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TOURISM BURNT BY BUSH FIRES Featured
30 January 2020 Posted by 

TOURISM BURNT BY BUSH FIRES

Businesses plan their recovery
ELIZABETH FRIAS
JOSH Pilkington sells meat pies along the Bells Line of Road while Michael Sperling hosts farm-stay tourists on his idyllic 10 acres in Bilpin, a popular route for sweet apples two hours west of Sydney.

Both businessmen lost significant incomes since raging bushfires from Gosper’s Mountain and Grose River Valley jumped to their small town of about 1000 razing to the ground a café and orchards.
 
The road to Bilpin from Richmond in the northwest and Mt Victoria in the west has been off-limits to tourists since Christmas last year for safety precautions.
 
Rains finally came in January and businesses hoped for two things to save themselves: customers and cash flow.
 
“Cash flow is not coming right now in Katoomba and the lack of it is going to be a huge problem for every business owner,” Mr Sperling said. “Business either have a cash reserve and if there is none, then they will struggle tremendously without immediate government support.”
 
As Bilpin Country Lodge’s owner, Mr Sperling knows how it goes in the industry being the executive officer of the Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association (BMATA).
 
The association’s 140 members scattered in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains are rallying for feasible plans to encourage people to spend and support bushfire-hit towns.
 
He decried the flow-on effect on small business chains such as the butcher, grocery store, travel agents, car mechanics, restaurants, take-away shops and those relying on flourishing tourism industry that employs and drives the economy in regions.
 
“I am not yet affected by cash flow matters but cafes have told me they can only go on up to two months,” Mr Sperling.
 
And after that? “That’s four to eight weeks to recover or business shuts down,” he said. “This bushfire is a serious economic and business emergency. It’s affected us since November it can go on until later and that length of time is causing big income problem.”
 
Ninety percent of visitor’s bookings were already lost or cancelled as fires ripped through the Blue Mountains especially in Bilpin, which was isolated from passing trade by roadblocks, Mr Sperling said.
 
Locals can’t wait
 
Prior to the bushfires, Destination NSW’s latest survey showed the Blue Mountains region picked up 8.3 percent of the 1.3 million visitors to NSW from July 2018 to June 2019.
 
Nearly 10 percent of these tourists stayed two and a half days in the region spending a minimum $155 each.
 
About 116,000 international visitors came contributing nearly $49M last year. The region is the 4th most visited in NSW.
 
Mr Pilkington said he hoped visitors would “spend a bit” on coffee and pies at his roadside eatery and other businesses in Bilpin to help make a difference.
 
The locals couldn't wait to do something so Mr Sperling said they started the “Back to Bilpin” campaign because they thought “we’ve got to get people visiting us again.”
 
The campaign was planned with Hawkesbury councillor Sarah Richards who coined the hashtag and made them visible in social media, Lionel Buckett of Wollemi Wilderness
Cabins and locals Michael and Jane Hughes.
 
On Facebook, the apple town raked thousands of likes, with Mr Pilkington’s pies among the popular posts, particularly in his local MP, Robyn Preston’s social page.
 
“They’ve helped us so we’ve been busy since Boxing Day as people come up from the city and it’s nice because it shows they support us,” he said.
 
Visitors also come in hordes curious to see the destruction wrought by the fires – burnt apple trees, plums, fences, flower gardens and properties unrecognisable in ashes.
 
Mr Sperling said the Morrison government's announcement of $76m funding grant for small tourism business was a good start for the bushfire recovery and rebuilding of their town.
 
Up to $50,000 grant can be accessed by small tourism operators and loans up to $500,000 for big businesses has been announced for regions severely destroyed by the bushfires.
 
The funding can also be spent on regional tourism marketing campaigns and hosting of events to promote tourist destinations affected by the bushfires.

Meet Me At The Mountains
 
The Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association, a large group of tourism operators in the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury, Penrith, Lithgow and Oberon, has launched on Facebook and Instagram another grassroots campaign, “Meet me @ the Blue Mountains”, showcasing a myriad of places, events and activities to see and do in their towns after the bushfires had subsided. “’Meet me @ the Blue Mountains’ grew at the back of ‘Back to Bilpin’ campaign so now the whole community, Councils, business chambers and businesses in these towns are working together to let the whole world know that we are welcoming them back,” BMATA Executive Officer Michael Sperling said.


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