Borders reopen but South Coast operators not expecting tourist influx | Illawarra Mercury

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Prior to COVID-19, between two and six buses of international tourists a day would turn up to Jervis Bay cruise operator Dolphin Watch Cruises. The company’s sister business, travel agency Discover Jervis Bay, had been working for 15 years to put Jervis Bay on the map for international visitors, next to Sydney Harbor and the Great Barrier Reef. Read more: Hoons caught going 170km/h at Yallah in separate incidents All this work evaporated in 2020, when the international border closed and tourists could no longer visit Australia from overseas. Now with the border open again to vaccinated visitors, manager Jet Jones said the staff are hopeful for a return to pre-COVID conditions but know that tourism numbers – and spending – won’t return overnight. “We’re quietly optimistic rather than putting on party hats and dancing around at this point,” he said. On February 7, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that borders would be open to vaccinated travelers from February 21. Unvaccinated travelers would need to apply for a travel exemption and undergo hotel quarantine. For the Illawarra and South Coast tourism sector, one of the sectors hardest hit economically by the pandemic, the reopening provides some certainty and enables them to recover from two years of COVID and losses from the bushfires prior to that. According to Regional Development Australia Illawarra, the economic impact in the three months to June 2020 alone was in the hundreds of millions. “That is a sizable hit, when you consider that was only the first few months of the pandemic,” said CEO Debra Murphy. Planeloads of tourists are not expected to be landing at Sydney Airport from late February. The first to arrive in significant numbers are thought to be international students, along with business travelers and family members who may not have seen each other for the best part of two years. For businesses in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, their proximity to major population centers such as Sydney will put them in a good position to capitalise on these earlier visitors. “We’ve got all of Australia’s best hit in one road trip down here,” said Mr Jones “If you want Australian culture, dolphins and whales and white sands, people think you have to go all over Australia to get that, but you can get them all in a trip from Wollongong to Jervis Bay.” Read more: Eurovision royalty bringing glitz and glamor to Wollongong Ms Murphy said that tourists will also be inclined to travel outside of the capital cities and stay in a regional area overnight, increasing their contribution to the local economy. While domestic tourism has helped keep Dolphin Watch Cruises alive throughout 2020 and 2021, a lot of work will now be going into rebuilding the international connections that drew visitors to Jervis Bay to not just go on a cruise but to shop and dine in places like Huskisson . “We’re rebooting our international inbound side of the business, and we’re working with other local businesses in the region as well to get them export ready,” said Mr Jones. Although pilot programs have returned international students and a bubble was temporarily opened with New Zealand, the tone and timing of the current announcement gives confidence that this reopening will be more permanent, said Ms Murphy. “The sentiment of governments wanting to keep borders open now is much stronger. That’s clear. But we’ve had curveballs thrown at us in terms of different variants. So, if we get another curveball, will that change? Who knows?” To read more stories, download the Illawarra Mercury news app in the Apple Store or Google Play. Sign up for breaking news emails below…

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