Health fears prompt many to stay in WA

AN unprecedented increase in demand for premium holiday home accommodation in the Margaret River region is coming from an unexpected source – American and British expatriates stationed in Singapore and Hong Kong.

While such visitors have a long-standing connection with the region, there has been a significant rise in enquiries in recent weeks as people look to escape the threat of severe acute respiratory disease (SARS).

The indefinite closure of schools throughout Singapore and Hong Kong has prompted expat families to extend their stay or book short-term accommodation in their favourite WA holiday playground.

The March to April period is traditionally a busy time for premium holiday home rental agencies due to American and British school holidays, however agencies are currently experiencing an unprecedented rush.

Private Properties partner Rosie Harris said her agency had been inundated by calls from American and British families in Hong Kong and Singapore wanting to extend their holidays, some wanting to stay weeks longer than originally planned.

“One woman hasn’t been out of her house for a week, many are frightened they are going to quarantine Hong Kong,” she said.

Ms Harris said in a normal year the agency would have around 25 families hiring holiday homes at this time of the year. This year she expects to have 60 to 70 families through in the March to April period.

“Our market is growing; expats holidaying from Singapore and Hong Kong have grown to more than 35 per cent of our market,” she said.

The agency had specialised in catering to the expat market, Ms Harris said, which preferred top end accommodation, usually in Eagle Bay, and required various services such as cleaning and linen.

“The Margaret River region is really the drawcard with this market, many don’t even see Perth,” she said. “It has an amazing blend of sophistication with a feeling of simple country life.”

Ms Harris said after three or four visits many of her expat clients had forgone short-term accommodation and bought or built their own home in the region.

Buildings by the Bay-Holiday Home Rentals owner/manager Lori Hodge said her agency had experienced a two-fold increase in enquiries flooding in from expat families in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“We are getting to the stage where we are fully booked, which is really different for us at this time of the year,” she said.

Mrs Hodge said a many new customers were from the expat market and the region as a whole seemed to be attracting more international tourists.

“I think it has to do with the way Australia is regarded as a safe destination,” she said.

Growing numbers of expats are choosing to invest in the region and are playing a significant part in pushing up premium prices in the region.

Beachfront lots in the region are currently experiencing a capital growth of 12 to 30 per cent. 

The recent sale of a freehold beach front lot in Bunker Bay experienced a 50 per cent growth over two years and attracted 120 people to the auction, many acting on the behalf of overseas interests.

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