Rally hype translates to solid accommodation bookings
COFFS Coast accommodation is set to be packed to the rafters as the region welcomes the arrival of the FIA World Rally Championship and a three-way showdown for the 2018 drivers' crown.
"House full" signs are set to go up as tourism operators count the benefit of the annual influx of international and Australian really teams, supporters, media and an army of around 1000 event officials.
The rally kicks off with a Rally Show and Ceremonial Start at the Jetty from 4pm on Thursday and runs until next Sunday afternoon, when the event and season champions will be crowned.
Manufacturer teams representing three of the global auto industry's top five makers - Toyota, Hyundai and Ford - plus French giant Citroën will contest the event, while drivers Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford), Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and Ott Tänak (Toyota) will fight for the championship.
Government figures show the rally accounted for more than 31,000 bed nights in 2016 and with last year's event attracting a record 63,415 visits and this year's thrilling climax attracting unprecedented interest, accommodation demand is continuing to grow, says Rally Australia Chairman Ben Rainsford.
"Our own experience of finding beds for the WRC people this year clearly indicates the place is packed and we've had similar reports from our accommodation business contacts," he said.
Neil Manson, Trustee of the Observatory Holiday Apartments at Coffs Harbour's Jetty area, said the rally delivered benefits in several ways including capacity bookings, longer stays, reduced room-servicing costs and high-quality guests.
"We've had three rooms used by one company working on building the rally for two weeks. When they finish, the rooms will be taken over by their corporate guests," said Mr Manson, whose property is full for rally week.
"The average rally guest is a good spender, with high disposable income. They can walk to the Destination NSW Super Special Stage from the Observatory, have dinner in Harbour Drive and walk home.
"Sports tourism is profitable for us and smart marketing by council. Sports tourism gives us a monopoly as it is completely irrelevant that any other destination has a cheap deal. The customer has no choice but to stay in Coffs."
Guy Perotti, General Manager of official Rally Australia hotel and headquarters Opal Cove Resort, said his rooms were full.
"We're absolutely full, especially with the Toyota team staying here this year. The M-Sport team has taken in the region of 40 or 50 rooms plus six units," Mr Perotti said.
"With rally the demand is greater and for a longer period. We're probably different to the smaller operators, but all will be full.
"I believe it's a fantastic thing for Coffs Harbour to put this event on. I don't think people realise how important an event it is.
"The other thing is that Nambucca and other areas are also embracing Rally Australia and realising its potential. They're getting some spin-off."
Businessman Peter Wardman, Chairman of the Rally Australia Community Liaison Group, agrees the event benefits are spreading beyond Coffs Harbour.
"The rally has been an exceptional benefit not only to Coffs Harbour but the Coffs Coast generally - up to Grafton and down to Macksville," Mr Wardman said.
"It's very pleasing how it's escalating in terms of its impact to the region - its financial benefit and also the entertainment it delivers.
"The reason I got involved was to try to sell the event locally and it's working. People who had never seen a rally are now getting involved.
"We're also working on trying to get the wider regional areas to understand the full significance of the rally." - Chris Nixon