‘We’re gutted’: East Kimberley tourism operators left devastated by backflip on border re-opening plan
East Kimberley tourism operators have been left devastated with fears they’re headed for their third consecutive year of uncertainty, after the State Government confirmed it would backflip on plans to remove WA’s hard border on February 5.
Premier Mark McGowan announced WA’s scheduled border re-opening plan would be delayed on Thursday evening, with quarantine requirements to stay indefinitely as a result of increased hospitalisation rates and deaths from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 across the globe.
Operators at the tourist hotspot had welcomed the State Government’s re-opening plan announced in December, and were relying on the border re-opening to welcome back East Coast travellers who make up its biggest market.
Maria Bolten Magnay and her husband own Kununurra’s Kimberleyland Waterfront Holiday Park, where about 80 per cent of bookings are typically from interstate travellers.
Ms Bolten Magnay said while she understood the health system was under stress, the business was “gutted” by the decision.
“The last two years have been a rollercoaster and it’s difficult to remain resilient after so many blows,” she said.
“The uncertainty and indefinite timelines are the most difficult challenges we face.
“We’ve had quite a few cancellations this month and are anticipating more.”
Without a certain re-opening date in sight, Ms Bolten Magnay said the outlook for the 2022 season was hanging in the balance.
“If we can’t have some level of border reopening by mid-April things will be, quite frankly, bleak,” she said.
Triple J Tours operations manager Dylan Lodge said the delay to the opening was a major blow for the Kununurra-based cruise company, which relied on interstate bookings for more than 90 per cent of its bookings, pre-COVID.
Mr Lodge said the State Government’s lack of clarity on its adjusted re-opening timeframe had left the tourism and hospitality sector flying blind.
“The fact that he’s pulled the date altogether and not given another one; we’ve got nothing to work around again and we’re straight back into a dark room with no options and no way forward,” he said.
Mr Lodge said the backflip had damaged the industry’s trust in the State Government, and would cause long-term reputational damage to WA as a tourism destination.
“He could come out tomorrow and give us another date and, to be honest, a word that comes out of his mouth wouldn’t be trusted,” he said.
Australia’s North West Tourism chief executive Natasha Mahar said the announcement was a “great shock” for the region’s tourism sector, which had already suffered significantly since the outbreak of the pandemic.
She said while the organisation had worked closely with the industry to boost intrastate travel throughout 2021, it was not a long-term solution.
“A great deal of work has been done to bring WA visitors to the Kimberley and this has kept most businesses afloat, but this cannot sustain our industry indefinitely,” Ms Mahar said.
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