Australia — The Blue Mountains economy is expected to take a $71 million hit from the October bushfires, even though its tourist attractions were untouched by fire.
Summer is usually a peak time for mountains tourism as visitors escape the heat, take in the scenery and tackle outdoor adventures. But visitor numbers plummeted after the fires and are yet to recover, with operators saying domestic tourists in particular seemed unaware that only a relatively small area had been affected.
“The fires were nowhere near the tourism destinations of the Blue Mountains,” Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise chairman Donald Luscombe said. ”None of the attractions were affected, yet people have stayed away. Many of the people who lost their homes work in the tourism industry and they need to get back to work.”
A report by the organisation found the region’s economic output was expected to drop by up to $71.3 million as a result of lost tourism in the six weeks after the fires. Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism estimates the tourist and hospitality industry lost $47.4 million.
After the fires burnt areas in Springwood, Winmalee, Yellow Rock and Mount Victoria, the state government pledged almost $230,000 to encourage tourists to return.
An app, bluemountainsconnect .com, was launched to help recovery.
The managing director of Scenic World in Katoomba, David Hammon, said saturation media coverage of the fires ”really fixed in people’s minds that the mountains were a) all burnt or b) a dangerous place to go”.
The family-owned scenic skyway, cableway and railway, had 31,560 fewer visitors after the fires than in the same period last year.
”We couldn’t roster people on and we knew people were depending on the money we pay them to survive,” Mr Hammon said.
”If they then can’t pay their rent or their mortgage, that causes a whole secondary round of stress to run through the community.”
Craig Albery, owner of Blue Mountains Guides, said his mostly casual staff had been unable to secure regular shifts because of reduced bookings.
”It’s been a pretty big struggle,” he said.
The Carrington Hotel in Katoomba had half its usual number of guests for October and November, director Michael Brischetto said.
”This will be the first time in 10 years we won’t see growth in a calendar year,” he said.
Karen West, who provides accommodation, said her phone started ringing with cancellations as she watched television coverage of the fires. She did not take a booking for six weeks. ”For every accommodation provider that’s not filled up, you also have the shops suffer as well,” Ms West said.
Randall Walker, chairman of Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon Tourism, said some businesses were relying on income protection insurance to survive and about 2000 casual staff members were not getting enough work.
”We’ve still got operators reporting downturns in the order of 50 per cent,” Mr Walker said.
”If we cannot turn the situation around fast enough, operators will go under.
”If people want to know how they can help the Blue Mountains, the best thing they could do is come up on a short break or a day trip and spend money with these local businesses.”