For tourism operators in many regional towns, the arrival of summer brings with it a sense of hope and recovery after some of the darkest times for the industry.
WA’s holiday towns have not only had to contend with the global economic downturn, the high Australian dollar and cheap overseas airfares keeping visitors away but some destinations have also faced devastating bushfires and shark attacks that have left a lasting impression.
For those still standing after a tumultuous few years, the first day of summer holds a promise to deliver them back to the good times.
The South West has been one of the worst hit — the Margaret River bushfire in November last year and the recent shark attacks have marred the region’s reputation in the international and interstate markets.
But things are looking up, according to local operators, with recent events such as the Margaret River Gourmet Escape a huge success and the coming Drug Aware Margaret River Pro surfing competition, which has been elevated to world championship status, sure to draw visitors.
Lee Burkett, owner of Margaret’s Beach Resort in Gnarabup, said the worst was behind them.
“We’re over the worst,” he said.
“The bushfires are in the history books and the best times are ahead of us.”
Mr Burkett said that even with the fires last year, 2010 was their worst year, with occupancy down 20 per cent.
Alecia Macdonald, from Busselton’s Dive Shed, was also optimistic about the summer season.
Ms Macdonald said the shark attacks drove business down by as much as 80 per cent but bookings were finally picking up for summer.
“We have had to streamline and downsize to make sure we survive,” she said.
“The past three years have been the toughest in the 25 years we’ve had the business but this summer is looking promising.”
Further south, Walpole and Denmark expect events such as Taste Great Southern, the biggest food and wine festival in WA, will boost visitor numbers.
Despite the positive outlook for the season, Denmark Visitor Centre chief Justine Nagorski said more needed to be done to lift Great Southern tourism if it was to complete with Bali and Thailand.
“We have an internationally ready airport in Albany which is underutilised — the flights between Perth and Albany are often half full, not because of lack of demand but because of exorbitant pricing,” she said.
North of Perth, fishing towns Cervantes and Jurien Bay have gone from strength to strength since the opening of Indian Ocean Drive two years ago.
John Astill, from Pinnacles Visitor Centre, said now that Cervantes was only a two-hour drive from Perth’s northern suburbs, weekend visitor numbers were up 10 to 15 per cent.