Regional NSW wedding industry left at the altar

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“Insurance may cover our equipment but we are still in the process of deciding what to do…the Southern Highlands business chamber has approached us to go to alternative locations but none of them have kitchens,” she said.

The entrance to the Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat after bushfires destroyed it in January 2020.

The entrance to the Kangaroo Valley Bush Retreat after bushfires destroyed it in January 2020.

South of Nowra the Bewong River Retreat west of Jervis Bay has had all of its January and early February bookings cancelled, and owner Scott Davis said he is worried the 20 bookings for 2020, which earn the venue around $15,000 each, might also be cancelled. While his South Coast property did not lose any structures, the 165 acre property has a complete water frontage, and jetty weddings and receptions were popular for photos for bridal parties from Canberra and Sydney. Now the bush around it has been completely burnt out.

“The trees are a bit charred still…we are hoping in another month with the rain it will be all green again,” he said.

 Bushfire damage suffered by the Bewong Retreat on the South Coast.

Bushfire damage suffered by the Bewong Retreat on the South Coast.

It’s this ripple effect on other small businesses which Alicia Larriera, the owner of Form Over Function, a wedding and events company popular in the Southern Highlands, said will have a long term effect on the destination wedding industry.

“When you look at the fire map it has hit literally all the key regional ares of NSW where people like to get married, like the Kangaroo Valley, Blue Mountains, the south coast, the far south coast, the mid north coast and the north coast,” she said.

Fire near one of the wedding structures at Bewong Retreat earlier this month.

Fire near one of the wedding structures at Bewong Retreat earlier this month.

“This represents hundred of thousands of dollars because every time a venue gets hit so too do all the suppliers from celebrants, florists, hair and make up artists to printers, food and alcohol providores.

“A single wedding in one regional town can bring around $200,000 worth of income, and some of these regional areas were hosting around 10-15 events per weekend. People came to the these places for their wedding because they wanted the pristine Australian bush landscape or beautiful beaches as the backdrop for their photos. There isn’t that same romance with a parched landscape,” she said.

“A wedding is a very emotionally charged transaction and some couples are pulling out of bookings even when some venues have not been touched by the fires…Small businesses are being forced to hand back all deposits – 100 per cent in most cases..so many small businesses will go to the wall over this,” Ms Larriera said.

All wedding destinations affected are hoping the Empty Esky campaign launched last week to aid the recovery of local tourism industries and small businesses will encourage Australians to not only visit bushfire affected town in 2020 – empty esky in tow, but stay and get married.

“It may take a few months to get rid of the charcoal but we are wanting to extend the message to marrying couples – ‘please come’,” Bewong Retreat’s Mr Davis said.

Helen Pitt is a journalist at the The Sydney Morning Herald.

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