Taronga Western Plains Zoo guest numbers took a hit in the July school holidays as both the Greater Sydney COVID-19 lockdown and cold and wet weather had an effect, the organisation's boss says.
Visitation at Dubbo's premier tourist attraction was down 60 per cent on last year's July school holidays, zoo director Steve Hinks reported, noting the winter break in 2020 was a record high.
Despite the quieter time earlier this month, he's expecting a turnaround at the spring vacation and that when lockdown ends, regional tourism will experience strong demand and "likely" lead economic recovery, just as it did last year.
Since the Greater Sydney lockdown was announced on June 26 amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak and then stay-at-home orders were put in place for Orange, several accommodation providers at Dubbo have reported of a drop in bookings, while hospitality industry members have told of business slowing.
On Monday the zoo revealed the extent of the lockdown's bearing on it.
"Visitation numbers over the July school holidays were heavily impacted by the lockdown for the Greater Sydney region but also the weather played a significant role," Mr Hinks said.
Visitation numbers over the July school holidays were heavily impacted by the lockdown for the Greater Sydney region but also the weather played a significant role.Zoo director Steve Hinks
"We experienced a number of days of much-needed rain but also very cold weather which obviously impacts on outdoor attractions like the zoo.
"The zoo was down 60 per cent on the previous July school holidays however, last year was a record school holiday period and was the first school holiday period post lockdown in NSW.
"So regional areas benefited from an influx of visitors looking to explore NSW [in 2020].
"We anticipate what we missed from the July school holiday period we will pick up in the next school holidays and that the boost to regional tourism will happen again post this lockdown, especially if state borders remain closed to NSW residents."
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There was also some encouraging interest from the market closer to home.
"We have seen a number of cancellations for our accommodation, but at the same time we have taken bookings from regional visitors looking to explore our part of the state," Mr Hinks said.
"If anyone has been thinking about a stay at Zoofari Lodge but previously hadn't been able to book in, now is a great time to take advantage of these cancellations."
Mr Hinks remains optimistic for the sector and the region, despite the setback of NSW's latest COVID-19 outbreak.
"We know tourism plays an important role in the overall economic success of our region and contributes over $300 million annually to the local economy," he said.
"While this is a significant impact in the short term, as we saw last year it was tourism that led the recovery from the last lockdown and it will likely do the same again.
While this is a significant impact in the short term, as we saw last year it was tourism that led the recovery from the last lockdown and it will likely do the same again.Zoo director Steve Hinks
"Also with international borders remaining closed this will also see regional tourism continue to benefit especially once state borders reopen and Australians can travel more freely in our country again."
On Monday a Dubbo Regional Council spokeswoman said it was looking at an average of 64 per cent occupancy across surveyed accommodation operators during the school holiday period.
Data for the full month was not yet available, but 2017 to 2019 saw an average of 79.1 per cent in July, so occupancy was estimated to have fallen by at least 10 per cent at this stage, she said.
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