Tourism-based businesses suffer during lockdown despite bumper winter business

IMPACT: EP Cruises felt the effect of the statewide lockdown through the loss of bookings. Photo: EP Cruises
IMPACT: EP Cruises felt the effect of the statewide lockdown through the loss of bookings. Photo: EP Cruises

Tourism operators on the Eyre Peninsula were thrown into turmoil last week with the lockdown affecting a number of businesses, some who had been experiencing their best winter trading yet.

On the West Coast, Fowlers Bay-based EP Cruises was hit hard by the statewide lockdown.

The company provides whale watching tours at Fowlers Bay during the winter months, when the annual migration of whales to South Australian waters occurs and they mate, give birth and nurse their young.

Owner Rod Keogh said what had been a great season before the lockdown had dramatically changed.

"We were having our best ever season with passenger numbers, and whale numbers were strong," he said.

"Our loss is significant. We are so far from the city, and far out regionally that people have decided to head home.

"We are seeing the damage now, with August and September bookings dwindling."

Mr Keogh said the boat was out in the bay every day at this time of year, giving people the chance to see whales up close, but the lockdown had put a severe dent in business.

"Over the seven days we would have had 350 passengers, with more bookings on top of that," he said.

"That is $25,000 in bookings gone in a few days.

"Hopefully it all opens up again and we recover, but we have lost passengers on the way."

On Lower Eyre Peninsula, Australian Coastal Safaris, a personalised travel itinerary company based in Port Lincoln, has felt the impact on numbers since the closure of borders with New South Wales and Victoria.

Owner David Doudle said while the company was already impacted with the border closures, the most recent lockdown was another blow.

"This on top of that was more of a double-whammy, we just can't operate," he said.

"People actually arrived Tuesday morning and then had to go back to Adelaide.

"We have 10 people due to rock up Thursday for a four-day trip, which was a $26,000 booking, and your guess is as good as mine if it still happens."

The state government announced a $3000 emergency cash grant for small and medium sized businesses that suffered a significant loss of income or were forced to close during lockdown

However Mr Doudle said the emergency funding was just a "band-aid solution", as the business had to cover wages as well as overheads and other costs.

"There's the mental struggle with everything such as replying with emails, whether it's refunding or trying to re-book, working with our calendar or the client's calendar, it's very frustrating," he said.

"We don't know where we are compared to where we were seven months ago or even one month ago when lockdowns were in place (interstate), let alone 12 months ago."

In Kimba, Olive House accommodation owner Hannah Woolford said they had cancellations not just for the last week during lockdown, but for next month as well.

"We've had about $2000 worth of cancellations, but we are pretty lucky compared to some...some cancellations did get rebooked," she said.

"The only time we really suffer is when the lockdowns happen.

"We're trying to promote tourism...and most of our cancellations were tourists."

Ms Woolford said they had definitely been getting in more travelers alongside other bookings for workers, and that business, up until the lockdown had been "flat out".

While she said she considers herself lucky, her business did miss out on the emergency cash grant during lockdown because their annual turnover wasn't high enough, and she said she wondered if many small businesses like hers received any assistance.