Council shortfall after tourists snub parks

Wollongong City Council is facing a shortfall of $700,000 on its anticipated income from the city's three tourist parks this year amid lower-than-forecast overnight stays.

The council's 2012-13 budget estimated an annual income of almost $5.7 million from the Windang, Corrimal and Bulli parks on the back of good long-range weather forecasts and better financial conditions compared with last year.

However, the council has revealed as part of its December quarterly review it has had to revise its expected revenue from the sites to just under $5 million because of low patronage.

Property and recreation manager Peter Coyte admitted the drop was disappointing, but said it reflected an industry-wide trend, which included people choosing to holiday overseas.

Mr Coyte said the use of camping sites, including year-round caravan sites at the parks had remained steady, but cabin stays were below predicted levels.

"The camping and powered sites are going well, they're up to where we thought they would be in terms of budget income.

"But cabins haven't been able to achieve the growth we thought they would," he said.

"We seem to be getting a similar number of bookings [to previous years], but people aren't staying as long."

The council has installed 38 new cabins at the Corrimal park in the past four years.

Mr Coyte said a lot of visitors to the three parks came from western Sydney, which was an area that appeared to respond "more quickly to belt tightening" when the cost of living rose.

The cost of renting a cabin at the council parks ranges from $125 to $190 a night in the off season and $180 to $285 at peak.

Mr Coyte said the rates were appropriate for the facilities and were competitive against other privately owned tourist parks.

Despite the projected income fall, the figures show the council still expects to make a profit from the park operations.

But that profit looks set to shrink from $1 million to about $300,000.

In comparison, the council made $800,000 profit at the parks in the 2011-12 financial year.

Mr Coyte confirmed the lost cash would have been allocated as expenditure on other projects and would therefore affect the council's eventual bottom line.

Meanwhile, revenue from council cemeteries is expected to increase by $100,000 on initial projections, as is income from parking fines.

Mr Coyte said although burial and cremation figures remained steady, the council had recorded about a 10 per cent increase in the number of people choosing to reserve burial plots ahead of their deaths.

The Mercury sought comment from the council on the increase in parking-fines returns, but it was not forthcoming by the paper's deadline.

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