Border restrictions: Sapphire Coast turning loss of tourists into a drawcard

Blue Pool at Bermagui. Picture: David Rogers, supplied by Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing
Blue Pool at Bermagui. Picture: David Rogers, supplied by Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing

A coastal community which lost thousands of tourists overnight due to coronavirus lockouts is now marketing its empty beaches and cafes as a drawcard to travellers from virus-free regions.

However ACT authorities are still warning Canberrans against unnecessary travel.

Around 20,000 tourists left the NSW Far South Coast last week after Victoria announced it would shut its border with the state on New Year's Eve.

Bega Valley mayor Russell Fitzpatrick said the scenes were like "deja vu", after thousands of tourists were also forced to flee the area in 2019 amid oncoming bushfires.

"It was bedlam, chaos. Probably 1000 words can't describe it. People at 4pm started throwing everything in their cars," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

Anthony Osborne from Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing said the exodus ripped tens of millions of dollars from the local economy.

However Mr Osborne said they'd managed to find a silver lining in the chaos.

Accommodation places that had been booked out were suddenly free. Cafes which had queues out the door were now empty. Beaches which had been dotted with towels and umbrellas were now deserted.

"There's lots of elbow room, which you want during COVID," Mr Osborne said.

They're now pitching the Sapphire Coast as a destination for tourists from COVID-free regions, like the ACT, regional NSW and the Victorian border bubble towns, using the unusual emptiness as a selling point.

"There may never be another time when you can enjoy a quintessential Sapphire Coast summer, just like a local but minus the crowds," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

"You can get up and eat Sydney rock oysters for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you like."

Their appeal may be viewed as controversial in some quarters.

ACT Health is still warning Canberrans to reconsider travel to all parts of NSW, although official public health orders only exist for the Greater Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong regions.

People in Eden and Bermagui were forced to get tested last week, after two Victorians who tested positive to the virus visited venues in the area.

However Cr Fitzpatrick said no cases had been uncovered, despite 1300 tests.

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He acknowledged while it was a risk to try and bring in tourists during the pandemic, "it's a risk we could work with," he said.

"I know visitors could bring [the virus] but I believe as long as we socially distance, we hand sanitise, we follow the QR rules, our health district is well equipped to cater for any outbreaks and bring testing online as quick as possible," Cr Fitzpatrick said.

Without tourists, the future would be "bleak" for many locals, Cr Fitzpatrick said.

"Some of the operators this is the second year in a row they've had their income totally taken away so their long term survival would have to be questioned. Their ability to employ people in their local economy will be reduced. So there's a knock on effect that affects us right through the community."

Travellers are encouraged to keep up to date with the latest health advice at:

This story Sapphire Coast turning loss of tourists into a drawcard first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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