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Rotto winter weekenders prove popular

TRADITIONALLY Perth’s summer holiday playground, Rottnest Island isn’t usually associated with blazing fires, lush green landscapes and quiet relaxation. But that’s all changing.

For the past three years, the Rottnest Island Authority (RIA), the Rottnest Island Business Community (RIBC) and the WATC have been working hard to sell the sun-drenched island as a winter destination. And it looks like it’s working.

According to the RIA’s director of tourist service, Peter Purves, the number of packages sold so far this year is more than double that for the previous season.

“When we first introduced the Winter Breaks packages three years ago we probably sold in the vicinity of 200,” Mr Purves said.

“Last year we increased that to around 300. And this year, I’m very pleased to say, we have sold in excess of 800 packages.”

RIA has heavily promoted the island as a winter getaway destination this year with marketing in the print media on an almost fortnightly basis, and inclusion in WATC’s Winter Breaks promotion.

The island suffers a dramatic fall-off in tourist numbers during the winter period, with occupancy dropping as low as 40 per cent, as opposed to the 99 per cent occupancy rates in the summer months.

“It’s often difficult for people to have a holiday on the island during the summer because of the demand for accommodation,” Mr Purves said.

“One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is to make people aware that they can have a holiday on the island, but it may not be December or January in the peak period.

“To do that, of course, we’ve had to encourage people to come across during the shoulder season, and the winter season in particular. That’s where the WATC’s Magic Breaks campaign comes in as well.”

Although traditionally thought of as a summer destination, thanks to the plethora of marine activities and the lure of the crystal clear water, Rottnest in the winter can be just as inviting, albeit for very different reasons.

“During the winter we tend to get a different part of the market. It is more, perhaps, for people wanting to relax, get into some mode of solitude or just sit in front of a fire and curl up with a book,” Mr Purves said.

“The whole presentation of Rottnest changes in the winter. It’s much greener and the vistas you get in winter are very different than you get in summer.

“People often say there is nothing to do, but the island comes to life during the winter.

“There’s always activities of some sort and all of the businesses operate throughout the year.”

The promotion of Rottnest as a winter destination has never been more successful than this winter, a fact Mr Purves puts down to strong marketing, cheaper accommodation, flexible packages and upgrades of island facilities (to include gas heating).

Average accommodation prices drop around 30 per

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cent in the winter months, and the ‘Magic’ packages have been made to be extremely flexible. Visitors can delay their arrival if they think the weather is bad, and also can extend their stay if the weather’s looking good during their time on the island.

“The convenience factor is a big benefit. Rottnest is close, so there’s no great distance to cover and you’re not far from home,” Mr Purves said.

The weather also has played a role in boosting numbers for Rottnest guests this winter. While a lack of rain may be bad news for farmers, for the RIA it’s an unexpected bonus, helping to lure more tourists into weekend getaways.

Surprisingly, another factor Mr Purves believes has contributed to this winter’s record numbers is the price of fuel.

“Instead of jumping in their car and driving 400 or 500 kilometres down to the South West or even up north, its made people stop and think, ‘well, do I really want to do that or do I want to spend the same amount of money and have a holiday in my own back yard,’” he said.

It may seem odd to consider Rottnest in competition with the South West as a tourist destination, but both regions suffer a downturn in numbers during the winter season.

John Lynch, the marketing manager for Assured Hospitality (owners of the Margaret’s Beach Resort and Margaret’s Forrest, as well as several Perth properties) said there was a significant downturn in business during winter.

“There’s a drop of more than 50 per cent at times,” he said.

“We’ve got 93 suites in the Margaret’s Beach Resort and we were working this week on 23 per cent occupancy. So we’ve had 25 rooms rented all week.

“January right through to April you can barely get a room anywhere, and once the kids go back from the April school holidays, the market walks away.

“There are a lot of people going away for romantic weekends, but the volume is small overall.

“The issue is, although weekends stay pretty healthy, that the 50 per cent drop is, in the main, week business. You can drive past the car parks of all the hotels in Margaret River on a Tuesday morning and note that there are no cars in them, that’s when it’s all very quite and that’s the business that we particularly pursue.

“It’s extremely important to try to up the numbers of people staying in the winter time. You’ve still got to pay the bills. The property is still operating, we’ve got fixed salaries.”

So dramatic is the change in demand that Mr Lynch said while there was nothing for the marketing team to do during the summer months, the current workload was huge. To this end, like Rottnest accommodation owners, businesses in the South West have been actively persuing a winter market in recent years.

A common marketing tool is the use of the WATC Winter Breaks catalogue and promotion. According to Mr Lynch, however, the promotion no longer packs the punch it once did.

“It has been an interesting trend,” he said.

“In 1999 we saw just a phenomenal amount of business from the Winter Breaks. In 2000 it had fallen to half of what it had generated from 1999.

“At the end of the day, the Winter Breaks catalogue started off really well, but seems to have fallen somewhat.”

Mr Lynch said that although bookings from the promotion were not as frequent as they once were, the Winter Breaks concept still represented the best value for the advertising dollar in town.

“You are talking about something that pays for itself a hundred times over. There is nothing out there that we could spend that amount of money on that would give us that amount of business,” he said.

“It is just fantastic, it is very competitive in terms of rate.”

But relying solely on the government to promote business would be foolhardy, Mr Lynch said.

“The Winter Breaks is an initiative, but we don’t expect the WATC to bring us business. We expect our region to bring us business,” he said.

Like every private enterprise, marketing outside these perimeters is a must.

Mr Lynch promotes the group’s activities within the Winter Breaks promotion while also taking on other, unrelated projects in an attempt to boost rainy day numbers.

“We have taken a lot of advertising that supports Winter Breaks, rather than relying on WATC to do everything. We’ve done a lot of advertising ourselves,” he said.

“We’ve done radio every week since the brochure came out the first weekend in May.

“Radio was a big one we did this year which paid off. It was very expensive but we have seen a real recovery for Winter Breaks.”

The Assured Hospitality group has also taken advantage of technology to boost its winter numbers.

“The travelling market for Margaret River for winter is largely a pretty high-end market. We find it is really young, urban professional market that dominates, along with self-funded retirees. These are all people who are very Internet literate,” Mr Lynch said.

“The percentage that is coming through the Internet is very high, around 20 per cent

“We try to list very high on the search engines.”

Another important point of sale for getting tourists to visit the region during the winter period is the push to highlight activities other than the traditional wineries and surfing.

“People say you’re either a wine buff or you’re a skeg, but somewhere in between that is a lot of market that still is going through our area,” Mr Lynch said.

“There are loads of great outdoor things (to do) like bush walking, abseiling, rock climbing ...”

Mr Lynch believes the region itself needs to diversify and push other activities to attract a greater winter audience.

“The region needs to open itself up and look at all the other fabulous features we’ve got apart from wine,” he said.

While appreciative of the State Government’s assistance in promoting tourism, Mr Lynch is proactive with regard to individual region’s responsibilities.

“I think the marketing in the winter really should be the job of the region,” he said. “The government’s job should be to market the State.

“It’s the region and its operators who really need to make the effort.”

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