Accom operators in bushfire-affected areas are on tenterhooks in the run-up to Christmas as holidaymakers weigh the decision to honour or cancel bookings.
Tourism and business leaders are urging those planning to travel over the holiday period to get the right advice before they consider abandoning their plans.
Australian Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond told the ABC: “It is the busiest time of the year for a lot of our regional communities from a holiday point of view, so that’s why I say check.
“Don’t assume the place you were going to is going to be a problem.”
For those on the NSW South Coast, mostly small individual operators, the peak season is crucial to their livelihoods.
The Currowan fire, just north of Batemans Bay, has ravaged more than 78,000 hectares of bushland and last week threatened holiday hamlets along the coastal stretch between Ulladulla and Batemans Bay, forcing the closure of arterial roads the Kings Highway and Princes Highway.
With the Princes Highway now reopened, Shoalhaven RFS incident controller Ken Hall said this week: “We’re feeling quietly confident about the days to come with the assets we have in place and where the fire is tracking now.
“The fire is now tracking into the type of open country where we believe it will be easier to fight and we have the aerial assets on hand to smash it once it reaches that open grassland.”
Mark Berry, owner of south coast boutique accom The Bower at Broulee, told AccomNews that he’d only had one one cancellation made due to road closures and guests were committing to long journeys to reach the idyllic property.
“Several guests have determined to take a seven or eight-hour drive to get to The Bower,” he said, although he added: “Motels with one-night stays and commercial business are impacted much more.”
Alison Miers, president of the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce, told the ABC businesses were worried about the potential impact of fires and road closures.
“I’ve been here 38 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “There’s just not the numbers in town. The roads are empty.
“It’s a beautiful place to live and it’s a beautiful place to visit and we just need to support each other through this time.
“We’re still open for business and we want people to come for Christmas.”
Even as normality returns and roads reopen, the effects of fires on tourist businesses can be long-lasting and profound.
Fires across the Gold Coast hinterland and northern NSW this spring, which claimed the historic Binna Burra Lodge at Beechmont, prompted Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to urge tourists not to abandon the regions affected.
“Once the fires have gone away…we need to run a great tourism campaign to say to everyone come back and support the region,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program.
Business owners in Tenterfield say tourism will be a critical part of the town’s recovery following the spring fires and in the face of ongoing drought.
Commercial Boutique Hotel licencee Tim Dillion said last month: “People have concerns about coming to the region, fears for their safety, about bushfires.
“The local economy really relies on visitation and if there isn’t that visitation then all these small country towns are going to struggle even more than they already are.”
The issue of perceived dangers is one the NSW Mid North Coast is also looking to shake off, the tourist area recently ravaged by fires from Forster to Evans Head.
Damian Kelly, senior public affairs manager for the Mid North Coast Business Chamber, said there had been no reports of mass holiday cancellations and urged the public to hold off on making rash decisions.
“Hopefully people continue with their holiday plans and don’t cancel anything at the moment,” he said.
“Obviously people should keep an eye on emergency conditions and make decisions on what is safest – but don’t cancel your holiday plans yet.”