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Tourism operators struggle on

DRIVE through the South West, particularly the coastal and wine areas, and it is easy to see the growth in the tourism industry.

However, behind the new paint work lie a number of alarming trends that could force some tourism operators to ship out to more lucrative ventures.

While tourism number are increasing at a strong rate, the developments coming on stream are undercutting the room rates of existing hotels and resorts.

A number of resorts have gone into receivership with others likely to follow in the next two years as the number of rooms available more than doubles with an increase of some 2,000 rooms.

While existing operators are finding it tough, now may be a good time to find a bargain as properties under receivership sell for under replacement cost.

Geographe Bayview Resort general manger, Aidan Midgley said times were the toughest they had been for some time in the South West.

“We live day to day here,” he said.

“In the past year alone, some operators have seen their occupancy rate fall from a healthy 72 per cent to an average of 50 per cent.

“If you are operating at a 50 per cent occupancy than you are not making any money.”

Larger operators, in particular, are finding it difficult, particularly if they are trying to maintain four or five star facilities.

The WA Tourism Commission Tourism Develop-ment Register shows that, in the year to June 1999, only five projects were completed to a value of $4.4 million. However, another $219 million worth of work is in the planning stage while more than $100 million is under construction.

Mr Midgley said developers did not care about what the future of the industry was in the South West.

The concern for operators such as the Geographe Bayview Resort is also in standards and practices which, in some cases, are not necessarily up to scratch.

There have been instances of new operators moving into potentially lucrative target markets such the MICE industry (meeting, incentives, conferences and events industry) without having the expertise or capacity to do the work properly.

“They can do the whole industry a disservice,” Mr Midgley said.

A strategic alliance group has been formed between various tourist operators and government to help address the problems the South West industry faces as a result of the influx of properties.

Besides the issue of increasing the marketing of the South West, particularly overseas, a problem also arises with finding adequately trained staff to fill the growing number of jobs on offer.

Already there are almost 3,000 people employed in the provision of accommodation, café and restaurant services, many of whom are locals who do not choose the work as a career but as a way to earn some cash until a ‘real’ job comes along.

While the employment issue is not unique to the South West, it is compounded by a lack of locally skilled people meaning staff often need to be sourced from Perth.

In order to address this problem the Strategic Alliance Group is working alongside South West TAFE to train the staff to fill the roles.

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