Bring on winter wonder: Narooma Businesses

Narooma's businesses copped the double whammy of bushfires and COVID-19. After speaking with operators, they shared how they're coping ...

Big4 Narooma Easts Holiday Park

Fourth generation "parkie", Corinne East described both closures during the bushfires and pandemic as "traumatic".

"We had to evacuate everyone and were closed for two weeks during bushfires, which was the busiest time for the whole town," she said.

Corinne East with her mother Dianne, father Phillip and sister Teaghan Abbott of Easts Holiday Parks.

Corinne East with her mother Dianne, father Phillip and sister Teaghan Abbott of Easts Holiday Parks.

Ms East manages the park with her family and said business was just starting to get back on its feet before the coronavirus shutdown.

"It was a real kick in the guts as far as timing goes," she said.

"People were ringing up to cancel their holiday after being so keen to visit and support the community after the bushfires. It was sad, but nice to know we had wider community support."

The Easts parks at Batemans Bay, Moruya Heads and Narooma reopened in time for the June long weekend. Ms East said many were excited to be the first to book, although others were still nervous to head out.

She said the weekend was a "bit of a boost" and had a feeling of normality again, but was no "long-term fix". With the July school holidays ahead, Ms East hoped the waterpark at Narooma could operate again.

"It's a huge drawcard for this time of year, being indoor and heated," she said.

Ms East said it was tough to miss the Christmas, Easter and April school holiday income and hoped tourists chose the South Coast as their next destination.

"We hope people remember bushfire-affected communities, and that they do come back and support us," she said.

Ms East said it was a scramble to reopen for the June easing of restrictions.

"There was a lack of information and procedures for when we opened up," she said.

"We were waiting to find out what we were having to put in place to safely open. Not having that information ahead of time was frustrating."

She said staff were excited to get back to work and hoped the government would continue financial support.

"The continuing financial assistance is huge, considering the trade all businesses have lost over the past six months."

She felt assistance from the council with rent decreases would be helpful for shire businesses, as well as a local tourism marketing campaign.

The Inlet

Owner Andrew Stewart said the takeaway-side of the business was doing well, but staff were not quite ready to restart the sit-down dining experience just yet.

The coronavirus pandemic had a huge impact on staff wellbeing, Mr Stewart said.

"It has had a huge affect on staff, not knowing if they had a job from one week to the next and some have vulnerable people they live with, so have been nervous coming back to work," he said.

He was thankful for the information from government on how to safely operate in the changed COVID times.

BE VIGILANT: Andrew Stewart, owner of The Inlet at Narooma. Photo: Sylvia Liber.

BE VIGILANT: Andrew Stewart, owner of The Inlet at Narooma. Photo: Sylvia Liber.

Mr Stewart said some "out-of towners", in particular the elderly, were having a difficult time respecting rules.

"It's disappointing to see some people don't care, especially since businesses have been shut down and jobs lost," he said.

"It has been a massive turmoil for everybody, and I just want people to follow the guidelines."

He said the business was coming into the off season, but was pleased to be pumping out meals in school holiday numbers.

"I think the hard times are still yet to come," he said.

"The local support has been amazing, we wouldn't have been able to do it without that support," he said.

Mr Stewart said less contact in-store quickly became customers' preference: "We went from having 10 phone orders a day, to now 50 percent of orders done over the phone."

He started an online-ordering option for takeaway, where customers could see photos of the menu and pay online.

Tilba Valley Winery & Ale House

Owners Carly Smith and brother Jamie opened for the first time since the lockdown on Friday, June 5.

Ms Smith described the bushfires and pandemic as "a double whammy".

"We haven't quite been here for two years and lost a whole summer trade and Easter," she said.

Family and friends enjoy a Sunday session with live music at the Tilba Valley Winery & Ale House.

Family and friends enjoy a Sunday session with live music at the Tilba Valley Winery & Ale House.

"We were looking forward to seeing the potential of the place after we built it up over the past 18 months; we will just keep on keeping on."

The winery turned to online orders and local deliveries to keep them afloat throughout the lockdown.

"We will definitely keep the online side of things going for the future, but our focus is on events, weddings and live music," Ms Smith said.

Dromedary Hotel

Owners Susan Gray and Jeremy Corfield said people came back in droves to support the pub and Tilba after the bushfires.

"In February, peoples' attitudes turned positive towards spending money in town," Ms Gray said.

But when the pandemic hit, Ms Gray said the business took a huge blow.

We are concerned about the lack of accommodation availability around town ...

Susan Gray - Dromedary Hotel, Tilba

"If we didn't have JobKeeper - we would have had a different outcome," she said.

The pub started offering takeaway food which became very popular.

"We are going to continue doing takeaway food," Ms Gray said.

"There's a real market for it, so we are grateful of the COVID situation to identify that for us going forward."

The Dromedary Hotel.

The Dromedary Hotel.

After the hive of activity over the June long weekend, Ms Gray wants to see restrictions ease further, allowing the pub to hold more than 50 people.

"We had an amazing turnout over the long weekend - but struggled keeping numbers under 50," she said.

"It has been a difficult thing to stick to the guidelines - but I feel we did well."

"We can't wait for the 50 limit to be lifted. I am cautiously optimistic after the long weekend, hoping we can get back to normal as soon as we can."

Over the next few months, Ms Gray said Tilba's tourism looked promising, but was concerned there was not enough accommodation.

"We are concerned about the lack of accommodation availability around town," she said.

"There's not enough good accommodation in Tilba to meet the demand."

She was also concerned that JobKeeper would end too soon.

She hoped there would be future tourism marketing campaigns that featured Central Tilba.

"Parts of the Eurobodalla are well promoted; it would be nice to have some support for Central Tilba," Ms Gray said.

Southbound Escapes 

Sally Bouckley's business went "into hibernation" during the bushfires and lockdown.

"It completely stopped all business for me, but because of government support, I was able to go into hibernation," she said.

"Now it's business as usual but in a COVID world."

Sally Bouckley of Southbound Escapes has been busy developing different self-guided e-bike tours around Narooma.

Sally Bouckley of Southbound Escapes has been busy developing different self-guided e-bike tours around Narooma.

During the lockdown, Ms Bouckley worked on her business operations.

"I have now gone mobile in a seven-seater minibus with a trailer on the back - it's something I have always wanted to do," she said.

Ms Bouckley offers e-bike tours and packaged luxury experiences from Sydney to Eden.

... it's a real opportunity for the South Coast - once people discover it, they will come back again.

Sally Bouckley - Southbound Escapes

She was passionate about making the South Coast more visible and said it was a unique time for businesses to "package things up", and work together to promote the area.

"The more fun things there are to do, the more people will come to the area," she said.

"Now they've opened up the restrictions, it's particularly good for us as we will get domestic travellers; it's a real opportunity for the South Coast - once people discover it, they will come back again.

"After speaking with Destination NSW, they're going crazy with their campaigns to promote as many experiences as possible before the next round of restrictions [easing].

"I think it will be a really busy July school holidays. Also, because of the virtual world, people who are working from home can come and visit."

Mountain View Farm Tilba

Owner Kathryn Ratcliffe is also on the Narooma Chamber of Commerce committee and was concerned with the mid-January push to welcome back visitors.

"The bushfires shut our business down on New Year's Eve and our family and guests were evacuated to Narooma - there was much confusion," she said.

"The confusion continued into the following weeks. I felt pressured to reopen in case not doing so compromised my insurance. Ms Ratcliffe boarded up the accommodation and buildings on the property: "It looked like a shanty village with corrugated iron on windows and around verandahs and sheds boarded up."

The bushfires shut our business down on New Year's Eve and our family and guests were evacuated to Narooma - there was much confusion.

Kathryn Ratcliffe - Mountain View Farm Tilba

"As it turned out, I was right to be cautious as we were evacuated again three times between the 23rd of January and 7th of February. Even though I felt relieved to have business interruption insurance, I am still negotiating with my insurer for a reasonable recompense for two months of loss!"

The pandemic closed the business again.

"I have been assisted by the JobKeeper allowance and the pausing of mortgage repayments by the bank. This has allowed me to approach the situation with some optimism and I have been using the time to complete small maintenance and unfinished projects."

Ms Ratcliffe planted a field of flowers after the fires which started to bloom during the lockdown: "It was a lovely distraction and I sold the flowers locally for a bit of back-up cash.

"Covid has helped me catch up on the presentation of the property and do a few little improvements. It has given me a small breathing window which, as a sole operator, single mother and having a business still in start up phase, has been a reason to also reflect on my approach to the business as a whole.

Kathryn Ratcliffe of Mountain View Farm Tilba. Photo: Warren Purnell.

Kathryn Ratcliffe of Mountain View Farm Tilba. Photo: Warren Purnell.

"Now that people are being encouraged to travel within NSW and Australia, visitors are starting to re-book; it is great to be able to share our special location with South Coasters and citysiders who may not have been visitors otherwise."

Ms Ratcliffe said she missed out on government support.

"Accessing support as a sole trader without employees has meant I have missed most of the financial support provided by tax concessions and grants," she said.

"It could have helped my business much more, but I am optimistic. The reality is, things are still very hard financially and I'll need to really prepare for September/October when the bank repayments recommence.

Ms Ratcliffe hopes the region will be well promoted.

"Help with marketing is always appreciated as my time is always very stretched and will be again as we welcome more visitors," she said.

She set a goal to achieve enough turnover from August to October to employ a cleaner.

"I have been doing all aspects of the business myself and would love to create more time to work on my flower production and have time with the kids," she said.

"I am hoping that my new planting of everlasting daisies can help encourage visitors from Canberra and Sydney."

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