Kimberley tourism operators say they are experiencing a bumper dry season, defying expectations Western Australia’s border opening would result in travelers heading overseas.
- Tourism operators in the Kimberley say they have defied expectations
- Businesses across the region are reporting an influence in visitor numbers
- National parks in particular have reported surges in visitors
Border lockdowns stretched throughout most of 2021 in WA, with Premier Mark McGowan only opting to lift restrictions on interstate and international travelers in March.
Tourism operators capitalized on a captive audience during lockdown, recording some of their highest visitor numbers in recent years in Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing and Kununurra.
But they braced for pain when WA’s border reopened.
Willare Roadhouse manager Neralie Middleton said after years of uncertainty, many operators were unsure of what 2022’s dry season would bring.
“With the international borders opening and more access to tourism throughout Australia, it was unknown what we’re going to be faced with — but it’s been exceptional.”
She said her business, about 50 kilometers outside of Derby, had enjoyed a 35 per cent increase in custom since last year.
“It’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful – and not only is it good from a business point of view, it’s just good for the area,” Ms Middleton said.
Operators say it is difficult to pin down a reason for the surge in numbers, but some believe last year’s surge in caravan sales contributed to the Kimberley’s resilient tourism industry.
As a result many tourists are embarking on self drive tours, leading to an increase in national park visitation numbers around the Kimberley.
According to the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Mitchell River and Purnululu in the East Kimberley almost doubled their visitors between 2021 and 2022, with Yawuru Birragun recording an extra 40,000 visitors.
Parks and Wildlife ranger Kathryn Dyball takes travelers on tours around the Danggu Geikie Gorge National Park, which is jointly managed by Bunuba traditional owners.
“It’s a pretty good season, there’s a lot of tourists coming through,” she said.
“It’s actually quite similar to last year’s numbers, but we’ve found that this year is longer.
“Last year it got quiet around August … but at the moment, for this whole next month, we’re still pretty booked out on the morning and afternoon tours — so it’s still pumping.”
Australia’s North West Tourism chief executive Natasha Mahar said there had been a concentrated effort in the Kimberley to keep the industry afloat in the past two years.
She said the most recent dry season had been a welcome surprise.
“We were expecting [visitor numbers] to drop off; we thought everyone would head off overseas,” Ms Mahar said.
“However we’re pleased that people have wanted to really explore their state more, and hats off to our operators who have had a tough year with the staffing situation — they’re resilient bunch up here.”
Rustling up business
The Kimberley features heavily in Tourism WA’s latest Walking On A Dream campaign, which according to Tourism Minister Roger Cook, aims to double pre-COVID tourism business in WA by 2032.
Ms Mahar said the campaign would only help the Kimberley regain her footing after a tough two years.
“We’re highlighting all of those Kimberley dreaming experiences — walking through Purnululu in the Bungle Bungle Ranges and hearing an Aboriginal elder singing in the Cathedral Gorge, going to the Staircase to the Moon and listening to that didgeridoo,” she said.
“These are just some of the things that really give you that spine tingling, dreamlike experience in the region.”