Busselton is a popular tourist destination but people are being urged to stay away to protect the local community from COVID19. (ABC Open contributor Trish Muir)
Tourism host Helen Pennington is making the tough call to turn people away from her beautiful home, despite renting out rooms through accommodation sharing websites for years.
She lives in the famous holiday town of Busselton, about 250km south of Perth, just a short way away from the famous Margaret River wine region on WA’s south west coast, which has long been favourite Easter tourist destination for domestic and overseas travellers.
Coronavirus has meant tourist numbers have plummeted in regional areas — but many towns say right now, that’s not a bad thing, as stretched health resources just can’t cope.
Some are taking it one step further and urging people to stay away this Easter and states and territories can apply their own restrictions, including closing their state borders.
Leaders tell tourists to stay home
Until recently, Helen and her husband Richard had enjoyed a consistent stream of visitors through their doors, but now don’t want visitors to come to stay.
The Penningtons say they are worried about the risk coronavirus poses for the health and safety of themselves and their guests.
“It’s very selfish if you think you can just have a house-full of guests from somewhere else that you know nothing about and you can’t sanitise a house every time a person walks out.
Tourism host Helen Pennington is turning people away from her Busselton home, amid the coronavirus pandemic. (ABC South West: Georgia Loney)
“We are at that vulnerable age, being 70-plus, so we did it for selfish reasons as well.
“We’ve got family that wanted to come down for Easter and school holidays and we won’t let them come down.
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Premier Mark McGowan has told would-be travellers to cancel their Easter travel plans, urging people to stay home, as he flagged travel restrictions between regions.
The City of Busselton and the Local MP Libby Mettam have said too many tourists would put an unacceptable strain on resources during the pandemic.
“Now is not the time for leisure travel,” she said.
Community leaders in Exmouth and Carnarvon in the north of the state have also expressed concerns, but some say tourists just keep arriving.
It’s a view shared by some short-stay accommodation hosts such Ms Pennington, but rejected by local business owners like John Ryall.
He said up to 500 forward bookings had been cancelled in the past two weeks — amounting to a more than 50 per cent drop in business.
“Our revenue is now nil,” he said. “For us this is already financially devastating and crippling.”
He said people could still socially isolate.
“I think if people got in their cars and socially distance in a holiday house which has been cleaned to recommended standard, I don’t think there’s anymore risk of them being here than anywhere else.”
The Tourism Council of WA has said it accepts the intrastate travel restrictions but its CEO Evan Hall has urged tourists to postpone, rather than cancel plans.
“Please don’t cancel your trip, postpone it, get in touch with the tourism business, ask them to postpone your booking, for six months a year, two years, what ever you want, they will comply, they will help you.”
Tourism decline will force property owners to change tack
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As the number of confirmed case numbers grow, thousands of Australians with investment properties are looking for ways to maintain their income stream.
Experts say the health crisis is likely to have an even greater impact on locations like the South West of WA which relies heavily on tourism and hospitality.
The Real Estate Institute of WA president Damian Collins said the coming months and years would be an especially challenging period for the South West.
REIWA president Damian Collins says it will be a challenging time for the South West. (ABC News: Charlotte Hamlyn)
He said many property owners were now looking to secure longer-term tenants amid the uncertainty.
“We’re getting to a point where there’s not much travel at all. People who have got their properties in short-stay accommodation are certainly more likely to bring them back into permanent rentals for the next 6 to 12 months at least,” he said.
Mr Ryall said he was already considering changing his business model to allow for longer-term rental options.
“We’re looking at a longer-term model with our owners and that would mean relocating existing guest bookings to clear a pathway where we can get longer term rentals in,” he said.
“Like everyone that has a mortgage to pay, the owners have got bills to pay and they need to get some revenue in so it’s up to us to adapt.”