Marine tourism under its knees, but one man remains resilient

By Indira Laisram
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Echo Adventures owner Bill Edgar and his wife Avis

Bill Edgar fondly recalls his regular annual groups from India for whom whale watching in Perth was a ritual holiday. It’s been almost three years since he has heard the parting line from his clients: “See you next year, Bill.” With the coronavirus restricting both domestic and international travel, small tourism businesses such as the ones owned by Edgar have faced a massive hit.

Edgar has been in marine tourism for 40 years running ferries and charter boats from the Barrack Street Jetty located in the Perth CBD on the Swan River doing both ends of the river from Gilford down to Fremantle and out to the islands. His company Echo Adventures has been thriving through word of mouth. “A lot of my people are repeat business and are referred by other people who have been with us,” says Edgar, who runs the business with wife Avis.

Now the tourism industry is at its knees with many businesses having gone broke because of the coronavirus, rues Edgar. “The government has not helped the metropolitan marine tourism which has added to the demise of the many marine tourism vessels. We didn’t get any government assistance either.”

Although Western Australia (at the time of writing the story) has no COVID-19 cases, it does face the peril of the virus which is on a surge in New South Wales and Victoria. But for Edgar, it is a time of resilience and hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Edgar says he is still in the business because of his previous employment in accountancy and marketing in international companies. “So that’s the reason I am still alive and operating. I have the financial knowledge to be able to continue and operate under these trying times. It’s been so sad to see other people who’ve been sent broke because of the government’s lack of knowledge and empathy towards small business.”

Echo Adventures, says Edgar, is a Western Australia-owned and operated business. “My current boat is licensed in the ocean for 160 passengers and in the river for 250 passengers. In the big boat, I have underwater viewing, rooms and a multi deck with all-round viewing. The vessel has been designed in such a way that a tall person can stand on the top deck of the boat without having to bend over, the boat has been built for comfort.”

He claims no other boat has this sort of facilities. Importantly, because his boat can carry so many passengers, he is able to offer lower prices than the main ferries owned by international companies.

Last year, Echo Adventures introduced family fishing, while the three-hour whale watching was introduced six years ago. That apart, it conducts weddings and corporate functions. “We are selective who we charter for and under the safety regulations that are very strict.”

Edgar proudly says he has men “jiggling” on the family fishing tour with grand parents and children happy at catching a ‘blowie’ or the blowfish native to Western Australia and said to keep the waterways clean by eating up waste scrap, bait and berley. “We don’t normally get very many blowies,” he quips.

Marine tourism has always been a cutthroat world, says Edgar, but with his motto and logo ‘Dare to be Different’ that once donned the big yellow advertisement pages, international tourists were his biggest numbers on the whale watching cruises with “the biggest and repeat numbers being Indians”. This year he has already had a number of Chinese booked but sadly admits, “I miss my Indians”.

Ostensibly, his business had skyrocketed prior to the pandemic. Edgar started with a rover boat and as time progressed bought a tourist barge boat that was tied to a big company called Swan River Cruises, that has since folded. He continued on with three boats at the Barrack Street Jetty but eventually sold off two boats when the tourism industry took a big hit with the development of the Elizabeth Quay Project some years ago.

For the past five years, Edgar has been located in Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and has  the biggest passenger vessel doing whale watching and the family fishing started recently getting a tremendous reception.

However, the past two seasons has been taxing. “We are lucky to have 10 per cent occupancy on our boats, but you can’t run on ten per cent, so it’s made it extremely difficult. You can’t go run and advertise because at any moment the government can announce a shutdown anytime.”

When the lockdown opens up everywhere, Edgar hopes to schedule a cruise for people to come on. Some people right now are waiting to get the minimum number of 30 up and leaving it to the last minute to go and book.

Apart from having the largest boat at very reasonable rates, Edgar also boasts that his boat has the added safety feature of a flotation dinghy that is amp compliant.

Clearly, Edgar wants visitors as his business is dependent on them.

For a man who has grown up swimming on the Swan River since the age of five, he cannot stop himself from pitching potential future travellers to Perth: “It’s really worth floating down a river and I am present on the boat 99 per cent of the time to offer you personal service and tell you stories.”

As a hint of warning to the big companies he adds: “Watch out, Bill is here!


You can find Echo Adventures on Facebook and at https://echoadventure.com.au/

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