Photos Riverbend Renmark
This year has been difficult for so many people, businesses and industries and the tourism sector is no exception. It started off with the devastating summer bushfires which ravaged much of Australia before a global pandemic shut down travel and brought the tourism industry to a halt.
Tourism Australia has described the current situation as the industry’s worst economic crisis in 100 years. “The recent months have undoubtedly been the most challenging Australia’s tourism industry has ever faced, first with the devastating impacts of the summer bushfire season then the complete shutdown of global travel as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” a spokesperson for Tourism Australia said.
Closed borders have stopped international travellers which account for roughly a third of the industry and $45 billion. And the $100 billion domestic travel market is struggling too, with more than 75 per cent of businesses in the tourism industry accessing the government’s JobKeeper subsidy.
Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism, Jonno Duniam, said it has been a tough time for the industry which accounts for four per cent of regional economic output and eight per cent of jobs in regional Australia.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant and in many cases catastrophic impact on Australia’s regional tourism industry,” he said. “Regional tourism is the lifeblood of so many Australian cities, towns and communities. It’s not only a key driver of jobs, greater investment and better infrastructure, but in many regions it defines their identity.”
A glimmer of hope
Prior to the crisis Tourism Australia said one in 13 jobs were in tourism and for every tourism dollar spent, 44 cents is spent in Australia’s regions. But it’s not all bad news. Ninety per cent of caravan and camping trips are taken in regional parts of Australia and the Caravan Industry Association of Australia said businesses in some parts of the country are experiencing the start of a boom.
“The industry performance data. . . shows the big increase in demand we’ve had as parts of the country ease local restrictions,” a spokesperson for the Association said. “In locations where restrictions have eased for residents there’s a very clear resurgence in intrastate travel, both due to borders but also a want for people to support businesses in the own backyard, especially over the July school holidays.”
Tourism is an important driver of the Riverland economy in South Australia, generating $142 million expenditure in the region and attracting 1.18 million visitor nights per year. The Riverbend Caravan Park has seen a boost in visitor numbers since travel restrictions eased ‑ particularly during the July school break ‑ but park mangers Brett and Catherine Hein have had to adapt.
“June and July bookings were up compared to the same times last year,” Catherine said. “Here at Riverbend we normally rely solely on tourism, but since COVID we’ve diversified into reduced rate, longer term accommodation for itinerant workers and those who live on the road full-time and have no permanent place of residence.”
While borders are still closed in many states, Tourism Australia has turned its focus to local travel. “Tourism Australia’s focus while restrictions have been in place has been on encouraging Australians to dream and plan for future holidays in Australia,” the spokesperson said.
“The focus has very much been on encouraging those who have the means, to travel here in Australia as restrictions lift and, in turn, help regional tourism businesses and communities get back on their feet.”
Which is what Brett and Catherine in the Riverland are hopeful will happen. “We’re hoping tourism in the Riverland will at least remain steady, but hopefully increase as we head into the warmer weather. From August to December and March to June we’re normally fully booked,” Catherine said. “Tourism is the second-largest sector of the Riverland’s economy and the same for many other regions of SA, for some regions tourism is the leading contributor to their local economy.”
Consumer Research from Tourism Australia in July showed 50 per cent of Aussies are keen to travel or are considering travel around Australia once they can. And Caravan Industry Association of Australia said it’s hearing the same thing.
“There’s a real want among Australians to get out their homes and escape ‑ many will be looking for an adventure or to reconnect with nature and loved ones away from the hustle of cities and suburbs,” a spokesperson from the Association said. “And now is the perfect time to explore our backyard, especially as international travel and cruise trips are on hold for a while yet.”