Australia–– Last year’s Margaret River bushfire could not have come at a worse time for the region’s tourism sector.
Just days before summer and the start of the peak season, the fire destroyed several businesses, damaged others and caused trade to plummet across the board.
For the following months what would have been a flood of holidaymakers turned into a trickle.
“The fires really affected tourism because people stopped coming down here not only because of the concern about fires but because word had got out that people were affected by them,” Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association chief executive officer Simon Ambrose said. Advertisement
At least one accommodation business Isaac’s Ridge will not be reopening.
Nine of the complex’s 10 chalets, classified short-term rentals, were destroyed and the owners mostly retirees have determined it would not be viable to rebuild.
One owner, Peter Lees, said the group hoped the council would approve their application to rezone the land residential to make it easier to sell.
Otherwise it would be virtually worthless.
“I’d just retired so I was looking forward to being a regular user of [the chalet] when it wasn’t rented out,” Mr Lees said.
“Everyone had invested for different reasons and different amounts. For some people it was superannuation, for some it was their holiday house, [for] others it was a simple investment.
“[Now] it’s really a lost investment.”
Mr Lees said the close-knit group of owners was “devastated” by the loss.
“It’s still pretty upsetting to drive in and there’s blackness everywhere up and down the coast,” he said.
“It really was a lovely setting. It still tears at the heart a bit.”
Escape Redgate Beach did not reopen until August after owners Roger and Marisa Budd spent months and tens of thousands of dollars replenishing the surrounding 80 acres of landscape and fixing damage caused to the four luxury ocean view chalets.
“The most significant damage was the landscape, the loss of fauna and flora,” Mr Budd said.
“For six months after the fire it was just ash and burnt bush. There was no sign of life on the ground at all. Being the start of summer it needed the winter rains.
“I wouldn’t want to fool anyone to holiday in those conditions.”
The closure meant a sub-contractor, who used numerous staff to help run the accommodation, was laid off.
The Budds have been unable to apply for compensation from the state government and their insurance did not cover the landscaping or loss of trade.
Mr Budd fears he has lost some regular customers who were forced to go elsewhere last season.
He hopes the unique location atop a cliff will attract more visitors.
“We’re doing all right [this season] but it’s definitely affected business,” he said.
“We were lucky in some respects because we’ve still got a house … but it was very stressful.”
Greg Home thought he was also lucky. He didn’t lose his house or businesses, Prevelly Caravan Park and the attached liquor store.
But as time went on he realised he was among the many businesses indirectly affected by the downturn in tourists to the area.
The fire danger forced him to close during the lucrative school leavers’ week and trade has barely picked up since.
“That’s been really hard to come to terms with,” Mr Home told a parliamentary committee hearing last week.
It had cost him $150,000. And on top of that he has had to pay to clear 100 tonnes of dead trees and for marketing to help attract customers.
“All those things add up for a small business,” he said.
“This year has been the toughest year I’ve done in business.”
Mr Ambrose said there was a 40 per cent downturn in bookings via the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association centres during November to April.
But following a concerted marketing effort to urge West Australians to holiday in the region numbers were “looking fantastic” leading into this summer.
An announcement earlier this month that the Margaret River Pro surfing competition had been granted world championship tour status and the creation of this weekend’s Gourmet Escape wine and food festival also would help attract more people.
“People are starting to understand that we are in our recovery phase [and] things have really picked up again,” he said.
“We’re really hopeful that things are on the mend.” The failure was in the forest areas.Advertisement
Following a 10-year strategy, ACT fire managers have created a mosaic across the landscape of different fuel levels, burning at every opportunity.
But forests have been too wet to burn this spring and the past two summers.
A network of 500 fire trails and strategic burns along the north-west urban edge, heavy grazing and extra grass slashing will create a fortress for the territory which forecasters say faces a higher than average risk this summer.
After a fire-fuelled tornado in January 2003 killed four Canberrans and frightened thousands more, CSIRO fire expert Phil Cheney told the subsequent inquiry the fire’s penetration into urban areas under extreme conditions did not reflect a failure of fuel management on the urban interface.