5 Star Adventure Tours, Great Alpine National Park
All Seasons Houseboats, Mildura
Loch Sport Marina Hotel
Sunraysia Resort, Mildura
5 Star Adventure Tours had been providing off-the-beaten track, luxury excursions into the Alpine National Park for three years when bushfire tore through the region in the summer of 2006.
Owners, Tracy Walker and Daniel Boissevain, didn’t realise until two weeks after the fire when they were permitted to re-enter the park that every site they included in their tours had been burnt. All of their product had been lost in one blow.
So began a huge process of rebuilding.
With smoke still lingering in the air and wondering where they could take guests, Tracy and Daniel came up with the sunset tour - a dinner tour held in a location overlooking the stunning Alpine Ranges. Guests were treated to a spread of homemade gourmet food and glasses of local wines while they watched the sun go down. At 30 bookings a night, it was an instant success.
Daniel and Tracy also realised that they needed to be less reliant on the natural environment for the sustainability of their business. To address this, they increased the focus on their Wine and Cheese Bar located at their head quarters in central Bright. They introduced themed dinner nights and tapas on Friday nights which attracted new markets to the business, and created a new product for guests on their tours.
As regrowth flourished in the Alpine National Park in the months following the fires, Daniel was also able to reshape his tours to tell a different story - one of destruction and regeneration, contrasted with pristine wilderness. Visitors responded well to these new concepts. “People really loved the regrowth message. We still had to include locations that hadn’t been burnt in the fire - wherever we had meals or refreshments, these needed to be green spots.” However, discovering that guests were interested in a broader range of experiences beyond just scenic locations was a relief.
“Change is one of the biggest lessons the fires have taught us,” said Daniel. “We had to change to survive. It was a drag but we did it.”
In early 2007 Jodie and Sean Bromley, proprietors of All Seasons Houseboats in Mildura, read reports in metropolitan newspapers about the severe impact of drought and climate change. The articles showed startling photographs of sections of the Murray River drying up. Jodie and Sean thought how misleading these articles could be for anyone who did not understand the system of locks and water allocations that control water flows along the Murray, which mean that water levels are maintained at key tourist sections of the river.
Soon after these articles were published, All Seasons Houseboats received phone call upon phone call from concerned tourists asking about the state of the river and whether a houseboat holiday was still a good idea. A few people even insisted on cancelling.
Jodie and Sean decided to be proactive in counteracting the negative messages by introducing a “flash box” to their website, confirming that there was no problem with the water levels in the river that would impact on a water oriented holiday.
Jodie and Sean adopted the attitude “when times are tough, more effort and promotion is needed”. They took two further steps to secure bookings:
- Directly contacting regular customers and advance bookings to let them know that it was business as usual, and
- Introducing an All Seasons Guarantee – letting all intending houseboat users know that making a booking would also mean a guarantee of having a houseboat on a navigable river at the time of the holiday.
Over a few months, Jodie and Sean’s positive attitude and active communications with their customer base enabled them to stabilise the impact on houseboat bookings.
Alan Hall has been the licensee of the Loch Sport Marina Hotel, which overlooks Lake Victoria, for two years. In that time he has experienced the impact of the 2006-07 Gippsland fires, the June 2007 floods and a blue-green algae outbreak in the summer of 2007-08.
Far from being ready to close his doors, he has embraced it all as part of a steep learning curve and is investigating strategies that will enable his business to be more resilient to the impact of environmental events.
“We’re looking to refocus on our food,” said Alan, “so regular holiday makers and locals will feel inclined to come here even if the environment is not in perfect condition. We’ve improved the quality of our food, employing a chef and two apprentices. We’ve also started a series of music nights with entertainers on off-peak weekends to attract people to the hotel. This has been really effective so far. Coupled with the food, we’ve been full house.”
In terms of advice to other operators who are recovering from an emergency, “Be prepared to take a risk from time to time,” encourages Alan. “Try something new. Talk to your customers and find out what people want. Keep going back to them to make sure the quality is right. Personal relationships with your customers can be really important and helpful when the chips are down.”
Sunraysia Resort prides itself on the tropical feel created by their gardens, developed over many years and at significant cost. For the owner, Phillip Dixon, the gardens are as important as a swimming pool or other amenity that attracts repeat visitors.
When Mildura was on less stringent water restrictions than other areas during the drought, there was some negativity expressed that Mildura residents were watering gardens and lawns when other people weren’t allowed.
To address any poor perceptions of the resort’s watering activities, and to maintain their prized asset, Sunraysia Resort decided to implement water-saving measures, including:
• Installation of water saving shower heads
• Dual flush toilets
• Water tanks to capture storm water
• Capturing back-wash water from the swimming pool cleaning systems
• Capturing water through the house laundry
• Placing buckets in each room (supplied by the water authority), which has been a great program, with visitors ‘adopting’ their own patch of grass and watering it with their shower water.
These measures had great benefits for the gardens, as well as a positive effect on visitors, with many showing appreciation for the efforts the resort was making.
After installing the new water saving measures, the resort was approached by the water authority, which ran some positive press releases. The local media also made contact and published a good news story. "