Mountains businesses are still hurting from the October bushfires and the NSW Opposition wants a concerted advertising and marketing campaign to woo visitors back.
The Opposition leader, John Robertson, and Labor’s spokeswoman for the Blue Mountains, Trish Doyle, met with local business operators in Katoomba last week to discuss how best to bring back tourists, particularly domestic travellers who have turned away in droves.
The business owners said that overseas tourist numbers were slowly increasing but not so visitors from Australia.
President of Biznet, Vent Thomas, said the exaggerated media coverage, which implied the entire Mountains was ablaze, had affected more than just tourism-oriented businesses.
“The knock-on effect has been pretty widespread. Business that don’t rely on tourism have all felt the effect. It’s widespread geographically and also through the various business sectors in the mountains,” he said.
Dylan Jones from the Blue Mountains Adventure Company said the biggest impact had been on staff, many of whom do casual shifts.
“The volume of work just dried up for those people. A number of guides have gone to get work elsewhere.”
Mr Jones said, as a nature-based recreation business, he had also been affected by the extent of damaged infrastructure at many sites in the national park, such as historic Mt York near Mt Victoria.
“And council and national parks are at their limit as to what they are able to contribute [financially],” he said.
Eric Sward, president of the Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association and operator of The Blue Mountains Heritage, said some businesses had done better than others in attracting customers back.
“Some with a bigger mix of business have been able to get people back or the larger ones who have more marketing dollars to spend,’’ he said.
Chris Cannell, from Hotel Blue in Lurline St, said any campaign should emphasise the festivals and events planned for the next few months, including the Roaring 20s in February, the Blue Mountains Music Festival in March and the endurance races usually held around April-May.
All agreed that a government-led marketing push would help.
Ms Doyle said the overwhelming desire was for a “positive plan, an advertising and marketing blitz’’ to turn around the misconception that the Mountains had been burnt out and to bring back the visitors.
Ms Doyle and Mr Robertson were both disappointed that an idea to have free rail travel to the Mountains on weekends during the school holidays had not been taken up by the government.
The Opposition Transport spokeswoman Penny Sharpe wrote to Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian on December 6 suggesting free weekend trains. The Minister responded on December 24 but didn’t address that question. Instead she pointed out the $65,000 donated to the bushfire fund by Sydney Trains from a lost property auction, and various fees that had been waived for affected residents, including replacement drivers licences and E-toll tags.
“Every NSW Government department should be going over and above to help out the people of the Blue Mountains,” Mr Robertson said.
“Clearly Gladys Berejiklian didn’t get the message as she passed up a great way of making sure weekend trains were packed with tourists, young and old.”