Owners of the Jacaranda Motor Lodge Tony and Angie Stackhouse.
Owners of the Jacaranda Motor Lodge Tony and Angie Stackhouse.

JACA FEST: Flowers will bloom, but who will be here to see?

THE Grafton Jacaranda Festival's cancellation this year will blow a $2 million hole in the local economy with accommodation and tourism businesses hardest hit.

Earlier this year the coronavirus pandemic forced festival organisers to cancel the 2020 event which has left motels and hotels struggling to fill vacancies.

According to a Clarence Valley Council spokeswoman, 80-90 per cent of Grafton accommodation bookings were cancelled following the announcement that the festival would not go ahead.

For Jacaranda Lodge Motel owner Tony Stackhouse, his business lost almost $30,000 of income overnight.

"When the announcement came out, three bus coaches cancelled on us," he said.

"That's the equivalent of around $25,000.

"A lot of our festival visitors were coming from Brisbane and with the border closure, that also dried up."

Mr Stackhouse said that, in comparison to last year's figures, he estimates the motel's occupancy is down by at least 50 per cent.

"I wouldn't like to add up exactly how much income we've missed out on this year but, when you when you take it across a 12-month period, I think it would be in excess of $200,000," he said.

"We've been in the motel business for nearly 17 years and while the global financial crisis was terrible, this is way worse."

Although Clarence Valley Council are working on a new campaign to draw visitors to the area during jacaranda season, Mr Stackhouse isn't so optimistic it will solve the economic problem faced by many Grafton accommodation businesses.

"The jacarandas will still bloom but people want to come and see stuff," he said.

"Now that the Jacaranda crowning is off, the Riverlight Festival is off, it's going to be really hard to market a nothing."

According to data obtained by Clarence Valley Council, approximately 35,000 people attend the Jacaranda Festival each year with 47 per cent of attendees from NSW.

This is the first time in the festival's 86-year history that the event has been postponed.

Grafton has celebrated its jacaranda trees since 1934 and although the festival is not going ahead in this year of cancellations, jacaranda season is still being promoted by council's Community and Industry Engagement team under the tourism brand, My Clarence Valley.

Council's Community and Industry Engagement co-ordinator Elizabeth Fairweather said the tourism team reached out to Grafton accommodation businesses after the Jacaranda Festival announced its cancellation.

"We recognise the much needed boost that visitors provide to Grafton and the wider Clarence during the flowering season," she said.

"It's not just accommodation businesses; the lack of visitors has a flow on to other Clarence Valley businesses in the tourism and hospitality industry - an industry already hard hit by COVID-19 restrictions, bushfires and drought."

Council's general manager Ashley Lindsay said the campaign to promote Jacaranda Season reminds people about being COVID safe.

"It is primarily a digital campaign, directed at people from NSW and so far, it has been received well with plenty of engagement on social media," he said.

"We hope that translates into visitors coming for a night or two or four, to see this wonder of nature and enjoy the country hospitality of Grafton and surrounds."

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