Deniliquin Pastoral Times
Border bubble bites
Restrictions take a toll
Border communities have again felt the brunt of COVID-19 lockdowns, this time wedged between outbreaks in both Sydney and Melbourne.
Disruptions from COVID-19 outbreaks in both Sydney and Melbourne have led to postponement of NSW local government elections, and the cancellation or suspension of cross-border events such as sporting leagues, medical appointments and tourism opportunities.
Victoria declared NSW a red zone from 11.59 pm on Sunday, July 11, causing uncertainty.
Deniliquin Golf and Leisure Resort owner Iain Goodway said this confusion had contributed to the hesitancy of travellers, who were opting not to visit border towns in NSW as they normally would.
He said the uncertainty of COVID-19 rules has had cancellations from clients who booked out the entire resort, despite their events being scheduled two months ahead in September.
But with each state defining border bubbles differently, it can be difficult for residents to know whether they will be subject to stayat-home orders. Meanwhile, those in Wagga Wagga, Hay, Lockhart and Murrumbidgee local government areas were also locked out of Victoria’s ‘border bubble’ from midnight on Tuesday night.
Visitors from Victoria accounted for about 70 per cent of the the Murray region’s tourism over the last four years, according to Murray Regional Tourism (MRT) data.
Edward River and Murray River councils sit at the centre of Murray border communities, and many travel through EchucaMoama and Deniliquin on their way to major cities and tourist destinations.
Domestic travel in the MRT area from April 2020 to March this year decreased 44 per cent, with travel to Echuca-Moama and surrounds dropping 38.4 per cent in the same period.
MRT chair Wendy Greiner said vaccination was the only way forward for cross-border communities.
‘‘As the Delta strain of COVID19 spreads across the globe, Australia remains hostage to the continued default policy of lockdown which we must live with while our population is gradually being vaccinated,’’ Ms Greiner said.
‘‘As devastating as the business impacts are, we must follow the health advice and will not be able to break free from the threat of stop-start shutdowns until we have full vaccination.’’
The Deniliquin Information Centre lost two thirds of its visitors in the last month, indicating a similar downturn in visitors for the rest of the region.
Domestic overnight travel had a greater percentage drop than domestic day trip travel, however day trips outnumbered overnight trips by nearly 100,000 in the 2020-21 April to March period.
But for Mr Goodway’s business, that number spiked from January to April before dropping to nil.
‘‘After the border opened up in February, March and April, it was crazy here, it was the only time since I’ve been here where I saw how this place normally runs,’’ Mr Goodway said.
He was ‘‘turning people away’’ until more cases appeared in May, which saw an immediate downturn in bookings at the resort.
He said while the majority of his business came from the greater Melbourne area, many of his other clients travelled from Canberra and Sydney. But he had been ‘‘hit on both sides’’ due to lockdowns in both cities — the result is a 50 per cent drop in revenue as a result of cancellations.
‘‘I think a lot of businesses are feeling the pain,’’ Mr Goodway said.
He said tourists ‘‘can’t wait’’ to travel to the Murray-Riverina again, but they’re waiting for more certainty.
‘‘I think once everything opens up again, the people who cancelled can’t wait to be able to get back here,’’ he said.
The same is true for Deniliquin’s McLean Beach Holiday Park, which had a 70-80 per cent drop in bookings since January, office manager Sara Quarrell said.
‘‘The days are long because there’s no-one who can come and stay,’’ Ms Quarrell said, adding her clientele is predominantly Victorian.
‘‘People are asking if they can come up but we’re still an extreme risk zone.’’
Both Mr Goodway and Ms Quarrell have had to deal with uncertain travellers, with many opting not to travel at all.
In the meantime, businesses that would otherwise be sustainable need support, Mr Goodway said.
He said it was ‘‘ludicrous’’ that despite 30 years of sustainable business by various owners, he could not access most COVID-19 support packages because his family took the business over less than a year ago, in August.
The same was true for McLean Beach Holiday Park, which was inexplicable to Ms Quarrell since its current ownership began in 2012.
Mr Goodway said based on booking numbers when the borders were open, the resort would have had a ‘‘fantastic’’ year.
‘‘Even though your business is a new business, it doesn’t mean the establishment itself is a new business.’’
In the meantime, Edward River Council has provided some support to businesses, according to Community and Economic Development manager Michelle Cobb.
“Last year we were able to redirect our Victorian marketing to NSW areas such as Albury, Wagga and Griffith, which introduced an untapped market to the wonderful sights and experiences Deni has to offer,’’ Ms Cobb said.
She said businesses could contact the economic development team for assistance in applying for grants.
Mr Goodway is also a member of the Deniliquin Business Chamber, and he says tourism and accommodation businesses had been forgotten by the state government.
‘‘It’s true for a lot of country NSW — if it’s not in Sydney it’s not in NSW is the feeling I sometimes get.
‘‘I don’t think they’ve given enough support outside of Sydney,’’ he said.
Ms Quarrell argued the NSW side of the bubble should be considered more closely linked to Melbourne than Sydney geographically and financially.
‘‘Because we’re so far away from Sydney, it would be nice to be included as a place to travel to for Victorians.
‘‘I’d like see Victorians able to enter the border bubble (in NSW) and not exceed that bubble,’’ she said.
Public awareness needed - page 11