Tourism industry crosses fingers for post-COVID rush
Businesses in the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon.
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The Murraylands' tourism operators are poised to welcome the rush of visitors they hope will follow any change to coronavirus restrictions.
National leaders are expected to ease some restrictions on Friday.
River Shack Rentals owner David Hartley, pictured, says the announcement cannot come fast enough.
Business has been down 85 per cent for both his rental business, through which he manages about 70 properties along the Lower Murray, and his motel at Mannum.
He stood down 15 staff as the flow of visitors dried up, but has since brought 10 back as he prepares for what is to come.
"People are going to want to sneak out quietly (for a holiday)," he predicted.
"In the wide open spaces we've got (in the Murraylands) ... there's so many areas you can go for a drive up here, go fishing, go to a lookout, do a whole loop and not see another person.
"I don't think we're going to go back to 2018-19 levels, but we're going to recover pretty quick.
"People are going to discover their own backyard again."
Day trippers will be key to recovery
The Murray River, Lakes and Coorong's relative lack of exposure to the international tourist market was likely to help it recover more quickly than some other areas, tourism development manager Julie Bates said.
Three quarters of visitors to the region came from elsewhere in the state, while just three per cent came from overseas – and many of those were from New Zealand.
Add to that the $3.3 billion South Australians would usually spend overseas in a year, but may not be able to over the next 12 months, and the region was placed fairly well, she said.
"If we can redirect some of those dollars into our state, that's quite a spend," she said.
"We think a lot of South Australians will visit places from their childhood or places they've always been meaning to get to.
"We also have some really great products that will fit how consumer behaviour may change.
"Things like houseboats and shacks will be incredibly popular because you can have your small group of family or friends and be isolated."
Caravanning, camping, bushwalking and river-based activities were also likely to do well, she said.
In the meantime, many businesses were looking at risk management, she said: working out, for example, how many people could fit in a dining room limited to one person per four square metres.
While she said the coronavirus had been "devastating" to the tourism industry, it had also made her realise how resilient and creative many local businesses were.
"They've been incredibly proactive in terms of staying open in some way, offering different products, like Riverscape doing takeaway menus," she said.
"Those that haven't been able to stay open have been bringing forward maintenance schedules, doing those things you don't get to do month-to-month, bringing up new experiences, doing business planning.
"Sometimes in a crisis you get clarity."
More information: themurrayriver.com.
Top photo: Peri Strathearn. Other photos: Jennings Media/Murray River, Lakes and Coorong Tourism Alliance.