Tourists shut out over holiday period

Blowering Dam remains a popular spot for travellers. Photo by John Stanfield.

Tough decisions plagued Tumut pub owners over the Christmas period, with competing interests for tourism, trade and Covid safety.

The Commercial was the only pub in town open on Boxing Day, as the Turf Club’s flagship event – the Boxing Day Races – drew a massive crowd. The Club reported more than 1300 people at the event on race day, with alcohol being served until 5.20pm. The racecourse emptied by 6pm.

Tom Murphy, Turf Club Licensee and Vice President said operations at the racecourse bar ran smoothly, with most people understanding the basic procedures.

“We didn’t have to tell them to stand there, we just had a checkered line and they understood to stand there. They were all Covid savvy. They’re used to it, now,” he said.

“They were really, really good and it was a younger crowd. A lot of young people.”

Commercial Hotel Licensee Jess Bye said she typically makes sure her kitchen stays open on public holidays when she knows that hot meals will be hard to find. Boxing Day was especially busy and the pub traded from 10am to 5pm in the bar and 9am to 8pm in the bottle shop. 

Ms Bye said the only reason she closed the bar in the evening was because she would have been “asking for trouble” with hundreds of extra people in town and only one place to sit and buy a drink.

“We enjoyed trading during the peak season and providing our services to the town and the tourists,” said Ms Bye.

“It was disappointing to see so many local businesses closed over the peak season (not just hotels).

“I have people that come in here every year and they were disappointed. They said the basics of being able to go and get lunch and sit down the river, they couldn’t do it. It’s not a good look for our town.”

Ms Bye said they received mixed reactions from customers on Boxing Day, with some feeling grateful and encouraging the staff, but others were frustrated when they couldn’t find a place to eat.

“I think that it will be detrimental in years to come that people won’t choose to come here because they can’t get essential services,” said Ms Bye.

At The Royal in Tumut, licensee Greg Kabar said he understood the feelings on the street, but was concerned about Covid regulations – for both health and legal reasons – and he chose to close on Boxing Day for the first time in a decade.

“This year is not a common year. We all saw what happened with the airlines when people were lax and not making the right decisions,” he said.

“As a whole, I think our industry made the right decision for our community as a safeguard, especially since things were flaring up at that time.”

Mr Kabar said he was under additional pressure after hiring new staff and farewelling some of his more experienced workers. With the Covid regulations and the threat of an outbreak on top of the busy period, he felt it was too much to throw his new hires in the deep end.

“It was sad that it’s Boxing Day, because it’s a prestige day, but it’s also a day that’s hard to manage at the best of times and we’re not at the best of times. We’re at the worst of times and it was just too much for us.”

As an especially busy day during a time of heightened coronavirus fears, Mr Kabar said he expected the rule enforcers to be watching closely and since almost all of his premises is under cover (including most of the beer garden), he would have had to ensure all patrons remained seated at all times.

That’s usually do-able with locals who ‘know the drill’, but he said hospitality workers already feel like healthcare educators and couldn’t have safely kept everyone in order.

“It was with a sense of protecting the community in mind [that we closed],” he said.

“That was at the forefront of my mind and it does pain us to close. We don’t like closing. Boxing day is our biggest money maker of the year. It’s a big sacrifice to close. It brings us no joy.”

He said the hospitality industry has already been under the microscope for Covid-19 outbreaks, and he felt it was more important to keep the town and his workers safe than risk opening.

“It just seemed unmanageable, really,” he said.

“What you can do outdoors versus indoors is like chalk and cheese. The Covid allowances for outdoor activities are far more relaxed than what can happen indoors. I hope that people took advantage of our wonderful surrounding areas – the dam and national parks and the river over that time – which is to me the true jewel of the tourism industry in Tumut.”

Club Tumut was also open Boxing Day from 11am to 4pm, but the Tumut Golf Club’s kitchen was closed.