Byron blues over festival loss

Departure of Splendour and Bluesfest from Byron Bay may be the death knell of some small businesses in the town.
Departure of Splendour and Bluesfest from Byron Bay may be the death knell of some small businesses in the town.

THE winter non-tourist season is often tough for many small businesses, but the lack of festivals and attractions in Byron this year means some could be closed in six months.

The decision by both Splendour in the Grass and Bluesfest to move out of town has many retailers concerned about their futures at a time when tourist numbers are down due to the financial crisis and high Australian dollar.

“It’s going to make a big difference to us, particularly with Splendour leaving,” said Tim Butterfield who has operated Jonson Street café Expressohead for 10 years.

He said although he relied on regular local trade, the Splendour weekend was like ‘one big balloon payment’ that went a long way to paying his quarterly GST bill.

After frenzied speculation, and to the delight of Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, organisers of Splendour confirmed in November the popular festival would move to Queensland next year.

The festival injects about $6 million annually into Byron’s economy and attracts 17,500 festival goers.

Event organiser Jessica Ducrou blamed, in part, Byron Shire Council’s draft events policy that included limiting the number and timing of large festivals.

And while Bluesfest is only moving from Belongil Fields to the Tyagarah Tea Tree farm, about 10 minutes from Byron, it is providing its own large camping ground for the first time that is already two-thirds booked.

“We are looking at a miserable winter,” Mainbeach Backpacker manager James Robinson-Gale said.

“Bookings for Bluesfest has not been robust, but it’s the loss of Splendour that’s the real blow and will really kick us around.”

Outrigger Bay Resort manager Mary Moore said the loss of Splendour had a ‘huge’ impact on forward bookings.

“Normally we would be fully booked for five nights by now. This year we are heaps down,” she said, declining to put a figure on it.

“Splendour was really good because it brought money into the town. Its loss is going to impact on every business.”

Business concerns about Byron Council’s controversial events policy will be discussed at a public meeting tomorrow night.

Byron-based clothing and beauty products retailer Sevegne Newton, who employs a staff of four across her two stores, said while she had a good winter last year things were starting to get tougher.

“We are down about 15 per cent year-on-year,” she said.

Ms Newton said she had ‘mixed feelings’ about large festivals, arguing while they might bring tourist dollars, they were not equally spread among businesses.


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