09/01/2007 - 22:00

South West icon soaks it up

09/01/2007 - 22:00

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Margaret River has lived up to its reputation as Western Australia’s summer holiday boom town, with the 2006-07 tourist pilgrimage easily soaking up the additional beds and dining tables that popped up during a flurry of accommodation and restaurant openi

South West icon soaks it up

Margaret River has lived up to its reputation as Western Australia’s summer holiday boom town, with the 2006-07 tourist pilgrimage easily soaking up the additional beds and dining tables that popped up during a flurry of accommodation and restaurant openings last year.

Figures from the Augusta Margaret River Tourism Association show a 19 per cent increase in the number of people visiting the Margaret River Visitor Centre, highlighting the town’s increasing popularity as a summer retreat.

More than 12,000 people visited the information centre between December 26 and January 3, compared with about 10,000 the year earlier.

Glenn Smith has operated Margaret River Sails Café on the town’s main street for the past four years.

He says his cafe did a roaring trade over Christmas and New Year, despite several new competitors opening up in the recent months.

“It’s almost twice as busy as last year,” Mr Smith says.

“The year before it was the week between Christmas and New Year that was crazy and then it died away, but this year people have hung around. It hasn’t slowed up yet.”

While the increased tourist traffic is embraced by Margaret River’s local businesses, restaurateur Kate Lamont says finding enough staff to cater to the growing demand has become problematic.

“We can’t trade for dinner because we simply don’t have a big enough pool of staff available,” she says.

“Staffing is a dilemma for the industry right now.”

Ms Lamont says the restaurant has been extremely busy, with customer numbers similar to the 2005-06 summer.

Watershed Premium Wines managing director Geoff Barrett says the busy Christmas period has helped cap off a strong six months for the winery.

He says cellar door sales for the six months to December 31 are up 57 per cent compared with the same period 12 months earlier.

Yet some businesses say numbers are down on the record-breaking 2005 season, during which tourists flocked to the shops, cafes and wineries because the cooler weather made the beach less enticing.

Cowaramup’s Candy Cow managing director Jane Bennett says an earlier finish to the school year meant the ‘down south’ rush was not as chaotic as 2005.

While the sweets shop has been busy, she says the warmer weather has attracted more people to the surf.

“We have had a good month but it was quieter than the previous year,” Ms Bennett told Gusto.

For Martin Black, co-founder of the Margaret River Chocolate Company, the festive season was slow to kick in, but the first few trading days of the New Year were the busiest his business has ever experienced.

“Funnily enough, the lead up before Christmas and just after was not as manic as usual, but since January 1 it has gone nuts,” Mr Black says. “We have had some of the busiest days we’ve ever had.

“We are a weather related business and the first few days of the New Year have been a lot cooler and it certainly went up another gear on the year before.”

Cullen Wines’ Vanya Cullen says the region has also benefited from the influx of English cricket supporters, who travelled to the area in the lead up the Ashes test at the WACA prior to Christmas.

But several business operators say that, while increasing tourist numbers is good news for the region, the extra profit being generated as a result is being eaten up by increasing costs, particularly staff wages.

For Mr Smith, running a cafe during the silly season certainly has benefits.

Instead of struggling to find a car park on the main street and fighting the crowds in the congested shops and supermarket, he orders his fruit and veg through the restaurant, with his food for the week turning up on the doorstep at work

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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