21/01/2009 - 22:00

A trip into the unknown

21/01/2009 - 22:00

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Businesses operators in the South West are expecting a contraction in trade

A trip into the unknown

TOURISM in the south of the state is facing an uphill battle despite some buoyant Christmas trading figures, as operators in the region look towards an uncertain future.

Whether it's accommodation providers, conference bookings or diners in restaurants, there are indications that an earlier-than-usual drop-off in patrons at this time of year is a direct result of the economic slowdown; and there's more to come.

It wasn't such a bad holiday season for Mike Gadd, co-owner of Margaret River restaurant Wino's, however.

He said the reasonably healthy trading levels at Wino's flowed from many people's decision to cut back on international travel and take their holidays closer to home.

"One thing I did notice, though, was I was turning away far fewer people," Mr Gadd told Business Class.

"Normally it's really, really busy. So we were still sitting our numbers over Chrissy but the thing I did notice, because we make note of our turnaways - how many people we turn away for a night - and that was what was way down.

"If you look at other Christmas periods, we've always competed against other restaurants that were open, whereas this Christmas our main competition was closed for renovations.

"I was ready to have a lot of annoyed people who didn't have a place to go and eat and I was actually really surprised with how many I did turn away, which means if the other place was open, what would my Christmas had been like?"

Mr Gadd believes Margaret River has been insulated from the worst of the economic ups and downs for the past 20 years, but his future outlook is not so positive.

"I think there's a nervousness in the community going forward. What's going to happen? Are we going to be alright? That's the attitude down here," he said.

"I'm a bit nervous looking forward as well."

It's a sentiment shared by Drew Bernhardt, general manager of the award winning boutique hotel, Cape Lodge.

"It's going be a tough year, I think, with all the research we've done with inbound tour operators and everyone saying that it's still a little unknown," Mr Bernhardt said.

"We're normally bursting at the seams at this time, and that usually lasts until the 15th or 20th of January and this year it seems to have slowed from around the 10th.

"Our next few months are still showing a 20 per cent decrease on future bookings."

According to Mr Bernhardt, last-minute short-stay bookings from Perth travellers seem to be the emerging trend.

Tourism Council WA president and Seashells Hospitality Group general manger Paul King believes the worst is yet to come.

"We are faced with far greater issues when you look at the global economic situation than we were with 9/11 and Sars and Ansett," Mr King said.

"Several large corporate accounts who use our Seashells Mandurah have delayed or cancelled contracts to use our facilities for meetings for 2009, which may be a sign of the challenges ahead."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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