Queen's Birthday long weekend holidays: NSW beach towns brace for tourist influx

Tourism operators on the NSW South Coast are warning long weekend holidaymakers that higher than usual demand and coronavirus restrictions will stretch the limits of accommodation and restaurants in the area. 

Visitors are being asked to consider self-catering and picnics to ease pressure on eateries limited by social distancing measures, while some locals fear an influx of Sydneysiders could increase the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in their communities.        

Anthony Houghton, who runs the luxury Mt Hay Retreat in Berry, says the tourism rebound is "fantastic" for a region ravaged by bushfires and the lockdown. His business experienced major disruption due to the fires before travel restrictions caused two months of cancellations. But since reopening last week he's been inundated with booking requests.

"It's been absolutely crazy - the long weekend booked out the day we opened our books. It seems no one can find any accommodation for love nor money this weekend," Mr Houghton said.

With the ski season delayed, state borders closed and overseas flights off the table, there's a lot of pent up demand for regional NSW to absorb.

"A lot of people missed out on their Christmas holidays and didn't get a chance to get away [due to bushfire disruption]."

Craig McIntosh manages 250 short-term rental properties along the South Coast and Southern Highlands. He says every single property is booked out for this long weekend, a first for his seven years at The Holidays Collection.

"It's been a very strong rebound, more than I expected personally," Mr McIntosh said. "I knew there'd be a lot of people itching to get out and I thought winter would deter people from coming to the beach, but it hasn't.

"There were clearly a lot of people sitting on their hands until the restrictions lifted."

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The influx of tourists is also causing apprehension among many of the region's residents, Mr McIntosh said.

"It will test people's tempers on the roads first of all. It's going to remind locals that tourism is back. They've all been lulled into thinking things are like the good old days: quiet, peaceful and tranquil."

Shoalhaven mayor Amanda Findley, whose council stretches from Berry almost to Batemans Bay, describes the mood in the region as "cautious optimism".

"You blend together the joy and optimism of traders raring to get back into business, and the absolute fear of people who've been really concerned about the influx of numbers coming into the area," he said.

Ms Findley hoped visitors would "bring gratitude and kindness" and warned them to temper expectations.

"They've got to remember our people down here have been severely traumatised over the last six months," she said. "There's going to be more demand for services this weekend than can actually be met because of COVID restrictions.

"It might mean they take a picnic and sit at the beach ... rather than eat in a restaurant because they haven't booked early enough."

In Berry, cafes and restaurants are preparing for the onslaught of foot traffic.

Dylan Ayuso manages The Hungry Monkey which is seating 36 patrons instead of its usual 75. After seeing revenue fall up to 60 per cent due to reduced footfall in town, My Ayuso is looking forward to the hustle and bustle.

"What we're expecting this weekend is a bit of chaos to be honest," Mr Ayuso says. "I'm expecting a waitlist from about 10am which I'm excited about."

The restaurant is also doing takeaway and home delivery for those unable to get a table.

This week Airbnb and Expedia reported a surge in search traffic on their booking platforms compared to prior weeks, with Airbnb's intrastate bookings at NSW properties for the June long weekend only 15 per cent below last year.

Camilla Hamilford says the demand this weekend meant she could have booked out her Paperbark Camp glamping tents in Jervis Bay "five times over".

"It's the light at the end of what's been a very dark tunnel down here," she said.

See also: The seven wonders of NSW, named by the experts

See also: Six of the best national park day trips from Sydney

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