The impacts of the border closure are significant in the health and construction sectors, however the tourism and retail spaces appear to be holding their ground.
‘Northern NSW has indeed become one of the strongest, perhaps the strongest, of the visitor economies in Australia after the easing of travel restrictions to regional NSW,’ president of Destination Byron David Jones told Echonetdaily.
‘Other regional destinations saw a faster return of their demand, however, it consisted more of day visitors and short-stay visitors, as opposed to our region’s visitor economy seeing more long-stay overnight visitors. This is due to our geographical location (it’s not a 1–2 hour drive for many NSW residents).’
This seems to be the consensus of chambers of commerce across the region including in Murwillumbah, Byron Bay, and Mullumbimby.
‘Retail in Mullumbimby has picked up again following the COVID-19 lockdown,’ said Mullum’s chamber president Janelle Stanford.
NSW has the largest population of any state in Australia and with borders closed this means NSW residents are travelling intrastate.
‘Whilst I completely appreciate the many hardships imposed by the border closure, in terms of the recovery of our visitor economy it seems to have created a catch-all effect – as we are essentially the furthest north that escapees from Sydney can go,’ said Byron’s chamber president Todd Sotheren.
‘I know that during the winter school holidays that we had numbers here resembling more of a summer holiday window and still now venues like Lightyears, Bang Bang, Supernatural, The Balcony etc seem to be booked out over a week in advance.
‘Certainly some of these vendors have reported bumper trade, which obviously helps massively in offsetting the impact.’
Mr Jones highlighted that, prior to the Victorian lockdown, demand was higher than this time last year.
‘What we witnessed was a lot of Victorian bookings cancel when lockdown was announced, however they were very quickly replaced by NSW bookings that had to reposition their holiday from Queensland (and to a lesser extent Victoria).
‘Queensland is a major percentage of leisure accommodation supply in Australia. Their border closure meant that significant demand from NSW residents flowed south. The closure of the Queensland and international borders has actually played into Northern NSW’s favour.’
The Northern Rivers Mud Trail that went ahead in mid-August went really well this year according to Suvira McDonald, who opened his studio as part of the event.
‘We had double the number of people,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘There was an increase in tourists, who said they weren’t going overseas and were coming here instead, as well as more locals who came out, even with a bit of rain.’
Border bubble advantage?
Murwillumbah District and Business Chamber president Nick Moran said that they have the advantage of being in the ‘border bubble’ and while ‘some businesses will be feeling the impact of visitors from Brisbane not being able to come down we can still get visitors from the Gold Coast.
‘Businesses like the surf shop and newsagents are going well. While there are always a few empty shops in Murwillumbah there don’t seem to be more than usual. In fact we had a new kombucha shop open yesterday in town.
‘There are a high percentage of people in the Tweed Shire that are on JobSeeker and JobKeeper so I think this is helping to keep the economy going.’
The areas that are struggling most are in health, where doctors are unable to cross the border and patients are not able to get to their appointments, surgeries, etc and businesses that service the broader region.
‘The businesses and areas that are suffering are in the service industries, medical services, and construction businesses that operate on both sides of the border,’ said Mr Moran.
‘There are businesses in a whole range of different industries that are having to make decisions in relation to their operations as a result of the border closure.
‘They are businesses that have previously serviced the wider region and now they are having to decide if they are just going to service businesses in the border bubble, NSW, or Queensland.’
During the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic there were concerns that the Northern Rivers with its low vaccination rates, itinerant visitors, and friendly locals might become a hotspot. However, the opposite is the case with no cases in the area for months.
‘I feel that, with our fears alleviated around a Byron hotspot developing on the back of high visitor numbers, as well as with the continuation of the border closure, that we are likely in for a very busy time of it again this coming holidays,’ said Mr Sotheren.
‘Other contributing factors to this swarm of ex-Sydney visitation surely include the near completion of the highway project to the south, with the majority of recent visitation arriving via road-trip.
‘And of course the work from home explosion means that, for a lot of people, there really is no compelling reason to be in the city any longer.’