Australia — Tourism operators in the Blue Mountains estimate they have now lost nearly $30 million from cancellations and visitors avoiding the area after the recent bushfires.
More than 200 homes were destroyed when the fires swept through the area in October.
Four weeks on and Randall Walker, chairman of Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism, says the industry is still struggling.
“We do know that current occupancy rates have been as much as 80 per cent down,” Mr Walker said.
“Some small bed and breakfast operators have had zero customers and zero revenue, larger operators are slowly recovering.”
It is estimated that $28.4 million has been lost and there are concerns about the flow-on effect within the industry that employees more than 5,000 people in the Blue Mountains.
Many of the operators suffering were not directly impacted on by the fires.
Eric Sward employs nearly 60 people at his hotel in Katoomba and at retreats in Wentworth Falls.
“We don’t see the end in sight yet, and our problem that we’re experiencing right now is how do we keep our staff and stop them having to leave the mountains to have to look for work elsewhere?” Mr Sward said.
“Business has literally evaporated. We’ve experienced cancellations from as far away as people ringing up from Holland, for example, and saying we’ve had groups booked into your property, we’ll have to cancel them for Christmas because the mountains are on fire.”
‘Tourism is life blood’ of Blue Mountains community
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill argues there is no reason why tourists should not come back.
“Tourism is a life blood of our community. If people care about and love the Blue Mountains and if people care about and love this community and if people want to help this community in their time of need, the best thing they can do for us is come here,” he said.
“All of our beautiful tourist attractions are open for business.
“If people don’t come here, it’s a double whack for us. We’ve suffered the fires and then we’ve suffered a kick to our economy, our life blood.”
The mayor and tourism operators are keen for the Federal and NSW governments to invest in a campaign to lure tourists back.
The State Government announced more than $200,000 for local tourism last week, but Councillor Greenhill argues a more concerted effort is needed.
“If the Government truly cares about the Blue Mountains, that help will be forthcoming,” he said.
“We’ve suffered a terrible natural disaster, and in Victoria and Tasmania, government stepped up and assisted those communities. That needs to happen here.”
‘No reason for visitors not to come’
It is a position backed by Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism.
“We desperately need State Government or Federal Government support,” Mr Walker said.
“We haven’t had any funding yet, but we do need a major campaign specifically getting the message out there that the Blue Mountains is ready to receive visitors.”
Mr Sward says there is no reason for visitors not to come.
“Some people believe that the attractions are gone. Of course none of them are,” he said.
“The natural attractions are there, the built attractions are there, the accommodation houses are there, and we’re just sitting here waiting for people to turn up basically.”
The industry is hopeful Christmas will bring better prosects for the industry.