A premier tourist destination in Western Australia has asked tourists not to visit this upcoming holiday season without first securing accommodation.
- The Shire of Exmouth has asked tourists not to visit this upcoming holiday season, without first securing accommodation
- The shire says the town is experiencing a housing crisis which is putting pressure on the tourism and hospitality sector
- With no free camping in town, illegal campers have been warned they will be fined by the shire’s ranger
Exmouth is 1,270km north of Perth. The World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Coast is a popular destination for tourists keen to experience the pristine environment and escape city life.
According to the Shire of Exmouth council, a housing supply shortage combined with an influx of people holidaying in WA due to border restrictions had left the towns hospitality and tourism sectors overwhelmed.
In a statement, Shire President Matthew Niiikkula said while he was glad to see West Australians enjoying the region, tourists were “at risk of loving it to death”.
Acting Shire President Matthew Bird said the decision to deter tourists was necessary to preserve the regions pristine environment.
“It’s a difficult decision for the council to make, obviously because we are the state’s top tourism town, and we are regularly rated as one of the premium destinations in Australia.”
People found ‘camping on their front lawn’
Accommodation provider Sheila Beer said last tourism season proved the town could not handle massive numbers.
“Last year, a lot of people came up, and for a lot of people, it wasn’t that good an experience because there were just too many people in town,” Ms Beer said.
“At one stage, I reckon there were about 20,000 people in town, which is a huge amount — there’s two and a half thousand normally.”
Ms Beer said tourists camped illegally last year because campgrounds were packed to capacity.
Mr Bird said tourists who chose to camp illegally this season would face fines.
“We’ve had that problem for the last couple of seasons, so we’ve had a pretty strong direction to increase the resources to our ranger services and enforce compliance,” he said.
“That does have negative impacts on our natural environment and that’s why everyone lives here, because of the amazing natural environment.”
Protect Ningaloo’s Paul Gamblin said it was important for tourists to understand the fragility of the Exmouth environment.
“It’s a complicated, highly diverse environment,” he said.
“We need to understand the place is under pressure, and we need to manage it really carefully so families in the future will get to visit it and really enjoy it.”
Mr Gamblin said more people visiting the region meant more fish being caught and more driving on beaches.
“If we keep increasing the pressure on the place, we will diminish the very assets, the very attractions and the atmosphere of the place that keeps people coming back,” he said.
Regional housing crisis
Exmouth Chamber of Commerce Operations and Project Officer Sarah Booth said she supported the Shire’s decision.
“Basically, what we’re just trying to encourage people is to plan ahead so it isn’t putting extra pressure on our town, and we’re not able to provide the tourism product everyone is expecting when people get here.”
She said the town was nervous ahead of the easter holidays season.
“Anyone coming through town this year, just be mindful of the challenges that we’re facing and businesses trying to do their absolute best to make sure that everyone has the best time possible,” Ms Booth said.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a solution for housing next season.”
Mr Bird said the decision to deter tourists who did not have accommodation booked was a short-term solution to an ongoing issue, and the community was working hard to improve infrastructure to support growing tourist numbers.
“The issue for us is the next three years, and we have to manage that in terms of being able to keep delivering a quality, premium tourism experience, but also making sure we don’t erode that experience through negative impacts to the natural environment,” he said.
“We’re very mindful of getting that balance right, and if you can’t get accommodation for this season, then we certainly encourage you to plan ahead and book for next season.”