A couple of years ago the south-west was ghost-like as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions shut the tourism industry. Thankfully today the industry is booming again. There's a happy vibe across the region as visitors flock to the beach, shops and eateries.
While our hospitality industry is struggling like many others to find workers in part due to a shortage of housing, the return of visitors is good for businesses and event organisers.
But with the full house signs up at motels and caravan parks, it's not all good news.
Premier Speedway hosted back-to-back events on Sunday and Monday with a bumper crowd trackside for the opening night. Sadly for organisers who lost two shows because of rain earlier in the season, there were more people wanting to attend only for a scarcity of accommodation to put the brakes on their plans.
The speedway in three weeks hosts its 50th anniversary Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic. More than 100 drivers have entered so far and there could yet be more before next week's nomination deadline. But where will the drivers, teams and fans stay?
One Western Australian team this week took to social media calling for help because it was out of options. Fans too are searching for beds even though demand is pushing up prices to levels never seen before in the region. Is the tourist accommodation squeeze a by-product of our much-talked about general housing shortage?
The demolition of two motels in the city's east to make way for JB Hi-Fi and Officeworks outlets hasn't helped, nor the closure of another CBD motel.
Is our shortage of rental properties now biting the hands that feed us? As we have reportedly extensively, people have been forced into caravan parks, motels, cars, backyards and couches with few rental properties available. Real estate agents have told us that's partly due to landlords opting to sell properties rather than rent them out because of changed laws that give tenants more rights. Higher house prices have been too good to refuse for landlords who have also cashed out their investments to owner occupiers as people wanted to move into the region after the pandemic.
But what's the solution?
We have campaigned for more public housing to help solve the shortage of rentals for long-term residents and, as we reported last week, the new properties being built won't even make a dent in the growing waiting list. The state government held a housing summit behind closed doors last year and we haven't heard much on solutions for the medium and long term. Councils have been trying to address the shortage of worker housing but we need a broader summit that includes visitor accommodation.
In the short term, how do we accommodate tourists? Has Warrnambool City Council's soon-to-be introduced levy on Airbnb property owners scared some off?
Should Warrnambool shift its views on roadside camping? Campervans and those with camper trailers have been illegally taking advantage of car parks and parklands in recent weeks. Could we become more RV friendly? Could that help ease the squeeze that will no doubt make headlines when an influx of speedway fans a few short weeks away revs up the region's economy?
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