For six months of the year during the dry season, Katherine swells with an influx of grey nomads, keeping many of the town's businesses alive.

For six months of the year during the dry season, Katherine swells with an influx of grey nomads, keeping many of the town's businesses alive.

Grey nomads still expected to head to Katherine despite coronavirus fears

Grey nomads still expected to head to Katherine despite coronavirus fears

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Katherine's tourist industry still expects the grey nomads will come this dry season despite fears about coronavirus.

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A virus pandemic nor an environmental crisis will be stopping the annual migration of grey nomads keeping small outback towns like Katherine alive.

Political leaders, small business owners and communities which rely heavily on tourism are fearing the worst as two major crisis: the caronavirus and the bushfires, are expected to impact tourism.

But according to Cindy Gough, the founder of The Grey Nomads, a leading website for retirees planning trips, the only thing that could bring the parade of caravans to a standstill is if Australia established a domestic travel ban.

Currently, that move is unlikely.

"Obviously, some big things are happening in the world, but grey nomads are strong and resilient, and they are planning to carry on with their trips," Ms Gough said.

Katherine, like many small towns across Australia, relies heavily on an annual influx of travelling retirees escaping the southern winter, also known as grey nomads.

They begin to appear around the end of March, filling caravan parks and injecting capital into small businesses and tourist ventures.

Across the globe, tourist industries are reeling as the coronavirus reaches pandemic levels, and in Australia, whole communities are reeling from the bushfire crisis.

Read more: Connectivity the key to growing NT tourism

The NT Government is spending $2 million on shoring up Territory tourism, in a bid to keep one of its main industries from collapsing.

A host of initiatives have been rolled out including partnering up with the Caravan Industry of Australia to promote more NT holidays.

"Our tourism industry is critical to the Northern Territory economy, supporting 17,100 direct and indirect jobs and thousands of small to medium local businesses," acting Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Eva Lawler said.

In the wake of a fast moving virus, Ms Gough said the far-flung location of outback Katherine may be in favour when it comes to the grey nomads.

"To be honest, I think people are more likely to travel domestically this year, and if anything people will want to go to Katherine," she said.

"People who are thinking of travelling to Asia or elsewhere overseas are re-thinking that, and that is especially the case with older people, who are more likely to have a bad reaction.

"There is less contact with other people in small outback towns, and that is appealing when all you hear about on the news is larger cities contracting new cases," Ms Gough said.

Tip requests on travel, insurance, routes and sights have not decreased on The Grey Nomads forum, Ms Gough said. However, she stressed it was early days, and anything could happen.

Philip Bates has owned the Shady Lane Tourist Park in Katherine for 22 years with his wife.

He says he has high hopes for the tourism season ahead, despite predictions the grey nomads will likely begin to appear later in the year.

"Those people that may have gone overseas for their trips are much more likely to get in a caravan and travel locally," he said.

"We rely on the grey nomads more than anything, but luckily they are people with a lot of time on their hands, so it doesn't matter if they have to wait a couple of weeks, they will still come. The virus might be done and dusted by May."

During the dry season, coveted caravan spots fill quickly, with sites making the majority of their annual income within just six months.

Mr Bates said bookings begin streaming in six months in advance, and he's yet to see any cancellations.

But Stephanie Hill, the owner of Manbulloo Caravan Park, a working cattle station on the banks of the Katherine River, foresees a downturn.

It will certainly impact us financially - Stephanie Hill

She says the bushfire crisis has hurt the economy and left large communities out of pocket, and as for the coronavirus, it's the elderly population faring worst.

"If you were elderly and you had a pre-existing condition, you would think twice about travelling," she said.

Adding to concern, Mrs Hill said it was typical to see a large amount of grey nomads escaping the cold Victorian winter, but hundreds of people are still reeling from fires which have been described as the most destructive on record.

"It will certainly impact us financially," she said.

"I don't think it will be a bumper season, but we will get through because we will be selling cattle as well."

"It could be a different story for people who solely rely on travellers."

Last year, 87 per cent of caravan trips to the Northern Territory were domestic travellers, according to a spokeswoman from the Caravan Industry Association of Australia.

Despite the economic uncertainty, the association is optimistic about the season to come.

"Last year was an exceptional year for tourism within the NT, for the year ending September 2019 the total caravan and camping trips were 506,000 to the NT, with 87 per cent being from the domestic market (Tourism Research Australia)," the spokeswoman said.

"This contributed over $500m in economic benefit to the NT.

Travelling within Australia is seeing a current push with various campaigns such as "Holiday here this Year" and "Keys to the NT", encouraging domestic travel, the spokeswoman said.

"As an industry, we are aware that having come off such a peak, some travellers may consider visiting other destinations this year.

"However, we are optimistic about the season to come, the NT has so much to offer and is ideal for self-drive adventures.

"The Caravan Industry Association of Australia has also partnered with Tourism NT for the "Keys to the NT" promotion, in an effort to help stimulate these markets and drive visitors back into the regions within the NT over coming months."

The story Grey nomads still expected to head to Katherine despite coronavirus fears first appeared on Katherine Times.

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