With the loss of international tourists and overseas travel out of the question, WA’s renowned Swan Valley is in the midst of a new influx of visitors – local residents.
“While there is no denying the loss of international tourists due to COVID-19 has affected a range of Swan Valley tourism businesses, the silver lining is that Perth residents and visitors from around WA have rediscovered the region,” City of Swan chief executive Jeremy Edwards said.
Mr Edwards said the city worked closely with regional tourism organisation Destination Perth to implement back-to-back marketing campaigns to encourage visitors to enjoy a daycation or a staycation in the Swan Valley, about 25 minutes east of Perth.
“The Swan Valley is absolutely heaving at the moment. People, when they can’t travel, are realising that the Swan Valley offerings nowadays are truly world class,” Sandalford Wines chief executive Grant Brinklow said.
“It’s not just wine and food, but cultural experiences and accommodation.”
Using lockdown to renovate
After using last year’s COVID-19 WA lockdown to complete a $3.5 million-plus renovation, one of WA’s oldest wine companies, Sandalford at Caversham, unveiled its new-look restaurant, bar, cellar door and private tasting room five weeks ago.
“The timeline was impacted by covid. We were ready to pull the trigger at the time of covid and making this happen and doing the build to coincide with the winter months, which is typically a quieter time out here,” Mr Brinklow said.
“So, what happened was covid hit, we were closed and we decided not to reopen when many others did.
“Without the volume of tourists it wasn’t going to be viable to open so we made the commercial decision to say, ‘OK, keep it closed, do the rebuild and put a few more dollars into stage two’.
“In the end, the restaurant was closed for nine months, so it was a long time.”
The new-look restaurant now opens in the evenings from Friday to Sunday, in addition to daily lunch.
There is also a new family friendly element, with a wine barrel-themed playground for children and a pizza oven.
“It really is a massive change to the style of offering we’ve had before. It reflects what we think West Australians are looking for,” Mr Brinklow said.
In Middle Swan, Oakover Grounds unveiled Swan Valley Market Place, where customers could order gourmet fine food during last year’s covid lockdown as a way to continue to welcome customers and keep staff working.
“We were thinking about doing Market Place but covid made us do it overnight,” Oakover Group executive chairman Graeme Yukich said.
Mr Yukich said while Oakover’s visitor numbers were up 50 to 60 per cent, revenue for functions, such as weddings, had declined more than 60 per cent.
For Kim and Rupert Phillips, the owners of The House of Honey in Herne Hill, COVID-19 has significantly affected their international and interstate markets — 60 per cent of the business’s market was made up of international and interstate visitors.
“But, the 40 per cent that is local has kept us going and supporting out staff,” Mrs Phillips said.
“Covid has pushed us to do things a bit differently. We have opened up our online sales to international and before we didn’t have that.”
They used a City of Swan grant to invest into their business during the break.
“We made a tasting station, which I called, ‘Our covid-safe tasting station’, so we could be in more control of the tasting environment but also the tasting area is slightly elevated so in the future, when our international customers come back we can sort of pay more attention, it’s a more of a platform we can speak to bigger groups,” she said.
Mr Edwards said some wineries had better than usual trade over winter and several new venues opened in the lead-up to summer, including Bailey Brewing and The Mallard Duck.
He said based on 2019 visitor research, the Swan Valley welcomed 5.4 million visitors per year and 94 per cent of them were from WA.
“During lockdown last year, people looking for safe, wide open spaces to explore led to an increase in website visitors downloading the Swan Valley map, cycling trail, parks and picnic guide and Guildford walk trails,” he said.
“Interest in this material continues to be strong.”
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