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Echuca-Moama tourism takes another hit as Riverboats Music Festival, Southern 80 waterski race are cancelled

ABC Health logo ABC Health 9/10/2020 By Courtney Howe, Matt Dowling and Sandra Moon
a boat sitting on top of a building: The two annual events combined bring in about $15 million to the local economy. (ABC News: Simon Winter) © Provided by ABC Health The two annual events combined bring in about $15 million to the local economy. (ABC News: Simon Winter)

It has been a tough year for the border towns of Echuca and Moama; between coronavirus restrictions and the closure of the New South Wales-Victoria border, they have not only lost visitors but seen their ways of life changed.

Now, the twin towns have been dealt another blow with the news that two of their largest events will not take place next year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Organisers behind the Riverboats Music Festival and the Southern 80 waterski race, which both take place in February each year, have cancelled the events for next year and are instead looking towards planning for 2022.

Founder of Riverboats Music Festival David Frazer said the team made the decision with a heavy heart.

"It's a big blow," he said.

"It was going to be our 10th anniversary, so we were planning something really special.

"Arguably, this is probably the most challenging year any of us will ever experience for people in our industry and across tourism."

Steve Shipp is the president of the Moama Water Sports Club which runs the Southern 80 and says the event's cancellation is a big loss for the community.

"Millions and millions of dollars come into the economy from these two events," he said.

"The Riverboats is a great event, followed by the Southern 80 — it's going to be hard for all the retailers in town.

"It's a lot of money that we are missing out of the economy."

'Recovery can't happen unless restrictions ease'

The COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria and the border closure have thrown up a lot of challenges for tourism and hospitality operators.

Chief executive of Echuca Moama and District Tourism Association Kathryn Mackenzie says the limited number of people able to dine in at restaurants and cafes, and regional Victorians outside the 'border zone' unable to travel into NSW, means local businesses are still struggling.

"We may look as though we're full and hospitality is buzzing," she said.

"[But] with the reduced capacity, our operators in hospitality post-JobKeeper can probably not keep their businesses running on those levels of restrictions."

Ms Mackenzie said the border closure issue was a challenge during the recent Victorian school holidays.

"We had many, many requests for our visitors to cross the border and they couldn't," she said.

"So, it impacted their experience here but also a number of them decided they would holiday elsewhere."

'We will hold something'

Ms Mackenzie said following the cancellation of the two events her phone was immediately ringing off the hook.

She said the planning had begun to pull together a different event for early next year.

"We will hold something next year," Ms Mackenzie said.

"It may not be as big as the two events that are cancelled, but we will be asking our very loyal visitors to return, and we will be looking at what we can hold."

No matter what the rest of this year, and next, have in store, Ms Mackenzie is sure the community will bounce back.

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