TOURISM operators in regional SA say there has been great support from local visitors in the past two months but the gap left from international and interstate travellers is still causing concern.
On Kangaroo Island, where normally one-third of their annual visitors are international, KI Tourism, Food, Wine and Beverages Association chair Pierre Gregor said the initial lockdown caused a massive halt in momentum just as the island was working to rebuild after the summer bushfires.
He said April visitors were down 90 per cent on last year, with May a similar figure.
While June had a "good increase" in visitors, he said this was not experienced by all tourism businesses across the board.
"The large accommodation providers are still struggling," he said.
"It's mostly the self-contained accommodation, that seems to be the trend."
But he said cottage industry outlets, such as KI Spirits, had benefited from the numbers visiting.
Mr Gregor said with international visitors making up such as large part of their usual customers, trying to fill the void would be a challenge, particularly with borders still largely closed.
"There are lots of areas devastated by bushfires and COVID and we're all vying for the same domestic market," he said.
Mr Gregor said there were selling points, with Flinders Chase National Park re-opened, as was Seal Bay, and the vegetation was recovering quickly.
"Even under COVID, this is a massive area, thinly populated, with open spaces, so it's a safe environment," he said. "It's an overseas trip without going overseas."
In the north of the state, Flinders Ranges Tourism Operators Association chair Michelle Reynolds says the typical tourism season was just getting started when the lockdown brought everything to a halt.
But since the state began opening up again in late May - early June, bookings have boomed.
She said many operators had spent the down time on renovations and other jobs, with some cautious about reopening too early.
There are lots of areas devastated by bushfires and COVID and we're all vying for the same domestic market.
She said normally the season built up slowly, but this year it began with a bang
"Generally most people were operating from June 1, and the feedback from operators is from the June long weekend, it was absolutely huge," she said.
"We picked the pace up pretty quickly when open and got a real surge of visitors."
There was another boom during school holidays this month.
Ms Reynolds said most visitors were South Australians, although there were some other interstate travellers already in the state before lockdown.
She said while some visitors were "the regulars", they also had several who might not have normally travelled to outback SA.
She expects to see a lull in August, after school holidays, but is optimistic of another surge in September, likely with more interstate visitors returning
Ms Reynolds said for most visitors the decision to visit was a combination of them wanting to leave the house after lockdown, but also wanting to support local SA businesses.
She said the benefits were also being passed on throughout the local area, with most of the stations shopping locally to cater to their guests.
"Visitors have been good - we do have two to three months we have got to make up for, but this is helping," she said.
Ms Reynolds said there were concerns about how summer will look without the usual contingent on international visitors.
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In the Limestone Coast, the recent decision to extend the border closure with Vic, while "understandable and expected" was also a "devastating blow", according to Limestone Coast Local Government Association destination development manager Biddie Shearing.
She said there had been some good signs for the past two months, but there were still businesses in pain, and others that had still not reopened after the March closures.
Ms Shearing said weekends had been particularly strong for many businesses, such as the Naracoorte Caves, Coonawarra wineries and coastal areas.
"The June long weekend was the strongest for the past few years for parts of the region and some operators in Robe are saying its the best July ever, during the school holidays," she said.
But she said weekdays were still quiet.
"As a region, the Limestone Coast really do lean on the western districts of Vic for the day-to-day economy, while we often market directlt to Melbourne for people to come across," she said.
Ms Shearing said smaller "retreat" or bed and breakfast accommodations were generally the most popular while larger scale motels still had higher vacancies.
She said the Coonawarra also missed out on many of the Adelaide visitors, due to its distance from the city.
"We do rely on overseas and interstate visitors so there is a big gap," she said.
So far it seems like South Australians are making a bit more effort to see the state.
Coonawarra Experiences' owners Simon and Kerry Meares say business has been picking up, with them starting to get more forward bookings.
"A lot of SA residents who would normally go overseas, or to Qld for winter, or the snow fields, are rediscovering or seeing for the first time their own backyard," he said.
Mr Meares said Coonawarra - four hours away from Adelaide - was a good spot for people to drive to and feel like they had "been on holidays and not just for a day trip".
He said they had also been targeting the local area, with packages aimed at people in Naracoorte or Mount Gambier.
"The closer it is, the less likely you are to go," he said.
Raidis Estate's Emma Raidis, Penola, said there had been a "slowly but surely" growth, with June better than the same month in 2019, while July, and Cellar Dwellers, were also showing good signs.
"We usually have two weeks of Vic school holidays during July, so we will wait to see that effect," she said.
"So far it seems like South Australians are making a bit more effort to see the state."
Ms Raidis said they usually had about 40 per cent of their clientele from Vic, with another 40pc from SA, and while there were extra SA visitors, it was not quite making up for the deficit.
Raids Estate closed the cellar door even before the government restrictions and took the opportunity to try out a long-held plan for online tastings.
Ms Raidis said they would continue these, albeit in a reduced format, in the future.
"It's opened up a whole new avenue of keeping in touch with our customers," she said.
She said strong support from clients during lockdown had helped reduce the impact.
"People are keen to support businesses," she said.
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