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Byron Shire
October 18, 2021

How resilient is the Byron Shire’s biggest industry?

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Paul Bibby

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.

It’s tourists like these, with hats and maps, that keep the Byron economy going. Image supplied

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.

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  1. Paul, you obviously haven’t been to Byron Bay, Mullum, or BH lately.
    BSC needs to address over tourism by managing tourist numbers, traffic and infrastructure demands. Lotto type systems to manage numbers, bed tax go help pay for infrastructure damage (roads) and out of town parking to manage traffic.

    • We do need to consider the types of tourism and the impact they have on our region. When ARCADIS was tasked by Byron Council to assess the benefits of a waking and cycling path along the rail corridor, it looked only at transport benefits within the Shire. It did not attribute any benefit from walkers or riders who might pass through the Shire form Casino to Murwillumbah or vice versa because I was told by the Multi use corridor investigations project manager “We are not trying to attract tourists; it did not consider any benefit to other shires of increased numbers using the rail trail because, the multi use of the corridor was only focused on Byron Shire.
      Never mind that those walkers or cyclists passing through Byron Shire would bring the jobs and small business incomes, but do not bring same the traffic or noise or and other disbenifits of party and festival tourism, nor that they are more likely to be passing through in the quieter cooler months, when there is excess capacity in accommodation and other tourist facilities. Never mind too that we live in an integrated economy in this region, where a benefit in one LGA flows to others.
      Byron Shire is seeking funds to clear the corridor and spend more than half a million just to examine the suitability of bridges for very light rail between Mullumbimby and Byron Bay. The Government has told Byron Shire it will not fund its rail plans, and the draft transport does not anticipate any rail service in the next decade. The Government is willing to allow and fund paths on rail corridors it no longer requires, if there is community support. The community identified a walking and cycling path along the corridor as a priority A in the Bike Plan. Based on the community funded cost in Richmond Valley and Lismore, to do the engineering and business case for a path through the Byron corridor would cost no more than $70,000 and it is something likely to be funded sooner rather than later. I would encourage Byron Shire residents to ask their Council to seek the much more modest amount to do the business case for such a path that will support more sustainable visitations through the Shire. Such a study would of course do the more detailed examination and advise where it is feasible to build the corridor beside the rails.


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