The Pilbara’s tourism industry is thriving in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, according to locals.
The Pilbara region normally welcomes more than one million tourists every year, generating more than $400 million for the local economy.
Grave fears were held across the state for tourism after the State Government enacted an unprecedented lockdown of WA’s regions in March in response to WA’s coronavirus outbreak.
While the region’s lockdown was eased in May, the hard border between WA and the rest of the country means that interstate tourists are not permitted to enter WA.
International border closures have also meant that the Pilbara, which normally welcomes around 50,000 international tourists per year, has not had any incoming international tourists since March.
Despite the lack of interstate and international tourists, overall tourist numbers have held steady thanks to a boom in intrastate tourism.
Shire of Ashburton president Kerry White said the response since the regions had opened up had been unbelievable.
“We were just shocked at how many West Australians have been touring up north. It’s been fantastic,” Mrs White said.
“Most of them have never been further north than Geraldton, and they’ve all bought camper vans and caravans. The Pilbara has been packed with them.”
Mrs White said small towns such as Tom Price, Paraburdoo, and Onslow were seeing a significant boost in tourist numbers.
“For our local shops and our hotels and our restaurants, it’s given them a new lease on life,” she said.
Tourism WA’s Wander out Yonder campaign, launched in June, has been a significant driver of intrastate tourism.
The campaign encourages WA residents to holiday in their own state and includes initiatives such as giving away 10,000 holiday vouchers worth $100 each.
While tourism is a significant industry in the Pilbara, it is dwarfed by the mining sector, with the Pilbara’s iron ore and LNG industries worth an estimated $70 billion.
Outback Network operates a range of travel, accommodation, and hospitality businesses in the Pilbara, including Capricorn Village in Newman. Operations manager Mark Crawford said resources workers had helped to keep the Pilbara’s hotels afloat during the lockdown.
“It hasn’t really affected us too much, because we’re more mining driven than tourist driven and the mining really hasn’t stopped,” Mr Crawford said.
Mr Crawford said while things were now relatively normal, the hard border was presenting some challenges for hotels in the Pilbara.
“Having such a transient workforce that comes through this area with backpackers and such has been quite hard for us to manage with the borders closed,” Mr Crawford said.
The Pilbara’s peak tourism period tapers off in October, as the warm weather of the dry season attracts tourists keen to escape winter conditions in the south of the state.