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Tourism operators in SA’s outback face bleak 2020 despite post-COVID-19 uptick

July 21st, 2020 | | news

A small bump in the number of people visiting the South Australian outback has given publicans and tourism operators a brief respite, but they’re facing a difficult battle in the months ahead.

Key points:

  • COVID-19 restrictions and border closures have smashed the tourism sector in outback South Australia
  • Some locations have seen up to 90 per cent fewer visitors compared to a regular year
  • Some operators are considering the possibility of closing altogether, while others are determined to fight on

Visitor numbers have spiked in recent weeks with the SA school holidays and the reopening of borders with Queensland and the Northern Territory.

But Woomera Travellers Village and Caravan Park manager Shane Hoffmeier said, despite the boost, numbers were dramatically lower than usual.

“Our tourist season runs from April through to September every year; we normally see around 15,000 people through the park in that six-month period,” he said.

“So far this year we’ve only had 757 people through the park in three months, compared with 7,700 this time last year.

“The other day was my busiest day in the park this year, which was only 62 people … normally we’d get 120 to 130 people a day, seven days a week.”

A green sign with the words 'Strzelecki Track' on it
SA’s famous outback tracks usually draw visitors from right across Australia.(ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)

The picture is also bleak at Marree, which sits at the junction of the popular Oodnadatta and Birdsville tracks.

Marree Hotel publican Phil Turner said a small bump in numbers was insignificant when the Victorian and New South Wales borders remained closed.

“As far as the start of the pandemic, business was just zero; we dropped 94 per cent of our turnover in April, May and June,” he said.

“Then it started to pick up again and we had bookings start to come in, but then with the latest restrictions all we’ve done is take cancellations again.

“Now we’re back to square one.”

Some communities in a better position than others

At Oodnadatta, the Pink Roadhouse had also seen a small boost in numbers, and manager Hayley Nunn believed it would be enough to keep the roadhouse afloat.

“Last week we had quite a few visitors; this week it’s been a bit slower, but it’s been consistent, so it’s not crazy like it normally would be, but there’s a steady flow of people coming through,” she said.

The Pink Roadhouse has long been a tourist drawcard at outback Oodnadatta.
The Iconic Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta has enough bookings to survive the rest of 2020 intact.(User Submitted: Alison Day)

“I think it will continue to be steady as long as the virus is held at bay, we’ve got some bookings right up until the end of October now.”

Clinton Stephenson from the Innamincka Trading Post was confident the season would pick up in the next few months.

“It was looking pretty sad there at one stage, but I think it’s going to be a later season as restrictions ease, so we should be able to salvage something out of the year,” he said.

The hidden cost

While some communities were in a better situation than others, Phil Turner said everyone was struggling, and the battle was only just beginning.

“The timing of this has been the biggest concern for all of us in these regional and remote areas, because as we move into summer business stops,” he said.

“The stress is there, the stress is real … we’ve got a great network in outback South Australia. Together we’re sharing that burden.

“Without sounding too cliched, we’re all in this together, and together we’ll get through it.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow