Saturday, 10th April, 2021
By Neil Pigot
Anyone who thought that last October’s tourism tsunami was a flash in the pan had better think again. The Easter weekend combined with school holidays and of course the Heritage Festival gave Broken Hill a strong sense of what tourism in a post lockdown COVID world is going to look like, and it’s subtly different from anything the city has experienced in the past.
The obvious difference over the Easter weekend was that the numbers were up and according to Patrick Kreitner, Coordinator of Visitor Services at the Broken Hill City Council, it’s all part of a discernible trend.
“We’ve seen a steady rise since the beginning of February. That’s normally our quietest month of the year. While March and November are normally the shoulder months where we transition in terms of numbers, this year it’s picked up much earlier.”
And that was borne out by the experience on the ground. Most of the city’s accommodation was near capacity and a number of the cafes and restaurants in town were, to use hospitality parlance, “slammed”. Including the Silverton Hotel where the numbers, according to hotel publican Peter Price, were “Fantastic”.
“We did over 1,500 meals across the weekend. Accommodation was full over Easter and it continues to be. Our forward bookings are the best we’ve seen for a long time. It’s still going. We’ve got 200 in for lunch today”.
Along with the higher than average numbers there has also been a noticeable shift in the tourist demographic. A combination of uncertainty around border closures, the residual effects of prolonged city lockdowns and a new advertising campaign instituted by Council in association with Destination NSW all appear to be changing the face of who comes to Broken Hill.
“We usually expect around 50% of our visitors to come from NSW. Our figures at the moment indicate that that has climbed to 70% and rising.”
And while the grey nomads are still passing through town, according to Patrick the age demographic, based on early indications, has also dramatically shifted.
“Our campaign focuses on couples 45 and up and what we’ve seen is a sizable increase in that age group, more affluent folk from Sydney who would ordinarily go overseas,” he said. And according to Peter at Silverton, anecdotally at least, those figures are translating on the ground.
“The bigger numbers we are getting are mostly coming from NSW, Sydney. All ages and all nationalities. And a lot of families which is different.”
And it appears those families are looking for something different in terms of their experience too. While numbers at some Council run attractions like the Regional Gallery and Geo Centre have been steady and in line with expectations, ticket sales at the Living Desert have exploded. Since the park was reopened last July, attendances have consistently been double that of any previous year, an indication that after months of being trapped in cities, Australians want to be out and about. And according to Patrick that means it’s only going to get busier.
“Yesterday we had 188 through the door. During a busy day we would expect 100. So that’s indicative of a rise.
“The second half of the year is slightly slower but that’s mainly because people are still a little apprehensive about booking too far in advance. But it’s creeping forward.”
And then of course, we have 10,000 attending the Mundi Mundi Bash. That’s not just different, that’s big.