The road back: how tourism will recover in a post crisis world

By Andrew Johnston

ECHUCA-Moama is moving closer to being open for business.

NSW will further relax restrictions today, allowing holidays to be taken across the state.

Pubs and clubs will open to 50 people, with bookings allowed for groups of 10.

Victorians are also continuing to ease their restrictions, with restaurants, cafes and pubs allowing up to 20 patrons as of this morning and expanding to 50 from June 22.

Camping and tourist accommodation can re-open without the use of shared facilities.

The changes provide light at the end of tunnel for those forced to close their doors during the COVID-19 crisis.

Echuca Moama Tourism's Kathryn Mackenzie said there was reason for optimism.

"Over the past weeks we’ve had a lot of inquiries,” she said.

"People love our twin towns, many are diverting holidays away from other states where they are unable to go like Queensland and taking their trips here.”

Ms Mackenzie said the move to more uniform restrictions across the two states was a huge advantage.

"When you have different restrictions it certainly presents challenges,” she said.

"Thankfully they’re now similar across both states, which allows clarity for those visiting.”

Businesses are preparing to open their doors for an influx of crowds in coming weeks.

Murray River Paddle Steamers’ Rohan Burgess said the company was ready to run the moment it was allowed to do so.

“We can open on a dime,” he said.

“We have plans to slowly open according to demand, and we’re anticipating a lot of day trips.

``We have a COVID-19 plan to meet the safety and social distancing restrictions and will be implementing a contactless ticketing and boarding process.

Mr Burgess said they expected to begin a surge in marketing in coming weeks as a likely date to resume operations approached.

“We are putting our toe in the market for overnight cruising for late June-early July. NSW is opening for regional travel from June 1, there is a long weekend on June 6 which we imagine will bring in a lot of tourists.

“Already High St looks busier, there are more cars and people around which are positive signs.”

Pubs and clubs, many of which chose not to re-open with the initial restriction changes due to the high cost of operating, are also preparing to return.

“We’re not just going to sit on our hands, we will open,” the Border Inn's Adie Daly said.

“We’ve stayed fairly connected, we’ve been partially open with takeaway food and as a result we aren’t coming from as far back as others.”

Mr Daly said there was a better feeling within the community every day.

“We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel now, with little teases here and there, but it drives some excitement.”

Echuca Workers’ Erin Langman said just having the lights back on would have an incredible impact.

“Just being able to be open will really get the ball rolling,” she said.

“Once we have gotten to the stage where we are operating and people are able to come back, we will start to really see that business pick up.

“Our members are waiting for us to reopen, we will use our social media and other online forms to get the word out, but once the word of mouth starts to spread we will hopefully see a lot of people through our doors.”

Recreation around the twin towns will be a key part of any tourism revival, with some like Billabong Ranch still receiving calls during their period of closure.

“I think people just want to get out and do something,” Kerri Acquisto said.

“We have been getting calls from people to see if we are open, though we weren’t able to be. I think that shows that there is still a demand and something we can build on.”

Kerri said it was too early to gauge what the future would look like.

“We’ve gone over the guidelines for camping and there’s still a lot that needs to be done,” she said.

“It’s still early days, there will probably be a lot more changes in coming weeks and months, so we will be waiting on those changes to really plan our next steps.”

Brett Sands said the eventual end of the crisis would likely drive more business to the twin towns.

"People often take these opportunities to holiday at home and spend their money locally,” he said.

"During the recession in the 90s we had a lot of people come through who didn’t want to go overseas.

"People won't have a choice for a while it seems, but it will see more and more people taking those holidays around Australia, and that can be huge for Echuca-Moama.”

Caravan parks across both states have been inundated with calls from people who are now allowed to move more freely.

Sean Goggin of Echuca Discovery Parks said they were already experiencing a high number of bookings.

"We received a lot of bookings for the upcoming long weekend and school holidays,” he said.

"Looking at the trend, we expect tourism will bounce back quickly. We weren't sure which way things would go, but people clearly want to get out and travel.”

Jenny Green of Moama on the Murray said she hoped the rush of bookings would continue.

"It's been a mad rush the past few days,” she said.

"Now that both states are in a similar position we can all draw a lot more business. Hopefully we can all fill up for Queen's Birthday and school holidays.

"I don't think we are a long way from the towns having an onslaught of visitors. If we are all sensible, we can all be safe and kick-start the industry again.”