Tourism operators in the Mountains have suffered enormous financial losses as a result of the bushfires, with some reporting revenue down by as much as 80 per cent and cancellations made as far ahead as next February and March.
At a tourism forum in Katoomba last week, owner after owner spoke of the huge downturn that has left some businesses desperate. Many said they have had to lay off staff or cut casual shifts.
Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism chairman Randall Walker told the forum that potential visitors, including international tourists, had cancelled en masse “because of the total exaggeration of the reporting of the fires” by the media.
“Some have experienced an 80 per cent downturn in revenue — perhaps 40 per cent in daily revenue and another 40 per cent in forward cancellations,” he said.
The chairman of Blue Mountains Economic Enterprise, Donald Luscombe, said tourism losses over just the first three weeks after the fires were significant.
“As a result of lost tourism visitation over the first 21 days after the bushfire emergency, the total impact to economic output (revenue) for the Blue Mountains was $44.56 million. The data indicates a decrease in wages and salaries of up to $11 million over that 21-day period. Obviously, the flow-on impact of that in terms of consumption and expenditure is significant.”
NSW Tourism Minister, George Souris, told the forum the government recognised the importance of tourism to the area and had provided extra funding for marketing campaigns to attract visitors back.
“The Blue Mountains is one of the most prominent tourist attractions in NSW. To ensure the sustainability of tourism businesses that support over 5000 jobs in the region we have provided additional funding of $150,000 to assist with the recovery of tourism to the area,” Mr Souris said.
Blue Mountains MP Roza Sage reiterated the need to support the region.
“I have heard from many local tourism operators whose businesses have been affected by the bushfires. As we approach their busiest time of year I know that they are extremely grateful for the work being carried out to ensure that people know they can still visit and enjoy all this region has to offer,” Mrs Sage said.
“The perception that the Mountains is inaccessible due to bushfires is very damaging. We have to turn that around and make sure the message goes out the region’s open for business.”
Springwood-based Senator Doug Cameron later met with one of the operators, Chris Cannell, from Hotel Blue on Lurline Street in Katoomba.
Mr Cannell said his cash flow was now less than half it had been before the fires.
“I am in the middle of Katoomba, on the most driven road in Katoomba [en route to the Three Sisters]. The RSL [nearby] hosts hundreds of tourists a day. I’m right in the middle of everything and if I’m wondering how am I going to pay my mortgage, imagine what others are going through.”
Senator Cameron repeated his call for the Abbott government to fulfil its election promise and offer concessional loans of up to $100,000 to small business owners who had been consequentially affected by the fires.
“It’s a great policy — why don’t they implement it?” he said.
He told the Gazette he had written to the federal Minister for Small Business, Bruce Billson, asking him to introduce the loans. “A month later, I haven’t even had a response,” he said.
Federal MP for Macquarie Louise Markus said she is “fighting to get the small business loans made viable as soon as possible”.
“I understand the stress small businesses are under as a result of the bushfires,” she said.