The number of visitors to the Byron Shire is not expected to return to pre-COVID levels for four years, and it could be a decade before international visitor numbers bounce back, a Council discussion paper says.
But the paper also confirms that the tourism tide has now begun to turn, with visitors from within NSW leading the charge to our sunny shores.
The information is contained in the Tourism Resilience Discussion Paper, released by Byron Council earlier this month, in response to the impacts of the pandemic on the Shire’s biggest industry.
The paper complements Council’s draft Sustainable Visitation Strategy (SVS), which is on public exhibition until November 27.
Council say in a media release, ‘The aim of the SVS is to support a visitor economy that cares for and respects local residents, protects the natural environment, celebrates cultural diversity and shares local values’.
The discussion paper states that 2.41 million visitors came to the Shire last year, contributing $883 million to the local economy.
Worth $883m locally
Over 90 per cent of these visitors were domestic, with 78 per cent being day visitors from South East Queensland (SEQ).
However, when interstate borders closed and NSW went into lockdown earlier this year, ‘almost all domestic travel demand went into hibernation, along with large components of the economy’.
‘With the Queensland border restrictions, our domestic SEQ day visitors stopped coming and our local businesses that directly, and indirectly, support our tourism economy were hit hard,’ it says.
Around 2,150 local jobs were lost and 60 per cent of workers went onto JobKeeper.
Between April and June, businesses in the tourism industry experienced downturns of between 40 and 100 per cent, with the festival and event industries, and tourism businesses that service the international visitor market, among the hardest hit.
The paper predicts that visitors are not expected to return to 2019 numbers until 2024; visitor nights are not expected to return to 2019 levels until after 2030; and international visitors are not expected to return to 2019 numbers for at least 10 years.
But it seems the ship has begun to turn around.
‘Over the past few months, 80 per cent of accommodation has been booked out, mostly by intrastate visitors’, the paper says. ‘Visitors are staying longer (increased on average from three to four to five to eight nights)’.
‘Byron Bay is [also] now a filming hot spot owing to the efforts of Screen Australia, which is attracting a growing number of cast and crew, who are also supporting the local visitor economy with medium term accommodation.
‘This early recovery will be accelerated, as restrictions are eased by pent-up demand from business and the need to visit friends and relatives following lockdown’.
It is also anticipated that Australians will redirect overseas travel plans to domestic travel pursuits, offsetting some of the loss of international visitor expenditure.