The economic fallout from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has hurt many local businesses, but it could cripple the south-east’s much-loved koala park.
For almost five decades, the Sorbello family has owned and operated the Cohunu Koala Park in both Gosnells and Byford – allowing visitors to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s native wildlife.
But it has been a quiet few months for the park, which once hosted Michael Jackson and Mr Kentucky Fried himself Colonel Sanders, and the losses sustained will be costly unless owners Lucille and Nardino Sorbello can get adequate support.
With international visitors accounting for up to 80 per cent of the 60,000 patrons that enter the park annually and the state’s border closure set to remain in place for the foreseeable future, Mrs Sorbello said the family were unsure what the coming months would have in store for the park.
“The decrease in visitation was almost immediate before we closed on March 26,” she said.
“This would have been our best year because the weather has been perfect throughout Easter and the school holidays and, unfortunately, we’ve missed out on it.
“It’s winter, so visitation is going to vary greatly depending on the weather.
“But we’ve still got to be here, we’ve still got animals to feed, veterinary bills and insurance to pay.
“About 80 per cent of our visitors are from overseas, so the next six or so months aren’t looking so good.”
Mr Sorbello’s son Stephen echoed his mother’s sentiments and said the family would give it nine to 12 months before reassessing the business’ position.
“If they keep the JobKeeper program, that’ll take care of our staff,” he said.
“After that, things are looking dire.
“But it’s not just us – other parks are in the same boat.”
According to Tourism Council WA, travel restrictions have cost the state’s 28,000 tourism operators more than $3.1 billion.
Phase three of the state government’s COVID-19 Roadmap allowed the business to reopen its gates at the weekend, but Member for Darling Range Alyssa Hayden insisted more needed to be done.
The state government has introduced a suite of measures to help tourism operators survive, including a $14.4 million relief package featuring grants for operators, but Mrs Hayden said she would like to see a marketing strategy developed to drive support for the industry.
“There needs to be a marketing strategy with a major focus on the fact that places like this are getting the visitors necessary to keep them financially viable,” she said.
“If we don’t, we’re going to lose our biggest and best tourism assets.
“Places like the Cohunu Koala Park rely heavily on international and interstate visitors.
“They have around 20 local staff, too.
“I strongly believe that tourism is our untapped market here in WA and a marketing strategy would go a long way to supporting these businesses.”