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Tourism operators preparing to adapt as coronavirus restrictions ease

ABC Health logo ABC Health 23/05/2020 Hannah Sinclair
a man wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Sean Blocksidge is looking forward to sharing the Margaret River with tourists again. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck) © Provided by ABC Health Sean Blocksidge is looking forward to sharing the Margaret River with tourists again. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)

A few months ago, tour operator Sean Blocksidge was welcoming visitors from all over the world on his tours in Western Australia's famous Margaret River region.

With customers from as far afield as the United States and Malaysia, he counts last year as one of his best ever since launching the business in 2008, during the global financial crisis.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

In pictures: Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world

"I was turning away 10, 20, maybe 50 people a day sometimes," Mr Blocksidge told 7.30.

"And then just off a cliff. Bang. Gone."

Limited reopening

The uncertainty involved in riding out the coronavirus restrictions has been a "rollercoaster of emotions" for Mr Blocksidge, who said he was fortunate to be able to adapt his business moving forward.

He is planning on slashing the price of some tours to try and appeal to locals until state borders reopen and he will initially limit his tours to two people at a time.

"I'm just looking at what I can adapt and am planning micro adventures where people can go canoeing, hiking or throw a fishing line in," Mr Blocksidge said.

He thinks locations in regional Western Australia are "prime" to accept interstate tourists because it is a bucket-list destination for many Australians.

"Margaret River, particularly, is going to be an ideal destination for people seeking that sort of adventurous holiday," he said.

Domestic boom could see road trip resurgence

As rules surrounding restriction of movement are relaxed, the tourism industry is predicting better times ahead.

"I think there is going to be a boom in Australian tourism," Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond told 7.30.

"It might not happen immediately, because I think people will need to get back into the habit of travelling. Not everybody has cabin fever and I think the other untold factor here is how much money do people have?"

Ms Osmond said safety concerns could mean people would feel more comfortable traveling in their cars initially, rather than getting on a plane.

"I think this is time for a renaissance for a whole range of things in the industry," she said.

"I think the first stage of the recovery is in fact going to be the great Aussie road trip."

Hesitation for some tourists

While there is cautious optimism among some tourism providers as coronavirus restrictions ease, data analysis by consumer research company Roy Morgan, shared with 7.30, indicates many Australians are not intending to book a trip.

Less than half, or 49 per cent, of those polled last month intended to travel in Australia on their next trip, down from 56 per cent last year.

When it comes to international travel, that intention to travel has fallen from 29 to 25 per cent — a 10-year low since the period following the global financial crisis.

Another factor tour operators are having to consider is the amount of money Australians are prepared to spend on a domestic trip.

In the 12 months to March 2020, Roy Morgan data shows Australians spent an average of $740 on their last domestic trip and nearly $4,000 on their last overseas trip.

"While we're all ready to take our first trip, are we all ready to spend what we'd normally spend?" asked Deloitte Access Economics tourism sector lead Adele Labine-Romain.

"I think there will be some hesitation among Australians and I think we'll need to be patient with the return."

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