River Murray, Lakes and Coorong tourism can be a $200m-a-year industry

Murray Bridge's new Bridgeport Hotel will fill a need in the region, Bill Nehmy says.

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Bill Nehmy is enthusiastic about the regional tourism industry’s prospects as the Bridgeport Hotel’s opening approaches. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Unlocking the Murraylands’ natural beauty, and encouraging visitors to stay and see more of it, will make local tourism a $200-million-a-year industry by 2025.

That second part – encouraging visitors to stay longer – will get a lot easier now that a $45 million hotel is about to open on Murray Bridge’s main street, says Bill Nehmy.

The manager of the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong Tourism Alliance has been looking at the big picture around the opening of the Bridgeport Hotel.

Less than a fortnight ago, the alliance put out a strategic plan for the next four years: a road map back to the good times for an industry which employed almost 900 people across the Murraylands and Riverland at last count.

Facilities like the new hotel – “a real coup” for Murray Bridge – would be key to achieving a target of seven per cent industry growth per year, Mr Nehmy said.

“Murray Bridge has had accommodation, but we want diverse accommodation options for people so we can cover all target markets,” he said.

“Something like this will attract a new range of people.

“A million people per year come up for a day to the region, but we want them to come and stay and spend their money; this is one more reason for them to stay.”

The River Murray Dark Sky Reserve, in the Mid Murray district, is a major attraction for photographers and nature lovers. Photo: Rowan James.

Of course, there is more to the tourism alliance’s strategy than just giving people a swish place to eat or stay.

A marketing plan which included all operators, not just those able to afford it, would be important, the strategic plan suggested.

So-called “hero” experiences at The Bend Motorsport Park and Monarto Safari Park were key to attracting tourists.

But having more things to do in national parks and on the River Murray – including, perhaps, at the proposed Bridge Watersport Park – would make them want to stay longer and spend more money locally.

Existing attractions and small operators could also be grown.

“We don’t need a new, big, iconic thing in the region,” Mr Nehmy said.

“We’ve got iconic experiences, we just need to develop them further.”

Growing visitor awareness of the beauty of the Murraylands’ national parks will be a focus for the local industry. Photo: National Parks and Wildlife Service SA.

Hotel will be a game-changer, mayor says

Mayor Brenton Lewis said EDP Hotels’ $45 million investment amounted to a vote of confidence in Murray Bridge.

Considering how many other developments had gone ahead in recent years – Resthaven, TAFE SA, the hospital, the high school, Thomad Foods International, Monarto Safari Park, the Gifford Hill racecourse – the city was in a good position, he said.

“Any one of those things in its own right is important, but the culmination of all that is just immense,” he said.

Specifically, though, he hoped the Bridgeport development would encourage Bridge Street landlords to invest in their own properties, or businesses to consider moving into the main street.

“There are going to be walk-in customers, interested persons, who’ve not been here before and might like to do something in the main street,” he said.

“The opportunity is there.

“In my opinion, the main street of Murray Bridge is waiting to be transformed.”

Down the track, he suggested, that transformation might even include single-lane traffic and angle parking – ideas the council has rejected in the past.

Considering the change at one end of the street, perhaps it was time to have those conversations again.