Byron’s coastal tourism operators have been forced to ask Council for significant rent reductions and licence extensions owing to a dramatic, COVID-related downturn in business.
Six businesses, including three surf schools, a kayak tour operator, a horse riding tour operator and a surf shop have all written to Council asking for help to keep their operations afloat.
Councillors will vote on these requests when the matter comes before this week’s full Council meeting.
The staff report contained within the meeting agenda reveals that a combination of international border closures and the reluctance of domestic visitors to pay for coastal tourism activities has resulted in ‘the quietest winter trade in 14 years’.
In a letter supporting the kayak operator’s application, Destination North Coast also said that many businesses appeared to have received little if any benefit from State Government’s Dine and Discover voucher program.
‘Anecdotal feedback indicates that many of the targeted businesses are not benefitting as intended,’ the organisation’s General Manager, Michael Thurston, said.
‘As a result, it remains a big challenge for products such as these to attract and convert sales from the domestic market.
‘Ensuring that they remain viable throughout this period until international tourists return is vital for the rebuilding process.’
As part of their applications, the operators asked for an extension of their sub-licences with the Council, of up to six years.
But this request was summarily dismissed by the NSW Planning Department, which must approve any variation in sub-licences in coastal zones.
Instead, the department gave permission for a maximum 12-month licence extension.
The process of applying for sub-licences, particularly among local surf schools, is extremely competitive, and any significant increase to the licences without a formal tender process would be likely to produce a hail of protest from other local operators.
Council staff have recommended that councillors vote to approve the one-year extension, but only after a 28-day public consultation period has been completed.
However, it appears that the tourism operators will have more luck with their requests for rent relief.
Council staff have recommended that councillors vote to authorise Council’s General Manager, Mark Arnold, to negotiate rent relief with the operators and the surf shop for ‘any period between March 29 and December 31, 2021’.