Tathra NSW: A regional Destination Resilience Success Story
About a year ago (Nov 2018) I wrote a story in ETB Travel News about the impact of forest fires on tourism which featured the NSW south coast town of Tathra. Unfortunately bushfires (forest fires) remain a major threat to popular tourism destinations in Australia and especially in California. As I write this article today there are fire bans in place from Sydney to the Queensland border in Australia and wildfires continue to rage in California.
The popular tourist town of Tathra on the south coast of New South Wales, (a beachside town in the state’s Sapphire Coast) experienced a severe bushfire on March 18, 2018. Over 60 homes were destroyed and another 35 badly damaged in the fire. For a small community of about 1,700 people this was a devastating experience. Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries but the fire resulted in the closure of the town’s largest caravan park, it severely damaged bushland in the surrounding national parks and had impacted on all residents and all businesses.
In common with its neighbouring towns of Merimbula, Eden, Pambula and Bega, Tathra’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism. Tathra is a popular destination for domestic family tourists who enjoy its beaches, relaxed atmosphere and its beautiful natural bushland attractions. Immediately following the fire, The Tathra and District Chamber, Sapphire Coast Tourism and Bega Valley Shire Council joined forces to develop and implement a resilience plan for the town and its businesses. Key elements included assuring all stakeholders that Tathra was open for business, welcomed tourists and sought their support through visitation.
The community was engaged in supporting the victims of the fire and in extending a welcome to visitors. Within ten days after the fire tourists, especially regular visitors voted with their feet and cars to visit Tathra and breath life into the town. The fire led to significant collaboration between Tathra’s residents, emergency services and local government. A positive feature which emerged from research was that most insurance claims were settled very quickly, thanks in part to the active support of the Bega Valley Council. Sapphire Coast Tourism ran a highly effective PR campaign to encourage tourists to return to Tathra and featured a range of events as drawcards for tourists.
Generally Tathra tourism businesses resumed activities soon after the fire and one of the ironies which arose from the fire was that Tathra attracted many visitors who wanted to share in the town’s recovery. The Tathra Business Chamber undertook a significant research project funded by the NSW and Australian government’s Community Resilience Innovation Program. The report which was released in September 2019 is called Tathra Its in Our Nature: A Community’s Experience of a Bushfire Impact and Recovery” The report was largely the work of Tathra residents Suzette Fullerton and Mark Darby and it is a brilliant piece of work. It covers a very detailed assessement of Tathra’s bushfire experience and the recovery in the 18 months since the fire.
Tathra‘s inspirational response to the fire earned the Tathra-Sapphire Coast Tourism Resilience Project earned it an award in September 2019 as winner of the NSW Community Resilient Australia Award (Business Category). This was presented at the NSW Parliamnent House – Sydney.
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