Signs Merimbula's holiday peak season to be short-lived

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Merimbula holiday peak summer season short-lived

Merimbula will be flat out and frenetic from December 27 to January 3, when accommodation is heavily booked but the boom is short-lived with vacancies appearing early in the holiday season.

Long gone are the days when the tourism peak was at fever pitch throughout most of the month of January.

Retailers, restaurateurs might be well advised to ‘make hay while the sun shines’ given the tourist season’s brevity.    

However, it needs to be said the News Weekly canvassed opinion last week and some holiday makers are notorious for making last–minute bookings, so the position could change for the better.

Nevertheless, there were some in the holiday letting business distinctly more upbeat than others, but the general feeling was that bookings matched last year’s or were down.

Acting manager of the Merimbula Visitor Information Centre Jacqui Martyn said bookings for the week December 27 to January 3 filled earlier than last year, but from January 4 onwards there were vacancies. The centre  handles bookings for about 90 members in the accommodation industry including units, motels, hotels and caravan parks.

After a very good year with 85 per cent occupancy, at the time when you expect the accommodation industry to be really pumping it slackens off, says David Torpey, manager of Aquarius Apartments.

Mr Torpey says the first week of January is okay but after that it’s “not good.”

In his 23 years at Aquarius he has never encountered such a bleak outlook; even the phones were silent. “It is the bleakest it has been in 23 years.”

He reckons the problem is rooted in Merimbula’s fixation in charging high prices exacerbated by the tough competition particularly from South East Asian destinations, indicated the town could be pricing itself out of the market.

He said that flight/accommodation packages where you can enjoy five star accommodation plus all the extras on a shoe string budget, combined with the obstinately high Australian dollar, had hit the local market hard.

Tourism was at risk of losing its mojo in Merimbula.

He said contributing to the problem was the ageing of holiday infrastructure in Merimbula, with many apartments showing their age.

But underpinning the problem for Merimbula clearly was price. The question of how to change that is fraught.

“I fear that it is going to be very quiet this summer. The phone is not ringing.  When you can get overseas deals with 70 per cent off for accommodation and everyday living is cheap – you can eat in Thailand for $10 a week,that is our challenge.” 

Mr Torpey said he expected there will be lots of vacancies in town come mid January.

Don Peterson, of the major holiday letting business, Getaway, said he was desperate for holiday accommodation over the peak Christmas New Year period but after January 14 he expects “you will be able to fire a cannon down Merimbula’s main street.”

Mr Peterson who has 127 homes and a few apartments said the slump starts on January 14 when just 53 per cent of the properties will be let. But it shoots up to 65 per cent in the last week of January spiked by Australia Day long weekend.

He is prepared to heavily discount rates in the ‘slump’ 10-15 day period to try and pick up numbers in the belief it is better to have properties booked albeit at a cheaper rate, than empty.

Mr Peterson believes that there will be some in the accommodation industry who could be facing a difficult summer.

He said that shorter stays were becoming the norm as short as three nights. The budget–priced accommodation was the last to be filled, he said and owners were changing from holiday lettings to permanent rentals.

Director/licensee Sails Real Estate Steve Haslam reckons Merimbula is in for “a big one.” With a mix of 85 holiday homes and apartments on his books, he said bookings indicated the season would be as good as last year, if not better.

“Bookings are very steady and solid to the end of the year.”  He said there were a few gaps but he expects those to fill. He said that over the Christmas New Year period the luxury top end properties would fetch between $4000 to $5000 a week. He said they were getting on average about  15 enquiries a day. When News Weekly spoke with him on Friday he had only two or three vacancies for the Christmas week and 70 per cent of the properties were booked right through January, he said.

Coast Resort managing director, David Beaumont said: “Bookings for the 65 holiday rental apartments in the complex are up on last year with record monthly bookings for each month since July - about 20 to 22 per cent above.

”We are expecting a bumper summer season with forward bookings tracking well above last year.” He added that, “Holiday makers today have higher expectations of their accommodation than in years gone by and unless those were met,some in the industry might encounter difficulties.”

Bookings were pretty much on a par with last year’s Christmas season, said Graeme Fowler, of Merimbula Lake Real Estate.

However where the season used to stretch out for six weeks, it was now  half that.  A diverse range of holiday options offering cut-throat deals had snared the tourism market because of comparative costs of efficiencies, he said.

The fact that no new apartment complexes had been built for many years could also be stifling the industry’s growth.

“The council hasn’t encouraged development; it took them forever to finalise the Local Environmental Plan and without that people were not prepared to commit because of the uncertainty that created.” He said people driving into Merimbula today would see little difference compared with 20 years ago, with the exception of the upgraded jetty, unlike Bega where there has been major change, he said.

WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE … how do you see the season shaping up? Email liz.mccormick@fairfaxmedia.com.au   

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