It's been three weeks since all of regional NSW opened up to vaccinated residents from Greater Sydney and it seems tourists haven't wasted any time in returning to the Central West.
The region's tourism bodies say not only are visitors back, forward booking numbers suggest the boom in regional NSW tourism that took off in 2020 looks set to continue.
In Orange, where 40 cents in every dollar is spent by a tourist, the Sydney lockdowns had a huge impact on local business, especially in the accommodation and hospitality sectors.
General manager of Orange tourism organisation Orange360, Caddie Marshall says during lockdowns, 60 per cent of their business member survey respondents reported a greater than 75 per cent decrease in sales, and 25 per cent were forced to close.
But "things have bounced back quickly," she says.
"We know from speaking to our local retail, hospitality and accommodation partners that tourism to the region has been high with December looking to be very heavily booked across the region.
"Summer is typically a quieter season for us in terms of tourism but we're already seeing that it's shaping up to be as busy as it was pre-lockdown. "
In Bathurst, manager of tourism and visitor services Daniel Cove says visitor numbers have returned to pre-COVID levels.
"The actual lockdown periods naturally saw a dramatic downturn, however from June 2020 to June 2021 there was a sustained boom in visitation with attractions seeing record high numbers and accommodation occupancy and room rates well up on previous years.
"We are expecting that the boom in travel in regional NSW will continue throughout 2022 and therefore that recovery should be steady.
"We are seeing a 56 per cent increase in forward online accommodation bookings over last year (which was also a very strong year), so overall the outlook is excellent," he said.
The city is currently gearing up for The Bathurst 1000 from November 30 - December 5, which "always provides a massive boost to Bathurst and indeed to the broader region," Mr Cove said.
After severe restrictions on crowd numbers last year, the event looks set to be able to run at full capacity again, attracting 40-50,000 visitors a day and contributing millions of dollars to the region's economy.
Meanwhile in the Dubbo region, where tourism supports an estimated 1509 jobs - or 6.6 per cent of total employment - there are encouraging signs.
Dubbo Regional council's Director of Culture and Economy Natasha Camber said after an extremely tough September that saw visitor spending fall by 71 percent, the region had "started to see an increase in enquiries and visitation in recent weeks."
"In addition, Taronga Western Plains Zoo is seeing strong levels of enquiry and bookings for overnight experiences. The Animal View Lodges are fully booked from now through to the end of January 2022, and the Zoofari Lodge and Savannah Cabins are fully booked between Christmas and New Year. Accommodation is a strong lead indicator for general admissions, so the Zoo is anticipating a busy Summer holiday period.
"The Visitor Information Centres in Dubbo and in Wellington are also seeing an uptake in visitor enquiries and walk-in enquiries, particularly in the past week or so.
"The Great Big Adventure Pass (a multi-ticket to Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Old Dubbo Gaol, the Royal Flying Doctor Visitor Experience and the Wellington Caves) is seeing an uplift, with many multiple bookings being made and family tickets sold, which is a positive indicator for the summer period.
"Wellington Caves have been significantly affected by COVID-19 restrictions, but with restrictions now lifting, the new Ancient Landscapes Gallery in the visitor experience centre will be a welcome drawcard."
Ms Comber says the pandemic taking hold off the back a crippling drought had made it a challenging five years for Dubbo, but there was still a feeling of optimism.
"Whilst it's difficult to predict what next year will look like, we are hopeful that the domestic tourism market coupled with international travel borders opening and significant developments in Dubbo coming online in 2022, visitors will be enticed back or encouraged to visit for the first time," she said.
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