Sean Cunningham, Narrandera Argus
Covid has swept through regional communities leaving a trail of economic destruction and Narrandera, like many small towns, has been right in its path.
One of the industries which has been the most severely impacted has been the tourism sector.
Narrandera Shire Council Events & Visitor Services Team Leader Brenda Hartmire said there had been a significant decrease in recent visitor numbers.
”Before Christmas and the recent flooding it’s only been close to about half of what we were getting before,” she said.
”My research shows that there were about 1600 visitors a week in 2017 and 2018 at this time of year, but since COVID there’s been a lot less when there were travel restrictions.
”It’s been the same thing at neighbouring Leeton.”
Mrs Hartmire believes there are a few reasons for fewer visitors travelling to the region.
”The concerning Omicron numbers and with traffic being cut at West Wyalong and Forbes due to flooding, there’s been a lot fewer visitors,” Mrs Hartmire said.
”What we’re noticing is that it’s people travelling to see family and friends – not so many holidaymakers.
”I can understand why people are not visiting, but at least we’re not as bad as some places overseas.
”We’re ready to welcome lots of people in Narrandera, but I think the accommodation places are really relying on sub-contractors during this COVID outbreak.”
Accommodation outlets are definitely feeling the pinch.
As well as suffering a reduction in occupancy rates, Fig Tree Motel owner Robert Dunn was dealt another blow recently.
“We’re not getting any bookings at the moment as our WIFI and telephone were knocked out in thunderstorms last week,” Mr Dunn said.
“We also had a bus tour with 50 people coming back from the Tamworth Music Festival which has now been cancelled because of Omicron.
“We just have to manage as best as we can with a lot of things that’s beyond our control.
”Omicron seems very contagious; we’ve been extremely lucky here in Narrandera as we haven’t had too many cases, but all you need is a small hiccup and people get spooked with the fear they’ll catch the virus and get sick.”
Mr Dunn remains positive despite the dwindling amount of visitors.
“Overall it hasn’t been too bad,” he said.
“The worst time we had was last year in August and September and October and November were very quiet too – it was horrendous.
”It depends what happens in February as it will quieten down a bit at the end of January.
“You’ve got to take the good with the bad, we learned that very quickly in the motel industry.”
Club Motor Inn manager Deborah Payne is also noticing she has had more vacant rooms on offer.
Mrs Payne is one of many accommodation outlets who relying more on workers, rather than tourists, to keep her business ticking over.
“We were busy and we were going great guns coming into December and January but because of Omicron, we’ve had cancellation after cancellation,” Mrs Payne said.
”A lot of people have come down with Omicron and can’t travel.
“We usually get a lot of corporate people but they can’t come because they’re sick now, so it’s really knocking people around in the workforce.
“The beauty of this for us is that we still get a lot of the workers who have the contract for working on the railway and we get a lot of their sub-contractors too – these boys have taken 12 of our 30 rooms.”
Mrs Payne said she had only a handful of rooms booked for the next two months.
”We have about five or six bookings for February and nothing for March and April,” she said.
“We took over on January 26 last year and it was fantastic in February and March, but it’s been nowhere near as good as Omicron has knocked us around this time.
“We were fully booked in February last year and just going awesome, but now we have to take each day as it comes.”
Mrs Payne said she was ”very lucky” to have a good returning clientele.
This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 20 January 2022.