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Melburnians are cancelling their regional holidays and restaurant bookings en masse rather than postponing amid fears they will be in and out of lockdown until the end of the year.
Regional hospitality and tourism operators say this marks a major change in consumer behaviour from previous lockdowns when customers were willing to park their deposits with businesses in the hope of returning later.
Sault restaurant co-owner Damien Aylward.Credit:Joe Armao
Damien Aylward, co-owner of Sault restaurant in Daylesford, said his business had lost thousands of bookings over the fifth and sixth lockdowns. On Thursday night this week all 45 of his bookings were cancelled.
He said customers from Melbourne, who make up to 90 per cent of his clientele, had lost confidence in being able to visit regional Victoria any time soon.
“We’ve found certainly this time around there is far less optimism,” he said.
Mr Aylward called for the government in Victoria to introduce a JobSaver scheme like NSW where eligible businesses affected by lockdown can access fortnightly payments.
Regional businesses are ineligible for most government financial support because they are allowed to open under current restrictions and serve regional customers despite suffering a massive decline in income.
Mr Aylward said his business was in “lockdown by proxy” while Melburnians were unable to visit his venue, which is seven kilometres outside Daylesford.
Many residents of regional Victoria were also cancelling their bookings, Mr Aylward said because they had planned to meet with friends from Melbourne at his restaurant.
On some nights there have been as few as eight patrons at Sault even though it can serve up to 50 under current density limits.
Some nights Mr Aylward closes the doors to his restaurant altogether because of cancelled bookings. Credit:Joe Armao
Often, he just closes the doors altogether because staying open is not worthwhile.
Daylesford Macedon Tourism chief executive Steve Wroe said many other businesses were reporting similar levels of cancellations, including accommodation providers.
“The big challenge this time is instead of postponing, people are cancelling,” he said.
Mr Wroe said in previous lockdowns customers were happy to leave their money with businesses intending to reschedule their holidays, but now those operators do not have access to that cash flow.
“For the first time in the pandemic I’m thinking some businesses will fall over.”
Mark Wrigley, who runs Coastal View Cabins near Wilsons Promontory said during earlier lockdowns, Melburnians were happy to get travel credits which they could use for future bookings.
“During earlier lockdowns they would alter their dates to five or six weeks ahead. Now if they alter their dates it is for next year and most people are fully cancelling,” he said. “It’s not their fault, or my fault, we are all caught in this together.”
Mr Wrigley, who has owned the cabins for a decade, recorded his first loss last year and is expecting to record another one this year.
Victorian tourism operators say Melburnians are cancelling rather than postponing holidays after losing confidence of being released from lockdown. Credit:Paul Jeffers
His four cabins are usually 80 per cent full at this time of the year, but on Thursday, they were all empty. “I’m effectively closed.”
Heather Gleeson, the co-owner of Calgary House and Cottage in Killarney, in south-west Victoria, has also noticed a shift in the attitudes of Melbourne travellers.
“They are just sick of waiting, so they just cancel,” she said. “They don’t know when they will be allowed out. It’s really hard for them.”
Ms Gleeson lost seven bookings during Melbourne’s latest lockdown, costing her business thousands of dollars. Some of these losses have been offset by regional Victorians who have been taking advantage of their freedom and booking week-long stays at her cottage and house.
Victorian tourism is suffering badly with international borders closed and Melbourne in lockdown. Credit:Justin McManus
“No one knows what the future will look like, it could go on and on, we hope things will be better for Christmas.”
Roy Morgan chief executive Michele Levine said the cumulative impact of six lockdowns was eroding people’s desire to make travel plans.
This is reflected in recent holiday tracking data collected by the market research company, which found more than 30 per cent of people had no idea where they wanted to travel in the next two years.
“We’ve got this desire to break out and go somewhere and do something. And on the other hand, we’ve got this kind of desire to be safe and secure and just snuggle in,” she said.
“People can’t see when they’ll be able to travel so they think, ‘why book’?”
She said being able to cancel events and seek refunds was giving Melburnians some sense of control during uncertain times.
“I feel for these tourism operators, it is a really challenging time,” she said.
The state government has been asked for comment.
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