11/01/2005 - 21:00

Numbers swell in Margaret River

11/01/2005 - 21:00


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THAT there’s no shortage of things to do in the Margaret River region is news to no-one. What seems to be in short supply, however, is parking spots for the punters, and staff for the businesses they are visiting.

Numbers swell in Margaret River

THAT there’s no shortage of things to do in the Margaret River region is news to no-one. What seems to be in short supply, however, is parking spots for the punters, and staff for the businesses they are visiting.

At least that’s the story Gusto has been hearing following the recent Christmas break.

Several Margaret River businesses recorded record numbers and turnover during the Christmas and new year period.

Peter Rigby, who spent a decade with the Margaret River Visitors Centre and is establishing his own marketing company, Rigby Transmedia, says the period from Christmas to New Year’s Day was the busiest he’s seen the region in the past 10 years.

“It’s always been busy this time of year but it was hard to find car parking this year. It was just that busy,” he says.

“I think there were some places that had trouble catering to the demand, particularly winery restaurants, because it was so busy.

“I think it will continue and it’s something for businesses to look at here and see how they will cope with the demand going forward.”

Voyager Estate cellar door manager Sean Blocksidge says the winery has been busier than past years and that people are spending more money.

He says about 1,000 people visited the property each day, with the 100-seat restaurant catering for 200 guests daily.

“Fortunately people understand at this time of year bookings are essential and we have the ability to turnover tables, so quite often people are very happy to eat at 4pm,” Mr Blocksidge says.

“There’s a bit of a funny story because when Michael Wright [Voyager Estate owner] opened the cellar door in 1997 he wasn’t sure if anyone would come.

“In 2004 we had 1,000 people coming in each day.

“I’m hearing that established businesses are up about 20 per cent and we are having days where we are up 100 per cent in cellar door and restaurant sales.

“We had four record days since Christmas and it seems like one lot went back after new year and another lot has come down.”

Other operators say they did the same numbers as previous years, although several new properties that opened in 2004 took up some of the increased trade.

They include Dome Coffees Australia, The Good Oil, Bunker Bay Resort, Busselton’s The Goose Restaurant and, of course, Margaret River’s newest brewery, Colonial Brewing Co.

Colonial Brewing Co food and beverage manager Shane Stirling says the venue coped well with the 300-plus people who turned up for lunch each day.

He anticipates a busy next six months with two hectares of licensed lawn area providing the perfect setting for concerts and events, such as the reggae festival held this week.

Vat 107 owner Jenny Spencer says renovations are planned this year for the venue.

The restaurant was booked out 12 days in a row over the holidays.

The renovation follows recent upgrades to Vat 107’s four hotel rooms.  She also says the increased number of venues may make winter, which is usually a quieter time, even slower than usual.

“Last winter was terrible, it was the worst one we’ve had,” Ms Spencer says.

She says the hardest problem is finding and retaining skilled staff.

It’s a problem faced by many hospi-tality operators in the South West.

Pro Busselton director and Busselton Chamber of Commerce director Ray McMillan says research undertaken by the chamber six months ago indicated a shortage of 500 people throughout the hospitality sector.

“The pressure is usually felt in December but this year people started to feel it in September and October because they couldn’t fill the summer jobs,” he says.

“The resort at Bunker Bay created an immediate impact and there are a number of developments and restaurants that have opened.”

Mr McMillan says the down time over winter has shortened to a period of three months rather than the six months of years gone past.

According to Amberley marketing manager Robyn Birch, staffing has always been a problem, but it’s worsening as more new properties open and offer workers attractive hours.

Mr Blocksidge agrees staffing is one of the region’s biggest issues.

“We’ve had staff that haven’t had a day off since Christmas but we’re managing it by letting people come in for a few hours then they can duck off to the beach and come back and that sort of thing,” he says.


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