TOURISM to Tamworth has dropped off this month as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, but an unexpected crowd has kept local businesses bubbling along.
Intra-regional travel has boosted smaller towns in the outer reaches of the Tamworth region, as day-trippers and would-be holiday makers look a little closer to home.
Businesses in Bendemeer, Nundle and Uralla have reported more people from regional centres like Tamworth, Gunnedah and Armidale frequenting their towns.
Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) statistics indicate visitors to the Tamworth region have dropped in numbers since July.
TRC co-ordinator economic and destination development Kate Baker said while it's not unexpected since the end of the July school holiday period, a resurgence in COVID-19 in parts of the state hasn't helped.
"It is fair to say that some emerging COVID-19 hotspots and people putting off non-essential travel as recommended by our health experts have been contributing factors," she said.
Council confirmed Destination Tamworth - the city's tourism website - is not actively trying to attract outside visitors to the city and surrounds at the moment.
"With the NSW Premier's recommendation to limit non-essential travel for the time being, Destination Tamworth does not have any active campaigns promoting the Tamworth region," a council statement read.
However, hospitality businesses in small but stunning towns dotted across the more rural parts of the region are doing okay - some are even thriving.
So many people haven't done it before, or haven't done it for such a long time, and they're renewing their acquaintance with the region.
Owner of the Peel Inn at Nundle, Robert Schofield, said his hotel is drawing more crowds than this time last year - he's even been forced to turn people away under their COVID-safe plan.
"Every weekend here is really busy and any business in town ... will tell you," he said.
"A lot more people are coming out from Tamworth for the day and they come up to see what's at Nundle, they might take a drive to Hanging Rock or Sheba Dams or through the forestry. So many people haven't done it before, or haven't done it for such a long time, and they're renewing their acquaintance with the region."
Mr Schofield said visitors from towns like Gunnedah and Tamworth have helped him get back on his feet after the COVID-19 shutdown wreaked havoc on the hospitality sector.
He admitted it hadn't been quite as busy over the past few weeks as it was when the pub first reopened, but said he thought the Peel Inn was still getting better numbers than the same time last year.
Mr Schofield said the pub has a strict COVID-safe plan in place for visitors and bookings are essential - especially with snow forecast for the weekend.
Ms Baker said the shift to intra-regional travel hasn't gone unnoticed.
She said one upside of the pandemic and movement restrictions seemed to be that local residents are staying closer to home and checking out what the Tamworth region has to offer.
"Anecdotally, we've seen a number of local businesses benefit from residents of the Tamworth region exploring their own backyard, which has been great to see," she said.
Popular Uralla brewery New England Brewing Co. owner Ben Rylands said his business lost out when Queensland slammed its border shut.
But, he said support from Uralla's surrounds has been strong.
"We've always had strong local support ... tourists are the icing on the cake," he said.
Mr Rylands said the brewery attracts people from bigger regional towns like Gunnedah, Inverell, Tamworth and Armidale during normal times, but the good news is that customer base has bounced back after the shutdown.
He said it's helped keep the business busy while the northern border is closed and highway travellers are less frequent.
"We're so grateful for the support we're getting," he said.
To top it off, the brewery has just launched its 1001st beer.
Bendemeer Hotel staff member Mary Cannon said people supporting small communities was key to getting back up and running.
She said Bendemeer had been attracting visitors and families from Tamworth and Armidale for a lunch outing.
Although intra-regional travel and hometown holidays have been a lifeline for some businesses, council is still on the front foot preparing for when travel confidence grows again.
There was a spike in travel to the area in July, which Ms Baker said was to be expected with school holiday tourists stopping over in Tamworth.
Users on the Destination Tamworth website increased 40 per cent from June to July.
And, it doesn't just help tourists to the area discover new places - there are plenty of ideas for Tamworth locals to take trips out of town.
The website has itineraries and suggestions for day trips or time away in places like Quirindi, Barraba, Manilla and Nundle.
The Tamworth region has been free of confirmed COVID-19 cases for more than four months now. The state premier has urged NSW residents to reconsider the need for non-essential travel to minimise the risk of transporting the coronavirus.
The story Backyard tourists boost business in region's smaller towns first appeared on The Northern Daily Leader.