Augusta residents and investors say a bumper holiday trading period is the first sign of an economic recovery the town sorely needs.
Local Chamber of Commerce president Doug Thompson told the Times the town was flush with visitors over the Christmas break and the crowds were still coming in what many business operators have called the best trading period in recent history.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to recently has said they are up on the previous few years figures, which is great because we experienced a particularly hard winter, ” he said.
“A lot of the visitors have told me they’ve recently discovered Augusta and a majority of the people are visiting from Bunbury and Busselton.
“Those people who would usually just stop in Margaret River are travelling further south and are discovering this beautiful part of the country.”
Augusta-Margaret River Tourism Association chief executive Simon Ambrose said members’ accommodation in the region was completely booked out over the Christmas and New Year period.
Mr Ambrose said visitation to attractions, including Jewel Cave and Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, had a 10 per cent bump in numbers this year compared to last.
He said almost 20 per cent more people also came through the Augusta Visitor Centre during the period, compared to last year.
Leeuwin ward Councillor Mike Smart credited the success of the region’s adopted international Anaconda adventure race for the tourism upswing.
“I personally feel a lot of it is related to the Anaconda and that people have become more aware of Augusta as a result, ” he said.
“I get the comment from people regularly that haven’t been here before that they didn’t realise how beautiful it was down here.”
He said the town and its businesses struggled in previous years, but large-scale projects, including Augusta Boat Harbour, created a sense of excitement round the district.
Augusta Resorts director Ted Coulter said occupancy rates were up across the board around town.
“I’m a glass-half-full kind of person and we’re hoping this is the first sign of the recovery we’ve all been waiting for, ” he said.
“Occupancy has been up, food and beverage sales have been climbing … and the caravan parks have nearly been at full capacity.”
Augusta Community Development Association committee member Ross Fimister said despite this summer’s improved visitation, Augusta still needed more marketing as a destination separate from Margaret River.
“When it comes to local tourism we believe Augusta needs a bigger slice of the cake in terms of promotion, ” he said.
“The Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and Jewel Cave, which are only 9km from Augusta, shouldn’t be promoted under the Margaret River brand as they are Augusta tourism icons and should be marketed as such.”
Mr Thompson said the chamber hoped to capitalise on the renewed interest in the town, with efforts to start with a variety of public art projects including the Wall of Faces venture and the installation of several public murals in the town centre.