister, like Chris Hemsworth, who lives nearby with his family.

The region has become a hub for artisans, musicians and small labels, but it’s the tourist dollar that’s built the economy. 

Mayor Simon Richardson says that dependence on tourism, particularly international visitors, made Byron vulnerable when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

“It’s like a farmer who’s got one crop; if you’ve got a monoculture and that crop fails, or the market drops, you’re not left with much else. Byron’s very similar,” he said. 

Two out of three businesses in town are accessing the Federal Government’s $100 billion JobKeeper assistance program to pay wages. 

JobKeeper payments will be cut back from today and will phase out altogether in March. The Government also intends to cut JobSeeker, its enhanced unemployment benefit.

Mr Richardson says these changes will savage the community.

“It’s going to create such social disruption that I think the governments aren’t quite comprehending,” he said. 

Many businesses are banking on an upturn in the Spring school break, but for those that rely on overseas tourists the international border closures continue to hit hard. 

Like many locals, Perry Bartholomew was drawn to the region’s beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle. He came as a teenager on a gap year and never left. 

He’s owned a dive school here for the last 16 years, taking thousands of tourists to explore the underwater wonders of the bay. 

Eighty per cent of Perry’s customers were overseas tourists. 

Ordinarily, he’d have three boats out a day, but since the pandemic hit, he’s lucky to have one.

He’s got a business loan and a mortgage over the dive centre premises; the banks have allowed him to defer the repayments. 

“To this point, we’ve been using up all the savings and money and everything we’ve had put away for a rainy day, but it’s going to be much more than a rainy day, I think,” he said. 

For 21 years, Gaz Morgan’s been living the quintessential Byron Bay dream: teaching tourists how to surf. 

“I love it, man. I come to the beach every day. I’ve got all my friends here. I enjoy teaching surfing, like unbelievably,” he said. 

But he’s lost 80 per cent of his customers thanks to the pandemic. 

He used to employ a bevy of instructors hosting two lessons a day for between 12 and 20 wannabe surfers. Now there’s just him and one offsider — both on JobKeeper. 

“With JobKeeper, it’s keeping us alive. We’re still getting to pay some bills that we need to pay. But everything’s on hold,” he said.

Since the pandemic hit, the local community centre has seen a new wave of clients seeking assistance. 

Loren Nowland has owned Woody’s Beach Shack, a nightclub on Byron’s main strip, for 10 years.

Although bars have been allowed to re-open for some time in NSW, health restrictions have put paid to nightclubs such as Woody’s. 

“With the business closed we’ve had zero cashflow. It still incurs costs, whether that’s a portion of the rent, insurance, ongoing electricity bills even though we’re not using as much, it all adds up,” he said. 

He thinks it could be at least another six months before he can start operating again and he’s worried it could be too long to hold out. 

“A mountain of debt is essentially going to double before there’s any possibility of normality,” he said.

Mayor Simon Richardson says he’s worried about many locals.

“We’ve got people who are absolutely scrambling to try to survive and stay here.”

Few areas can match Byron’s magnetic natural attractions. 

But the COVID recession has revealed its vulnerability.

As the virus restrictions ease, it will recover. Not so much paradise lost as paradise postponed. 

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

One Response

  1. Paul says:

    “Since the pandemic hit, the local community centre has seen a new wave of clients seeking assistance”

    Well I hope the Community Centre has cleaned up it’s act in recent years, some of you may recognise a certain name in some of these articles, from a now defunct travel agency!